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Now that I’ve got you with that fantastic title, its 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 right before a recent Superior Hiking Trail trip . I became so attached to it that I almost started crying when I thought it fell out while climbing over a deadfall, mid-trip, and later discovered it had just snuck down deep into my bottom backpack pocket!
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. Check out their site to read more about how to properly pack out ALL of your waste, from human waste, to waste water and food.
Here it is! The Official Wandering Pine 4 day Personal Hygiene kit!
Contained in a handy-dandy sandwich sized ziploc bag for freshness:
- (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
- (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 the beginning of the year 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, I pack it out! Gross!) Experienced hiking 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 giving her crap about backcountry bidets (pun intended) and getting a bad case of the giggles when I saw this Andrew Skurka video. 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 and I still think they are weird and hilarious. BUT, this nifty gadget shoots out water in just the right angle and pressure stream to keep every thing spiffy clean. On hot, gross days, your nether regions 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 7 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 in Grizzly country 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. You really don’t want to wash your face and butt with the same cloth every day on the trail, and this is a nice way to clean up twice a day and not have to pack it out.
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 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 well, 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 must go in the latrine or a cathole, but tampons and pads MUST be packed out. Someday I will tell you the story of my first backpacking trip and how I know that Bear Spray and Diva Cups don’t mix.
If you are not using a Menstrual Cup, all items must be packed out and properly stored in a bear bag at night. This can easily be done by using:
- 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
- Feel free to write “girl stuff, do not open”, or any other helpful information to make sure your campmates don’t confuse your ‘pack it out bag’ for anything else.
Bonus material! Here’s how I brush my teeth like a boss!
- Aquire 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!
- LUSH Toothy Tabs – dried toothpaste tabs. You can try making your own in the dehydrator, but mine never turned out. So I bought the Triple Menthe on a trip to Canada and it really leaves your 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:
Got any tried and true tips to share? Or questions? Shoot em over, I’d love to hear them!