Sensible Practices for Long Distance Walking on The Camino: Toilet Paper

This is a delicate subject. Definitely. Basically off-limits. Which is strange given that virtually everyone uses toilet paper, multiple times, every day. Unless your home or office is connected to a septic system rather than a sewer system, you probably never give it a moment’s thought. But if you’re going to go camping or long-distance walking, it’s something you really ought to think about.

Sewer cover seen on The Camino de Santiago.
Sewer cover seen on The Camino de Santiago. The scallop shell is the symbol of Santiago (St. Jack), and it is seen everywhere across the north of Spain.

On a typical Camino day, there will be at least a few opportunities to relieve the bowels and the bladder. Businesses all along The Camino are well aware of this particular human need and they usually provide facilities. Ask for aseos (pronounced ah-say-o’s with the accent on “say”) or servicios (pronounced sair like hair-bith-ee-o’s with accent on “bith”). Many times you can stop in at a bar and use the bathroom without purchasing anything but be mindful that a constant stream of users amounts to significant expense in water, paper products, and general wear and tear. It’s really only fair to purchase something, if only a bottle of water, if you’re going to use the restroom.

Purchasing a bottle of water is, in fact, an excellent practice. Rather than carry a full day’s complement of water, carry a small amount. When you stop to relive yourself, buy another bottle. Drink it before your next rest stop, and start the process all over again. It cuts down on weight in your pack, it ensures that you drink adequate water during the day, and it fairly compensates the business owner who provides you with bathroom facilities. Win-win.

Now then, sometimes, perhaps often, a bathroom along The Camino will be without toilet paper. Many times I heard pilgrims complain about the lack of toilet paper in bathrooms. Think about it, there’s a steady stream of users throughout the day. It stands to reason that the toilet paper roll needs to be changed several times each day. Rather than assume the establishment has no intention of providing paper, for goodness sake, tell someone. Each time it happened to me, I brought it to the attention of the barkeeper or the owner or any employee I could find. Every single time I did, the response was, “Oh, thank you. I’ll change the roll right away.” Of course the business wants to keep the bathroom stocked with toilet paper. They know full well that if they don’t, people will put paper towels, newspaper, and all manner of other things down the toilet…resulting in the need for a plumber.

Ah, but because you’re already in the bathroom when you realize there is no toilet paper, and perhaps because there is a line of people waiting to use the toilet when you’re finished, you might want to do your business before going to inform someone of the lack of toilet paper. Precisely for that reason, I carry a supply of toilet paper with me. Before leaving home I buy a roll of one-ply toilet paper (more on this later) and make a few dozen little packets of folded paper. Then I put the stack in a ziplock plastic bag and stash the bag in a conveniently reached pocket of my pack. Before entering a restroom, I pop the plastic bag in my pocket. Just in case.

Another Camino sewer cover.
Another Camino sewer cover.

Let’s face it, though. Sometimes Mother Nature calls when you’re nowhere near a restroom. If you must relive yourself in the great outdoors, there are some simple rules that will benefit you, everyone else who uses that path, and the general environment. Firstly, to do your business, find a place well off the path. Don’t presume that just because you’re male and you only want to urinate that you can go wherever you like. Urine odors are pervasive and can be quite offensive on a hot day. What’s more, urine contains nitrates in sufficient quantity to kill plants. Think about the grass verges around the entrances to apartment complexes. The grass is always devastated there because when a dog owner gets home for work and takes the dog out, the poor creature relieves itself at the first available spot…right by the entrance.

If you’re going to do more than urinate, by all means, go well off the path. Once there, make a little effort to dispose of your waste. I’m not goofy enough to think pilgrims will be carrying a tiny, portable shovel for such moments, but certainly it’s possible to kick a small hole in the dirt. When you’ve finished, cover it up with the dirt you kicked aside. Use leaves, pine needles, and stones. Whatever is at hand. You can be sure that if the spot looked good to you, someone else will come along looking for the same opportunity. It’s frankly disgusting to come across an area that is littered with feces and toilet paper left completely exposed. It doesn’t take much effort to cover your “tracks.”

Some more precautions: DO NOT hide behind a hay stack at the side of the trail to do your business. It’s mighty unsanitary and encourages flies, rodents, and other pests. DO go at least one hundred feet (30 meters) away from a water source such as a pond, stream, or river. Human waste is extremely hazardous to open bodies of water and remember that you will be in an environment where many people will be looking to do the same thing. In the aggregate, it can add up to significant environmental degradation.

Now we come back to toilet paper. Inside the ziplock bag with the stack of folded toilet paper, I keep another ziplock bag for disposing of used toilet paper. But if you haven’t got a bag just for disposal, Folks, it’s not that difficult to simply fold up the toilet paper after you’ve used it and stick in your pocket. You can throw it away at the next trashcan you come to. It’s indecent to leave your used toilet paper scattered about. Period.

Here’s where one-ply toilet paper comes in. If for some reason you absolutely must leave your toilet paper behind, one-ply paper decomposes much, much faster than two-ply. (Go here to see the results of a paper decomposition in the outdoors experiement. If you bury it, one-ply paper will decompose much, much faster than one-ply paper left exposed. Just do it.

What’s more, many bars and albergues along The Camino are on septic systems, not public sewer systems. One-ply toilet paper is much easier on their facilities.

Clearly most people don’t think about what they leave behind them as they’re walking along, but everyone is obliged to consider what others before them have left behind. Doing the right thing makes The Camino a happier and healthier experience for everyone.

13 thoughts on “Sensible Practices for Long Distance Walking on The Camino: Toilet Paper

  1. Jeanne

    Seriously this is very helpful information… Common sense, but very very helpful . Even the dirty nity-gritty of it too. So, yes whens the book coming out ??

    • claudiacamina

      Hi Jeanne. I’m glad you found it helpful. I felt a little funny about writing it, but, well, I would have liked to read that information rather than figure it out for myself over time.

  2. karynriedell

    New TV commercial: Go Commando!” New ads for big toilet paper brand Cottonelle tout this odd advice: Stop wearing underwear.

    No, nothing is askew.

    In an effort to seriously shake-in the $9.7 billion toilet paper market, Kimberly-Clark’s Cottonelle brand — a third place laggard in the cut-throat industry — is rolling out two new TV spots that dare consumers to “Go Commando” after using its specially-textured “CleanRipple” toilet paper.

    That’s right. Drop the drawers. Nix the knickers. Bag the boxers. Punt on panties. And if Kimberly-Clark’s message goes viral online, it may emerge as one of the first truly memorable toilet paper campaigns since Mr. Whipple squeezed the Charmin

    • claudiacamina

      I thought it was a joke so I asked Duck, Duck…

      Neenah, WI — American “personal care” corporation Kimberly-Clark is considering removing its tribute line of toilet paper after Grateful Dead fans protested at several prominent retail and super market stores over the weekend.

      The product, Cottonelle™ Clean Ripple, marketed at music fans, was designed according to Kimberly-Clark communication director Bethany Millbright as “a way to bring the synergistic forces of the counter-culture to what would seem to be an ordinary commodity.”

      Dare to Go Commando with Cottonelle®

      To get your free sample of Cottonelle® with CleanRipple® texture, create an account, or log in, fill in your information, and we’ll send you everything you need to complete your dare.

      • karynriedell

        from Wikipedia:
        For the video game, see Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando.

        Going commando, or free-balling for males and free-buffing for females, is the practice of not wearing underpants.[1]

        Certain types of clothes, such as cycling shorts and kilts, are designed to be worn or are traditionally worn without underwear.[2][3] This also applies for most clothes worn as swimwear, sportswear or nightwear.

        In Chile, the act of not wearing underwear has been called “andar a lo gringo” (to go gringo-style) for decades.[4]


        The origins of the phrase “go commando” are uncertain, with some speculating that it may refer to being “out in the open” or “ready for action”.[5]

        Slate magazine’s Daniel Engber dates the modern usage to United States college campuses circa 1974, where it was perhaps associated with soldiers in the Vietnam War, who were reputed to go without underwear to “increase ventilation and reduce moisture”.[6] However, more recently, Graeme Donald has pointed out that the US Forces refer to “Rangers” rather than “Commandos”, and that in any case, the phrase was in use in the UK, referring mainly to women, from the late 1960s.[1] The connection to the UK and women has been suggested to link to a World War II euphemism for prostitutes working in London’s West End, who were termed “Piccadilly Commandos”.[7][8]

        The term appeared in the 1982 novel Groundrush by Greg Barron, in the sentence, “Bigfoot’s jock snapped underneath, leaving him to ‘go commando.”[9] In the January 22, 1985, Chicago Tribune, Jim Spencer wrote, “Furthermore, coloured briefs are ‘sleazy’ and going without underwear (‘going commando,’ as they say on campus) is simply gross.”[vague] The term gained currency in the popular vernacular after appearing in a 1996 episode of Friends.[10][11]

    • claudiacamina

      I’m honored. Thank you. And thanks too for providing another supportive voice for writing a book. I definitely will. Where it will end up is another matter, but I will make the effort.

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