There are two topics that thru-hikers love to talk about on the trail and off: food and poop. One topic that often surfaces about poop is the use of toilet paper or its alternatives. Here we take a deep dive into biodegradable toilet paper so you can stay clean and still leave no trace.
|Price per Roll||Ply||Sheets per roll|
|Coleman's Camper Toilet Paper||$2||2-Ply||65 squares of tissue|
|Coghlan's Camp Toilet Tissue||$1.48||1-Ply||150|
|Cotton Buds Tissue To Go Toilet Paper||$1.5||2-Ply||75|
|KULA cloth (pee rag)||+/- $20||n/a||n/a|
|Scott Rapid Dissolving||$1.46||2-Ply||231|
|Freedom Living Toilet Tissue||$3.11||2-Ply||500|
|Thetford Aqua Soft||$3.03||2-Ply||396|
|Adventure Wipes (compressed wipes)||$33.13||n/a||500|
|Combat Wipes active||$8.13||n/a||25|
|Seventh Generation Bath Tissue||$0.57||2-Ply||240 (2-Ply)|
|BetterWay Bamboo toilet paper||$1.83||3-Ply||360|
|Wholeroll Organic Bamboo Toilet Paper||$1.61||3-Ply||200|
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Biodegradable Toilet Paper vs. Regular
Store-bought toilet paper, like your Cottonelle and Charmin, is naturally biodegradable. These sheets are made from natural wood sources and start breaking down as soon as they get wet. It can take toilet paper up to a month to decompose in ideal conditions. In the less-than-ideal woods, toilet paper can hang around significantly longer.
What makes biodegradable toilet paper different from regular toilet paper is the speed at which the paper degrades. Biodegradable toilet paper breaks down four times as fast a standard toilet paper. This speed is supremely important, especially in a privy or a cat hole. Wouldn't you rather walk by an innocuous pile of decomposed, biodegradable toilet paper than step over a gross toilet paper flower? Biodegradable toilet paper also won't clog drains, making it ideal for recreational vehicles and even your home.
Things to Look For (Considerations)
DISPOSABILITY: WIPES CAN'T BE BURIED
When it comes to biodegradability, toilet paper is the preferred choice. It'll break down faster than any other commercial option. Wet wipes are so much easier for wiping, but they don't break down. Even if you bury a wet wipe, it won't break down like toilet paper. You need to carry out wet wipes if you use them.
Wipes can't be buried and should be packed out (even biodegradable ones).
PACKABILITY: CONSIDER TISSUES, CORELESS PAPER OR TABLETS
You can purchase toilet paper in a variety of forms. There's the typical roll that you can fold and shove in your bag. You can also grab toilet paper that is compressed and shaped into a tablet. The tablets are very compact, allowing you to store many of them in your pack if needed. They are a bit more challenging to use as you have to decompress them before wiping. Another alternative is tissues, which are conveniently packed into self-contained packs.
Two types of packable biodegradable toilet paper, ideal for backpacking.
MATERIAL: WOOD PULP VS BAMBOO VS ALTERNATIVES
Standard toilet paper is made from wood pulp, but that's not the only material used in TP. You also will see biodegradable materials like bamboo, which is soft and naturally antibacterial. There's also hemp and sugar cane paper made from the waste products generated while making sugar.
RESISTANCE: 1-PLY, 2-PLY OR 3-PLY
You'll often see toilet paper advertised as 1-ply, 2-ply, or 3-ply. A single-ply has a single sheet, while two-ply has two sheets and three-ply has three sheets. The higher the ply, the more absorbent the toilet paper. Because there are more layers in each square, the higher-ply toilet paper will be heavier to carry and will take longer to degrade. Toilet paper can also be 'quilted'.Quilting is a way of merging the toilet paper layers to give it some loft. It makes the toilet paper feel plusher, but it doesn't change how it wipes your butt.
ECO-FRIENDLINESS: WATCH OUT FOR CHEMICALS
Depending on the type of toilet paper you purchase, the paper may be treated with BPA, perfumes, dyes, bleach, and more to soften the tissue and make it easier on your bum. It also may not be the best choice for the environment. Choose a toilet paper made from biodegradable materials like bamboo, hemp, or others.
Outdoor-Friendly Rolls (Compact)
Coleman’s Camper Toilet Paper
Sheet per roll: 65
Price: $5.99 (3 rolls)
Coleman’s Camper Toilet Paper is a basic biodegradable toilet paper. It has a handy plastic dispenser that makes it easy to remove a wipe without dropping the entire roll in the dirt. The dispenser also prevents the roll from getting wet if pulled out in the rain. Because it doesn't have a core, it takes minimal pack space. Each package contains three dispensers that each contain 65 feet of 2-ply toilet paper.Available at Amazon
Coghlan's Camp Toilet Tissue
Sheet per roll: 150
Price: $2.95 (2 rolls)
Ever tried rolling your own toilet paper to take on a trip but can't get it small enough? Don't waste your time. Just grab a package of Coghlan's Camp toilet paper. The pre-wrapped rolls are rolled tightly for storage with just the right amount of biodegradable sheets (140) per roll. The package is resealable to keep the tissues inside clean and dry. A little pricey for a 1-ply toilet paper.Available at REI
Cotton Buds Tissue To Go Toilet Paper
Sheet per roll: 75
Price: $8.99 (6 rolls)
Cotton Buds manages to package a usable amount of toilet paper into a dispenser that'll fit in your pants' pocket or the pocket of your pack. Each roll has 75 sheets of 3-ply tissue, which is more than enough toilet paper for an extended backpacking trip. Best of all, they are biodegradable, so you can bury them in a cathole knowing they will decompose.Available at Amazon
Sheet per roll: N/A
Price: +/- $20
Technically a pee rag, Kula cloth is worth a mention for the ladies on the trail. The highly-absorbent, antimicrobial material helps keep you fresh and dry on the trail. It cuts down on toilet paper and is wide enough that you won't get your hands wet when you wipe. It resists odor and is easy to clean in the way when you are in town. When you are done with it, you can hang it on your bag to dry.
If you don't like the idea of hanging a pee rag from your bag. You can opt for a pee funnel, which lets you stand and pee. Funnels direct the pee away from your body, so you don't accidentally pee on your shoes or clothing that touches the ground when you sweat. One pro tip: practice at home with the funnel before hitting the trail. You don't want to accidentally pee all over your clothing while miles away from a washing machine.Available at REI
Camping Toilet Paper (Septic-Friendly)
Scott Rapid Dissolving
Sheet per roll: 231
Price: $23.40 (16 rolls)
Available as a full-size roll of toilet paper, the Rapid-Dissolving Toilet Paper breaks down fours time faster than regular toilet paper. It's designed for RVs, boats, and buses but will work in the backcountry as well. Because it's a full roll, it doesn't come with a handy dispenser. You'll have to package it yourself and use a Ziploc bag to carry it in your pack.Available at Amazon
Freedom Living Toilet Tissue
Sheet per roll: 500
Price: $24.95 (8-pack)
Also designed for RVs and campers, this chemical-free 2-ply toilet paper was designed to dissolve in a matter of minutes. On the flip side, it is not as resistant as other toilet papers on this list, but remains a good value and makes a good option for both backpacking needs and septic systems that clog easily. It provides 500 sheets for every roll and can be ordered as 4- or 8-pack.Available at Amazon
Thetford Aqua Soft
Sheet per roll: 396
Price: $12.13 (4 rolls)
Thetford Aqua Soft is another popular toilet paper designed to be gentle on septic systems. It's a two-ply tissue that's as close to normal tissue as you can get with a fast-dissolving tissue. It's soft and not scratchy and dissolves quickly when wet. Like the other camping TP on this list, it's packaged as a full-sized roll. You all have to wrap your own mini-roll and store it in a Ziploc bag.Available at Amazon
Sheet per pack: 500
Price: $35 per pack
Portawipes wipes are compressed into small coin-shaped packages. The wipes are bigger and bulkier than competing compressed wipes, but that's not a bad thing. They are durable and can stand up to multiple uses. Just rinse, dry, and repeat. When done, the wipes are biodegradable so you can drop them in a cathole or carry them home to your compost pile. Although biodegradable, these are not designed to be flushed down the drain.Available at Amazon
Sheet per pack: 500
Price: $33.13 per pack
This compact and lightweight wipe pack easily fits into a backpack or a toilet kit. These coin-shaped discs ship inside water-resistant storage cases so you can use them in the rain without ruining them. Made from biodegradable cellulose, these wipes will break down quickly. Like most biodegradable toilet paper, they are hypoallergenic and free from chemicals. These are a little thicker than your average toilet paper and could clog your toilet.Available at Amazon
Combat Wipes Active
Sheet per roll: 25
Price: $8.13 per pack
Baby wipes for the battlefield, these Combat Wipes are thicker and larger than your typical wipe. They may be heavier to carry around because they are bigger, but you can make them last longer by cutting them in half. They ship in a resealable package that is handy for keeping the wipes moist and clean.Available at Amazon
Other Eco-Friendly Options
Seventh Generation Bath Tissue
Sheet per roll: 240
Price: $27.58 (48 rolls)
Made with 100 percent recycled paper, the Seventh Generation Bath Tissue is as eco-friendly as it is effective at wiping poop. Not only is it recycled, but the towels don't have any extra dyes, inks, or fragrances. The 2-ply toilet paper will break down but is not as biodegradable as a single-ply toilet paper.Available at Amazon
BetterWay Bamboo toilet paper
Sheet per roll: 360
Price: $21.99 (12 rolls)
Though pricey, the BetterWay Bamboo toilet paper is an eco-friendly alternative to regular toilet paper. It has a 3-ply design that is as strong as it is soft. Bamboo also is hypo-allergenic making it an excellent choice for those with allergies. Because it is packaged as a roll, you will have to make your own protective package to carry the toilet paper in your pack.Available at Amazon
Wholeroll Organic Bamboo Toilet Paper
Sheet per roll: 200
Price: $28.99 (18 rolls)
Another bamboo toilet paper choice, the Wholeroll Organic Bamboo toilet paper, is packed into a compact roll that's easy to stash in your toilet kit. Like most bamboo toilet paper, the Wholeroll Organic squares are made without any harsh chemicals. Soft and safe for delicate skin, the Wholeroll bamboo toilet paper is 3-ply strong for your backcountry wiping needs.Available at Amazon
How to Poop in the Woods
1. Know the regulations: Know the regulations of your area before picking a place to poop. Some highly-trafficked trails, the alpine zone, and wilderness areas require people to pack their poop out. In these areas, you want to use a wag bag.
2. Choose your location carefully: Stay away from where you are camping because you don't want somebody stepping in your shat. You also want to avoid water sources (200 feet away), so you don't contaminate it. Look for a location that is private and has soft, organic-rich soil for digging a cathole.
3. Digging a hole: Use a trowel, stick, or trekking pole to dig a hole that is 6-8 inches deep and about 4-6 inches wide. (according to Leave No Trace guidelines)
4. Squat and go #2 in the hole: To help balance yourself, you can grab a tree a lean back while you squat. You also can sit on a fallen tree and hang your butt off the back. The most challenging position is the freestanding squat, which is how they do it in Asia and requires flexibility.
5. Clean up: Clean up using toilet paper or wipes. Ideally, you want to carry out any wipes or toilet paper, even biodegradable.
6. Cover: Cover up your cathole with the original soils and other natural materials.
7. Clean your hands: Use hand sanitizer to clean your hands if you have it. If you need to use water to wash your hands, do not clean your hands in a water source. Collect the water in a bottle and then clean your hands away from the water source.
Should I pack out my poop or bury it?
According to Leave No Trace principles, you should pack out any non-human waste with you, including biodegradable toilet paper. This allows to keep trails and campsites pristine. You may think that burying the paper solves the problem, but weather and erosion is most likely going to unearth the paper before it has time to biodegrade, causing to scatter all over the area.
How do I pack my poop out?
If the ground isn't soft enough to dig a hole, you'll have to pack your poop out along with any toilet paper you used. This can be achieved easily using a so-called wag bag. Think of it as a doggie bag for human waste. The bag has a wide opening that is wide enough to hang your butt over it. Once you do your business, the bag can be secured until you need it again. Most of these wag bags have a gelling agent inside that'll solidify the bag contents, eliminate smells, and prevent spillage. You can also pick up your poop with a Ziploc bag and double bag it for transport.
What if I don't have toilet paper?
If you don't have toilet paper, you can use some natural alternatives. Striped maple has large, hoof-shaped leaves that are ideal for wiping. You also can grab smaller leaves. Just make sure you have enough of a handful for full coverage. You also can grab a chunk of moss, which is moist, wet, and holds up well to wiping. Stick to leaves you are familiar with to avoid irritation or allergic reactions.
Can I bury biodegradable wet wipes?
No, you cannot bury biodegradable wet wipes. The typical wet wipes often contain plastic fivers that won't break down. There are a few brands of plant-based and plastic-free wet wipes that are biodegradable. These biodegradable wipes decompose in a matter of weeks instead of decades. If you choose wet wipes over toilet paper, make sure to pack them out with you.
What do I need inside my backpacking toilet kit?
You should have a backpacking toilet kit in an accessible part of your pack, so it is ready to go when you are. You can assemble your own toilet kit using the following items:
- Trowel: (0.6oz)
- Toilet paper: (1oz)
- Ziploc bag for poop and toilet paper: (0.1oz)
- Hand sanitizer: (2oz)
- Bag to hold all of the above: (0.2oz)
The total weight of this kit is approximately 4oz. Instead of toilet paper, some people opt for a bidet that uses water to wash your backside. This 0.42-oz portable bidet by CuloClean can be used with any plastic water bottle.
How much toilet paper do I need?
The amount of toilet paper you need varies from person to person. Keep track of how many squares you use at home and cut that in half. You want enough to keep you covered but not so much that it gets heavy to carry, especially if you are packing it out. Women typically need more toilet paper because they use it to pee as well as poop. Ladies, if you want to cut down on toilet paper, consider using a pee rag.
Pee cloth from Kula Cloth