I used to ride quite a few elevators in large office buildings when I had a part-time job delivering packages in Boston during the early 2000s. Invariably, some poor office worker with doubtful access to windows would ask me about the weather outside. I’d usually give a curt reply like “great!” or “still raining, dude” as we rode together. Sometimes there would be a longer exchange, some variation on sharing job details. The topic of going to the bathroom never came up.
So it is in the backcountry. A typical small-talk trail encounter is always a riff on the same three questions: Where are you heading? Where did you come from? How are the bacon and bleu cheese burgers in town? Longer conversations often revolve around favorite hiker topics like pizza, showering, and knees. Again, no potty talk.
We need to talk more about the potty. A hiker once told me that his least favorite bit of trail
litter is the disembodied helium balloon. Mine is zombie toilet paper (ztp). Thought to be fully dead and buried in deep the ground by its unsuspecting user, ztp inevitably pokes an ear out of the ground once the wind and rain has had its way or some lucky mouse scores a tasty underground poo snack. ztp has no natural range, but prefers high use camping areas where it can be found waving a corner of itself suggestively out from under a rock. In super high use areas, ztp sprouts up out of the ground by the dozens like a field of daisies. Once fully risen from its shallow grave, ztp bumbles along trailside. Lacking both a skeleton and free will, ztp blows along with the wind, snagging itself and waving in grass in a celebratory manner or skidding across the trail like disgusting tumbleweed.
When encountering ztp, the truly selfless hiker will snatch it up and put it to its final rest at the hands of the Forest Service by way of a zombie-killing trail side garbage can. But my guess is that most of us are a little too squeamish to “bare hand it” on the spot and simply quicken our pace, hoping not to be followed by the undead.
The best way to cut down on ztp is not to create it in the first place. Leave No Trace’s 3rd principle advocates either thoroughly burying toilet paper or carrying it out in a plastic bag. Distancehiking.com feels that the first method should be officially unsanctioned because there are still too many zombies. The second option is much better, but a plastic bag? We are civilized human beings!
My favorite way of packing out tp is in a way Nestlé S.A. never intended. Nestlé, of course, is the maker of the Carnation Instant Breakfast, which comes in a durable, tiny foil packet and makes for a secure, space-saving, and odor-free method for tp disposal. Other foods also come in these packets, so don’t worry if you’re not into drinking your breakfast. Want to make your Annie’s mac really pay off?
1) Enjoy your Carnation Instant Breakfast with Nido powdered milk, water, and a little sprinkle of instant coffee (unless you’re drinking strawberry). For mac and cheese, try a little Old Bay seasoning.
2) Save the empty paper-foil packet and bring it with you when nature calls.
3) Gently placed used tp in the empty foil pouch. Press it down with your finger so you have room to use the pouch for the next time.
4) Roll it up tight and put it in your pack. The foil will have a good seal and no odor should be detected unless you overdid it on chili and beans. Sanitize your hands.
5) Enjoy the rest of your day knowing that you weren’t responsible for making a new zombie.
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