The Ins and Outs of Going to the Bathroom and Feminine Hygiene in the Mountains

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Submission by Kristie Kayl.

Going to the bathroom in the backcountry (no less on an open snow field) can feel intimidating, but with some strategy and practice there are effective ways to add privacy and make the process a breeze.

The Request.
The easiest way to ensure privacy is to simply ask the members of your team to look away while you use the bathroom. This is a perfectly normal and acceptable request to make of your teammates in the backcountry.

The Squat.
Using the squat method to go pee is simple and requires no additional equipment. To add privacy, go uphill if possible ( as groups usually sit facing downhill at breaks) face toward the backs of the people that you are hoping to gain privacy from and twist and rotate one knee inward creating a small privacy screen between others and your pelvis. Placing a backpack in front of you as a privacy wall can be quite effective as well.

The Funnel.
The pee funnel is a great tool that can allow one to pee standing up and create privacy with their back. The pee funnel does not require you to pull down your pants or expose bare skin to snow and wind. Additionally, the funnel can create an easier method for using the pee bottle at night. I generally recommend using a rigid funnel as the soft silicon can bend and cause issues when being used with a harness or lots of layers.

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The Pee Rag.
auto draftInstead of using the “drip dry” method or carrying/ packing out used toilet paper, a pee rag can be a more sanitary yet lightweight alternative. Brands such as KULA cloth or simply a cotton bandana can be used as reusable toilet paper. Many people will choose to tie or clip a pee rag to the outside of their pack allowing the UV rays to help sanitize and provide easy access for use. I prefer to carry the KULA cloth as it is quite compact and has an outer sheath that can fold around the used face of the cloth. I keep my KULA cloth folded and in my back pocket (with nothing else) so that I always have it with me in case I am away from my pack. When I get to camp, I attach the rag to my tent with the dirty side facing the sun to get direct UV rays aiding in sanitation. Due to the antibacterial properties in the material I find that it does not get stinky on short trips.

The Pee Hole.
It is common when camping in snow to have a single designated pee hole for a whole team. This tactic keeps the camp clean and ensures clean snow for melting water. Use the tactics suggested above to provide privacy whether you are using the funnel or the squat method.

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The Period.
There are many methods for managing menstruation in the mountains. Unfortunately, it is common to have irregular or unexpected periods when in the mountains as the body is confronted with altitude and other stressors. It is recommended to always carry menstruation supplies. Tools like the diva cup are convenient in the mountains as the waste can be bumped into the pee hole or cat hole (if not yet in the snowy elevations) so packing out waste isn’t needed. That said, the use of tampons or pads is common and you’ll just need to bring a few extra zip locks or waste kits to deposit the used materials after use. It is normal to leave some blood stains in public pee holes which can be a bit embarrassing- not to worry! Scoop up clean snow and drop it into the pee hole- this will dilute the color and cover things up nicely. Don’t shy away from taking over the counter pain meds to manage cramps etc.

The Harness.
Squatting to go to the bathroom while wearing the harness is a necessary skill in the mountains. When roped up on a glacier you can never remove or lower the waist of the harness in order to pee or do other business. The strategy here is to pull the waist of the harness up, unbutton your pants underneath and pull all the layers (including the leg loops of the harness) down as you get into the squatting position. Most harnesses have releasable buckles on the stretchy material in the back that holds the leg loops up. This material is not critical for the safety of the harness. Some people will choose to release the buckle on the back of the harness allowing the leg loops more mobility. That said, try out your harness at home and see if you can pull down your layers and squat without releasing this buckle- this allows you to skip the tricky step of trying to release and reattach the buckle in the cold and in gloves. If you’re using a funnel to pee while wearing the harness, pull the waist up and push your pants/ layers down far enough to put the funnel in place.

The Pee Bottle.
Using a pee bottle is not a necessary skill but it is very useful in the mountains. The pee bottle is used in the tent so that you don’t have to put boots on, bundle up, and walk all the way to the pee hole in the middle of the night or during storms. There are many strategies so the best way to find a method that works for you is to practice at home. Some people prefer to use a pee funnel and others pee directly into a bottle.

  • Using a funnel: The funnel often makes it easier to avoid leaks or spills, that said, it requires two hands. One of your hands holds the pee bottle in a vertical orientation and the other holds the funnel in place. Ensure that the funnel leads into the bottle but does not create a seal as this will cause a vacuum effect and create overfilling of the funnel.
  • Not using a funnel: Not using a funnel can be convenient because you can use one hand to hold the bottle in a vertical orientation and the other to stabilize yourself on your air pad. This method also allows you to forgo the funnel all together to minimize what you have to carry on a trip if you opt to squat to pee during the day. Use a wide mouth bottle like a nalgene and place it against your skin. The most important strategy here is where you place the bottle. The best way to ensure no accidents is to practice at home… a lot.

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Some people prefer to use the pee bottle while on their knees and others find it easier to squat. standing is usually not an option due to the limited height of tents. Practice and opt for whichever method feels easier.

For added privacy you can drape your sleeping bag over your shoulders to create a barrier between you and your tentmate. Or, with lots of practice it is possible to get onto your knees while in the sleeping bag and create privacy without releasing the heat you have generated in your bag.

For both strategies is it typical to use a wide mouthed nalgene. Some prefer to use standard rigid bottles and others prefer the canteen style nalgene bottle as it is flexible and usually fits between one’s legs more easily (on the other hand, these can be hard to hold onto).

The Wag Bag.

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Wag bags, blue bags and waste kits are often used in the mountains to contain and carry out human waste. On any Alpine Ascents climb, your guides will instruct the team on how to use them so I will not get into the details here. That said, it is helpful if you can separate your pee from number 2 so that the bag that you carry out only contains solid waste and does not have heavy liquid pee that can be left in the pee hole. There are two strategies here. You can bring your pee bottle to go number 2 and hold the pee bottle in place with one hand and the waste bag in the other (this can only be used without the funnel and takes some practice). The second strategy is simply to practice for a few weeks prior to your trip when you go to the bathroom by controlling your muscles for one action at a time.

The Practice.
It is strongly recommended to practice the strategies listed above in the privacy and comfort of your home. Start by practicing in the shower as this is a low consequence location in case of leaks or spills. Many people have been seated while peeing for many years so the “push muscles’ are different for standing to pee and need to be trained.

Unfortunately, I have seen too many people dehydrate themselves on climbing trips in an effort to minimize how often they have to pee because it is inconvenient or feels embarrassing. Hydration is a critical component to self care in the mountains and the success of climbers.

Take the time to practice the strategies listed above and figure out what works well for you and your body.

If you’re looking for more tips and tricks, check out Kristie’s women’s specific climbing tips blog post or watch Brooke Warren’s Women on Top webinar to see some of these moves in action.

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