117: RUBBISH: The Trash on the Trail Episode

Show Notes: Episode 117

Today on the First 40 Miles, RUBBISH: The Backpacking Trash Episode.  We’ll answer some questions about trash on the trail, then share our top 5 favorite pieces of trash that we’ve found over this past year while hiking and backpacking.  Then on the SUMMIT Gear Review, we’ll let you in on a fisherman’s secret for containing little bits of refuse.  For today’s Backpack Hack of the Week, a quick hack that will keep your pots, pans and mugs clean.  And we’ll wrap up the show with a little trail wisdom from someone who considers all trail experiences to be gifts.


What do I do with extra food that I didn’t eat?   Can’t I just fling it out into the woods and let it decompose or get eaten by some microbears (chipmunks)?

  • Three options: share it, save it for later if you can, or pack it out
  • Why you can’t leave your food behind…

What do I do with used toilet paper?

  • Three options: Bury it in your cathole 6-8” deep, pack it out in a baggie
  • You can also reduce your need for toilet paper if you use a “Pee rag”
  • A pee rag is a bandanna that is hung on the outside of a pack where it can be sanitized by the sun’s UV rays.

Where should I store my garbage? 

  • Double bagged, and hang it with your food at night so curious animals won’t chew through it.

Is it possible to have a waste-free backpacking experience? 

  • With some creativity and commitment, yes! There are some options!  You can reuse plastic bags, use waxed muslin cloths for cheese, paper sacks for meal mixes, pee rag instead of toilet paper–or bidet or rock, compostable or reusable feminine hygiene.  If you’re committed to practicing a waste-free life, there are options.

I don’t mind picking up someone’s granola bar wrapper and packing it out—but do I have to pick up someone else’s shredded toilet paper?

  • You shouldn’t feel compelled to pick up tp.  It will degrade over time—a lot more quickly than a granola bar wrapper.  However, if you feel super guilty just leaving it there, kick some dirt over it and cover it up, so that it’s not so stark bleached white against the beautiful colors of nature.

What if I just leave my trash really deep in the woods and bury it?  Does that work?

  • It’s tempting to think that your garbage won’t matter. That you’re the only one who is going to be affected by dumping your pot of burned food in the forest—but think again.  Where humans are concentrated, we have a huge impact.  Trails are places of human concentration—and everything you do makes a difference.
  • Hard Plastic Container – 3 decades
  • Rubber Boot Sole – 7 decades
  • Aluminum Can – 3 centuries
  • Paper- 1 month
  • Apple core – 8 weeks
  • Orange peel and banana skins – 2 years

Top 5 Pieces of Cool Trail Trash We Found this Year

We’re not advocates of trashing the trail, but trash isn’t all bad…sometimes it makes for interesting trail talk, and awesome resources for hacks to your existing gear.  Still…it’s better off the trail than on.

Mylar balloon at Mirror Lake

  • Found and used to do helium voices

Tent pole

  • Found at Rogue River
  • Our 8 year old figured out that he could blow into it and the campfire would go crazy. He spend quite a bit of time blowing the coals or blowing the fire with this tent pole bellows
  • I’m sure we had the hottest, cleanest burning fire on the whole Rogue River.

Sunglasses frame and police officer glasses

  • One had lenses, the other didn’t
  • Hours of entertainment…

Logging skid

  • Part of a bulldozer
  • Like a modern fossil

Cracked open bowling ball

  • We’ve seen the inside…
  • How many people can say that?

SUMMIT Gear Review: PIOPOD Microtrash Container


  • The PIOPOD is a teeny trashcan designed for all the bits and pieces of string and hooks that fishermen have, but can easily be your go to trashcan for all the microtrash that’s on the trail
  • Made using recyclable materials
  • Has a “grabby” elastomeric cap which has a hole for stuffing trash


  • Clip to a loop or belt
  • You can also attach to a D-ring or lanyard
  • It also comes with a sturdy zip tie in case you wanted to semi-permanently attach it to your hip belt.
  • Lid has an opening where you can insert trash.
  • Lid does a great job of being both grabby, flexible so the trash stays in


  • Weighs 1 ounce (30 grams)
  • Dimensions: 3-1/4″H x 2″D


  • Lift lid off of empty trash
  • Throw in dishwasher or rinse in sink


  • $13


  • Holds teeny trash: threads, butts, wrappers, a shirt tag, a rubber band, a mylar corner off a granola bar, unburned paper, gum wrapper, waterbottle lid security rings
  • Best when attached to pack…more secure
  • Great for fishermen or backpackers who want easy access to a little trash receptacle.
  • The Piopod is great because it promotes better care of our trails, and prevents the build up of micro trash.

Backpack Hack of the Week™:  Tiny Trail Scrubby Sponge

This is the perfect 2 minute hack that you can do with the stuff you already have at home: Scissors and a sponge.  Get a non-scratching sponge, and cut it with scissors to a mini size.  You can use it to clean your sierra cup and your titanium spoon. The new mini size takes up less space, and will dry quickly.

NOTE:  Josh has an even better hack for cleaning dishes on the trail.  He does the swish + drink method.  Swish for a long time, use your fingers, and then either drink (or scatter murky liquid far away from camp.)

Trail Wisdom

“Take nothing for granted. Not one blessed, cool mountain day or one hellish, desert day or one sweaty, stinky, hiking companion. It is all a gift.”

Cindy Ross, Journey on the Crest, 1987