When I was passing through Tennessee on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I heard a hiker joke, “Guess what the Tennessee state flower is?... The toilet paper bloom!” This was funny and gross, but also sadly true.
Toilet paper takes 1-3 years to decompose in areas with wet soil — and even longer in desert or alpine environments. In Tennessee, many hikers dig shallow catholes and leave toilet paper strewn along trails because of the lack of privies. The issue is largely the same in Georgia due to the massive bubble of people passing through. Often, hikers are new to trail and don’t yet know proper Leave No Trace etiquette for burying their business.
So, I decided to do away with toilet paper entirely on my thru-hike and use only the Culo Clean Bidet. The bidet looks like a tiny water bottle cork. You screw it into the top of a water bottle and then simply squeeze the bottle to get a stream of water. Think of it as a splashy way to wake up.
It fits the majority of water bottles, including Smartwater bottles. I used my bidet with the Smartwater bottle designated for unfiltered water (before I filtered it with a Sawyer into my clean water bottle.) Yes, it’s a little gross to use a water bottle to clean your butt — but I did this the entire hike and did not get or give anyone else norovirus.
My routine was to dig a cathole (at least 200 feet from any water source) and then spray my butt with water, before wiping with moss, leaves or rocks. Finally, I’d apply vaseline. I got awful butt chafe in the summer as a result of the humidity and sweat, so when you’re already cleaning your butt — so might as well take care of that too!
Another benefit of a backpacking bidet is that it’s economical. Paying $9.99 for one bidet that you use over and over is eventually cheaper than continually buying new toilet paper.
The Culo Clean is more environmentally friendly, too, in that you’re not using paper — so less trees are chopped down! I think it’s a beautiful thing to use something naturally provided by nature to clean yourself, rather than relying on something man made that leads to deforestation.
There’s something really depressing about using toilet paper at the foot of living trees. With a bidet, as you’re walking through nature on your hike, you can poop assured that your butt is not contributing to deforestation. Nor, do you have to pack out used toilet paper!
One of the only cons of the Culo Clean is that it can be tricky when hikers find themselves in a low water situation. I’ve had a few times where I had to choose between pooping or drinking the rest of my water, which is a little undesirable. It led to a few clenched butt walks to the next water source.
When using a bidet, make sure you are mindful of where you are taking water from. Taking water from a flowing perennial stream — wonderful! Taking water from a water cache put there for all hikers to use — not so great!
Even if you don’t have enough water to fully clean your butt — you can use moss, leaves, smooth rocks. Rocks sound painful, but I swear, it’s just as good as toilet paper. Just find the smooth ones. There is always an option that uses LNT principles and keeps our trails clean and beautiful — just like your butt after converting to a bidet.
Abby Evans, or S.W. Fireball Queen of the Salamanders, enjoys thru-hiking, jumping in mud puddles and catching salamanders. When they're not doing these three things, they love to write about their on-foot adventures. They recently finished the Appalachian Trail and they're looking forward to the Pacific Crest Trail next summer!