Grossed Out By the Idea of a Pee Rag? You Shouldn't Be.
So... you've heard of pee rags, but you aren't quite ready to try one. It sounds pretty gross. I mean, who wants to carry a urine soaked piece of cloth on the outside of their backpack for the world to see? Actually, there are plenty of good reasons... some about you, and some about the wilderness.
Let's first look at what a pee rag is and how it's used.
The Pee Rag
Also called a pee cloth, a peedana, or reusable wipe, a pee rag is a piece of cloth that is for wiping urine. That's it. That is it's sole purpose - to wipe pee. It is NOT to be used for fecal matter, snot, or sweat (unless it is THOROUGHLY washed between uses). It should look different than anything else you are carrying, so you don't mix it up with your pack towel or bandana.
There are multiple options on the market these days. These options range from using a dollar store handkerchief to a custom piece of high tech gear utilizing super absorbent, antimicrobial fabrics. You don't have to start fancy, but make sure whatever you choose to use as a pee rag best fits your needs.
You simply squat, pee, and wipe with your pee rag. Then you hang it off of your pack and let the sun and breeze dry and disinfect it. UV light is a great disinfectant, and even more effective at altitude. By letting your pee rag dry in the sun, you also mitigate that unpleasant urine smell. By choosing the right fabric, you can avoid odors altogether. Because urine is mostly sterile, and does not contain oil, it is very easy to dry and disinfect your pee rag in the sun and give it a rinse every night.
To wash it, simply use a few drops of Dr. Bronner's or a similar Castile soap, rinse, and hang dry. Do this at least 200' away from streams, lakes, or waterways - you don't want the soap to contaminate them.
The great thing about pee rags is that they can be more hygienic than toilet paper. Backpackers tend to carry very little TP, and must ration it out carefully. It's hard to get really clean with only one or two squares. If you've tried the drip dry method, you know the joys of damp spots on your undies. The pee rag helps you avoid all of this. You get a much bigger surface area than you get with a small amount of TP, so you can really get clean and dry. Many of the fabrics used in pee rags on the market today are naturally antimicrobial, which helps with both cleanliness and odor.
The increased absorbency of a pee rag means that you can use a bidet to rinse first, and dry with your pee rag. This is a great way to avoid chafing and nasty build-up that can quickly become uncomfortable, stinky, or lead to a urinary tract infection. Plus, a pee rag is softer than TP, and often made of gently textured fabrics. Pack less toilet paper, and only use it for pooping. Your pee rag is good for as many uses as you need, so drink as much water as you want!
Like to hike where it rains a lot? A pee rag still works when it's wet. You can't say that about toilet paper.
There's a little concept called "Leave No Trace" that folks are practicing these days. With environmentally friendly options becoming more and more common in our everyday lives, why shouldn't we take this to the backcountry as well?
There is nothing worse than seeing used toilet paper that has been improperly buried or dug up by an animal when you are trying to enjoy nature at its best. Leave No Trace specifies packing out ALL used TP, and sometimes the area you are backpacking in requires that as well, with hefty fines for non-compliance. With a pee rag, you can reduce the amount of TP to just what you need for backcountry bowel movements. You also aren't leaving a mess for someone (or something else) to find later on. How awesome is that?
So... are you ready to try a pee rag? Trust me, you won't be disappointed. Let me know how it goes in the comments below!