WARNING: Graphic content related to pee, poop and periods. Probably best not to be read over lunch.
The thing about going for a long walk is that at some point you are going to need the loo. For blokes, this is less of an issue, certainly when it comes to peeing. But women face a few more challenges in the toilet department. As someone who drinks a lot of water, who has given birth to two children and whose pelvic floor isn't what it used to be, I pee a lot. Sometimes just heading outdoors into the cold will bring on the need for a pee, even if I've already been before setting off.
But it's not just peeing. Sometimes - particularly after eating and then walking a few miles - your body might let you know that an evacuation of a different kind is required. And then there's what to do if you have your period.
So let's just get over any embarrassment and discuss it:
Let's start by saying that if at all possible, go before you set out. But your body may have ideas of its own and if you're doing a multi-day walk or wild camp, it's not really an option to just not go!
Your basic bush pee
There are all sorts of devices on the market now to help women pee anywhere (more on those in a moment) but in all honesty, you can't beat the basic bush pee. Find a bush or long grass, pull your pants down, squat, pee, dry and go. Let's break that down (for some of you, this may be blindingly obvious, but I have met many women who have NEVER had an outdoor pee. So I'm going to run through some basics):
The hiding spot: You will want to find a spot that is hidden from anyone coming in any direction. This is important. When you're in a rush, it's easy to look one way, forgetting that someone might come along the path in the opposite direction. It's best to stray slightly off the path to avoid spectators - but don't get lost! Avoid going right next to water or on the actual path. Start looking for a spot well before you're desperate, particularly if there is a lot of foot traffic on the path. If necessary, get a friend to be on kaka-kaka duty. This is a technical term invented by my son who was about 9 at the time. He suggested that I go pee behind a bush and he would make a bird call that goes 'kaka-kaka' should someone approach..... We've used it ever since because it makes me laugh every time.
Pants down and squat: Simple really. Just mind where you squat. You don't want to squat over long scratchy grass or a patch of nettles for example. I have done this. It isn't pleasant. Also be aware that if you are in a very muddy area, your pulled down trousers can get filthy. You will require some quad strength to squat and hold. Build squats into your fitness routine. Even if peeing outdoors strikes terror in your soul, trust me, you can do this. It's remarkably liberating actually and often you get a great view while peeing!
Pee and dry: When you pee, take note of the wind direction and hill slope to reduce blow back onto your boots. If you leave your pack on, be sure to check for any dangling straps that may get in the way too.
If you can try and check your pee colour to ensure you're drinking enough on a long hike. If it's dark yellow, you need more water. If it's completely see through, you're drinking too much. It's important to stay hydrated while walking.
Now if you have no risk of getting caught, plenty of time and quads of steel, you can remain in your squat while you 'drip dry'. However, for speed and dryness, you can use a tissue. BUT you need to bag it up or burn it. Take a little sanitary bag or one of these Fab Little Bags to store your used tissues in. Alternatively, consider using an ultra thin panty liner to keep your knickers dry. Do not leave your used paper lying behind.
The advanced or technical pee
If you prefer to stand up and pee so that you're not exposing your backside and bits to the world, you could try a portable urinal device. They can be more of a faff than they're worth, but are useful if camping and you don't want to get out of your tent at night or if you just can't find privacy to hoik your pants down. Some of them you can even use while lying down in your tent, although this takes some practice and a lot of confidence! Remember, you will need to dispose of your urine somewhere away from camping spots, rivers or picnic areas.
Shewee - this device has a cup that you fit to your bits, with a tube that attaches to direct the pee away from you, either onto the ground or into a bottle. Practice using this in the shower first. Easy enough once you've got the hang of it. Comes in its own case making it easy to store. It weighs 100g but if you're using it in a tent, you will need a pee bottle to pee into. Do not confuse your pee bottle with your drink bottle....
Peebol - this is good for in-tent peeing. It's a plastic bag filled with the same gel you find in babies nappies. A cardboard rim holds the bag open while you pee into. Again, it takes some confidence letting go into a bag that you hope will fill. But the gel works well. It holds up to a litre and can be resealed and reused until full. Be warned, it might just be two pees at most! You will have to find somewhere to dispose of it - not suitable for a hike unless you fancy lugging a gel-filled bag of pee with you for miles. They come in 3, 8 or 12 packs.
TravelJane - I have not personally tried this product but it looks like a cross between the shewee and peebol. Same issues as the Peebol - having to dispose of the gel after use, but good for camping.
Uriwell- Now this one I have a good deal of experience with. It is a solid plastic cup with a concertina plastic tube. You extend the tube, place the cup strategically over your bits and pee. You can use this lying down, standing up or squatting. As it concertinas it doesn't take up much space when collapsed, so good for a backpack. BUT and this is a big BUT, you can only concertina it twice. Thereafter, the plastic becomes too fragile and it will leak. Let's just say I learned this the hard way (as did the person sharing my tent).
Dealing with a number two
It's not just bears that shit in the woods.....sometimes, if you are on a multi-day hike, wild camp or just get caught short, you need to poop. Ideally you should try to poo before you leave, but we can't always control our bodies and there's no point getting embarrassed about it. So here's what you do.
If you are unlucky enough to get your period while on a hiking trip, you have a few options:
Tampons and sanitary pads
You cannot bury tampons or towels, so if you use them, be sure to bag them and take them away with you to be disposed of once you find a bin. These FabLittleBags as mentioned above are brilliant for that as they can be opened with one hand (leaving your other hand free to remove the tampon/pad) and seal up tight. You can use these to store the applicators or wipes too. And they're biodegradable.
If you're long distance hiking and want to cut down on weight, then a menstrual cup might work best for you. They are lightweight, environmentally friendly and comfortable to wear (once you've practiced using it). But you will need to bury the contents of the cup and will need to be able to clean it out, not always easy when you're hiking. If you don't have warm water and soap to clean it, you can just wipe it with toilet paper (which you'll then have to burn or carry out).
I find it best to carry a toilet bag with me containing:
- tissues or toilet paper and tampons plus a spare panty liner
- a bag for putting used paper/items in
- hand sanitiser
Have this bag easy to grab so that should a suitable bush appear, you can grab and go!
For longer hikes, I'd add a trowel and lighter to burn the paper.
That's it. If you have any toilet tips please share them. OR head over to the free Glamoraks Facebook group to get other tips and advice for women who love to walk.
Yesterday a man on Twitter disagreed with one of my blog posts. Called '25 walks women should put on their bucket list', the post was a round up of a survey I did with Glamoraks members about which walks they'd like to do. Plus tips on how to make them happen.
The gentleman felt that they should be walks for people - rather than women - to put on their bucket list. He felt he had done several of the walks and he couldn't understand why women had been singled out. He felt if walks had been selected for people based on the colour of their skin, there would be outrage, so surely walks being selected based on their gender should be viewed just as poorly.
I did point out that it was aimed at the readers of a women's walking group, hence the female bias in the blog post. And nowhere did I say that men couldn't do the walks. To which, he said: 'In the age of equality, why single out women?'
And that is an interesting question. You could argue that sadly, there still isn't equality. But leaving that aside, is it sexist to have a women-only walking group? If there was a male only walking group, would women get upset?
I suppose the answer to that would be based on why the group was male-only or what the reasons were for that decision.
So I want to outline why Glamoraks is a women-only walking group:
I want the Glamoraks group to be a place where women can meet like-minded women to go walking with. I want them to feel comfortable saying to a complete stranger on the internet, 'Let's meet at this walking trail'. Sure there is a chance that a woman can be a complete psycho, but largely, women will feel more comfortable meeting an unknown woman for the first time in a remote place than they would a man.
Rightly or wrongly, women are warned repeatedly to take care of themselves. Just this week, the York police issued a statement urging women not to walk alone at night following three sexual assaults in as many days. They later went on to adjust their statement, saying that 'everyone should take care walking alone at night'. But women are taught from a young age to be careful and not put themselves in potentially dangerous situations - like meeting a strange man in a quiet bit of woodland on their own. Hence the need for a women-only website so that they can share where they'll be walking without worry.
This is a generalisation - so apologies - but feedback I've had from some women as to why they don't enjoy mixed sex walking groups is because many of the walks are led by men who tend to turn it into a competition to see who can get their first or navigate best. It all becomes a bit of a route march. And if you are a woman who enjoys that, go for it. But many women prefer to go walking for the relaxation it brings, rather than to prove a point about who can get there first.
Confidence and guilt
The reason I set up Glamoraks up was because I can see how many women spend their 30s, 40s and 50s juggling the demands of kids, careers and ageing parents. I'm not saying men don't have these demands, but women seem to feel more guilty about taking time off for themselves. They spend much of their life enabling other people to do things, while putting themselves last. This has a knock on effect on their confidence. They don't feel as fit, brave or adventurous as they used to be. Sometimes they don't feel it's right for them to leave the family for a week so that they can take on a long distance walk. The group was set up to inspire them to regain their confidence, to set aside their guilt and to rediscover that person they used to be. I'm not saying that men don't need to do that, but I think this is typically more of a feminine issue.
Peeing, periods and personal stuff
There are things that women have to deal with that men just don't. Like periods and how to manage those on a big walk. Or the need to squat behind a tree to pee. Or which bras are most comfortable and supportive when walking. Or how walking might help with the menopause. Even just which kit is lighter or designed with women in mind. Men are most welcome to join in these discussions, but I imagine, most wouldn't want to. I think it's ok for women to have a safe space to discuss any of these topics without feeling as though it's awkward. What's more, the conversations women have with each other while walking are different, more honest and more personal when there are only women around. And I think it's ok to create that female-only environment so that those conversations can happen.
I walk with my husband and many Glamoraks walk with their husbands, partners, fathers, brothers and friends. And I have done group walks with men and women, including climbing Kilimanjaro where there wasn't too much left to the imagination or privacy. It is a wonderful - and completely different - experience to walking with just women. Glamoraks is not trying to eliminate men from the walking agenda or be sexist. It is simply trying to create a female-focused group to address all of the areas listed above.
To the man on Twitter, sorry if I couldn't respond adequately to your questions but it took more than 140 characters.
I welcome any thoughts on this issue. And if you are a woman and would like to chat to and find other like-minded walkers, feel free to join the Facebook group here.