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Bathroom Etiquette

In Praise of the Backcountry Bidet

No, your way is gross.

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Toilet paper, wet wipes, wet leaves, green leaves, dry leaves, river rocks, regular rocks, sandy rocks (ouch), moss (yuck), snow, a stick: in my backcountry career, I’ve attempted to wipe my bottom with just about anything even vaguely suited to the task. I’ll never do it again.

Anyone who’s been out in the backcountry  lately knows that the infamous “Charmin bloom” is now the fastest spreading invasive species out there. Bless (or something) those souls who think that sunlight and magic disappear toilet paper. We know better: proper poo technique is always a must, but there’s still the tricky business of what to do with the wipings.

At first we all learned to bury, then, in an effort to leave less of a trace, we made the transition to packing it out. So did I, selecting the double-bag method and resigning myself to washing my hands raw after just about every step to avoid contamination. But on a recent trip it dawned on me that I was literally carrying a bag of unmitigated bio waste for miles up and down mountain passes. If it wasn’t the grossness that put me off double bagging, it was the weight. 

One morning in full squat, I recalled a video I’d seen a few years back. Some intrepid reporter in Texas tracked down trail legend Nimblewill Nomad and took the opportunity to ask the man how he did his business. With the matter-of-factness of a fellow who lives his life in hiker mode, Nimblewill pulled out a small water bottle with a hole in the cap and a soap container: his backcountry bidet.

culoclean
The CuloClean is an attachment that turns any plastic bottle into a portable bidet. (Photo: Courtesy of CuloClean)

That’s gross, I’d thought to myself. But was my way any better? There was the cat hole choreography and bipedal crab walking of not wanting to touch anything before I could wash up. And then there were the unfortunate instances where lost balance or a hand planted in the wrong place led to several rounds of sudsing and dousing with precious filtered water. The more trip days I have, the more that fall into the latter category, or so it seems. 

So maybe ditch the TP and go natural. Sure, but who among us would argue that a leaf or even a handful of ‘em is up to the task? Even a dry river stone (my top pick among the in situ stuff) more scoured than squeegeed. Then there’s the not-super-clean feeling that combines with sweat to create a malodorous mélange or, way, way worse, a skin infection.

So now, like Nimblewill, I’m bringing just three things to the cat hole:  trowel, soap, and water. And I don’t even have to reset my feet between the act and clean-up. The result? Less water used, less of the poo-poo shuffle, fewer things contaminated, much less soiled TP in its special double bag giving me the gags every time I come across it, and, of course, that oh-so-clean feeling.

In the (rear) end, I think we’d all do well to take the advice of Del the Funkee Homosapien, who urges us to “Wash your ass . . . or else you’ll be funky.” That’s a sort of funk that no one—and no place—needs.

Convinced? Make your own backcountry bidet by poking a hole in the cap of a screw-top water bottle with a nail, or just use one with a squirt nozzle. Alternatively, the CuloClean ($10) is a portable bidet attachment that plugs into any plastic water bottle.