Learn to Poop Outside Responsibly with a Backcountry Bidet
Pooping in the backcountry is unlike pooping at home in many important ways. Digging a proper cat hole requires patience. An emergency quickly flares into an EMERGENCY without proper planning. There’s no sink for washing up afterward, and no frosted glass to blur you into anonymity. Forcing trail-abused legs into an uncomfortable squat inevitably keeps doo doo dawdling to a minimum of one risks never straightening up again at all.
However, perhaps the most relevant difference for backcountry poopers is the lack of the magical whirlpool portal to yank solid waste and soiled toilet paper into oblivion, out of sight and out of mind. This isn’t a subject for polite society, but we’re backpackers, dirtbags, and hikertrash. Poop is part of our culture.
TP vs. LNT
Unfortunately, with backcountry usage increasing across the nation, especially in the most popular areas, buried TP is clambering from the grave, back into sight and back into mind. The white paper can take 1-3 years to decompose in ideal conditions, and potentially (much) longer in the cold, wet, or dry soils of alpine, wetland, or desert environments. Toilet paper “blooms” are a common sight along the southern portion of the PCT, where heavy usage combines with dry desert dirt and the gruesome leavings of hiker hunger to turn the National Scenic Trail into a National Septic Tragedy.
Okay okay, it’s not really that bad, but the backcountry is suffering needlessly. Leave No Trace (LNT) principles dictate packing out used TP rather than burying it. Hikers who fail to abide by these simple tenets are either uneducated, indifferent, or have yet to shake the squeamishness of their polite societal upbringing.
I buried my backcountry TP for years, including during the entirety of my 2015 PCT thru-hike. The outdated practice is what I learned growing up in the Boy Scouts. Some small sense of entitlement convinced me that I was justified in maintaining my status quo rather than adapting to the latest best practices. I ignored the pleading persuasions of the PCTA to “pack it out” because it seemed inconvenient and downright nasty.
After the PCT, when my guilt got the better of me, I started burning my toilet paper in the backcountry. I still wasn’t ready to carry it out, and I hoped to make my TP problem literally disappear. It worked for the most part, but this method is far from ideal. Starting a fire in the backcountry, no matter how tiny or well placed, is risky business. I shudder to think of the many thousands of backcountry users employing this same technique and the disasters that would inevitably ensue. Lightning causes enough fires in our increasingly flammable forests. Humans already start many more in stupid ways. No need to add ‘pooping’ to that list.
So here I am, after over a decade and a half of pooping in the woods the wrong way, finally doing it right. But here’s the kicker, I’m still not packing out my TP.
No TP, No Problem
The key to not dealing with packing out poopy TP is to not pack in clean TP (or that fat stack of napkins included with your Taco Bell burrito(s)) in the first place. Simple. One way to achieve this is by using natural materials found onsite to wipe. Snow, smooth stones, sticks, and soft leaves all do a surprisingly good job. In fact, toilet paper is missing from the gear list on all backcountry trips hosted by Big City Mountaineers, a wonderful non-profit that brings youth participants on excursions into the backcountry, likely their first.
I won’t lie though, natural options are not Charmin soft. Even the half-ply National Park toilet paper feels plush compared with glacier-polished Sierra granite. After a few rugged, TP-less days north of Kennedy Meadows on the PCT, I used leaves intermittently when available. However, by the time I hit Oregon, I had fallen back into old, bad habits. In the following years, besides several desperate moments on the CDT, I was back to TP all the way. I applaud anyone who sticks with sticks, but this isn’t a viable long-term method for me.
The Way of the Bidet
This July I moved into a house with two toilets. Luxury, I know. There’s nothing special about the one at ground level, but in the basement, lurking deep in the earth, what awaits is no casual commode. An aftermarket attachment has upgraded the humble porcelain throne into a firehose of a bidet. I was hesitant to try it at first and it took some practice to get right, but I am now a full convert to the way of the bidet.
It was this positive experience that initially opened me up to the idea of using a bidet in the backcountry. Earlier in the year, I stumbled on the CuloClean, a travel bidet that only weighs 12 grams and attaches to most plastic bottles. I had chuckled initially, but with my new-found appreciation for the butt-cleaning power of water, I decided to snag one, hoping it would help me get over my backcountry TP problem.
CuloClean Backcountry Bidet At-a-Glance
Weight: ~0.5 ounces (12grams)
Compatibility: Most narrow-top plastic bottles
The CuloClean is a multipurpose personal hygiene product. It produces a strong jet of water that can be used for many different applications, just about anywhere. I use mine in lieu of TP to clean up after pooping, but I can see it being useful in other ways, such as irrigating a wound to clear it of dirt before dressing.
Circumstances of Review
After a few weeks of practicing at home, I brought the CuloClean on a four-day loop in eastern Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness. My diet of beans and cookies provided ample opportunity to put it to the test. I brought a few squares of TP as backup, but never considered using them, even when faced with filling my bidet bottle from a frigid puddle of snowmelt. Bidet all the way.
CuloClean Backcountry Bidet Features
Portable: The CuloClean is tiny, which makes it easy to take just about anywhere. The major caveat is, of course, that its use also requires a bottle.
Eliminates need for TP: TP is not just a backcountry problem. Bidets in general are better for the environment than toilet paper. TP left in the wilderness is obviously bad news, but even a responsibly flushed roll comes at a steep cost. In the “Issue With Tissue” the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) highlights how the largest producers of toilet paper in the US source material from some of our most climate-critical environments, including virgin wood from Canada’s boreal forests. We are literally “flushing away our forests.” Bidets benefit the backcountry and the climate as a whole.
Versatile: A clever design makes the CuloClean compatible with most plastic bottles. No matter what you like to drink, chances are you’ll down a delicious beverage before christening your backcountry bidet.
Variable pressure: The water stream’s intensity varies with the squeeze pressure applied to the bottle. From gentle to invigorating.
Ease of Use
The CuloClean weighs about the same as a bite of Clif Bar and does the job well. However, I recommend practicing at home where there is ample TP to check your work. It took me some time to find my favorite bottle and dial in my aim.
The device fits snuggly in the neck of an open plastic bottle. Two o-ring diameters accommodate the two most common bottle measurements (Smartwater OK. Gatorade not.) Just fill the bottle, press in the CuloClean, aim, then squeeze.
It’s probably good form to carry a dedicated bottle specifically for use with the CuloClean. I like the skinny profile of Sparkling ICE, and the 17-ounce volume has never left me high and dry. Bolder hikers might get away with something smaller. Flexible bottles like the Platypus Softbottle or Sawyer Squeeze pouches do not work well, unfortunately. They are harder to aim and lose a significant amount of water to gravitational forces.
Importantly, no matter how inconvenient it may seem to pack an empty bottle to accompany this widget, as a tool to reduce ecological impact, it’s worth it. I don’t see this bidet as a luxury item. Nope, it’s nearly on par with the 10 Essentials, one of those non-negotiable items that’s on every gear list, no matter how ultralight. Shaving ounces, or grams, in this case, is no excuse to selfishly degrade our shared spaces. Have a plan for pooping. Pack it out if you pack it in, wipe with leaves, or use a backcountry bidet.
Lightweight: Even including a dedicated bottle, the CuloClean doesn’t weigh a whole lot.
Cheap: $8.99 is a small price to pay for a pristine backcountry, free from unsightly TP blooms.
LNT: A trail bidet is LNT-compatible as long as you locate and dig your cat hole to specifications. Not bringing TP means there is one less trace to leave behind.
No TP: Confident users will not need to carry any TP at all, which is great for the environment. Eschewing TP also means that there is nothing nasty to bag up and pack out, which is great for the poop-averse hiker.
Effective: In my personal opinion, bidets are more hygienic than TP. However, this depends on the competency of the user. Results will vary.
Simple: The CuloClean is a simple product that is simple to use. There are no moving parts or anything to suggest that it will not last a very long time.
Clean hands: This version of the backcountry bidet is essentially hands-free and keeps your digits a safe distance from the action. The CuloClean squirts water, which is an effective cleaner by itself and eliminates the need to feel around back there. It’s still a good idea to use hand sanitizer before diving back into that bag of chips, though.
Takes practice: Bidets are arguably less fool-proof than TP and might take practice to master. It took me some time, but my partner, SpiceRack, claims that she nailed it on her first try. Regardless, I recommend starting in the privacy of your own home where you can phone a friend if anything goes awry.
Requires H2O: In water-scarce environments, every ounce matters, and spilling 17 on the ground feels like a waste. Not only is water heavy, but risking dehydration for a luxurious butt bath may not be viable. These issues can be mitigated by knowing your body and planning accordingly around known water stops, but Nature’s call is impossible to tame.
Dedicated bottle: Even a slender 17-ounce bottle is bulkier than a few days worth of TP. Unfortunately, flexible bottles do not work well with the CuloClean.
Gets you wet: A bidet is like a shower for a very specific part of your anatomy, so it should come as no surprise that the CuloClean will get you wet like a shower. Some at-home bidets have an air-dry feature, but this is a luxury not afforded to the backcountry bidet user. A quick google search also suggests that in-home bidet users dab dry with a hand towel. A trail version of that, similar to a pee rag, is an option. So far, I’ve gotten by with just pulling up my shorts, even when it has been well below freezing. With improving aim, I’ve reduced the amount of residual wetness significantly, and I quickly forget about it.
Splashback: This is a real issue that increases proportionally with the water pressure from the bidet. I think the risk of contamination is still minimal, especially using a long-ish bottle, but I’m always careful to rinse and sanitize my hands after pooping (which is a great idea no matter where you are!). I also widen my stance a little bit to keep my feet clear.
Do Your Dooty
When it comes to pooping in the woods, there are three cleanup options that comply with LNT principles:
- Pack out used TP
- Wipe with what you find
- Use a backcountry bidet
While none of these are perfectly convenient, they are all worth the effort in order to limit the unconscionable spread of human poop garbage in the wilderness. As users of the backcountry, we all share a responsibility to limit our impacts on the natural landscape. When it comes to toilet paper, burying it is not good enough, and burning it is dangerous and irresponsible.
Methods one and two both work great, but I’m for the bidet all the way. The CuloClean leaves me cleaner than TP, and feeling a tiny bit less guilty about deforestation in Canada gives me more satisfaction than it should. Desert hiking will challenge my resolve, but if journeying in water-abundant locales, I need not worry about feeling fresh. I encourage you to give the CuloClean a shot. You have nothing to lose except for the guilt of bad habits, or the baggie of poopy paper in your backpack.
Disclaimer: This product was donated for purpose of review.
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