Toilet paper in the woods: a rant and some advice

tp stream 2

What’s wrong with this picture?



I have a rant for you.

It’s an appeal to women, because this is pretty much a woman-centered problem. It’s about leaving toilet paper behind after peeing outdoors, and menfolk don’t leave toilet paper behind after they pee. (Yes, there is #2, but that is less often seen in recreation areas. Backpackers know how to Leave No Trace and daytrippers mostly hold it.)

This means 95% of nasty clumps of toilet paper I find festooning our precious wild spaces were left there by women. So I’m talking to you, Ladies Who Litter.

It is s a form of litter, you know. Just as bad as throwing your Starbuck’s cup on the ground and walking away. People might say it’s “biodegradable” and yes, it will break down…eventually.

Eventually can be a long time, especially in dry places. Like, a year. Or more. Not a week or so, if you’re thinking that. If there’s no rain, the paper just sits and sits, flapping in the breeze, basically immortal. Paper lasts a long time! Think about it. There’s probably toilet paper dating back to WWII floating around Joshua Tree.

If it gets wet and dries up again, toilet paper turns into this sort of crusty papier mache, clinging to the land like a contagious skin disease. Eventually, with enough water and time and maybe some helpful trampling by animals, it will darken and break down enough to be unnoticeable from a distance. But it is still there.

I might notice this problem more than some people, because I’m often off-trail. And everywhere I go, there’s the toilet paper. I squat down to look at a deer track, and realize there’s some under my heel. I settle down in a nice place to admire the view, and then end up focusing on a white blob of paper caught on a bush, ten yards down the hill. I go to the stream to cool my feet and almost step on someone’s nasty leavings (i.e. the picture above).

It drives me bonkers. I clean it up when I can, just like I pick up the empty water bottles and beer cans and pint bottles of booze and cigarette butts and those damn plastic flossing devices and everything else people see fit to leave behind whenever they visit nature.

I suppose we all have our different priorities and beliefs, but to me, the wilderness is sacred, all of it. Not just pristine wilderness, but parks and roadsides and beaches. I’d no more throw toilet paper or other garbage around in nature than I would do so in a church.

And that sense of the sacred is above and beyond my basic obligations toward other humans, who I can safely assume do not want to see my piss soaked toilet paper and other miscellaneous garbage.

But enough ranting.

All this is not to say you should avoid peeing in nature.

Far from it. It’s very, very important to stay well hydrated while outdoors. You should drink lots and pee lots. I’ve heard that the most common call for mountain rescue is for women who collapse on the trail because of dehydration, because they weren’t drinking because they didn’t want to pee outdoors. Don’t let this be you.

I want all women to be comfortable peeing outdoors, for safety and fun and convenience. I just wish that there was some more education about how to properly pee in the woods. It’s not hard to take care of your own needs and take care of the land at the same time.

To whit:

4 tidy ways to pee in the woods

  1. Carry a zip lock baggie in your pocket. Put your used toilet paper in the bag and carry it until you get to the next garbage can. It won’t smell, it’s not that gross. It’s that easy.
  2.  Bury the toilet paper in a hole. This is not ideal. I’d far rather see it packed out, because it will likely get dug up or exposed. But it’s better than nothing. If you forget your baggie, this is the least you can do.
  3. Skip the toilet paper. You don’t really need it, you know. We didn’t evolve with toilet paper rolls attached to our behinds. You can develop your outdoor peeing technique so you can pee clean, mostly drip free. I don’t use TP when I pee in the woods–all I leave behind is a gift to the forest of water and nitrogen, and yes, I’m pretty darn smug about that. Soon I’ll do a separate post on outdoor peeing technique, but in the meanwhile, consider wearing a panty liner when you’re out in nature, then just sort of “dripping dry” for a moment before you pull up your pants. The pad will catch any stray drops.
  4. Carry one of the several urine director devices on the market for women, like this one which is well rated at REI. These not only allow you to pee standing up, with minimal disrobing, but you don’t use TP with them either.

When it is so very easy to keep our wild spaces clean and beautiful, why not do it? Teach your daughters–and your mothers. Offer baggies and panty liners to your friends. Pass it on.

(By the way, I’m trying to think up a good term for toilet paper litter –some of my ideas include “trail warts” or “forest tinsel” or “bush bunting”  Does anyone know one that’s in use? There must be a term in general use among the outdoorsfolk, but I’ve never heard one.)

Leave a comment


  1. I’ve been walking/hiking in my rural neighborhood and in the woods while camping for years and I also have the smallest bladder of anyone I know so I often have to pee outdoors, very often. Over the years I’ve developed my squat and I never pee on my shoes or down my leg and its just not a big deal. I sometimes have kleenex for my nose, but don’t ever need it for wiping as I use your #3 suggestion, which is spot on. I always wear a panty liner and that catches the one drop I might leave otherwise on my panties. Its just so simple.

  2. This was a well needed rant, thanks. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a step or two off trail to look for a bird or something and seen toilet paper, toilet paper, toilet paper.

  3. The other thing wrong with that picture is peeing/ahem that close to a waterway. DON’T DO IT.

  4. How about “tee tee tinsel”?

    I taught my girls how to go without going down their legs and into their shoes. But, it was a long road to perfection. Once, my daughter who was three said, “I guess I will have to drip drop.” (drip dry because there was no tp)

    Never pee on a hard surface since the hard, dried soil or gravel makes it all splash in little tiny droplets onto legs and shoes. UGH But, peeing in grass is difficult because the grass touches my bottom. The place has to be just right. Guys don’t realize what goes into choosing a place to pee.

  5. I think “trail wart” is a more accurate description. Phrases using the words ‘tinsel’ and ‘bunting’ make a truly abhorrent practice sound kinda festive. Good post!

  6. I have been noticing what has to be snot rag tissues all along trails in recent years. It is worse than tinkle tinlsle as it most of the runny nose types just toss it down into ravines, over railings or down a creek bank where one could not really scramble to easily to retrieve a bio hazard influenza spreading eyesore.

    This habit is likely gender neutral…

    • Uggh. You know, I haven’t noticed kleenex so much around here. People need to learn the joy of carrying a bandana for a hankie. Easier on the nose, too.

  7. I think your throw away comment about not leaving trash in a church is tremendously important. I think you could do a quick survey to find out who has a sense of sacred in nature and who doesn’t. Once you have that in hand, I suspect you know who is or isn’t going to litter/pollute/clear cut.

    I’d dearly love to try to create some sort of movement to inculcate that sense of “the sacred” in people. I wonder how to do it?

    • Once long ago, someone grabbed my three-year-old son in church and dragged him to me, telling me they had informed him he should not run in church because God lived in our church. I was so angry and told them to never say that. “My son should not run in a grocery store, either.”

      We would not throw our trash down in the grocery store. Okay, some do, but I doubt anyone reading this does. I think that it is as simple as “respect” for nature, others, the public spaces. “Sacred” in the way you use it probably comes close to “respect.” Of course, if you are a druid, maybe I am wrong…lol.

      If you would not throw trash on the floor in a grocery store or out the car window, why would you throw it down in the forest or down a ravine?

      If I live to be a hundred and totally become a slob, I cannot throw things/trash down.

    • @Bill: Above, Michaeln W linked to a quote about the importance of that sense of the sacred. It’s spot on. Check it out. As to how to inculcate that sense? That’s the million dollar question.

      @Parsimony: There’s two levels at work here. First, I don’t litter anywhere–that’s just good manners, and I grumble plenty about people who throw trash around in my neighborhood, etc. But Nature is where I go to reconnect with myself, with that which is larger than myself, and to feel connected to all things. It is my church, so litter there is extra offensive.

  8. I for one am so tired of heading outside and seeing trash strewn everywhere. Just the other day at my youngests school, we picked up a shopping bag full . Why cant people pick up their garbage? The woods should be a place of quiet serenity, not a dump. And a quiet local street shouldnt be riddled with plastic wrappers and cigarette butts.

  9. There’s also the P-Style, which can be had from Amazon for $11.99, which is the device I use and can attest to as working well without toilet paper. I have to mention that a search on ‘p-style’ at Amazon also brought up “LG LT700P Refrigerator Water Filter” which is truly scary.

  10. I know it is suburbia, but my neighborhood is nature, too. And the morning after is one reason I would like to abolish Halloween trick-or-treating. I try to walk every morning and after Halloween I make sure I have two grocery bags with me to pick up all the wrappers left in the street from kids who can’t wait till they get home. If the trash goes down the storm drains, it just ends up in the ocean. Which is a topic all on its own.

  11. Toilet paper for hiking? I’m feeling very alone here… who can notice a few drops of pee when you’re all sweaty anyway?

  12. 1) An appropriate dry leaf, live leaf, or twig will also do for removing the last drop. Not poison ivy, obviously. Or nettle.

    2) Not sure why it needs a cute name. “Trailside toilet paper” accurately describes it as out-of-place and human-made.

    I have a 12-acre farm that is on the edge of town, surrounded by neighbors. It’s a goldfish bowl, no privacy. It’s really quite remarkable how many farm visitors/volunteers think they have the RIGHT to pee anywhere they want, just because it’s a farm…even if they don’t leave paper. So, why can people figure out to not leave paper on a farm, but think they can pee anywhere, and yet leave paper in the woods, where it’s more ok to pee off the trail? (“Off the trail” on the farm is probably in the vegetable garden or where livestock will be grazing or where I will be mowing and picking up the clippings for garden mulch…yuck!)

  13. Definitely. And if you bury it, dig a hole large enough to actually bury it properly, not just a shallow cover up layer on top.

  14. I will never forget the lecture on ways to pee in the woods before my 8th grade backpacking trip. The teacher jumped onto the desk and said “there are several ways to do it, The High Squat, The Low Squat, The Lean, The Hang, etc etc” while demonstrating each one (fully clothed)

    It was the most hilarious lecture I have ever seen. I later successfully peed in the woods for the first time ever…on the continental divide to boot!

    Kelly if you want help with this project, I’d be happy to pop over. We’ll be backpacking for a few days though…perfecting our technique

    • Thanks, Meghan! I think I’m in love with your 8th grade teacher. Have a great trip!

  15. i have never ever heard of using tp when peeing outdoors. this is one of the strangest phenomena ive heard of. so yeah definitely ive never used tp when peeing on the ground.

  16. I’m a dude, I hang out in the woods a lot and I leave lots of dirty TP in my wake. I usually try to “heel it in” before taking a dump but that may or may not be entirely successful. Besides I need to leave behind a little of my scent for the animal kingdom so they know who the man is.

    Yea, get some of that mr bear…you know you love it.

  17. Undoubtedly, someone will mis-interpret your excellent suggestion, so please allow me to re-emphasize that the ziplock baggie containing the used TP is to be carried out of nature by the user and disposed of only once back in civilization, and NOT to be discarded or buried or left behind in nature! Unfortunately, you yourself may have encountered that kind of “combination refuse”, as have I.

  18. I think I might have learned this technique from _How to Shit in the Woods_, but by now I can’t remember anymore. Anyway! If you carry along a bike water bottle, it can be used as a water bottle bidet – aim at your backside and rinse clean. Learning this technique sure made me start to wonder about the entire toilet paper industry. A great method for long bicycle rides, too.

  19. I just came from 5 days in the High Sierra’s very remote back country and there were places that had tons of left behind toilet paper, very gross. The ranger called it Sierra Lillies, don’t like the nice name for something so gross. Pack it out if you have to use it.

  20. In case you guys don’t know. Urine is normally sterile, unless you have Hepatitus C. It is also a great fertilizer. I use it on my garden, and compost pile all the time. I put it on one side of my garden this winter and that part of the garden is doing so much better than the part that did not get any. It also does not hurt to pee in the water. Any body of water has natural bacteria that feed on urine. Other wise all the fish would die from all their pee.
    I do agree that leaving trash is bad. I for one never litter.

  21. When we have to pee or poo in nature, we simply wash with water brought specially for that event. We also bring special soap to wash our hands after that event. When finished, one feels fresh and ready to continue(no feeling of “Ew! I need to shower and change my clothes!”)

  22. Thanks for writing this. I’d love to re-post it. It drives me nuts when I go backpacking and see t.p. litter. It’s a gal’s worse advertisement of their presence. People who leave their t.p. in nature are totally inconsiderate of others. It makes natural spaces seem dirty and unappealing.

  23. I want you to know after reading this we went camping and I took your pad tip and left no trace behind.

  24. I fully agree with you, I am a huge hater of litter. I am always on the lookout, almost obsessed with it. I am trying to think of a clever name, Naughty Nappy, Tainted Tissue, Female Foul, I know they are silly. I also try to recycle. There is a new product I am going to try, it is called a Moon Cup, it is a reusable menstrual cup, perhaps you have heard of it, I am not a huge user of tampons and never was. I get an infection quickly if I use them. I wear one only if I am swimming. But, alot of women do, and they are destroying the sewer systems. Not to mention the Pads, sanitary napkins that are filling up the landfills. This neat little silicone cup is the answer to all of that, and in the long run will save women alot of money. One cup is $30.00 and it lasts for years. I am very squeamish when it comes to blood, so I am a little anxious. You simply insert the silcone cup and it fills up with your flow and then you remove and rinse and reuse. Sounds very simple and practical to me. You can sleep with it in, and I am excited about not waking up with blood stains on my sheets and on my panties due to leakage.
    You can also swim, and run and jump and all the other fun stuff we don’t do when Aunt Flow is in town. The reviews say it is very comfortable and you don’t feel it at all, I am also excited not to have a bulky pad between my legs. Yeah!! The reviews also say that women do not experience cramping as bad and their periods are shorter. That will be interesting to find out as well. The website is I hope this information was useful to you. Peace and have a super sparkly day!!

  25. What’s the big deal? I pee outside a lot and always just wipe and drop it. when my friend and i are jogging wee have a couple diffrent pee places,yea there’s tp alover the ground from us and it looks like other girls do it here too. whatever

    • I hope that you and “the Mad Pooper” (made comment on Aug 5th, ) can find each others doorsteps and pee and poop to your hearts content. “Yea, get some of that mr bear…you know you love it.”
      I’d like to know which one of you gets pissed off first. You two disgusting people deserve each other.

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