UPDATE: MARCH 2020… In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve begun to see how misinformation and media hype can cause unnecessary panic… e.g. Stores are completely sold out of toilet paper!
So, to ensure we don’t take ourselves too seriously, please consider the following 10 options if you missed out on the initial “Hamsterkauf” of paper products.
And then, to ensure you are taking this pandemic seriously enough, please take a look at this well-written article on Medium that helped me understand what we were up against and why it matters- even to young, healthy people.
Stay sanitary and keep your distance, my friends
This post spawned from a lively discussion during a weekend climbing trip to the Katsu-dake crags in Okinawa, Japan. I must say that I have had many similar conversations, but this discussion, in particular, was quite in-depth. A special thanks to the Okinawan climbing community for the inspiration! I’m sure you are proud.
Disclaimer: Some of the items listed are not necessarily “Eco-friendly.” You are not a child. If you use an unorthodox wiping material, then pack it out in a ziplock or poop-tube in accordance with local procedures. No one wants to come across a nasty old sock with remnants of you all over it.
Toilet paper, and my personal camping favorite- the baby wipe, are like the comfort food of sanitary products. We get so used to using them in our day-to-day life that it is nearly impossible to imagine what to do without them. Here are the facts: 1) You have to eat food to keep your energy level up. 2) Your body processes that food, and must dispose of the waste. 3) It is not healthy or comfortable to “hold it” until you find some porcelain. 4) If you hang out in nature long enough you will eventually find yourself unprepared and without the standard-issue material to clean up afterward.
So… Just what should you do? What can you use to wipe your butt in the woods? The most important thing to remember is not to panic. Take a breath, turn your “woods-eyes” on, and you will probably find something that will work just as well, if not better than the real thing. The second most important thing is to think of this before you settle into that perfect little tree-well, not during. Here’s 10 solid alternatives, listed in no discernible order:
- T-Shirt: Effective, but not a sustainable resource. It will be pretty obvious to your comrades that you are ill-prepared when you show up back at camp with a belly shirt and one sleeve.
- Hand: This technique is still common in some South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. Although it may be thorough, there will likely be a sanitation hazard afterward. Always remember which hand you have designated for this duty! Most choose the left hand.
- A page of your book or journal: Make sure you are finished reading that page first. Or, if it is your journal, ensure it is pulled from one of the boring days that you documented. This is what we might call a multi-use item. You can read while you do your business, then use the page you just read.
- Money: This option is unsanitary to begin with. I would consider the bill’s originating country to avoid possible sickness or VD later on. However, there is more than one story of lost hikers keeping themselves alive by starting a fire with the bills in their pocket. I guess the desperation is no different in our situation.
- Rock: The scrape method was popular in ancient cultures. The key is in the shape. You want something with an edge, but definitely not a sharp edge.
- Sock: Merino wool is just as soft and wicking on your bum as anywhere else. It is one of the more pricey options, though. The advantage here is that if you use one, you might as well use the other one later. Like the t-shirt, this is not a sustainable resource.
- Wooly Mullein: The Miner’s TP. One of the very best natural substitutes, mullein is soft, absorbent, and has large leaves. The seed is actually used to expel tapeworms from the body, and the flowers and leaves are antiseptic and astringent. Plus, it is considered an invasive plant, so no one will care if you harvest it. All good properties in my book. Plants are great, just remember your poisonous characteristics. A waxy coating will make for a poor wipe, and is also a characteristic of plants like poison ivy, and poison oak!
- Fuki: Here is a variety that is native to the Western Pacific islands. I remember seeing it at the crag we climbed at in Oki. The properties here are sound: Large, soft, and abundant. The name of this plant, fuki, is loosely derived from the Japanese word which means to wipe (ふく). It is also known as butter burr or bog rhubarb. The leaves of this plant are also edible (before wiping).
- Snow: The most refreshing alternative. Yeah- it’s really cold, but trust me. You’ve never felt more refreshed after a long day in the woods. Consistency is key. Not too powdery, not too clumpy. Kinda like building a snowman.
- The Lake: This only works if your rest area is close by; not if you must travel to get there. It will also, more often than not, be damn near freezing. On the upside, the rest of you will be clean as well.
This list is definitely not an exhaustive one. Please use the comment box below to enlighten us on your natural “loo roll” of choice, or give us a funny story from your experiences with “the call of nature.” You can even use your Facebook account to comment. Cheers!
Update: For a fitting prequel, be sure to check out Adventure Journal’s “7 Great Ways to Poop Outdoors”
Remember: Never take things too seriously, and let the s*#t hit the fan every once in a while.