Going to the bathroom in the outdoors is an endless source of amusement. It mixes the urgency of really, really needing to go to the bathroom with the hilarity of really, really needing to do it in an unfamiliar place.
For some people, time in the outdoors is relaxing. The trickling flow of a nearby stream, the soft chirping of local birds, and the mushy forest floor all contribute to a sense of calm and a gentle loosening in the nether regions. For others, the screaming river, the frenetic chirping, and the uneven ground underfoot cause us to clamp up, leading to performance anxiety and intense internal discomfort.
As a frequent backcountry traveler, I have experienced all of the above. And then some. Normal backcountry conversations cover all topics of the outdoor bathroom: when to go, where to go, proper use of the pee funnel, can I poop under a rock? (no!), what should I do with my toilet paper? (pack it out!), do you really pick up your poop and carry it out in a doggy bag? (yes!), oops I peed on myself what should I do?, and hey I know we’re roped up how about we both just poop at the same time? That’s just to name a few.
I’ve probably spent more time, cumulatively, talking about going to the bathroom in the outdoors than any other single topic. I guess you can call me an expert.
Which is why I’d like to present to you three stories of outdoor bathroom fails. At least one of these stories is mine, but in the interest of self-preservation, I am not going to tell you which one or who wrote the other stories.
When a tree falls in the woods, will your pants arrest your tumble?
As a teenager, I was hired by a local film crew to schlep gear up a mountain for a rock climbing movie. About half-way up the fairly steep hike, I felt some movement and knew I’d need to take a break. I left my pack on the trail and made my way up the hill into the trees to find some shelter from the other hikers.
It’s worth mentioning that I was only about 15 at the time, and this was early on in my “outdoor career.” I didn’t yet have the hang of the “outdoor squat,” and instead had adopted what I called the “tree theory.” I would search for either a downed tree that I could sit on while my bum hung over the back or I would search for a tree that I could lean up against “wall-sit” style while I did my business.
With no downed trees in sight, I found a stable-looking tree, dropped my pants, and leaned back against it. I was on the uphill side of the tree, with my bum against the tree facing downhill toward the trail, my pack, and the rest of the party who were patiently waiting for me.
No sooner had I fully weighted the tree than I heard a terrible cracking sound. I felt movement and looked between my legs to see the ground moving as roots jutted upwards parting dirt like the red sea. Before I knew it I was falling… tumbling down the hill with my pants around my legs – all orifices temporarily clamped shut save for my face, which was screaming: “Oh my god, the tree fell, THE TREE FELL!”
Luckily I didn’t tumble far and was able to pull my pants up before anyone saw anything. I skulked back to my pack and hoofed another 30 minutes before I found sweet relief in the form of a downed tree I spotted from a switchback. You would think after this experience I would learn the outdoor squat, but that took another 10+ years to master.
The little pooper
“Mama? I have to go poop.”
I looked around. We were just below the Mount Fremont Lookout. The ground was covered in snow and where there wasn’t snow, there were rocks or rocky ground, completely inhospitable to digging a cathole. And there were no trees for even a semblance of privacy.
“How bad? Do you think you can wait? There’s nowhere for you to go here,” I told her. “I can’t dig you a hole in this rocky, rocky ground. And I don’t have anywhere for you to get privacy.”
“Can’t we just dig a hole in the snow?”
“Well, no. Because the snow will melt. And then, well, your poop will just be sitting there. Would you like to see poop up here?”
She made a gross-out face. “I can wait,” she said.
“I actually can’t wait.”
And that’s how I ended up teaching my 6-year-old to poop in a bag.
I helped her hide her tiny body in a moat between the snow and a large rock. She pooped in a bag. I carefully reinforced the bag to ensure it wouldn’t make a mess before I could properly dispose of it, and we headed back down the trail.
Is it horrible to admit that this is one of my prouder parenting moments?
I could have done, however, without her loudly proclaiming, by the busy Sunrise parking lot, “Mama! Don’t forget my bag of poop is on your back!”
The trouble with underpants
One of the more annoying parts about being a woman in the outdoors is having to pee. Just learning the physics of the squat is mindboggling. How do you do it without peeing on your pants? Your shoes? What do you do about epic splashback?
Because peeing was such a chore, I found myself drinking less water to avoid the outdoor bathroom situation – which is probably not a good thing. Then, I learned about a funnel ladies can use to pee outside standing up. I bought one and practiced in the shower as my friend recommended.
With a few outdoor trips under my belt, I was feeling pretty confident. I loaded up my funnel with the rest of my ski gear and started off on our day’s adventure. After about an hour I really had to go, so I ducked into a tree alcove to relieve myself.
As often happens with needing to go to the bathroom, as soon as relief was in sight I couldn’t get there fast enough (think: the outdoor version of the pee-pee dance when you’re just trying to unlock your front door before running inside barely making it to the nearest potty). I pulled down/away all of the layers and shoved the funnel into its place and just let go. I made sure to lean forward, and not go too fast, to avoid “overwhelming the funnel.”
That’s when something started to seem off. I knew I was really going, but not enough liquid seemed like it was coming out. I “clamped it off” (an achievement for any women) and pulled away as many layers as I could to reveal the problem: I had forgotten the last essential layer – my underwear. As you might have anticipated – they were covered with urine.
So I did what any self-respecting woman would do: I shoved the funnel back down there (under the undies this time) and tried to enjoy a moment of relaxation before the real work began. Then, I launched the difficult endeavor of removing my ski pants AND leggings (without the panties soaking them). I should mention I was also wearing ski boots at the time.
Fifteen minutes after ducking into the grove, I emerged as a triumphant! My commando bum was mostly dry and my secret pee-panties were tucked safely away in a ziplock in my pack. I just told everyone the delay had been a stubborn poop.
Read more from Kristina at An Adventurous Life.