As an adult, I have discovered that there are a number of topics in our society that are considered “taboo”…even though they are something that every single one of us deals with on a daily basis. And one of those topics is going to the bathroom. Heck, as a mom of two little boys, I find it difficult to even sit here and type this post without cracking some potty humor myself. But it’s a part of life, for all of us, and something that we partake in multiple times a day.
So let’s talk about it.
Specifically, let’s talk about when “nature calls” …while you are in nature.
Here’s the thing that is often a shocker to people transitioning from say, urban runs or treadmill miles, to more remote, longer distances in the woods: there are no toilets. That seems pretty obvious, of course, but it something you don’t really stop to think about…until you have to go, and find yourself desperately wishing you could find a toilet. But out in the middle of the forest, chances are high that there are no port-a-potties around.
Personally, I spend A LOT of time out in the woods, running, training, or simply caving to my incessant wanderlust. Learning how to heed mother natures call while in the woods was certainly an interesting experience. You see, going to the bathroom in the woods can be highly intimidating for women especially, because we aren’t necessarily “built” to “go” as easily as our male counterparts. But when you’ve got to go…you’ve got to go. So here are my tips for “taking care of business” when in the woods.
Find a place to go.
Find a place that is private, safe (not on the edge of a cliff, near any poisonous plants, or any wildlife, like fire ant hills , don’t ask me how I know about that last one), and preferably downhill. Make sure you aren’t on trail or near any sort of place other people will potentially be walking around…or worse…taking a seat to rest, like picnic areas or campsites. And most importantly, make sure you are at least 200 feet from any water source.
Prep the ground.
Urine has little effect on vegetation or soil, and doesn’t carry infectious diseases or parasites. But that said, animals may be attracted to the salts in urine. Urinating on gravel, pine needles, bare soil and rocks is less likely to attract curious critters. That said, “scuffing” the ground with your feet (especially soil or gravel) can help make it more absorbent, reducing the risk of splashing. Fecal matter, on the other hand, poses a ton of potential environmental concerns. The best thing you can do is to dig a small hole, about 6 inches in depth, to do your business into. Again, make sure you are at least 200 feet from any water source.
This one is mostly for the ladies. Pull your shorts or pants down to about knee level. You don’t want them any higher or lower, as you want them completely out of the way of the potential splash zone. Then, squat down, preferably facing downhill, if at all possible. While hovering in a 90 degree squat (you know, public restroom style) is often our go-to position, it can become incredibly exhausting on your muscles. Instead, try a full squat, getting your hips as close to the ground as possible.
Story time: last year, about 12 hours into an ultra, I decided to squat with my back facing downhill, holding on to what I thought was a small tree. Unfortunately, I realized too late that said “tree” was actually a large stick that had somehow landed in an upright position…and was not securely rooted into the ground. Needless to say, I went tumbling backwards down the hill with my shorts around my knees. Moral of the story? Learn how to balance without bracing yourself on any vegetation. But if you must use something to help you stay upright, ensure that it is completely stable, before you drop your shorts.
I don’t need to describe this one for you, we all know how to do it!
Pro tip for the ladies: Grab your shorts/pants/underwear that are wrapped around your knees, and pull them up towards your bellybutton to absolutely ensure they are out of the way.
Clean up…yourself and mother nature.
I always carry a ziplock baggie with toilet paper in my hydration pack. My preference? Cottonelle®. Cottonelle® CleanRipple Texture is a proprietary innovation on all Cottonelle® toilet paper and flushable cleansing cloths that is designed to clean better (than the leading value brand).
Cottonelle® has CleanRipple Texture designed to clean better, so you’re clean enough to Go Commando. Not so secret confession? I always run commando, and I’m sure many of you do to. But bottom line, when you’re miles from the closest bathroom or sink, the last thing you want to worry about is cleanliness. It’s totally worth it to go with the good stuff.
And I use the baggie to not only carry *in* the Cottnelle®, but to carry it *out* as well. Leave no trace. It is not only imperative to carry out what you carry in for the integrity of our beautiful forests, but it’s just common courtesy. No one wants to stumble upon an amazing view, only to have it potentially ruined by the site of used toilet paper.
Lastly, if you’ve dug a hole for a bowel movement, be sure to thoroughly cover it up when you are finished using the same dirt that you dug out of the hole in the first place. Use leaves or sticks to cover the hole.
I won’t lie, the first few times you heed to nature’s call IN nature, it can be a little difficult and maybe even a tad bit embarrassing. But once you embrace the fact that it’s simply a part of the territory…and something we all have to do while chasing our wanderlust through the forest and mountains…it gets a lot easier.
So readers, let’s hear it: have any tips for using the bathroom in the woods? How do you ensure cleanliness and confidence when you are miles away from a restroom?
Chicago area readers: do you have “wanderlust” ? Check out the Wanderlust 108 event on May 14th. Wanderlust 108 is a field day for your mind, body and soul. Hold the plastic trophy, because they have better prizes: vibrant community, self-awareness and inner peace. Community instead of competition? You can’t beat that.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.