It’s Not Awkward, It’s Reality
As adults, we’ve got our bathroom & “private part” habits down. We know how to keep ourselves comfortable, clean, and efficient. But what happens when we step into the backcountry for the day? For several nights? For a month-long expedition?
For those heading into the backcountry with a female anatomy, there are specific questions that usually come up. We hope you find answers below. If you have more questions, let us know – we want to talk through your questions and make sure you are 100% comfortable when you head into the wilderness.
–Kristie Kayl, Mountain Guide
What kind of underwear should I wear?
Fit: I prefer shorties because they tend to give me fewer wedgies. Plus, they don’t have an underwear line! Different people have different preferences, though, so buy one pair and wear them on a hike to see how they work for you.
Material: wool or synthetic are best for most of your underwear. Cotton is not good because when it gets wet, it’s very difficult to dry and tends to stretch out. For those prone to yeast infections, I recommend 1 pair of cotton underwear for trips that extend beyond 2 weeks. You can wear them at night for extra breathability.
Quantity: for a 9-day trip, I recommend 2-3 pairs of underwear. Because I spend a lot of time in the field, I know my lady parts do fine with a single pair for up to a week plus. If using undies for more than a day is new for you, trading out to a new pair can be helpful every three or four days. This will lessen the chance of any irritation or discomfort.
When, where, and how am I going to pee?
Peeing: face your fears! It’s better to take good care of yourself by emptying your bladder when needed than to be modest. Stay hydrated! You will be peeing near the rest of your team. Don’t spend half of your 15 min break walking far away to pee. In the sub-alpine hide behind a tree. In the alpine, put your backpack upright in front of you (like a little wall), face your team, and pee. Others will see a lot less if you face toward them than if you face away. If you are unroped, you can walk to the uphill side of the group, because most people naturally sit on a slope facing downhill.
Peeing in your harness: we spend a lot of time roped up, so it doesn’t work to hold off when you need to go. Leave your climbing harness on to pee. With most harnesses, the stretchy leg loop connetors in the back don’t even need to be unclipped. Leave the waist on, and pull the leg loops down with your pants, pee, and then pull it all back up. Practice this at home with a few layers on to ensure it goes smoothly.
Pee rag: some like to use a pee rag (while some prefer the shake). A pee rag is a single rag used for the length of your trip when you’ve finished up. I recommend keeping it in the water bottle pocket of your pack – that pocket will be free, because we keep our water bottles in our pack to cut the risk they’ll fall out.
Pee funnel: there are a wide variety of good products out there. Think small and light when you are choosing. Practice first by standing up in the shower and using your funnel. Next, introduce the bottle (see below). Then, move to practice in the shower while kneeling, so you can mimic this in a short tent. Once you feel confident, move outside, and try it in your backyard or on a backpacking trip. In a tent, you can drape your sleeping bag over your shoulders for a little privacy, comfortably facing away from your tent mate.
Pee bottle: a pee bottle is used at night, usually with a pee funnel, to let you go to the bathroom without getting out. Your tent mate will appreciate you not layering up and going outside, and you will likely stay more hydrated and get a better night of sleep if you can easily pee in the tent. Use the funnel in one hand and the hold the bottle with the other for stability. Practice makes for comfort in the field!
What about staying clean out there?
UV maintenance: the sun, especially at altitude, is a powerful disinfectant. To help kill bacteria on used undies or your pee rag, attach them to the outside of your tent in direct sunlight. Remember, wind is significant in the alpine environment! Use a carabiner through the leg of your underwear to attach them to a tent, and clip or tie your pee rag securely.
Yeast infections: If you are prone to yeast infections, I recommend bringing prescription meds from your doctor. Unfortunately, climbing trips tend to provoke irritation, so it’s best to be prepared.
Wet wipes: many climbers, especially on longer trips, like to periodically use mild, unscented, non-irritating wet wipes. Remember that wet wipes are heavy and have to be packed out, so be judicious about what you bring – one wipe is typically plenty for several days, so put transfer what you need from the package to a Ziploc.
What if I’m on my period?
Timing: climbing trips can throw menstrual cycles into irregular patterns. Don’t assume that being regular at home necessarily means you’ll be regular in a new environment.
Menstrual cycles: if there is any chance you will be on your period (remember the above!) I recommend coming well prepared with supplies. Because we pack out all of our trash, the best option for when menstruating is to bring extra (a little less than one per day) resealable bags for used tampons/ pads. On snow, climbing teams tend to share one pee hole at camp in an effort to keep camps clean. If you end up on your monthly during a trip, it can be less ideal to leave some “color” behind in the snow in the pee hole that others will use. My recommendation is to simply bring a team shovel with you to the pee hole (you guides will pack shovels) and shovel a little clean snow over the hole when you are done, which will cover up and then dilute the color. Some also consider a Diva Cup – just like with the pee funnel, practice in the comfort of your home environment is key.