Peeing outdoors is as simple as finding a secluded spot and popping a squat, right? Theoretically, sure—but in reality, everything from uneven terrain to tight hip flexors can throw you off your game (and, as a result, your…trajectory). The mechanics of relieving yourself in the great outdoors can be challenging if you struggle with mobility and flexibility, like most modern desk jockeys do, or if you have a hard time staying steady on your feet. Finding the right spot can be tricky, too: level and unobstructed, yet off the beaten path and somewhat private. And then there’s the whole hygiene side of things: T.P. or no T.P.?
Whether you’re in the backcountry or at Bonnaroo, being able to successfully pee in nature (and emerge clean and dry) can be a game changer. As a newish hiker myself, I’ve personally been trying to master the art, so I decided to ask a handful of women hikers, backpackers, kayakers, and other outdoor adventurers for their advice on how to make the most of your alfresco bathroom experience. Here’s what they (and I) recommend.
1. Know how to scope out the right spot.
Look for even terrain where you can keep a steady footing. You’ll maintain your balance better on solid, level earth than on rocky gravel or loose dirt. Better yet, an area with a slight incline allows your pee to drain downhill and away from your shoes. “It’s all about finding that little slope and squatting so your booty is way back and you won’t experience splashback,” says Julie, a hiker in Georgia whose formative years of woods peeing involved drinking around bonfires in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.
2. Squat as low as you comfortably can.
Speaking of squatting: The closer you can get to the ground, the more steady you’ll feel—and the more likely your pee will actually hit said ground, as opposed to going rogue on your calves or ankles. (If you’ve ever peed outside before, you know what I mean.) Try to sink as low into your squat as you can while keeping your butt back and your feet flat on the ground—raising up on your toes will just make you wobbly. In powerlifting parlance, this squat style is known as “ass to grass,” which takes on quite a literal meaning in the wilderness. Just make sure you’re not taking that too literally: One hiker, Victoria, says she learned that the hard way after she had to pluck a tick off one cheek.
Many of the women I spoke with agree that a low, balanced, flat-footed squat is key to your outdoor bathroom experience. But depending on how much mobility you have in your ankles, hips, and knees, this can be easier said than done. So just do what you can—and mark this down as another good reason to make sure you’re fitting some mobility exercises (flexibility is one important factor in that) into your overall fitness routine. (More than one hiker specifically recommended practicing the deep squat, as well as chair pose or wall squats, to get comfortable in a hovering position.)
3. Use nature’s props for help with balance and positioning.
Numerous women mentioned befriending a nearby tree for better balance. “My favorite thing is to find a fallen tree and perch on that,” says Sydney. “If it’s a fallen tree with a crotch in it, all the better.” (The crotch is the part of the tree where the trunk splits into two.) Melissa G., a kayaker, prefers to do a modified wall squat with her back against the tree. “Do check the tree for poisonous vegetation and insects first,” she cautions. You’ll definitely want to familiarize yourself with poison ivy and its kin.
4. Bring a bungee cord to make balancing easier.
One frequent camper, Melissa, brings along a simple tool for these scenarios. “I keep at least one bungee cord in my car and my camp kit at all times,” she says. “I wrap the bungee low around the tree and secure to one another. Then I grab the bungee cord, squat, and lean back.”
If there’s nothing to brace yourself against, and you really don't trust your balance because of either the terrain or your tired legs, consider this next tip, which is admittedly not for everyone but nature writer and outdoors enthusiast Catie swears by. If you don’t mind peeing in front of a partner or friend, have them stand in front of you and hold onto your wrists or hands (like this) so you can lean all the way back into a deep squat without worrying about tipping backward . This allows you to achieve a squat depth that prevents splashback, and in doing so, also keeps your pelvic region a safe distance back from your pants and underwear around your ankles. Talk about teamwork.
5. A couple DIY accessories can really help with cleanup.
Hannah, an avid hiker in Georgia, shares this genius tip for cleaning up afterward: “Add a little splash from your Camelback [or whatever hydration pack you have] water hose and you have a nice little backcountry bidet. No wiping necessary.” This also prevents her from having to deal with toilet paper, which backcountry hikers should always pack out (bring back out of the woods with you).
On that note, Colleen, a backpacker and SELF contributor, recommends one tip she picked up after spending three months along a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail and Oregon coast. “The best strategy I learned, and that many women practiced, was bringing a ‘pee rag,’ usually a bandana,” she says. Use it in place of T.P. after peeing, then hang it off the back of your pack. “The sun dried it, and we would wash it when we got to town.” While this is probably overboard for a day hike or other short jaunt, it’s not a bad idea if you’re spending an extended amount of time in the woods.
6. Use a stick to create a shallow hole to pee into; it’ll minimize the possibility of pee trickling over your feet.
Hikers following leave-no-trace ethics often carry small trowels with which to dig catholes, where they bury their solid waste at campsites. While this isn’t a necessary practice for urine, Sydney says that she frequently uses a stick or the heel of her boot to scratch a shallow trough into the earth, which gives pee a place to pool and prevents it from trickling over to her feet.
7. Consider investing in a pee funnel, especially for longer or more arduous hikes.
Numerous women I spoke with proclaimed their love for pee funnels like the GoGirl and the PStyle. Even if you don’t normally need assistance, they can come in handy toward the end of strenuous, lengthy trips when your leg muscles can no longer be trusted. Katie, an Atlanta woman who trekked through the Andes several years ago, says she wishes she’d brought one along with her for that trip: “Squatting is hard when your legs are exhausted.” She now keeps one handy at festivals. “When the portable bathrooms get gross from people not sitting down, I can just stand and use the urinal,” she says.
Like anything else, the more you practice, the better you'll get.
In the meantime, maybe make it a habit to always bring an extra pair of socks? You can never be too prepared.