TP from Hell: Nature’s Gnarliest Wiping Alternatives


Let’s discuss pooping in the woods for a moment. I know this is taboo subject matter, but as any wilderness backpacker can attest, this sort of knowledge could potentially save your life. And by life, I mean butthole.

Mother Nature provides a bountiful supply of toilet tissue substitutes. Thimbleberries are widely regarded as a pliable, soothing choice. According to a survey conducted by ultralight backpackin’ tips that took comfort, ease of use, and absorbance into consideration, some of the best wiping implements include:

  • Snow, hand-squeezed and rolled up like a Cohiba
  • Wooly lamb’s ear, a hairy shrub distantly related to the Chinese artichoke
  • River rocks, the smoother the better (for obvious reasons)
  • Old man’s bears, a lichen often found on dying or dead trees
  • Barkless sticks, the smoother the better (for obvious reasons)

On the other end of the spectrum lie the following specimens. Just one swipe with one of these nasty bastards will have you running for the creekbed in the worst way possible.

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum)
Like nettles and devil’s club, cow parsnip tricks us with broad, seemingly soft leaves. However, skin contact with these inviting specimens can cause a rash-like irritation. Watch for the tiny white flower blossoms growing out of the leaves, as well as the thick stalks.

Devil's Club - photo by Brewbooks.

Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridum)
If you get a good look at devil’s club, there’s no way you’ll consider placing it near your sensitive areas. The stalks are normally lined with needle-sharp spines can grow up to two inches long; if that weren’t bad enough, the spines are also poisonous. But in low light, the wide, soft leaves of devil’s club will resemble those of a maple. And yes, the undersides of the leaves are also equipped with spines.

Leadwort (Plumbago auriculata)
Just waiting to ruin your tropical getaway is this white flower, also known as plumbago. It might even sort of look like standard two-ply, but whatever you do, don’t touch any part of leadwort. Again, we’re talking about blistering. According to everyday health, corticosteroid cream will help suppress the inflammation and aloe vera will soothe burn.   

Poison Ivy (Rhus radicans)
There’s a common saying about poison ivy: Leaves of three, let them be… especially when going number two. But poison ivy can also appear as a woody growth with spines, which are also poisonous to humans. A nasty rash is a given, but in extreme cases, those who come into contact with poison ivy may react by going into anaphylactic shock. Keep an eye on the kids when they play in the woods; poison is the scourge of misspent summer days for children across the United States.

Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix)
This shrub is mostly found in damp forests throughout North America. The sap is poison sumac’s most dangerous component; skin contact will result in dermatitis, the same condition caused by poison ivy and poison oak. Watch for delicate yellow flowers growing from the green, teardrop-shaped leaves.

Prince’s Pine (Chimaphila umbellata var. occidentalis)
If you happen to visit Western Canada this summer, beware of a growth consisting of waxy green leaves and sprouting white and purple flowers. The leaves of Prince’s pine usually causes a minor skin irritation upon contact, but blistering may occur. Blistering, people.

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) and Wood Nettles (Laportea canadensis)
Great for wine, bad for the skin. Nettles are herbaceous plants found on at least four continents. If the hairy leaves contact your skin, a patch of whitish bumps accompanied by a burning itch will appear shortly thereafter. Thankfully, you’ll probably notice you’re holding a stinging nettle before it reaches your backside. Wood nettles cause similar side effects, but in terms of distribution, these babies are reserved exclusively for North Americans.


Western Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)
This leafy undergrowth is found throughout North America, and is known to thrive in a wide range of ecosystems. That’s bad news for us because skin contact with the leaves or sap can cause a near instantaneous inflammation of the skin known as dermatitis; the signature swelling will resemble that of an allergic reaction, which is essentially what Western poison oak is triggering in your body. The specific agent is known as urushiol; those with severe allergies to urushiol stand to experience crippling symptoms. Keep an eye out for the deep green leaves and pink stem.