Pack Out Toilet Paper? Say what?

Lately, Ranger stations in California sometimes offer quart size zip-lock bags to hikers for the use of storing used toilet paper while in the back-country. This offering is for the hiker’s convenience and to promote LEAVE NO TRACE principles. Many wilderness areas now require or strongly recommend all hikers pack out used toilet paper. The environmentally conscious try to always pack it out.

However, I question how often hikers are successful with this often disgusting and smelly task? You see the first use of the new bag is easy, just add soiled paper, but additions after… not so much. Let’s face it, reopening the same bag is well…nasty. Reopening the bag over and over is just too much for many and that is where I think success goes down the drain or in the back-country, in the dirt. Besides, I don’t know of anyone on a beautiful outdoor adventure that wants to worry that their pack smells like poop, because they are carrying a loaded bag of ripe paper.

Years ago, I got a great tip from my hiker friend, Arrow, on how to store used paper without smells and unpleasant color. I have used this system since. It has never failed. No smells, no brown toilet paper, and the reopening is less offensive. This is how I prepare the “Pack It Out Bag” at home before a day hike or backpack.


quart size Zip-lock freezer bag
sandwich size Zip-lock bag
1/2 tsp. dry bleach (any brand), baking soda or borax


-add 1/2 tsp. dry ingredients of your choice to sandwich baggie, squeeze out air, seal
-place small bag in quart size bag, squeeze out air, seal
-used paper goes in the small bag, outer bag is extra protection



-Always squeeze out air before sealing.

-If I am on a longer trip and am sending resupply boxes to a post office, I add small zip-lock bags with dry bleach and reuse the outer quart size bag.

-On extended trips with no resupply (8-10 days), I use a gallon bag for the outer bag and a quart size for the inner bag.

-I often make up extras that ready to go for the next trip. I have even been known to hand these out to new hikers.

-For those of you that use baby wipes or paper towels (I do), this system works perfectly.


*Updated November 2015


  1. I completely eliminated the TP problem by using a homemade bidet – washed my butt with water and NO PAPER!

  2. On our camping and hiking trips, we use the same idea. The TP roll and dog poop bags (from $ stores) are stored in a plastic bag. For each use, I put clean TP in dog poop bag to site, pull bag over hand (as glove) holding TP, wipe, pull bag over used TP and compress/tie off. Place bag in trash bag. This technique is quick and keeps hands fresh! (I still clean my hands though, ;-))

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Are dog poop bags odor proof? If they are you might have come up with a very cool solution.

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I am preparing for the John Muir Trail this summer and this is a topic I have not been excited about to investigate too much. Your suggestion is great and I think this will make it bearable. Speaking of bears…I believe I read somewhere you are supposed to keep the ‘goody bag’ in your bear vault. Do you happen to know if that is true? Would rather keep it far away from any food items. Thanks again.

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Now that would be hard core! Maybe some people do that, but honestly I don’t think I could stomach putting the “goodie bag” in with my food. I do put any toiletries in my bear can. This system does work nicely, especially when you have a longer trip like the JMT. Have an awesome adventure!

  4. Where do you keep the dirty bag? In the outside pockets, main compartment, in other dark bag and hang on outside? Very new to this, the idea of packing it is terrifying me 🙁

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Great question! I put my whole kit in a solid color ditty bag and put it in my top zip pocket for easy access.

  5. Thanks for this. I used this scheme last year on the Colorado Trail and it worked great; I put a couple of “bleach bags” in each resupply box. For folks who wonder how often they’ll need a fresh bag — experiment at home before your trip! Also, I read that human waste is not welcome in the public landfill, so best to flush the TP when you get to town, then trash the empty bag. Don’t freak out — it’s nothing you didn’t happily put in your mouth at some point.

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Love, love your experience with this system and bonus additional tips. Thank you for sharing. Every year with more and more people enjoying nature, toilet paper litter is a real problem.

  6. Nepal Trekker

    Thanks for the information!! I’m about to go on a three week long hiking trip, and was wondering what your recommendations were for a trip that long. Would you have a bag for each week, or one big bag? Does the dry bleach really mask the smell that well? Would adding more bleach to the bag/s be better for longer trips? Thanks!

    • I am assuming you will resupply at some point during your three week trip. If you do you can add a baggie to your box and throw away the used Baggie. Yes the bleach works. Baking soda works also. Have fun on your trip!


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  9. ddg on the AT

    Does anyone know if the “hiker” bio-degradable TP is really bio-degradable? is it acceptable to buried.
    Is there any TP which will bio-degrate?

    Thanks for all the info

    • ddg,
      The following is from and might shed some light on the subject. Summary: Dry climates, will take forever. If you do not bury it deep, animals scatter it. My experience has been rare that I could actually dig 6 inches, especially in the Sierras. Hope this helps.

      Leave No Trace (LNT) says to put toilet paper in a plastic bag (you can have some baking soda in the bag first) and pack it out.Many web sites say if you get a cat hole 4-6 in deep it is OK to bury it.The opinion of one long time Sierra Club leader, is that the carry-out rule was instituted because many people don’t bury it properly and animals dig it up making a mess. At Badlands National Park – Backcountry Camping they say, “Since animals will often dig up cat holes and scatter the toilet paper, it is preferred that you pack out all toilet paper. If you must bury toilet paper, use a minimal amount and bury with at least 6 inches of soil.”You don’t want to bury it too deep, because most of the living organisms and oxygen needed for composting are in the top 6 inches of soil.
      One post at the AMC says, “Pack wet wipes instead of toilet paper–more sanitary, less waste. Above treeline, carry out all solid waste, including used wipes.”There is a discussion on whether or not it will degrade in arid climates at Science question: Toilet Paper Biodegradable? at Forums. The conclusion was it will probably take a long time if the soil is dry.

  10. Alli, while packing out TP is preferable, certain areas of the US it is still quite acceptable to bury it in a cathole. In the wet forests of the PNW for example it breaks down fast – where in a desert or alpine it won’t.So something to consider and that if buried properly in a cathole, it won’t be seen – so it isn’t littering (again, follow local rules and more important, know if it is legal to bury TP.)__________Please Know:It is simply NOT acceptable to bury toilet paper.I have been an LNT master for over a decade, and I have worked for years in North Cascades National Park.And I can say, without hesitation, that it is NOT an accepted practice. There is no way to propperly burry toilet paper. It is litter, plain and simple.Just because it’s buried and “can’t be seen” doesn’t make it acceptable.

  11. Thank you for this tip. I need to print it and give it to others (who shall remain nameless) who don’t like the idea of packing the TP out.

    • I was once in that group! At first it IS shocking, but so necessary. I was just toying with the idea of using baking soda instead of bleach. Always on hand, cheap, deodorizing, and natural. Just wonder if it has a whitening agent? Thank you for your example.

  12. Oooo things I didn’t know nor did I realize I ever needed to know!! I just get bundles of good information off this web site!! Thanks Rockin’

  13. I’d like to experiment with natural sources. Mules Ear seems like a no brainer…

    • Now that is a whole other subject for a future post! Mules Ear grows where I live and is soft and the perfect size. I wonder how long it will stay in a pack? Most associate this natural method with items at hand: leaves, soft moss, needles, and rocks. You are braver than me.

      • Needles and rocks seem like a bad idea! Dry leaves can also leave behind… bits. I have used wet leaves after a rain and found these to make me cleaner than TP! Just be careful about the type of leaf… no poison ivy, poison oak etc!!!!

  14. Great idea, but I’ve just used a double bag–one smaller one and one larger one, not as neat as yours, but with no odor. I do wrap the used tp once with clean tp, so perhaps that helps. I’ll have to try the dry bleach. Thanks for addressing the issue. I wish folks would realize that tp does not just disappear. I hate to see it along the trail.

    • Ahhhh agreed, a touchy topic. Nope TP does not just disappear into thin air. It is amazing what skills we acquire with a lot of experience. I like the wrapping thing, provided that the TP supply is not running short. Double bagging really helps. In the beginning stages of backpacking it is especially helpful. I think most everyone wants to do the right thing, but the mechanics of it all is sometimes just too much! Thanks for the added tip.

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