If you are a female backpacker, then you’ve already thought of how to manage the 3 p’s out in the wilderness. Pee. Poop. Period.
These are genuine hygiene concerns and possibly real fears that can hold us back from exploring nature to it’s fullest. So the question really is, are you prepared to overcome when it comes?
For most women, our typical systems become drastically compromised by going deep into the wilderness. We have to worry about packing enough without over packing, dealing with our waste, reducing the smells, but more than anything be comfortable with being uncomfortable. It can suck. Actually, let me rephrase that. It does suck, particularly when you are unprepared. So let’s plug the fear and talk real. Let’s get uncomfortable for a moment in order to get comfortable next time your out there.
BECOME A PEEING PRO
There are many ways to make peeing in the wilderness a more comfortable necessity. There are lightweight portable devises such as the DIVA CUP that allow you to pee standing up, funneling your urine away from your body in a more discrete manner. A fan favorite if you have difficulty squatting or just don’t prefer to. But wait. This isn’t about what’s the best product on the market for peeing, but rather about managing the moisture and smell down there! As women, we have a real concern for needing to maintain cleanliness. Not only is smell a concern, but keeping the area dry and free from becoming a bacteria breeding ground. Something that can be both a tedious ritual and challenging to reduce the smell, particularity during a longer trip.
As for keeping dry down there you have some options to choose from. Pee Rags are a popular option for many. The concept of a pee rag can be as simple and low cost as a bandanna or CIRCE CARE Pee Cloth: The idea is to have a reusable odor proof cloth that will soak up residual moisture in the area, without all the packing in and out of toilet paper. When not in use you clip it to the outside of your pack, ready for the next round!
I liked the idea in conceptual form because I really don’t enjoy carrying around excess materials. I was hoping it could be a solution for the longer trips or thru-hikes, to minimize the effort it takes to continuously pee. Therefore I tried this method for a month when hiking on the Appalachian Trail, just to see if it would be right for me. I hated it. Here’s why.
It’s not realistic for the everyday backpacker that is spending a significant amount of time out there, even with the option to “effortlessly” wash it regularly. In a backpacker’s realistic daily routine packs are tossed against rocks, dirt, tree bark or even caught on tree branches loaded with sap snags and soot. By the time your comfortable in the woods, you are no longer gingerly placing your pack in a manner to avoid contact with nature’s natural debris field. Therefore it’s inevitable your pee rag will also be a bit dirty most all the time…even with their snapping mechanism. Weather conditions are rarely ideal out in the wilderness and to think they are…well, that’s a entirely different post all together. There is rain which creates mud and dust that creates coarse sandpapered covered everything. Bugs are furthermore attracted to the scent despite their efforts to minimize it, and well now you’ve just created a Congo-line of just about everything that stings following you. Though last but not least, forget this system when your on your period. Yuck. It just doesn’t work for me.
The Use of Nature
Perhaps I’m just a naturalist at heart and enjoy nature far too much for the pee rag concept to appeal to me. Especially in their growing popularity I see them forgotten, still tied to a tree limb at camp or littered unknowingly along the trail. So I’ll still always prefer using nature’s natural tp to wipe down when and where feasible. Some may find that extreme, and that’s ok…perhaps it is. The more experience you gain out in the wilderness, the more reliant upon it’s resources you become. That’s where it all started for me as I began looking at nature a bit differently. Therefore using a smooth stone or an appropriate leaf with a good gripping vein pattern to wipe away the moisture isn’t that far off from natural to me. It’s not uncommon to see me carrying around the perfect leaf in hand while hiking and don’t be alarmed if I dare share my do’s and don’ts about leaf selection! I’ll still always carry backup toilet paper in the anticipated case it may not be possible to use natural resources…I’m not that brazen quite yet.
Despite my passion for nature, I still find the easiest option in the long run are toilet paper, baby wipes and a lightweight liner to complete your pack list. You just can’t beat the good old fashion form of wiping with tp. It works. You don’t need much for effectiveness, so try using less squares each time you go out and you’ll find eventually be able to count the squares to reduce how much you need to bring. Using even as little as a half a baby wipe per day down there near the end of the day can have you feeling like you’ve just left the spa! It’s highly recommended. Though if you prefer to use baby wipes more frequently, consider reducing the naturally heavy weight of these by investing in a brand focused on rehydration before use. You’ll still have to pack out the wet ones, but by then you’re food bag should be lighter…so perhaps an ounce for an ounce isn’t all that significant to write home about. To further keep yourself the freshest the longest, don’t underestimate the power of a lightweight pad liner. Thin, lightweight, unnoticeable. It will keep your underwear fresh and further mitigate the build up of smell. Just one per day should have you feeling fresh enough!
Stop The Smell
Here are a few personal favorite pro-tips I’ve picked up along the way to help reduce the smell associated with peeing and being in the woods. Depending on WHERE you are going in regards to terrain and known animal activity, you could rub some natural essential oil down there before heading out…just a smidge can go a long way and last for a multi-day, depending on a number of factors. Know where you are going, know the risk of adding unnatural smells and plan accordingly. Though I’d suggest trying this at home first, pairing with a rigorous activity level before going setting out into the wilderness.
POOPIN’ IN THE WOODS
Seems our latest post topics are aimed at poop. Well, we all do it…so why not talk about something we all have in common! We reference proper pooping etiquette and LNT Principles in both these articles, so go check them out to learn more.
But what happens when things just don’t go as “planned” out there?! Or your knees no longer cooperate with a proper squat and aim technique. What Leave No Trace rarely addresses is what to do when you’re precision into the cathole isn’t as accurate as you’d have planned for. Yup, we’re digging right in and talking about having diarrhea or less than ideal bowels on the trail. Because it’s not likely IF it were to happen, it’s when. Whether you’ve become ill in route or your stomach is no longer accepting that you switched up your diet with all those freeze dried meals.
The best advise I can offer is to not let this stress you out. Yeah, it sucks! You’re simply doing the best you can to support LNT as well as your own needs. If you are unable to dig a proper cathole in the limited timeframe you may have in these instances, just pop a squat and relieve yourself. You can dig the appropriate cathole afterwards, transferring the pile over the best you can. I never claimed this article was without it’s gross value. But dealing with your bodily functions in a more direct manner are just part of being as remote as you are and part of the backpacking experience. I assure you it won’t be the highlight of your trip to recall later…but at least you can keep it from being the ONE highlight of your trip for all to remember if you don’t give yourself the flexibility upfront.
As for those that have difficulty squatting in the proper positions or even with the aid of a tree or hiking pole, I find that if you use nature TO your advantage you’ll find that daunting task of lowering and angling yourself just right for that precision point just becomes a bit more effortless.
Begin looking at your surroundings a bit differently. Is there a boulder or tree you can use? If not, is there a slight angle in the terrain or hill that you can reduce the height of the squat? A WORD OF CAUTION here…be extra careful not to give into gravity on the downhill though! Speaking from experience.
We did an incredibly entertaining episode on The Weight Of A Female Backpacker that lives in infamy, so go check out the audio version of this topic!
PREPPING FOR YOUR PERIOD
Backpacking during that time of month can become a daunting thought for many women. Let’s get real. Smells associated with your period are some of the most potent and uncomfortable bodily functions to have to accept, particularly when you add a rigorous activity such as hiking that additionally creates sweat build up and no practical way to shower for days. So how can you manage getting comfortable with the uncomfortable in an uncontrolled environment?
Managing the Smell
The smell just might be the worse part of backpacking on your period. Or maybe it’s that you just feel gross. While it’s pointless to try and conceal the smells that seem to permeate into everything, you can make it more tolerable so you enjoy being out there. Go ahead and embrace the suck on this one, but get to testing out some pro-tips in helping push past being on your period.
Don’t underestimate the power of a baby wipe spa treatment out there! Depending on how long you are out there and your availability to water, you may want to consider lightly cleaning with soap and water once daily to help feeling even more fresh. Just remember to use any soap products at least 200ft away from stream or water sources, and pack out anything you use to wipe down with.
Are you backpacking in a pine forest? Well, grab a small branch of pine needles…important to note it should not have any sap…push the bristles in the opposite direction they are growing and wipe it along the high inner thighs down yonder. It’ll create a natural powerful aroma that can temporarily mitigate the rest. At least it’ll having you feeling fresh for a moment!
Last but not least, if your additionally concerned about feeling fresh, I’d suggest packing the extra ounces in just to have a fresh pair of underwear for the half-way point in route. It can potentially make all the difference and that’s a weight penalty I can stand behind!
Packing for the What If + LNT Packing Out Those Potent Pounds
A challenging part of preparing for a hike when you’re expecting your period is just how much to pack in. Particularly if having heavier flows and especially when using receptacles that will need to be packed back out with you. It’s a personal choice and your exact situation will dictate your volume and weight of waste packed out.
If using a menstrual cup such as the popular DIVA CUP in most cases you can dig a hole to bury the waste 200ft away from water sources, camp or the trail. This is why they are such a popular option for many and my personal favorite, over using tampons or pads. But there are times in which the terrain or governing land management you are backpacking within will require you to pack out all your waste.
This is where things get a little tricky, particularly if you have a heavier flow. Period waste can be downright disgusting to deal with. Period. A few good options for packing it out is to add something inside the receptacle you’ll be packing your waste out in. Baby powder and crushed aspirin are popular options. These components will absorb the excess moisture, equally masking the smell. I typically double bag my ziplock bags, just to be on the safe side and then put it inside a durable BOTEWO Dog Poop Bag to further reduce the smell. Trust me, it works!
I swill switch over to using tampons if I’m a desert terrain or a location or season where I have limited water. It’s just a bit easier, and more practical in cleanup – using the same practice as above for packing it all out.
Synthetic fibers, plastic and baby wipes don’t properly decompose therefore NEVER bury these in a cathole. It’s good practice to always pack out all toilet paper used with wiping up after your period to further protect your waste from being of interest. As with all other items that have a scent, you are hanging your waste in a way to keep the critters interested in it.
Remember ladies, never let anything from stopping you from connecting to the Outdoors.