Girl Talk: Peeing in the Backcountry

You’re out on a backpacking trip, or high up on a rock wall with your best buddies. You’ve been feeling proud of yourself for diligently hydrating all day. Then, the inevitable strikes: You need to pee.

Going to the bathroom outdoors should be a simple matter, but it doesn’t always feel that way, especially if you’re a woman on a mixed-gender trip. So here are some tips and tricks for how to take care of your needs in the backcountry:

Use a Pee-Kerchief.

If you’re not wearing a harness, find a spot where you have some privacy and squat, pee and wipe. It’s important that you pee 200 feet away from water sources, trails and campsites to avoid impacting the natural environment or risk spreading illness to fellow outdoor adventurers.

If you’re on a slope, pee facing downhill so it flows away from you and not back down onto your feet. If it’s windy, try to pee so it flows in the same direction as the wind so it doesn’t get blown back at you.

Then, wipe using a simple handkerchief. It’s important to use a pee-kerchief rather than drip-drying not just for your comfort, but also for your health. Drip-drying over time can lead to urinary tract infections or yeast infections, and wiping after going pee makes a huge difference in preventing these illnesses.

Once you’ve used your pee-kerchief, just hang it on the outside of your pack to dry and carry on. It’s good for multiple uses and keeps you from having to pack in and pack out toilet paper. Once the trip is over and you’re home, you can just throw it in the washer with the rest of your clothes and have it ready for the next excursion.

For technical terrain or glacier travel, the pee funnel is a godsend.

As a female mountain guide, I can honestly say that having a pee funnel has changed my life. I do high-altitude mountaineering trips on Denali, and am aggressive about hydration because it helps my body handle the cold and the altitude. Also, I’m often the only woman on the trip.

If you’re either wearing a harness or don’t have access to a place where you have privacy to squat, use a Freshette pee funnel. Make sure that you place the funnel as much under your body as possible, so that you’re basically standing over it, and point the clear tube out and away from you. Make sure that all sides of the top of the pee funnel have good contact with your body so that it forms a complete seal and no pee escapes. It’s a good idea to practice with this at home in the shower before a trip, and even practice while wearing pants and a harness to make it realistic.

At night, use a pee bottle.

If you’re pinned down in a snowstorm, the last thing you want to do is go out into blinding wind and snow at night to drop your pants and pee. This is where the pee bottle comes in, and there are some special tricks for this one.

First of all, make sure you get the largest pee bottle possible so that you don’t have to get out and empty it any more than necessary. I like using an extra-large collapsible Nalgene Cantene. Use a permanent marker to label the bottle (I typically mark a skull and crossbones on it) so it doesn’t get mixed up with your regular water bottles. No matter what, make sure it’s collapsible and has a wide mouth. When you’re not using it in the tent, you can squeeze the air out of it and roll it up so that it takes up minimal space in your pack.

To use the bottle, just kneel and place it under you to create a full seal before you pee. You can also use a pee funnel to pee into the bottle if you prefer. If it’s cold, you can do all of this in your sleeping bag.

This method is also a good one to practice at home in the shower before going on a major trip.

Stay clean.

Women are more prone than guys to having pee-related hygiene and health issues on trips. You’ll probably need to bring more pairs of underwear on a trip than your male counterparts. You also just want to do everything you can to keep things clean down there to avoid yeast infections or UTIs. If you’re on a trip where you have regular access to clean lakes or running water, take a bath to clean up. If you don’t, use a wet handkerchief or baby wipes to give yourself a sponge bath.

Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, as the number one reason that people get sick in the backcountry is lack of hand washing. Be sure to use hand sanitizer when you’re on the go, and at camp you can set up a simple wash station by hanging a water bladder and using it in conjunction with biodegradable soap. Be sure that this wash station is 200 feet away from any water source to limit environmental impact.