You Want Me to Pee Where?

You Want Me to Pee Where?

A woman’s guide to personal hygiene on the river (for all the ladies out there who’ve wondered before a rafting trip, but never asked)…

Looking over my pre-rafting trip literature from O.A.R.S., my eyes caught the words “everything needed so you can relax and enjoy your trip.” The smart aleck voice that always lives in my brain quickly piped up and said, “Yeah, everything except a bathroom with indoor plumbing!”

The uncivilized nature of travels into a wild country that can only be reached by boat are what draw people in, and it is also what keeps people away.  Among our group of rafters, everyone knew at least one, if not several people who would be happy to go on a rafting trip if they didn’t have to…you know….pee in the woods.

This arms-length skepticism about managing the basic functions of life while in the wilderness didn’t surprise me at all.  Dealing with the decided lack of modern facilities was high on my list of questions, leading me to more than one late night Google session. “How do you shower while on a rafting trip,” my fingers typed more than once.  While in my head, I was (mostly) ready to accept the adventure of remote wilderness living, I still had some burning questions about going to the bathroom, staying clean, and claiming some standard of civility while river rafting.

A woman's guide to personal hygiene on the river (for all the ladies out there who've wondered before a rafting trip, but never asked)...

I feel like I need to disclose that I am certainly not a high-maintenance woman. My beauty routine, if you can even call it that, can be completed in 30 minutes or less. But neither am I natural enough that I can make little braids with my pit hair. So, not only was I curious about how the hygiene would work for a woman on the river, but whether it would really work for me.  I began to make a mental checklist just to draw boundaries for how far I was willing to go for the sake of adventure.

Willing to squat behind a tree? Yes.  Willing to go full moon and squat in the wide open? No

Willing to bathe in 50 degree water {through chattering teeth}?  Yes. Willing to go for a week without showering? No

So, with my lines clearly drawn and my solar shower packed, I set off into the woods to fully embrace the freedom of nature while also keeping my dignity and cleanliness intact (thank you very much).

You Want me to Pee Where?

“Dilution is the solution to pollution,” is the charming little mantra you will hear on most rafting trips. This cheesy little rhyme is like the opposite of what you learned as a kid about your neighbor’s pool: you actually want to pee in the water. The idea here is that if all of the thousands of people who come down the river each year were to pee behind a tree or in the sand, the place would start to take on the eau d’ toilet pretty quickly. The solution is to make sure all the pee goes directly into the water where it can be diluted and washed downstream.

A woman's guide to personal hygiene on the river (for all the ladies out there who've wondered before a rafting trip, but never asked)...

I had already wrapped my mind around squatting and peeing in the forest, so squatting by the river had to be pretty close. Wrong. The river is where the people are; there is no privacy. I’m all about getting back to nature, but I have no need to share that with strangers. If the weather had been warmer, it would have been easy just to take a swim and take care of business. But it was cold and holding it all day was preferable to getting wet. Our female guides had no qualms about grabbing onto the side of the boat and taking a little squat, and while none of us could see anything, we knew what was happening. And I just couldn’t. If that makes me less of a mountain woman, I am completely at peace with that.

When we made camp for the night, we were provided with portable pee buckets that we could take behind a tree and then dump in the river. During the day, however, the female passengers missed the “luxury” of the pee bucket when we took a break for lunch. The beaches were small and crowded and there was just no privacy. Please tell me there is a solution, I can hear you begging. There is, if you are prepared. Include a collapsible bowl in your day pack. You can pick these up at a RV supply store, a pet store, or even at Walmart. Your collapsible bowl will become your pee bucket on the go. I promise, it will feel like a luxury bathroom compared to the alternative.

A woman's guide to personal hygiene on the river (for all the ladies out there who've wondered before a rafting trip, but never asked)...

A Loo with a View

There are a few more clever little camping phrases that take on a whole new meaning when applied to a backcountry rafting trip. If you have ever heard the term, “leave no trace” you know that means that you take everything with you when you pack up camp. That means everything. The river rafting guides have devised a clever system for dealing with this ecological problem known as the “groover.”

The groover is a .50 caliber ammunition canister with a plastic holding tank fitted inside that is used as a highly portable, port-a-potty that can be carried from camp to camp.  Truthfully, and I can’t believe I am saying this, the modern groover is actually pretty high on the luxury scale in terms of  taking care of business in the woods. A toilet seat is affixed to the top of the canister, so you can sit comfortably and enjoy the view. The original groovers were simply a metal can, so that when you sat, you spent the better part of the day with two red grooves embossed on your backside (hence the name).

A woman's guide to personal hygiene on the river (for all the ladies out there who've wondered before a rafting trip, but never asked)...

When it comes to the details of the groover, it will be set up at every camp and available from late afternoon until right before you board the boats the next morning. If you are worried about privacy, don’t be. The groover will be placed in such a way that nature will take care of any privacy concerns. Your guides will set up some kind of “do not disturb” sign at the top of the trail that will signal to everyone that the restroom is occupied. Now, if sharing your bathroom experiences with wildlife is a problem, you might be in trouble. In addition to the breathtaking view of the river rolling by, I was thrilled to share my outdoor outhouse with a deer on one occasion and a flock of Canadian geese on another. It almost made up for the lack of plumbing and the unavoidable smell.

Water, Water Everywhere, but Where the Heck is the Shower?

When on a trip that is completely based around a large body of water, you would think that bathing would be a simple task. Not so much. It’s not a lack of water to blame as much as it is the temperature of the water. Even in summer, the river water is a chilly 50-something degrees. To some, that might be considered refreshing, but I wouldn’t even be able to get in up to my belly button before I turned into a Popsicle.

If you are brave, you can easily (and quickly) bathe using the full submersion method, but I opted for a two stage method involving personal wipes and a solar shower.

A woman's guide to personal hygiene on the river (for all the ladies out there who've wondered before a rafting trip, but never asked)...

Here’s how it worked: I used the personal wipes inside my tent where I could rely on both warmth and privacy. It wasn’t as thorough as a complete bath, but I never felt or smelled dirty. After my wipe down, I dressed and climbed out of my tent to wash my hair using my solar shower. During both of my solar showers, I used cold river water, as we didn’t really have enough sun to warm the water. That little spritz of water was a good enough reminder that I wanted to stay far away from bathing in the river.  Even without the warm water, I appreciated the on and off nozzle on the shower enough to make it worth packing it in my bag.

So, Did it Work For Me?

I  really want to say that the primitive potties were a non-issue for me, both because I want to claim a bit of the Amazon woman status I feel I rightfully earned, but I also don’t want anyone to not sign up for a rafting trip because of any fear of this issue. The truth is, I have never in my life spent so much time thinking about where I would pee, when I would pee, and how I would pee. Of course, I have always had the luxury of living in modern America where the nearest porcelain encased restroom is just around the corner. My preoccupation with peeing was not so much an indictment on the rafting trip restrooms as it was a reminder that I live a pretty luxe life otherwise.  Of course, in my bathroom—with a door and ample pipes to ferry away waste—I have never had the privilege of sharing my space with a flock of geese while I watched the river rush majestically downstream. The rustic quality of the facilities was a small price to pay for a ticket to be completely surrounded by the untouched beauty of nature.

This article originally appeared on Suitcases & Sippy Cups.


  • LiLing Pang

    Jessica, love your article! I’ve had my share of having to pee in the wild and I must confess that should a flock of geese have come to visit me while in such vulnerable position, I might have tipped over the can of “ammunition” and caused quite a commotion.

  • Gordo

    We use what I think is a better solution to the “empty as you use” pee option which is a standard five gallon bucket with a specially designed seat that we put next to the groover when we set it up. Each morning as the groover is taken down the “pee bucket” is discretely empties into the river, rinsed and treated with a few drops of bleach. Ours is a different color than any other bucket on the trip to avoid it being mistaken for another use such as a wishy-washy (it’s deep green instead of orange or white).

    • Cari_Morgan

      Hi Gordo, thanks for the comment. We’ve got the same system you mentioned on O.A.R.S. trips too. But we also provide individual buckets to spare guests from having to make their way to the groover or river in the middle of the night if they prefer the convenience.

  • Jill @ Real Life Notes

    My most memorable peeing in the wild was on the side of the road as a child when there was no rest stop or gas station nearby. Not nearly as scenic as yours!

  • Becca

    I’ve camped my whole life so peeing in the woods isn’t a big deal, but I’ve honestly never thought about what I’d do on a rafting trip. I love the portable bowl idea. Total genius and way more private than the alternative.

  • Gena

    I’ve never thought about it, but I would definitely have qualms about peeing where other people could know what I was doing. Even though everyone does it…still need privacy! Thanks for this article!

  • Jeffe Aronson

    My wife Carrie carries a Fem-Flo Feminine Urinary Device (FUD) in her life jacket everywhere she goes. It started as a necessity for a winter trip, became a joke, and is now a valuable part of her accessories! I just video’d Ruth Ann Ratay giving her “Everybody Poops (and pees)” talk at 202 mile on my dory trip. Watch for the posting come this winter when I’m dry and connected! My wife also sells trips for OARS, and specializes in feminine issues… just ask for the gal who talks funny (she’s from Australia) and who was dumb enough to marry Jeffe! Thanks for the article.

  • Pam McLellan

    I used Freshette from REI (FUD- Feminine Urinary Device) on my 3-week trip and it really made all the difference! Near the end of the trip there was NO privacy not even big rocks. One day, men stood downstream of the boats and women stood upstream. It was an unforgettable experience! I can now understand male pee-camaraderie. We had more privacy than squatting and all of us women were in the same situation. Now I keep it in my backpack for hiking and kayaking.

    • Cari_Morgan

      Thanks for sharing about your experience, Pam!

  • Libby Gensler

    Ok, this article has been very helpful to me. I am considering a trip with O.A.R.S. down the Grand Canyon with my family in 2017. Being no spring chicken, the whole “squatting in the woods” was a bit troubling. The knees are not what they use to be…. Thanks so much for the insight into this activity while on the river! I think my answer will be, yeah ok, I’ll go!

  • Jess

    Ok,but what about guides providing us with a privacy tent just for shower and bathroom use instead of an open view toliet bucket. Was looking at the picture where the toliet is located ,i mean just to think a boat passing by with a larger group of people ,yikes!!

  • Catherine Melone

    ….Long skirt! Yanking up a loose skirt you don’t mind getting dirty just for squatting will afford privacy. Even when you slip a hand underneath you’ll be mostly covered

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