This is one for the gals! This is a topic that women can find uncomfortable to talk or ask questions about in a public forum. And whilst there is no need to feel shame or embarrassment about our bodily functions, talking about it doesn’t come easily for a lot of women and we all need to have compassion and understanding around that. So in this article, I hope to de-stigmatise what happens naturally and how it relates to your experience on the trails.
Why Do We Need To Talk About This?
I was prompted to write this blog on the back of a radio interview I heard yesterday on ABC Radio about women in sport. And whilst this interview wasn’t about peeing in the bush, it was just an awesome listen regarding women at both the elite and grassroots levels and the considerations that need to be taken into account to keep us engaged in sport and activity. It’s a great podcast you may wish to listen to:
I’m currently undertaking studies in the coaching of women which covers women-specific topics as it relates to their training such as menstruation, pelvic floor, body image, pregnancy, breast feeding and so much more. The radio interview really talked to me as it raised a number of things that I often hear from the women I hike with or work with as a coach and the stuff being covered in my course.
So, whilst I’m not going to address all things women-specific, I thought I’d write a quick blog about what to do when you need to wee whilst out there on the hiking trails. Might seem like a small thing but for many women, it is not.
This is really important to talk about.
The first thing to acknowledge here is, that regardless of gender, the principles of Leave No Trace are something I always encourage. In a nutshell, it’s about leaving the environment in the same (or a better) state than you found it. Don’t leave toilet paper behind. Pack it in, pack it out. Here is the Leave No Trace philosophy:
Most areas in which you hike will be governed by laws set down by the relevant body. These laws cover such things as where to/not to poo or wee and what you need to do when you do. Such as x distance from a waterway, depth of the cathole you need to dig etc. I’m sure this differs around the world so please familiarise yourself with the laws applicable to your hiking location.
the Nitty Gritty
Onto the topic of peeing!
Peeing in the bush is a very real issue for many women. For some, it’s a psychological thing whilst for others, it’s physically difficult. And both reasons are perfectly valid.
However, what really concerns me (and I hear it A LOT) is that many women won’t drink water before or during their hike for fear of needing to go to the loo whilst they’re out on the trails. This can be super dangerous for their health. Dehydration is a serious issue and, in some circumstances, can lead to death. Let’s not sugarcoat it. Performing physical activity and not drinking water is a recipe for disaster. Add in a warmer day and the results could be catastrophic.
Dehydration is not to be taken lightly, for you or the safety of those you are hiking with (your hiking buddies are the ones who will have to jump in and deal with the consequences of you not keeping yourself hydrated). Even worse if you’re hiking solo. Who’ll be there to help you when your body starts to shut down? No, I'm not being dramatic, this can happen to anyone and much quicker and easier than you might think.
For this reason alone, I want you to hydrate yourself and get comfortable with peeing in the bush!
So let’s break this down into the two categories.
Psychological or Physical?
Psychological - I’m Embarrassed to Pee in Public!
It’s ok. So are a lot of women. Let’s face it. Unlike men, women are not accustomed to peeing in public! We were brought up to do this behind the privacy of a toilet door. You don’t see public toilets where women all line up next to each other peeing and chatting like you do in the male urinals. What a picture that conjures up in my head! Sadly, the bodily functions of women have historically been a taboo topic so for those particularly of an older generation, even talking about this stuff is uncomfortable. If this is you, don’t feel embarrassed that you’re embarrassed. You may have been on many hikes and seen other women duck off into the bush and wish you felt you could too when the urge took hold. So, what if you could? What is it about peeing in the bush that worries you? Is it that you’re afraid you’ll be seen? Is it that you don’t know how and worried you’ll make a mess on yourself? Are you worried about getting left behind? Are you worried about creatures in the bush? Or is it due to a physical issue? Maybe you can’t get into a squat position?
Afraid you’ll be seen?
This is so normal, especially when first starting out as a hiker. Again, there’s the closed toilet door thing we’re so used to. But out there in the bush, there is no toilet door. But, there are thick bushes, wide tree trucks, solid thickets of grass. Nature’s toilet doors! Duck behind one of them and no one will see you. If you’re still worried, ask one of your buddies to keep a lookout for you. As you get used to using these things as screens, you’ll start to get more confident and find that might need less screening or maybe eventually go right there, on the side of the track out in the open! But, one step at a time! Get comfy using the bush to block you from view first.
Don’t know how?
So here’s the thing. Us women don’t have the luxury of having an appendage we can point away from us so our pee flows out into the great wide yonder. It can get messy for us women folk. But mostly it’s not if you know what to do and take two things into consideration. The lay of the land. And the wind direction. There’s really not much to explain here other than, make sure your feet are planted fairly far apart and, if possible, have the land behind you sloping downhill away from you (in the opposite direction to your feet). On porous ground or sand, this won’t matter as it totally drinks up all that wee! As for wind, if you can find a tree where you’ll be sheltered from it, you should be fine. But if not, best to have that wind blowing front on (into your face) so that everything blows out behind you. Wind can be your enemy. Position yourself accordingly. As far as dabbing yourself dry goes, of course you can use toilet paper. But don’t leave it behind in the bush. Carry it out with you. Leave No Trace. A ziploc bag is good for this. Another option, which I do, is wear a panty liner. It negates the need for toilet paper (for #1s) and soaks everything up and you can just dispose of it when you’re back in civilisation. If you’re on a multiday hike though with no toilets or disposal opportunities, you’ll also have to carry it out so again, a ziploc bag is good. Oh, and carry a thing of hand sanistiser for post-pee hand cleaning. Us hikers were way ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to hand sanitiser. We were using it way before Covid became a thing!
Worried you’ll get left behind?
This happened to me on my first ever group hike. It was awful. Everyone rushed off ahead and I really struggled to catch up. Even though I told them I was going to duck into the bush, no one offered to wait for me. In fact, they told me I'd just have to catch up! So I was too scared to go again when I needed to (yes, I’m a prolific pee-er; not unheard of for me to go up to 6 times a hike!). Fortunately, I’ve only ever hiked with awesome and supportive groups ever since so this has never been an issue since that hike. So, the trick here is to ask another person in your group to wait for you. Usually, they’ll wander further up the track to give you privacy or, you can just ask them to do that. When you do this, make sure you drop your backpack on the track right next to where you enter the bush. This is a safety measure. If you don’t re-emerge for some reason, your pack on the track will alert the person/people waiting for you just where you were last seen. Distance can be deceptive out in the bush; you might think your friend went into the bush 10 metres away when in fact it may have been 50 metres away. That can make a huge difference in an emergency if trying to find someone in thick scrub.
Creatures in the bush?
Well yes, there will be critters and creatures. You just need to be as careful as possible about where you choose to do your thang. Many, many years ago, in my pre-hiking days, I was away camping along the Murray River during summer. Our group of waterskiers had a sweet setup as we camped and skied at this location often over the years. We had a fabulous toilet set up for #2s. Almost better than at home! But the rule was that we were to urinate in the bush. One hot day, I wandered into the bush and went for my squat whilst quietly enjoying the serenity that is the great Aussie bush. Until the mother of all bullants launched itself at my bare backside and sunk its fangs into me (do bullants have fangs?). Whatever, it bit me and the pain was excruciating! And not just for that moment. I was in pain for days! At first, I had no idea what got me. Until I looked down and saw that I’d chosen to twinkle on a bullant nest. You have to feel sorry for the bullants really. Not a pleasant experience for them either, I guess. Moral of the story, check ground pre pee.
I’m not across all the different creepy-crawlies in other countries apart from Australia and New Zealand (which incredibly, seems to have no lurking dangers!) Here in Oz, of course we have any number of snakes and spiders along with other things that bite or sting. Try to find a clear area where you’re not likely to disturb any of them. Our wildlife really doesn’t want to hurt you! Use common sense. I’ll be honest here, I won’t wander off track at all in a snakey area on a hot day. I’ll pee right there on the side of the track. I do make sure I’m last in the group though before I’ll do it. I do have some manners! Also, don’t be fooled into thinking that snakes hibernate in winter. You might need to check where you live. But here in Australia, yeah sure, you might not see them as much but they are around. In the colder months, they go into a state or torpor or brumation. It’s all very scientific and I am no snake expert but I do know that they can still move around seeking heat and food in winter. They’re just a lot less active. So still be careful of where you go if heading off the track into the bush, even in winter. If peeing right there on the track isn’t your bag, consider going just off to the side only as far as you need. You can always wear gaiters too. I used to loathe gaiters but now I love them in all weather. It’s just an added layer of protection. They might not necessarily be snake-proof, but they do make life harder for the snake to get you. Don’t be frightened but do be alert and sensible and you’ll be fine.
The Physical Side of Peeing in the Bush
Not everyone is created equal. Some people have physical limitations. These might be by way of a disability, a temporary injury or a lack of strength in the muscles required to squat. So let’s talk about the strength issue first. One of the amazing side benefits of strength training is that your squats to pee are solid! Before I started training with Summit Strength, I could barely squat down and when I did, I had trouble standing back up again. I was so weak in the quads and glutes. This also led to some unpleasant trickle-down-the-leg moments. I remember the first time I noticed the difference after having trained with SS for a couple of months. I was able to get much lower than previously and was able to stand up easily too. This led to much better peeing outcomes! All those squats and glute bridges in training led to improvement in much more than just the hiking! Who’d’ve thunk it!
If you’re not so strong in those muscles yet, here’s a tip that might help. When squatting, plant your feet with the weight firmly through your heels and then push through your heels to stand again. Awesome for balance. And really just a replication of how you’d do a squat in the gym. Another tip, if you don’t feel strong enough; hang on to the trunk of a smallish tree; encircle the tree with your arms with your hands clasped together.
What if you live with a permanent disability that makes squatting difficult? Or an injury that limits your range of motion? Or the thought of squatting simply doesn’t appeal to you? Welcome to the female urination device! There are heaps of these on the market now. The Shewee. GoGirl. pStyle. Do a Google search and you’ll find them. Some are disposable and some are reusable. Basically, these things allow you to pee like a bloke. Standing up! I have not used one of these types specifically but I know plenty of women who do and the general consensus is that they are great. However, this usually comes with a warning; practice first! Practice in the shower until you get the hang of it. And then you’ll be good to go!
I did try something similar not so long ago. It was a thing where you wee into a concertina-designed device which could then be sealed shut. I liked the idea of this particularly when camping and not wanting to leave your tent to pee in the cold night. The first time I tried it, Geronimo! It was awesome! The second time, not so good. I think I got cocky. Let’s just say the placement of the device must’ve been a bit skew-whiff and things went south. So, similar to the Shewee type of device, practice, practice, practice!
Well I think that covers it as far as peeing when you’re on a hike goes. As I said earlier, there are rules around #2s in the bush so read up on what’s expected in your area. As far as having your period goes, this is pretty much the same as carrying out your toilet paper or panty liner. Don’t dispose of pads or tampons in the bush regardless of how compostable these things claim to be. Wrap them up in toilet paper and pop them in a ziploc bag until you get back to civilisation.
To finish up, I really want to stress again just how important staying hydrated is when you’re on a hike. You can get seriously sick very quickly on a hot day so don’t think that a simple one or two hour hike doesn’t require proper water (and electrolyte) intake. Drink water before your hike and drink water during your hike. If peeing in the bush concerns you, try some of these things I’ve talked about. I guarantee, after you’ve done it the first couple of times, it won’t bother you anymore.
To learn more about how to hydrate before and during a hike, check out this article. Whilst this specifically mentions hiking in the heat, it’s always important to stay hydrated in all weather.
About the Author
Andrea is a coach with Summit Strength, who specialise in helping hikers get strong and pain-free for their adventures.
At the age of 54, she discovered a real passion for hiking. But she also discovered just how limiting physical fitness and pain can be on the trail.
After signing up to one of the Summit Strength signature programs, she discovered just how much of a difference the right training can make to a hiker's enjoyment and comfort on their adventures. She knows that the journey isn't always easy and 'life' can sometimes impact on our training goals. She shares her insights and experiences with us in her blog articles.
These days, as an Online Adventure Coach with Summit Strength, she helps hikers all around the world get fit, strong and resilient for their adventures.
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Rowan is a personal trainer who specialises in training for hiking, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures.
Summit Strength is a personal training for hiking service created specifically to help hikers have the best chance of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure.