May Wee? Yes, We Can!
By Tamia Nelson
May 10, 2011
Content Advisory! This article contains a frank discussion of certain fundamental excretory functions. If you think you'll find the topic offensive, stop reading now.
The setting? Archaeology field camp. The season? High summer. The weather? Hot and humid. The cast of characters? A dozen students, two to a square. Plus a teacher. And about 10,000 mosquitoes. I was one of the students. Mary was my partner. Sweat poured steadily off our brows and dripped onto the exposed earth as we troweled. I chugged water, and every couple of hours I headed off into the bushes to empty my bladder and offer new feeding opportunities to a few hundred entrepreneurial mosquitoes. Meanwhile, Mary never budged. While I guzzled, she only sipped. As the sluggard hours passed, her face got redder and redder. Then the drops of sweat stopped forming on her brow. The morning came to an end, and she'd never once left the square. We broke for lunch, but when we came back she was still working on the top half of her first water bottle. I was getting worried. Sunstroke looked like a real possibility. "You've got to drink!" I urged. "No," she replied. "I can't."
"And why not?" I asked. "Because." Mary's voice had dropped to a whisper. "Because why?" I demanded. "BECAUSE!" she shouted. Suddenly, I understood. Mary was one of those girls — I'd known more than a few — who found peeing impossible anytime she was away from sit‑down toilets. She'd rather risk heat stroke than be forced to drop her drawers and squat in the bushes.
I thought this was crazy. And I still do. Admittedly, men have it easier when it comes time to stand and deliver. (Provided they watch the wind direction, that is.) But it's not as if squatting over a hole in the ground requires that a woman be an Olympic athlete. Of course, massed formations of biting flies can make even a simple pee into something close to a trial by ordeal. Still, what's the alternative? Never venturing beyond sprinting distance of a "proper" toilet? That's not very practical, is it? No way.
Luckily, though, the art of elimination en plein air is easy to learn. I've touched on the subject before, but today seemed like a good time to offer a postgraduate course of sorts. After all, there've been a few technological advances in the field lately. Woman's basic plumbing hasn't changed, obviously. But the engineers have been busy. And my earlier columns on the subject left a few relevant questions hanging in the air, so to speak. Anyway, here goes: my take on …
The Fine Art of Pumping Ship
And ships, as you probably know, are female. A word about words first, though. The act of emptying your bladder has to have a name. I favor "pissing," and this fine old word has kept perfectly respectable company in the past. It can be found in the King James Bible, for example. But pissing has fallen out of favor, at least in polite society. "Peeing" is now thought to be more genteel — more ladylike, if you will, and there are a host of other euphemisms, too. Examples include "pumping ship" (a wonderfully evocative phrase, and a great favorite of mine), "popping a squat" (a recent female‑specific descriptor, especially well suited to outdoor performances), and "having a slash" (largely British and mostly masculine), not to mention such solemn medico‑latinate verbs as "urinate" and "micturate." Plus baby‑talk circumlocutions like "tinkle" and "piddle" and "wee‑wee." But while I certainly don't want to cause gratuitous offense, I'm not a doctor and you're not babies. So I'll probably let "peeing" do the heavy lifting from here on out.
Now let's get down to business. You're a woman. You're out of doors. There's not a porcelain bowl in sight. There's not even a tumble‑down privy with a splintery seat, a pungent pong, and no door. So you're on your own. And you're busting for a pee. First things first:
You Did Dress for Success, Didn't You? Loose‑fitting pants are the way to go. (Skirts work fine, too, but do you really want to keep open house for every mosquito and blackfly around? I didn't think so.) If you're worried about being seen by passersby, it pays to remove your brightly colored jacket and PFD when heading off into the bushes. But before you go, remember to grab some …
Bum Wad Aka "toilet paper." Or a reasonable substitute. I keep a small roll of bum wad in a ziplock bag in my rucksack. It's sometimes called the Eleventh Essential, and there are very good reasons for this. Can you do without it? Sure. But it's not really a great idea. Leaves make poor wipers, and they're even worse as blotters. (Poison ivy is arguable the worst of a bad lot.) And unless the wind is blowing a gale, drip‑drying simply doesn't work, leaving you with soggy knickers (i.e., underpants), at increased risk of any number of unpleasant infections, ranging from superficial skin rashes to full‑blown UTIs.
OK. Having carefully selected your wardrobe and stocked up on bum wad, it's time to …
Pick Your Spot Here's the Golden Rule: go the distance. Put some space between your chosen pissoir and your camp (or the portage trail, if you have to pee while on the move). Let's say 150 feet, or about 30 paces. (NB There are two steps to each pace.) After all, if peeing on your own doorstep is bad form, peeing on someone else's is worse. And squatting over a water source is the worst sin of all. A little concealing cover is also welcome — though in low traffic areas there's something to be said for a squat with a view. The good news? In most cases, you won't even have to scratch a cathole. Doing so might be a good idea if the local soil is more like hardpan, however. Standing in a puddle of your own pee can be somewhat off‑putting. (Of course, if you'll be dumping ballast as well as pumping ship, a cathole is de rigueur.)
All set? Then …
Squat and Deliver But pull the bum wad out of your pocket first and place it where you can reach it. Next, slide your pants and knickers down to expose your waterworks. There's no need to drop them below the knees. Half‑mast works fine. Now squat. Then, once you've settled into a comfortable position, reach under your crotch and tug both pants and knickers forward, out of the way of the stream. The moment of truth is at hand. Let fly. Wipe. Set the damp bum wad to one side. Stand. Return your knickers and pants to the fully upright position. Pick up the soggy bum wad and bag it for subsequent disposal. (I carry a dedicated plastic bag for this purpose, though if I dig a cathole and the soil looks "live" — lots of little creepy‑crawlies and a healthy admixture of organic matter — I bury the bum wad on‑site. If regulations permit, that is.) What's left to do? Just …
Clean Up The pee of healthy people is sterile, though it picks up bacteria on its way down the pipe, and an impressive collection of microorganisms will grow in it if it's left standing around. But you needn't worry if you get a few drops on your hand. (Ammonia‑rich "aged" urine, or "lant," was used as a household cleaner in pre‑industrial times; it was even recommended as a mouthwash.) Usually, if you've peed and nothing more, it's enough just to rinse your hands with a splash from your water bottle. That's it. You're done. It wasn't hard, was it?
So much for basic training. Let's take a closer look at technique, beginning with the most fundamental issue:
Assuming the Position
Most women adopt a deep squat when peeing out of doors:
But some folks find this painful, especially if they have a history of knee problems. Happily, there's an alternative — the modified (or high) squat:
It's easier on the knees, and it's quicker, into the bargain. This is important if you think a fast getaway may be required. (Did you pass a rowdy group of Scouts down the trail? They're getting closer.) One caveat: You need strong quads. But if you spend much time walking, running, or cycling, this won't be a problem.
Whichever squat you choose for you own, however, you still need to practice situational awareness. Here are some things to consider:
- Shady spots offer more privacy than areas in full sun.
- Beware thorns!
- Avoid squatting on poisonous plants.
- Look down before you squat. Do you see a nest, a den entrance, or a sunning snake? If so, move on to another spot.
- Remember that liquids flow downhill.
- Spread your feet at least shoulder‑width apart. A wide straddle minimizes the likelihood that you'll pee on your shoes. (Poor shots may want to consider donning waterproof overshoes.)
- Don't relax the grip on the waistband of your pants and knickers until the last drop has dripped and you've finished mopping‑up operations.
- Moving water is fascinating, I know, but it's far better to keep your eyes up while you're peeing. The thrashing you hear in the bushes just might be a bear. Or a Boy Scout troop. Either way, you'll want to know as soon as possible.
That's all there is to it. Squatting isn't as easy as unzipping and letting fly, but it's really pretty simple. And it certainly doesn't have to be traumatic. Still, many women envy the ability of men to stand and deliver. Especially in a big canoe in the middle of a large lake, when a clearly marked bottle can do double duty as a portapotty. Or when the blackflies are out in force. At times like these, some of us turn to technology, as exemplified by the …
Female Urination Device
Also known as a FUD, though this has to be one of the least elegant acronyms around. Let's call it an elmer, instead. (If you missed the Looney Tunes era, that's a nod in the direction of a famous cartoon character — though if you prefer, you can think of it as an acronym for Enhanced Ladies' Micturition EffectuatoR.) These have been around for nearly a century, as it happens, but it's only in the last 30 years or so that they've been readily available. The first elmer to come to my attention was the Lady J. It was mated to a unisex urinal called the Little John — full marks for whimsey there! And it's still in the catalogs. Now, however, the range of offerings has broadened considerably, with several elmers competing for market share.
And what is an elmer? Well, it's really just a funnel, with the mouth shaped to approximate the contours of the fleshy bits that surround the female waterworks. But this is one place where a picture really is worth a thousand words:
That's a Lady J on the right. I suppose it's an antique by now. Should I advertise it, do you think? ("Classic FUD. Excellent condition. Only one careful owner…" No, that's probably a bad idea.) The other elmer, a GoGirl, is more up‑to‑date. Not only does it have a more generously proportioned … er … pipe (a great help in winter, or whenever you're wearing bulky clothing), but it folds into a small package for easier transport, as the following photo sequence demonstrates:
A cautionary note: The GoGirl is a very tight fit in the supplied tube. Unless you're an origami adept, therefore, I suggest you carry it in a ziplock bag. The GoGirl comes with a biodegradable bag of its own — why biodegradable? I don't have any idea — intended as alternative accommodation. I use this as a sort of compression stuff sack when storing the GoGirl in the tube. Mostly, though, I keep my GoGirl zipped up in a nondescript plastic freezer bag.
In contrast to the rubber‑jointed GoGirl, the Lady J is made from rigid plastic. This makes it something of a nuisance to pack, though here again a ziplock bag does the job. It's also rather stubby at the delivery end — too stubby for winter use, in my experience.
If you've never seen an elmer before, you're probably wondering how to employ one to best advantage. It seems as if it ought to be self‑evident — it's a funnel, after all — but appearances can and do deceive. In fact, it takes a good bit of practice to avoid dribbling down your leg. Here's the basic grip:
As for the rest: Don't drop your pants. Instead, just open your fly, tug your knickers out of the way, and put elmer in his place, taking care to orient him correctly. (Warning! Flyless or tight‑fitting pants make using a flexy elmer like the GoGirl problematic. Rigid plastic elmers like the Lady J work better with wetsuits and Lycra shorts.) Stand with your feet about shoulder‑width apart and bend forward slightly at the waist. Now let the floodgates open:
Then, when your bladder is empty… Wait. That's right. Wait. It takes a few seconds for the elmer to discharge its contents. Whip it away too soon, and you'll shower yourself with pee. Only when the last drop has dropped should you remove the elmer, mop up, and zip up. (Rinse your elmer with water before returning it to pack or pocket, and be sure to wash it thoroughly from time to time.)
If this sounds a bit fussy, that's because it is. In fact, it's best if your elmer's baptism of fire comes while you're showering at home, even if that does trigger an initial spasm of revulsion. Consider the arguments in favor of the proposition: You won't soak any clothing if you're in the shower, and dealing with misdirected pee is easy. Don't kid yourself here. There will be some misdirected pee at first. But practice really does make perfect. So keep trying. Once you've mastered the art, you're ready to take elmer on the trail. Do you want more detailed instructions? Then check out any manufacturer's website. Most have well‑illustrated guides.
The bottom line? An elmer makes it possible for almost any woman to stand and deliver. But this convenience comes at a cost. The elmer has to be carried, cleaned, and stored — and you have to practice using it. Is it worth it? You'll have to decide that for yourself. One thing is certain, though: elmer starts looking mighty good when you're …
Piddling while paddling is never easy. Big freighters and outrigger canoes pose the fewest problems, while solo kayaks and pack canoes are the least accommodating. Success is more likely if you have good balance, a partner with a strong brace, and a background in gymnastics. Of course, peeing over the side is now discouraged everywhere, and it's illegal in many places. So you'll want a urinal of some sort, in addition to your trusty elmer. The plastic Little John is made for just this purpose, in fact, and it works well, though if you're smart, you'll take time to round off any sharp edges left by the mold before you christen it. Or just use a well‑labeled water bottle. (Be sure to check the seal first.)
Be warned, though: When you're in a boat, sometimes nothing works. In the cramped confines of a sea kayak on long open‑water crossings an adult nappy may be the only alternative to peeing in the bilge. Ah, yes… Peeing in the bilge. That really is the last resort. Then again, you'll have reason to pump ship in earnest afterward.
When you gotta go, you gotta go. But women and girls operate at a disadvantage here. At least they do in the backcountry. Don't despair, though. Where there's a will, there's a way. So the next time you and your female companions ask yourselves, "May Wee?" you can answer with confidence: "Yes, we can!"
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