So, I’m a female and recently I have been a female in what seems to be a predominantly male world. This world has included trekking in Nepal and Argentina. As a female, I have a few obstacles to figure out that a man doesn’t even have to consider and typically doesn’t even want to talk about. I’m not trying to bash men, but as a woman it happens all too frequently that I have to censor myself to avoid making a man feel uncomfortable, awkward, or grossed out. Yes, I am talking about peeing, pooping, and periods in the outdoors.
While trekking in Nepal, I never had to figure this out in the way I had to while in Argentina. Being an individual that sweats A LOT, I never had to pee while on the trail. I lost my fluids via my sweat and via my face! I was always able to make it to the lodges we stayed at to use the facilities. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t always the most glamorous of setups, but there was always a spot designated for business time and that was always appreciated. Even if that had not been the case, I knew I’d be comfortable enough to take care of things outside after having experience with doing just that in years prior. There were also plenty of opportune places when trekking in Nepal, and everyone was respectful when someone had to go.
I was recently in Argentina with the goal of trekking to the top of Aconcagua, the tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas. It was myself, and two male friends, and one tent for most of the time moving up the mountain. I went into it knowing I would have to use a pee funnel, a bag for all of my pooping, and I’d have to figure out how to navigate my period while on a mountain, all while enduring some pretty cold and windy weather. I had googled these things to see if any other women had written about their experiences in similar situations, but I didn’t find much on these topics. There were a few about the FUDs (female urination devices) and how to use them, but I wasn’t really finding first hand accounts from women on what to expect, troubleshooting, or simply what it was like for them being a woman and dealing with these things out in the wilderness far from modern conveniences.
So I’m taking it upon myself to write about these things. I want to make it less of a taboo and open up conversation that could lead to getting more women outdoors and being awesome! I’m hoping this will be helpful for at least one other female out there. I am relatively new to trekking, and maybe it’s common knowledge in the female community of trekkers, mountaineers, etc.? And maybe it’s not. This could at least be for the newbies of hiking and trekking to make it feel less intimidating and do-able.
Right off the bat, you need to get over your own inhibitions. You need to know that it is okay to do what you have to do to take care of those primal needs. Don’t feel embarrassed that you have to fart, or poop, or squat to pee, or pee completely out in the open. Don’t try to wait for the perfect situation because it most likely won’t happen and you will be so uncomfortable with a full bladder that is ready to burst. The benefits of being outdoors far outweigh the drawbacks, but there are always uncomfortable moments especially while at elevation. I realized it took way too much energy to try and pretend I was the woman who didn’t pee, poop, or menstruate. I didn’t have the energy to give to keep up that pretense. And don’t forget, it was often very cold and windy. Getting my boots on, climbing over one of my friends, unzipping and zipping the tent door, walking away from the tent, pulling my pants down, squatting while keeping my balance, and keeping my pants away from my female bits and pee stream was soooooooo exhausting.
Even more energy was lost when I couldn’t remember which pocket I stuffed wipes, hand sanitizer, or my waste bag into and then frantically searching for these things. It definitely helped to have a kit, and after a few days I started carrying a gallon ziplock bag with hand sanitizer, baby wipes (get more than you think you will need), and the GoGirl with extension. Looking back I wish I also had another ziplock for the used wipes. I ended up wasting precious baby wipes on wrapping the used ones in a new one.
Peeing was the easiest for me. I practiced with the GoGirl before leaving, but never with the extension. I bought the extension for when I would have to use it in the tent with the guys because of stormy weather. Unfortunately, I continued to have problems with it and never felt very confident using it. I tried a few times in base camp, but ended up peeing on myself and at that point clean clothing was hard to find. I couldn’t have my thermals or hiking pants that I wore many times over the course of two weeks smelling of urine. Three sweaty, stinky people did not need the added odor of peepee mixed into the equation. That was the point where I stopped caring. I got out of the tent, found cover if possible, pulled my pants down, squated, and gave myself relief without feeling an ounce of guilt or shame. I was over shaming myself because I’m a woman and my anatomy prevents me from peeing standing up while being inconspicuous.
Moving onto poo. On Aconcagua, your poop gets carried out with you. No poop is left behind or at least that is what is supposed to happen. You are issued a numbered bag that you must show Rangers and leave at a dumping station upon leaving Base Camp. It was a weird thing to carry around. I tied it to my pack and it swayed at the bottom left side as we trekked up the mountain. It was also weird to hold someones poo bag while they were taking care of something else, but it somehow also felt normal and hardly a big deal after all that we had been through together. It’s funny what you get over. You have to. You don’t have enough energy to waste on thinking about it, worrying about it, being embarrassed about it. Everything you have needs to go to getting up and down the mountain, doing it safely, and keeping yourself healthy and strong. I’m just glad I have two men in my life who are okay with the fact that I pee, poop, and period. I’m also okay with the fact that they pee and poop. We are all okay and we are all still friends. We survived.
So back to the poo bag. It was an orange bag, somewhat see through, and not the strongest or thickest of bags. My orange bag actually flew off of the mountain at C1 because I didn’t secure it well enough during a storm. That’s when I had to switch to my trash bag which was white and somewhat see through. That bag left nothing to the imagination…colorwise at least. That was a little embarrassing, I’ll be honest, but I got over it quickly. Next time I will definitely bring a few back ups to place it into in case it breaks or gets lost. I didn’t have any accidents with it, but my friend had a little one (the bag managed to get a few holes in it), and that’s something you don’t want. No one wants poo to drizzle on other things, especially on a warm, sunny day.
Now, actually pooping in the bag was a weird feeling the first time I did it. I think Americans have a weird relationship with their body and what it can produce. Everyone poops and pees and yet it is such a taboo thing to talk about and acknowledge. I’m glad I was able to confront this situation and be able to overcome my trepidation and fear of having to do this on a mountain that doesn’t offer many places to hide. As I mentioned earlier, I had pooped in the woods once before a few years back, but not into a bag, and I wasn’t carrying it around with me for a week. I initially held things in for a a day or two until I felt I was going to burst. I’ve always needed privacy for number two, but I had to get over that requirement after making myself uncomfortable. Fortunately, my man friends were really supportive and open to talking about it. They actually encouraged me to fart in front of them. It wasn’t a big deal because we were in it together and we all had to do it. So why pretend that we did anything but that?
I sucked it up and was the first of our three person expedition to do the deed in the bag. I won’t lie, it was a little tricky with the wind. I looked for cover, but I ended up having to go with my back to a cliff and the sun while facing our tent, all the while my squatting shadow casting itself onto the tent that my friends were in. I did it there because I had some cover using our tent, I just wasn’t thinking about what the guys were seeing while I was doing it…I can’t help but giggle while I type this.
There was one time I thought I was alone while peeing when I actually wasn’t. It was early in the morning at C2 and I walked to where I was behind enough hills for no one to see me. That’s when I heard the, “crunch, crunch, crunch,” of the snow coming from the direction I didn’t think I had to worry about. I had my pants around my ankles and my ass was in the air. All I could do was laugh. Nothing was said. He looked straight ahead as if nothing happened, which I definitely appreciated. I am also pretty sure it was one of our friends from the other expedition, lol.
Anyway, you figure out what works and what doesn’t. You figure it out quickly. I learned it was helpful to have the wipes pulled out one by one before doing my business, so I wasn’t struggling to get them out and having to have my bottom out in the cold any longer than necessary. Also, designating pockets of my jacket for certain tasks was helpful so I wasn’t searching for something I needed in a hurry. Make sure to keep the baby wipes close to you at all times so they are warm and not frozen or alarmingly cold when wiping sensitive areas. Tricks like that ensure you “pamper” yourself a bit. I may try using a pee rag for my next trek. I hate all the waste created with the wipes. I will still practice with the pee funnel, but I think I just prefer squatting. Less of a hassle and I know I won’t pee on myself as long as I’m paying attention. Another option I’m looking at is getting a hiking skirt. It would allow for modesty, but again, I may just be at the point where I don’t really care that much. That’s just me, you may feel differently and that is totally okay!
As far as menstruation goes, I originally thought, “I’ll deal with it when it comes.” Aunt Flow was definitely visiting during the trek, and unfortunately it looked as though she was scheduled to show herself during the window of our summit push. After talking to my guide and friend about this (he’s European and “they acknowledge biology” lol), I decided to have my doctor put me on the pill to skip my period completely. I didn’t want the hassle of having my heaviest day on the summit push or possibly having the effects be amplified by the altitude (I can get really severe cramps). I wanted to set up the best possible situation and give myself the best odds of reaching the top. So, I was on the pill, and everything was going great, until we moved to Camp 2 and I forgot to bring my pills in my pack. I went without them for two days and then my body decided to start the bloody process. I felt like shit. My symptoms felt somewhat amplified, and it was a tough and very bloody day. At that point, all I could do was laugh and roll with it.
I am a big believer in the Diva Cup (there are other menstruation cups, but this is the one I use) and had that as an ally. If you’re not familiar with it, it is a silicon cup that collects the blood. On heavy days, I need to empty it every three or four hours. On regular and light days I can leave it in for 6-12 hours which is so liberating! It reduces waste, which I’m a huge fan of, and also saves me money and paying female taxes that I would pay when buying tampons. It takes some getting use to when inserting it, and I still have my days where it’s a little difficult, but I love using it along with my Thinx period panties. Think panties are quality made panties that are anti-microbial, absorbent, and leak-resistant. They’re a bit expensive, but in my opinion, worth it. The combination of the two things pretty much guarantees that I won’t be walking around with blood stains on my pants.
Having my period on the mountain was the messiest and maybe most vulnerable of the situations for me. I ended up dumping my Diva Cup 3 times, as I resumed the birth control and it tapered off. Taking it out, dumping it, rinsing it or wiping it down, and then inserting it again takes time. I was thankful there wasn’t wind when I had to do this. Even more baby wipes were used because I also had to wipe down my hands (and of course hand sanitizer was also used). Having things set out was helpful, or at the very least knowing where things were in my jacket gave me an advantage to getting it taken care of quicker.
So there it is. It’s not always pretty. In fact, in can be really messy. It’s what being a woman is really like. We pee. We poop. We menstruate. Every second human being on earth does these things, so lets stop letting others shame us. Let’s stop shaming ourselves. They are normal everyday things that our bodies have to do, and when you’re on a mountain with a bunch of men, it can seem very intimidating and almost impossible, but I promise you it is totally do-able and isn’t as bad as you think especially when you have supportive friends with you.
Wow, I feel so much better now that this is out there floating on the interweb…don’t you???
Feel free to ask my any questions if you have them. I am no expert on any of this stuff, but I know what worked for me, what didn’t, and what I’d like to try next time. I’d also love to know if this helped you in anyway!! Don’t be shy…say “Hi!”