Gear Essentials for Women: The Pee Rag

Ok, I know what you are wondering. What the heck is a pee rag?? Actually, if you’ve spent any time at all on a long trail you’ve probably heard of them, and you’ve likely seen them hanging off the pack of the badass lady hiker in front of you. A “peedanna”, or pee rag, is a bandanna or similar cloth that is designated for wiping after urinating in the woods. A lot of women opt to use a pee rag instead of toilet paper. There are a multitude of reasons why you’d want to make the switch to a pee rag. For me, the ease and convenience were the biggest factor. Here are a few things to consider:

Pros

Trash – The single biggest advantage that I’ve found to using a pee rag instead of toilet paper is less trash. When in the wilderness, you have to pack out what you pack in. This includes wipes and toilet paper. Using a pee rag to wipe urine instead of a wad of toilet paper decreases your trash accumulation, and also means you carry less toilet paper, so less weight which is always good.

Ease of use – You can hang it off your pack so it’s always accessible. Just grab and go when nature calls. You can store it OUTSIDE your pack so there’s no rummaging down into the bottom of your pack while doing a little dance trying to hold it.

A pee rag will not disintegrate when it gets wet and/or become completely useless like toilet paper will. Which means if you get caught in a sudden unexpected downpour on your way to pop a squat in the middle of the night, you don’t end up with a mushy mess in your hand that you can’t use.

Hygiene – I’ve found it much easier to get clean and dry using a pee rag rather than toilet paper. In the wilderness, excess moisture in your lady regions means chafing at best and a UTI or other serious infection at worst. When the urge hits after a big climb in the middle of summer, you’re going to be sweaty. Sweaty bum + toilet paper = probably a mess.

Health – If you are choosing to drip dry, just don’t. On a day hike sure, what’s it gonna hurt. But on a thru or long section hike, things are gonna get nasty and smelly fast if you aren’t wiping. Plus excess moisture = chafing and increased risk of infection. Some people say they will use “natural” materials like leaves. I say this is a sure-fire way to introduce something into your urinary or reproductive system that doesn’t need to be there. A pee rag is definitely a better idea.

Pee Rag

Look closely and you can see the pee rag (tie-dye peace sign bandana) hanging from the back of my pack.

Cons

Smell – While I’ve never gone long enough between washes for my pee rag to start to give off a noticeable odor, I do know some hikers that frequently went more than a week without a shower or laundry. I can imagine a pee rag WOULD indeed start to smell after multiple days between washes. I generally went 3-4 days and this was never an issue. You can also easily collect water from a stream and move 200 feet away to give it a rinse while in the woods – I did do this on occasion.

Cleanliness – Some folks have what I consider to be an unfounded concern about the rag being clean. Urine has a pretty low microbial content in healthy human, and you shouldn’t be using it for feces (or wiping back to front). Some say that by hanging it from the back of your pack, the UV rays from the sun help to sterilize it. While I can see this being the case if you were hiking through the desert, most of us know too well about the “green tunnel” that is the Appalachian Trail. I personally just think that the fact that it’s hanging on the outside of your pack, in the fresh air and occasional sunshine, is enough to inhibit bacterial growth between washes. Just don’t forget to throw it in the laundry when you get to town.

Which brings me to laundry – you DO have to remember to wash it when you get to town. But if you were using toilet paper, you’d have to remember to buy more toilet paper, so I guess it evens out? Just don’t forget. This was a constant struggle for me on my trip. I frequently forgot my pee rag and my face rag hanging on my pack, and my socks for some reason, when I went to do laundry.

Boy hikers may be grossed out by it, but who really cares right? Just be careful not to throw your pee rag around on anyone else’s things.

Tips for Using a Pee Rag

It’s super simple to start using a pee rag. The biggest decision you have to make is what material to use. For my long hikes, I chose to stick with a plain old cotton bandanna. A bandanna is lightweight and since the cotton is thin, it’s pretty quick drying. Cotton is gentle on the skin and absorbent. So, pick your favorite pattern for $1 at the Wally World. Tie it to the back of your pack, and BAM! You’ve got yourself a pee rag.

Pee Rag

Bandannas come in basically any color or pattern – I generally recommend darker colors with heavy patterns to disguise any stains or discoloration.

You may want to tie a knot in one end to distinguish a “handle” so you’re not holding your rag on the end that you pee on. Gram weenies (no offense meant here, guys) may choose to cut the bandanna down smaller – how small depends on your own preference.

If you use a bandanna for any other purpose, be careful not to mix them up! You don’t want to wipe your face or dry your cookpot with the bandanna you’ve been wiping urine with. Color-code so you can tell them apart, or label your pee rag with a sharpie.

Where you tie it on your pack depends on a few factors. I like mine to be on the back of my pack and close to the top. This keeps it from being in the dirt if you set your pack on the ground. Having it close to the top allows sunlight to reach it if you happen to emerge from the green tunnel.

So there it is

I highly highly recommend a pee rag for use on any hike. The pros definitely outweigh the cons for me. What are your thoughts? Have you used a pee rag and loved it? Hated it? Tell me in the comments.

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Comments 12

  • Juts Liek : Mar 14th

    Just a slight correction: urine is not sterile. Mostly a non-issue, but the stuff on a rag, a few minutes after first use, which is what really counts here, is definitely crawling with bacteria.

    Reply
    • Tinkerbell : Mar 14th

      You are correct, not “sterile” as in literally. But healthy urine has low microbe levels and should consist of healthy bacteria present in the urinary tract. I was primarily meaning to differentiate between urine and feces, which even in healthy humans can contain high levels of potentially harmful bacteria. On the rag itself, I’d be more concerned about bacteria from sweat/discharge and/or from around the anus if you’re (heaven forbid) wiping back to front than from urine. However, I think it was a poor word choice and will edit it when I’m at a computer. Thanks for the feedback!

      Reply
  • Katie brown : Mar 16th

    Due to the high humidity and rain of the AT and the lack of sunshine I was actually getting, I found the pee rag wasn’t functioning the way I preferred, so I went with TP for most of the trail.
    On the CDT, it was so damn dry all the time, the pee rag was all I used. Very pro pee-rag.

    Reply
    • Tinkerbell : Mar 27th

      I didn’t have that problem, but I did hike most of the AT this past year during a major drought. Will be interesting to see how it continues to perform as I hike more and more.

      Reply
  • 3rd Wheel : Mar 17th

    Pee rag is definitely the way to go, in my opinion. Pair that with a PStyle and you are good to go!

    Reply
  • Patricia Autry : Mar 17th

    Thanks for your article on the pee rag. I think that when choosing which rag to purchase I would prefer the white cotton due to the dyes of dark colors. If the stains bother others, all I can say is Take A Hike.

    Reply
  • Kari Post : Mar 17th

    I’ve never used a pee rag, but I like the idea of having a way to dry my lady bits without creating waste. I’d definitely choose a yellow bandana for a pee rag – stains wouldn’t show and I’d never confuse it with a bandana used for anything else. My main concern is that in most of the areas where I’ve backpacked throughout the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states (including sections of the AT in Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Virginia) it is way too humid for anything damp to dry unless it is in direct sunshine. In the desert Southwest a pee rag would be amazing, but I’m not convinced it works in forested, humid environments.

    Reply
    • Tinkerbell : Mar 27th

      I didn’t have any trouble with mine drying when I was in the northeast (Mass, Vermont, NH) this summer, nor do I have an issue with it backpacking in the southeast (GA/NC) which is where I hike more frequently. I mean, realistically you’re only wiping a few drops away at a time, not thoroughly soaking it.

      Reply
  • Katie : Mar 18th

    Using a Pibella eliminates the need to wipe pee at all (it is so slim and fits up against you so no drops remain) and you don’t have to squat… it’s pretty much my new backpacking best friend. Just sayin ??‍♀️

    Reply
    • Tinkerbell : Mar 27th

      Thanks for the tip. I’m not familiar with a Pibella, but I’ll have to look it up!

      Reply
  • Ruby Throat : Mar 18th

    I’ve used a pee rag for years. Even if it’s damp from humidity or rain, it still works. And anything we can do to cut down on piles of “wipeys” behind trees is a win for humanity. The only issue I’ve ever had was when on a trip in Montana. I hung my (rinsed out) peedanna on a clothes line at night and a critter ate a quarter of my bandanna! He liked the salty flavor, I guess.

    Reply
    • Tinkerbell : Mar 27th

      Oh no! That’s something I’ve never really thought about. I haven’t had any critters get into mine on the AT and around the southeast, but I’m sure it could happen anywhere.

      Reply

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