Women In The Wild: A Few Things Women Should Know About Staying Clean and Healthy in the Backcountry

No matter how you like to enjoy the outdoors, if you are a woman, there are a few things we experience differently in the wild. Here’s a basic guide that will hopefully answer your questions and make you feel more comfortable doing your business in the woods … and a few other things. 

Peeing in the Woods

Young woman walking in the coniferous forest.
Image by m-gucci from Getty

No matter where you are, eventually you have to pee (assuming you aren’t dehydrated, but that’s a different problem). Going to the bathroom in the backcountry can be a little more complicated for women than men, especially if you are on a mixed-gender adventure. Here are a few tips to make it easier and more sanitary.

Always go at least 200 feet away from water sources, campsites, or trails to use the bathroom. This prevents the spread of illnesses and minimizes the impact on the natural environment in the area. 

Peeing into the wind is never a good idea–whether you are standing or squatting. If possible, pee in the direction the wind is blowing so it won’t get blown back at you. If you are on a slope, face downhill so your pee flows away from you, not back toward your feet. 

The trick to keeping your clothes out of the line of fire is to pull your pants and underwear down to around your knees and mid-thighs. After you squat, pull your pants and underwear toward your belly so it is up and out of the way. If you pull everything down to your ankles, you are more likely to splash onto them, and it is easier to lose your balance or trip.

Use a “Pee-Kerchief”

Bring along a “pee-kerchief.” This is a handkerchief or clean rag that you can use to wipe after urinating. Drip-drying is uncomfortable and can lead to urinary tract infections or yeast infections. Using a “pee-kerchief” minimizes the amount of toilet paper you use (and bury or pack out). 

Many people simply hang their “pee-kerchief” on the outside of their backpack to dry then throw it in the wash when they get home. Some people rinse it out with clean water at the end of each day to prevent bacteria from growing. Hanging your “pee-kerchief” on the outside of your pack also lets the ultraviolet rays from the sun to kill a lot of the bacteria. 

Invest in a Pee Funnel

Did you know there is such a thing as a pee funnel? When I frequented the rock climbing crags where people were all around–and above–you, the Freshette pee funnel was a game changer! There aren’t always places to squat in privacy so a pee funnel allows you to pee standing up and doesn’t require you to pull your pants down. With a little practice, you can even use it while wearing a climbing harness… I tested it!

It does take a little practice to learn how to use without leaking or dripping on yourself. I practiced in the shower several times before attempting to use it in the backcountry. The trick is to make sure you have a proper seal against your body so no urine can escape. Then, point the medical-grade, clear tube in the direction that is safest to pee!

Pee funnels are also handy if you get trapped in your tent by inclement weather and you are forced to use a pee bottle. Generally, I like to pack my Freshette on every backcountry adventure that is longer than a day or two because I never know when I’ll wish I had it. 

Cleanliness Matters

Women's hands using wash hand sanitizer gel.
Image by galitskaya from Getty

Women are far more susceptible to urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and other hygiene and health complications than men. Consider packing a clean pair of underwear for each day of your adventure. This will help you keep clean and ward off any infections.

If you have access to clean water, a lake, or a river, take a bath or at least give yourself a sponge bath every other day. A wet handkerchief, baby wipes, or feminine wipes are useful to bring along. Just remember to pack out any wipes because they are not usually biodegradable. 

Remember to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer each time you go to the bathroom. This will reduce the spread of germs and bacteria and help protect you from infections.

Invest in Good Underwear

Cotton underwear may be very comfortable and breathable, but it doesn’t dry quickly. Bacteria thrive in wet environments. Underwear made from performance fabrics like polyester or merino wool dries faster. Merino wool is lightweight, easy to clean, and tends to be more odor-resistant than synthetic fabrics like polyester or nylon. 

Period Talk

Image by dstaerk from Getty

Don’t let your monthly menstrual cycle keep you at home! Even though it can be a little annoying, there are many ways to manage. 

Bring the Right Supplies

I learned from a friend the art of the “biohazard bag.” She taught me to put duct tape all around a sturdy ziplock bag to stash used tampons, sanitary napkins, or used wet wipes. The duct tape hides the contents, protects it from puncture, and traps any unpleasant odors. 

Many women prefer to use menstrual cups when in the backcountry instead of tampons or sanitary napkins. Menstrual cups are reusable and very environmentally friendly alternatives to disposable tampons or pads. 

There are quite a few health benefits to menstrual cups, too! But like the pee funnel, be sure to practice using a menstrual cup before heading into the wild. It does take some practice and getting used to. You will save money and hassle by switching to a menstrual cup. 

If you choose to use tampons or pads, be sure to pack everything out in your “biohazard bag.” One way to reduce waste and the space that tampons take up in your pack is to bring tampons without applicators. 

If you are in bear country or other areas with a lot of wildlife, remember to put your “biohazard bag” in your bear canister, food bag, or wherever you store scented items at night. Don’t keep your “biohazard bag” in the tent with you because the scent might attract curious animals.

Myth Busted

The myth that bears are more attracted to women who are on their periods than other humans is popular, and nobody is quite sure where it originated. The truth is there is no scientific evidence that bears are more attracted to women on their period than any other humans.

On rare occasions, bears might be attracted to your “biohazard bag” or other scented items you bring in your pack, but not to you specifically. 

What are your favorite tips and tricks as a female adventurer? Share them in the comments so we can learn from each other!


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