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Now that I’ve got you with that fantastic title, it’s time to talk facts about bodily functions on the trail and how you can keep yourself and the outdoors sparkling clean! I am asked about this topic often (usually in private messages, whispered conversations and in the cover of darkness), so I’m bringing it out in the open and sharing some of the tips that have worked for me. Non-menstruating people…please check out the period tips anyway, you never know when you might be able to help someone out like trail legend Dave the Period Fairy.
Weight, comfort and dependability are important on any outdoor adventure. I’ve spent a lot of time chipping away and writing about my pack weight and gear hacks , and that includes my ‘hygiene’ system. Ultimately, what you bring on a trip is a personal decision, but I finally came up with a kit that I felt was the right balance of weight and comfort and recently upgraded my ziplock kit bag to a fancy poop-moji themed Dyneema Bag – because, why not?
Why are we talking about this?
“Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid pollution of water sources, avoid the negative implications of someone else finding it, minimize the possibility of spreading disease and maximize the rate of decomposition.
In most locations, burying human feces in the correct manner is the most effective method to meet these criteria. Solid human waste must be packed out from some places, such as narrow river canyons. Land management agencies can advise you of specific rules for the area you plan to visit.” -LNT
Along with staying dry, clean and comfy….Leave No Trace Principle #3 is to Dispose of Waste properly. Specific guidelines can vary slightly, so check out the Leave No Trace Center for Ethics site for their latest guidelines and be sure to research the regulations of your particular region or trail to learn how to properly pack out ALL of your waste.
Here it is! The Official Wandering Pine 4 day Personal Hygiene kit!
Contained in a handy-dandy sandwich sized ziploc bag for freshness: (Upgrade since original post: DCF ultralight poop-moji bag! Srsly. I had to have it.)
- (1) CuloClean Portable Bidet (secret weapon!)
- (1) package of travel sized kleenex (you can use TP, but these were handy)
- (8) 1/2 sheets of VIVA or very strong paper towels
- (1) re-purposed eye dropper filled half-way with Dr Bronners Lavender soap
- (1) tiny bottle of hand sanitizer
- (1) Diva Cup-menstrual cup
- (4) OB Tampons (back up +these have multiple uses, see nose plug)
- (2) panty liner/pads (back up +these can double as first aid items)
Not in the bag, but easily accessible:
- (1) Kula Cloth
- (1) Aluminum tent stake-for digging a 6-8″ deep cathole
- Upgrade since original post: I now have a fancy pants Deuce of Spades Ultralight Trowel! A gift from my smart friend, Pam. She’s the best! Normalize giving poop shovels, bidets and pee cloths as gifts!
- (1) small spray bottle of denatured alcohol (this stuff is great!)
The Heroes of my Hygiene Kit:
“A Kula Cloth™ is the first of its kind – an intentionally (and obsessively) designed reusable antimicrobial pee cloth!” Why would you want a re-usable pee cloth, you may ask? I have been using one since early 2019 and it’s really great to not have to drip dry, or carry in and pack out toilet paper. As a Granite Gear Groundskeeper, one of the most common things I find on the trail is used toilet paper (yes, we pack it out! Gross!) Experienced outdoor women have been using a bandana for this purpose for years and just let the sun’s UV rays dry out/sanitize the fabric. This little gem takes it so much further, with details like:
- Antimicrobial, quick drying fabric. Waterproof on one side, absorbent on the other.
- Ability to Snap shut or leave open- I ditched my bandana mostly because it was dragging around in the dirt every time I set my backpack down. Now I keep my kula clipped to my belt loop (snapped shut or open) for easy access and keeping it clean.
- Awesome prints and details that make it look like “legitimate gear” you can be proud of!
- Community: you would be surprised at how many people have these and the community that it has generated! I love seeing kulas in the wild and knowing that we are generating less waste and staying clean!
Tip: I usually let my kula stay exposed to the sun and rinse it out every day or two, letting it dry overnight. Only use it for #1, never #2 and you’ll be good to “go”.
CuloClean Portable Bidet
File under: your new favorite piece of gear you didn’t know you needed. My smart friend, Pam, gave me this nifty portable bidet right before our trip -after at least a year of talking to me about backcountry bidets and sending me this Andrew Skurka video to watch. After a fair amount of giggling, I realized it might be the most wonderful and treasured piece of gear anyone has ever given me. Seriously, thank you Pam. Everyone, buy one for all your friends!
The CuloClean is a nifty little .7 oz plumbing attachment that turns your regular old water bottle into a bidet. Full disclosure: I have never used a front country toilet bidet-but plenty of people all over the world use them every day. This nifty gadget shoots out water in just the right angle and pressure stream to keep everything spiffy clean. On hot, gross days, your body will thank you.
Tip: carry two smart water bottles and make sure to have enough to stay hydrated if you think you are going to use a little extra to stay clean (hot days, etc)
I switched to a menstrual cup for my first backpacking trip around 10 years ago and never went back. Originally, I just didn’t want the hassle of packing out used feminine hygiene products or needing a “special” container for the bear bag as the only female in our Boy Scout Backcountry Crew. I continue to use it today because it’s convenient, requires less frequent changing, is good for the environment and is very economical.
There are a few styles of menstrual cups out there on the market. I went with the Diva cup because its easy to find at Target and your local drugstore.
Tip: there’s a learning curve, so I recommend practicing at home in the shower before you take it on a trip to make sure you get the hang of it.
Thick Paper Towels Instead of Wipes
I ditched bringing wipes after I found out that most brands contain non-biodegradable plastics, and could take up to 100 years to break down. DO NOT BURN, BURY OR PUT YOUR WIPES IN THE LATRINE!
I splurged and bought the thickest paper towels I could find, cut them in half, and like to use them as a washcloth or wipe with water and my Dr. Bronners soap. If you don’t want to wash your face and butt with the same cloth every day on the trail, this is a nice option.
Tip: I bought Viva paper towels and thought they were plenty strong and held up to rinsing, squeezing and saturating with water.
I got this little sample sized Honest Sanitizer spray for free a couple of years ago (pictured in the middle), and I just keep refilling it because I like the bottle size. Gel hand sanitizers are cool, but spray sanitizer is a great multipurpose item that can be used on hands, stinky shirts, surfaces (like the outside of your water bottle after you use it as a bidet) and as a fire starter just to name a few.
Tip: if your bottle is running low, you can add some gel sanitizer to it and it will still spray, just don’t let it get too thick.
How to use your backcountry hygiene kit!
I keep my kit, Kula Cloth, trowel/tent stake and hand sanitizer where it can be easily accessed–it’s not going to help you if its in the bottom of your pack!
My bathroom routine consists of taking my bag, water bottle and handy bottle of spray hand sanitizer to the nearest latrine (first choice) or a suitable spot 200 ft away from water, the trail or people. Open your kit and take out the items you need.
Tip: If you are using a cathole, dig a nearby hole after you poop, and use a stick or leaves (not your trowel) to move it into the hole vs, trying to rush or play the “aim game”
Keep your kit handy, do your business and then proceed with your Kula Cloth (for #1 ONLY), TP/Tissue and freshening up the whole area with your backcountry bidet (don’t knock it till you try it). It is VERY important that you have CLEAN HANDS when touching your hygiene kit! This is why I love my little alcohol spray bottle. But loading up your hands with hand sanitizer and trying to only get one hand dirty before you touch your bag, water bottle, etc is a good preventative measure too.
Special Considerations for Aunt Flo:
If you are using a Menstrual Cup or applicator-free tampon, this is where you’ll want to use your Dr Bronners soap and water before you insert or remove anything. Alcohol based hand sanitizers and sensitive body parts don’t mix, but you want to make sure everything is clean. Use your backcountry bidet to clean yourself, your cup and hands, being extra careful to keep the exterior of your bottle clean and not let the bidet touch your body. I just spray a little sanitizer on it afterwards just to cover my bases. All menstrual matter goes in the latrine or a cathole, but tampons and pads MUST be packed out.
If you are not using a Menstrual Cup, all items should be packed out and properly stored in a bear bag at night. Here are a few other suggestions, find what works for you:
- Dog poop bags in a larger ziplock (they are opaque, and lightweight)
- A ziploc bag covered in duct tape for privacy with a little baking soda in the bottom
- A peanut butter jar or other hard sided container with duct tape around it
- An old dehydrated meal bag with a zip top.
- Feel free to write “lady stuff, do not open”, “guarded by rattlesnakes”, “POOP”, “PERIOD” or any other helpful information to make sure your campmates don’t confuse your ‘pack it out container’ for anything else.
Bonus material! Here’s how I brush my teeth like a baby beluga!
- Acquire a FREE TOOTHBRUSH from the dentist office (the cheap, single use kind they give you that is preloaded with toothpaste if you forget to brush your teeth the day of your visit). They can be reused, weigh basically nothing and you get to keep your handle! Or this cute little one works too.
- Dried Toothpaste Tabs – You can try making your own in the dehydrator, but mine never turned out. So I bought some toothpaste tabs and and they really leaves my teeth feeling clean.
- Move out of camp, preferably 200 feet, and pretend you are a baby beluga whale SPRAYING your toothpaste as far and as dispersed as you can! No one wants to see your toothpaste spit-blob hanging on a leaf, and toothpaste attracts animals. Plus you and your friends can see who can spit the farthest.
Thanks for reading! There are a plethora of great resources on this topic that I didn’t get a chance to cover here but enjoyed sharing the tried and true things that have worked for me!
If you only leave with one thing today…
Don’t let pooping in the woods or worrying about how to manage your period ever keep you from an adventure. You’ll figure it out!
Go have fun!
Here are a few more links to mastering the outdoor bathroom experience:
Tips for Peeing Pooping and Periods in the Outdoors -Anastasia Alison Kula Cloth Founder
Ultimate Guide To Eco-Friendly Female Hygiene Outdoors- The Walking Mermaid
Got any tried and true tips to share? Or questions? Shoot em over, I’d love to hear them!
33 thoughts on “Backcountry Hygiene: How to Pee, Poop and Period Like a Pro!”
I looked at that nicely presented shot of all your kit and thought, “Where’s the fold up trowel?”
:). I just bring a big aluminum tent stake or use a stick. But I have always been lucky to find soft ground. The ultralight Deuce of Spades looks kind of cool.
I have a Deuce. It’s worth the money. Nothing will ever make it easy to cut through the little roots at the surface or dig in rocky soil (I have nerve damage in my dominant hand), but the thing is ridiculously lightweight & it cleans up easily.
Cool! Ive been eyeing those. I saw that they sell them in the SHT (Superior Hiking Trail) office/gift shop now. Seems like a great marketing opportunity. Ha!
More dental hygiene stuff: I’ve been using Uncle Harry’s Save Your Teeth & Gums tooth powder for over a decade. I love the stuff. There’s no foaming agents in it. You still spit out white spittle, but not as much. I’m so accustomed to the powder that my teeth don’t feel clean when I use paste. Decades ago, I’d just take baking soda because it’s so useful, but there are days that brushing my teeth with baking soda feels like I’m sandblasting my gums.
A week or so ago, one of my newsletters I receive had an article about cheap ultralight gear, and it included the toothbrushes the Bureau of Prisons makes for prisoners. They’re tiny & lightweight because there’s a thumb grip instead of a handle.
Thanks for sharing! I think I saw those! Had no idea they were prison toothbrushes. Interesting!
Thank you so much for linking to my article. I’ve never heard of the Culo Clean so I definitely learned something new. I usually just use baby wipes and pack it out in a baggy. I also really love my Kula Cloth. Makes life so much easier for us ladies… and they are so cute too.
You are welcome! You do such a nice job! And Kulas rock!
Awe thank you. You’re too sweet. I went ahead and added a link on my blog post to yours. Tons of good information in this blog post.
Awesome tips!!! Thank you!
Thanks! Hope they are helpful, happy trails!
This is an awesome I’m seriously going to buy my boyfriend this portable bidet! Amazing!
One problem I have found is my toothbrush tends to get nasty after a couple of days. (Hard to rinse, never dries in a baggie etc). When that happens, I just boil it in some water for a few minutes. Then it feels sanitized again. Happy trails!
Thats an awesome tip. I was just wondering what do do about that. Thanks!!
Do you have any experience with wander wipes from wanderwomengear?
Hi Vickie, I haven’t tried Wander Woman Wipes, but I love the name and Im all for keeping the TP off the trail! The thing I like best about the kula is that it snaps closed. I felt like that was one of the biggest differences from a bandana style design and just kept it a little more protected in case my pack rolled over on it or I wanted to clip it on my belt loop. I’ve been using one since the beginning of the year and its really held up. I just wrote a gear review about it last week if you’d like to check it out. Have you tried a Wander Woman Wipe? I love that there are options!
I haven’t tried either yet, I made my own as a trial for my hike this summer. Liked it, so I’m ordering my upgrade as one of my Christmas presents! I was trying to decide between the two, might end up ordering both so I can compare. I’ve read on some other blogs people have started using them at home. I’m all for saving some trees, my hubby will probably think I’ve lost it but I think I might try this at home also. I like to sew, I do some volunteer work for Days for Girls. We make washable pads for girls living in poverty so they can attend school. I think the waterproof fabric that is used in them would work as the “waterproof” side of a cloth so I could get that fabric to make some for home or maybe a trail buddy project.
Hygiene is important, as if not following certain rules, you can seriously sick. That is why I consider your tips very significant for those who travel a lot and for those who are just at home.
Hi! I just started using a backpacking bidet and it’s got a plenty strong stream, but I’m finding that it still leaves things behind. Any suggestions for that? Am I still stuck using a towel or wipe to make sure everything is squeaky clean?
Hello. I think Andrew Skurka puts it this way in his video. He brings a few TP squares “to polish”. I usually have a minimal amount of paper along for this reason too in case I need it. Personal preference.
Please do not LOL! Perhaps TMI, but I take the risk. To minimize the need for paper I always squat as low as possible and widen the butt crack by spreading the buttocks with my hands. Then I easily can “polish” the area around anus with leaves or a small piece of paper. It works but I always pray that nobody will ever spot me in that stupid position.
Hey, if it works! 🙂
Good article, thank you! I will especially be adopting the alcohol spray into my kit from now on! Can I ask what brand the bright teal & grey pack is in your cover photo at the top?
Hi Samantha. Thanks for reading, glad you found it helpful. Im not totally sure, but I think my friends pack is an Osprey. Happy trails!!
I went on a long backpacking trip with some friends, and we referred to the bags we used to pack out our used TP and feminine products as “moon bags”. I don’t know if the name refers to “mooning”, or to the moon on an outhouse door, or to how periods come once a month like the phases of the moon.
We covered the outsides with duct tape, and wrote our names and drew designs on them. I did a night sky with a crescent moon and some stars. One of my friends, whose aesthetic is a bit more punk rock, did a biohazard symbol and a skull and crossbones, which is fitting enough.
Brilliant idea! Thanks for sharing it here!
I know an outdoor recreation instructor who always makes a special chili on the first night of an expedition. It’s designed to “encourage” anyone who might be new to the outdoors and hesitant to poop in the woods. I may have to ask her for the recipe.
Brilliant! Beans for all!
The musical fruit.