Packing Out Toilet Paper 101

This article was originally published on Appalachian Trail Girl and reposted with permission by Megan Maxwell. 4 min read.

Early Morning on the Mongollon Rim
Photo by Blisters & Bliss

Most beginner backpackers are grossed out by the idea of packing out their toilet paper, and that’s OK. But it’s an important thing to do in order to preserve our wilderness. Occasionally, you might see bits of toilet paper off to the side of the trail. How gross would it be if every hiker was that careless with their TP?

If you are burying your toilet paper, it still takes a long time to decompose, especially if you are hiking in a dry climate. Packing out TP isn’t really that bad once you get used to it. Even if you are an experienced outdoors woman who has been burying your TP for years, it’s never too late to change your ways.

What You Need

Have a Ziploc bag especially for used toilet paper.
Some hikers like to double bag it to avoid accidental rips. I like to take a gallon-sized Ziploc and cover it in duct tape so I don’t have to look at the grossness inside.
I prefer baby wipes over toilet paper.
I think that baby wipes make you cleaner, and since they’re damp they are more efficient than toilet paper. You don’t have to use as many! Plus, they are multi-functional. I use them to clean my Diva Cup during that time of the month, and I use them to wipe down my face and armpits when I get too smelly and dirty.
Don’t forget the hand sanitizer.
I have met plenty of hikers who don’t use hand sanitizer after they do their business (or at all, for that matter). You don’t want to ingest germs or pass them on to other people, so get yourself a mini bottle of the stuff. And on that note, don’t let other hikers touch your food. You never know if someone cleans their hands or not.
You will also need a digging mechanism.
Plenty of people scoff at the idea of carrying a trowel just for the purpose of pooping. You can use your foot to dig, you can use a trekking pole or tent stake or a stick. Lately, I’ve heard other backpackers raving about a new trowel on the market, Deuce of Spades. It only weighs .6 ounces and it can double as a tent stake. It also comes in cool colors. I haven’t tried it myself, but I have heard great reviews. It’s something to consider to make the digging easier.

Finally, I have a bivvy sack to keep all of the bathroom necessities in one place. Sometimes nature calls quickly, and I don’t like having to spend the extra time digging around my pack looking for everything I need. Plus, it’s a good way to keep your TP Ziploc from touching your other stuff.

Where To Go

Follow the 200 feet rule.
Make sure you are 200 feet away from the water source, from the trail, and from the campsite. If you are new to pooping in the woods, find a tree to lean against. If you’re scared of someone spotting you, you can also hide behind a big tree.
Make sure your cat-hole is 6 inches deep.
Sometimes emergencies happen and you can’t dig the hole in time. Dig it afterwards and use a stick to scoot your poop in. I know it’s weird, but it’s better than dancing around while trying to dig a hole.

Once you are done, just fill the hole back in with dirt. Some people like to make an X with sticks so no one digs the spot up. It seems unlikely that anyone will dig in the same spot twice, so it’s really up to you.

Tampons and Period Cups

Yes, you also need to pack our your tampons or you could just use a menstrual cup. You only have to change it every 12 hours. To dispose of the blood, dig a six-inch cat-hole and dump it in. It’s also a good idea to dump a little water on top to dilute it.

Alternatives

Use a pee rag for when you have to pee. It reduces the amount of TP you have to carry.

Some backpackers like to use leaves, snow, or smooth rocks in lieu of TP. If you haven’t done it before, I would bring some TP along just in case. I haven’t mastered this method, so I usually end up using a baby wipe in addition to my leaves. Even if you are not 100% on board with this method, give it a try and you will still cut down on the amount of TP you have to pack out. And you can just throw your leaves and rocks into the cat-hole and bury them when you’re done.

Packing out your TP isn’t really that scary. Plus, you will really feel like you are doing all you can to preserve the environment.


This article was originally published on Appalachian Trail Girl and reposted with permission by Megan Maxwell.

A long-distance hiker, author, wilderness professional, and outdoor travel blogger. She got her trail legs on the Appalachian Trail back in 2012, and since then she’s hiked in the Himalaya, Andes, and all over the United States. This year, she’ll be walking Nepal’s Great Himalaya Trail. You can find her book, The Appalachian Trail Girl, on Amazon.

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