10 Things to Wipe Your Butt With in the Woods

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!

tp empty shelves
Photo credit: Sam Finney. From krcw.com

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.

Photo by Justin Watters

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:

  1. 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.charmin tshirt
  2. 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.thumbs_up_large
  3. 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.

    Photo by Justin Watters
  4. 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.

    Source: Flickr- b1ue5ky
  5. 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.

    This is a Neolithic Polished Stone Axe Head…  Or is it??  Source: Darwin Country
  6. 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.
  7. 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!

    Source: National Park Service
  8. 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).

    Source: Flickr- Joi
  9. 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.

    Photo by Justin Watters
  10. 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.

    Photo by Justin Watters

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.


25 thoughts on “10 Things to Wipe Your Butt With in the Woods”

  1. This story immediately reminded me of the incidental flight suit sleeve depository/emergency paper. A must retell if you know Dave V.

  2. Thanks for the post. Very enjoyable ! 🙂 It also managed to bring back some funny memories. One event I will share happened while camping in the mountains of Utah. With the higher altitudes our limited choices were basically kept to; the occasional larger smooth rock, the particularly small leaf of the aspen tree, or the better sized pine cones that littered the mountains. One very wet morning (it had been raining for most of the night), a member of our group had gone to take care of his morning business. He wasn’t missed but, most of us noticed when he came moseying back into camp. He had an odd gait and an interesting grimmace on his face which was followed by his 5 simple words of wisdom, “never use a wet pinecone.” 😀

  3. So hilarious! My experience, Dried leaves = No good. I think we’ve all experienced one (if not more of the above). Here’s my PSA: I’m not as adventurous as I used to be with creative wiping, so I started using using Bob’s Butt Wipes. They are 100% biodegradable and fall apart quickly once they get wet. It’s the greatest thing ever…your backside and your traveling partners will thank you.

    1. Haha! Yeah, I don’t think the Charmin bear would go for that “crunchy fallen leaves” feeling ;). I’ll have to check out Bob’s soon- they sound like a good solution. Glad you enjoyed the read, and thanks for your input Jonathan!

  4. Today I went trekking through the woods with my dog, Wolf. Well, about two hours in I decided I could not go back home to my porcelain throne. So, I looked around to decide what to wipe with. I chose large leaves from from large trees to avoid using something poisonous. Well, I learned a lesson from this. Always, always use the backside of the leaf instead of the darker green side. It actually worked very well. But let’s just say that although this incident was a success, I think I’ll go to the bathroom before I trek out into the woods next time!

  5. Pooing in the lake is probably one of the worst ideas ever. The reason why they ask everyone to do their business 200 feet away from a water source is so that it doesn’t contaminate the water that everyone else is drinking from. Would you poop in your cup of water? If not, please don’t do it out in nature. Just because you’re not drinking from that water source at that particular moment, does not mean that someone else isn’t going to. Also, for all your other sources, aside from a rock, snow, and some leaves, you’re creating waste that most of the people on this blog will not pack out, thereby completely ruining the experience of other outdoor lovers when they chance upon your poop covered socks.

    1. Hi UA, and thanks for reading. I appreciate your comments, and I agree with you about following local regs on keeping our playgrounds sanitary. I think maybe I should use the sarcasm font more freely, though ;). The woods-poo is always a hilarious topic, and my aim was to entertain more than inform. It seems that you have experience outdoors- do you have any more serious advice for readers?

  6. Entertaining info but hope not needed. I’d also like to add to your list, is a previous eaten corn cob. Aparently used in small isolated philipino islands if no bog role..

  7. Let’s not forget the stick (sans the bark). Another option is the same material and method used to make your “fire nest” – the soft shavings of a tree behind the bark; Volume is the key there! Get a nice big handfull, and do try to use a softer wood. This also makes a good top-covering when you’re done. (Dig a hole, please, even if only a few inches with the heel of your shoe – or the stick).
    Note: The hand method (vurp) is exactly why in some cultures it is considered an insult to wave, greet and eat with the Left hand.
    Thanks for the tips! I especially enjoyed the one sleeve belly shirt 😂

  8. As a young lad in rural New Zealand we used a bush shrub called the kerosene plant locally if we got caught short in the wild.
    Proper name I found out recently is Wooly Nightshade. It sounds similar to Wooly Mullein and absolutely the snakes eyebrows for arse wipes, being soft, effiective and with a slight kerosene smell.
    We never dumped in lakes or rivers, these were our playgrounds but once in desperation had to use a pair of brand new underpants which got buried with the dump by our creek.
    All good until my younger sister told my mum with calamitous results for me.
    Lived in England for years now so use toilet roll 100% these days.

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