The fear of ongoing isolation from coronavirus has driven people to hoard toilet paper, leaving supermarket shelves void of the precious, comforting, cleansing tissue. Now, some unfortunate souls who made it to the store too late are in need of wiping alternatives.
As outdoorsmen, we’re no strangers to searching for comfortable rear-end cleaning materials before dropping drawers. Luckily, Mother Nature has provided us with wonderful alternatives, such as leaves, grass, pine cones, moss, snow, and other options that leave you feeling clean, comfortable, and refreshed.
But what happens when there’s no snow on the ground, no moss to be seen, and the foliage around you could cause lasting damage to that sensitive area? Well, you have to get creative.
On Day Nine of a 10-day backpacking trip in Yosemite—where I made it my goal to not have to pack out any used squares of TP—I found myself struggling to get out of my sleeping bag when the previous night’s dinner wreaked havoc on my insides. As I rushed away from camp, I realized that I was extremely underprepared. I found a spot but no good nature TP was in sight. The only thing that offered itself was a recently fallen twig from the pine tree I was leaning on. The twig was covered with a bright green bushel of needles which, when positioned in a safe direction, had just the perfect amount of texture to make for a comfortable and clean wiping experience.
Our team has spent many days afield, far from the comfort of toilet amenities. Here are some examples of good wiping alternatives from members of the MeatEater crew.
Being able to find some natural object should be a core skill for any outdoorsman worthy of the name. But I once found myself caught short in the Sonoran Desert, and every natural object I could see looked like it was embedded with thorns or spikes. I pulled my knife from my sheath and prepared to cut off my underwear (a move I’d used with great success in the past). I paused when I realized I wasn’t wearing standard cotton drawers, but a new pair of expensive merino wool boxer briefs that I absolutely loved. Seemed like too high of a price to pay.
On my head, however, was a camo ballcap with a company logo, the kind of hat hunters seem to accumulate without even trying. It was an easy decision, but the bill, button on top, and especially the mesh back, made it a far from the ideal tool for the task at hand.
I was shed hunting in Iowa with a buddy when we came across a random sock laying on the ground not far from one of the treestands he’d hunted the previous year. He explained that he’d forgotten TP last season and had to use his sock in an emergency. He then stooped over, grabbed the poop sock, and put it in his pocket. “I could probably still use this,” he proclaimed.
I’ve had my fair share of emergency situations out fishing, but it’s never crossed my mind to use clothing to clean up after. Instead, I’m usually looking around for vegetation but, this whole run on toilet paper has called to mind maybe one of the weirdest facts buried deep in the recesses of my memory: Some Europeans in the Middle Ages and Renaissance would use goose necks to clean up after a BM. The 16th-century French writer Francois Rabelais discussed this at length in his novel “Gargantua and Pantagruel,” claiming to actually prefer a “well-downed” goose neck over paper.
Now I’m all about using the whole animal, and this seems worth discussing in times like these, but I think I’d have to be completely out of all alternatives before goose necks entered the equation.
A few years ago I was pushing a public land shelterbelt for pheasants when I spotted a piece of orange fabric among the leaf litter. I was about to grab it and investigate when I noticed something brown smeared across it. Not far off was an identical piece of orange material with the same markings: It was the sleeves of a t-shirt that someone used in a literal pinch.
I like to think I’ll come across a fellow hunter someday on that piece of ground sporting a homemade orange tank top. I just won’t shake his hand.
While hunting the Himalayas in Nepal three years ago, our entire crew was hit with what we would come to call the “Kathmandu Flu.” It was an immediate and devasting sickness that caused absolute gut destruction. I remember staring at the roof of my yellow Black Diamond mountaineering tent for hours trying to imagine how to escape the pain. I counted every square stitched into the single-wall material. This illness didn’t allow for sleep and at some moments it didn’t allow for even the slightest adjustment in body position for fear of an explosion. I considered calling for a rescue helicopter many times or simply jumping into a nearby river and floating to salvation.
The scariest moment came when it was clear the trips to the latrine would long outlast the number of wet wipes on hand. Toilet paper did little to sooth the burning, and even if it did, the flimsy, one-ply sheets left more on my hands than anywhere.
With the last wet wipe only hours from being soiled, I had improved enough to waddle over to the cook tent in search of some tea. The most experienced climber stood outside the structure, sipping from his mug, looking quite content. After updating him on my condition, he casually mentioned that he had just soiled himself. He said it with such confidence. It’s as if he was free from shame and sure of the path forward.
As I made the desperate journey back to my sleeping bag, I decided that going directly into my underwear wasn’t the worst result. I could always wash them later.