By Todd Rutledge
This might get me blackballed from the guiding profession for revealing this trade secret, but here you go: Pee Bottle 101.
(Spoiler alert! The following mostly pertains to the male readership, as I don’t have any experience using other techniques, but I will throw out some suggestions for the ladies.)
The key to a warm and successful pee when it’s sub-zero outside is to first go out and purchase a Wide Mouth, 96-ounce Collapsible Nalgene Canteen. Yeah, yeah, 96 ounces might seem like overkill when you read this at your computer, but you’ll thank me when you’re tent-bound for a couple of days, or, more likely, when you forget to dump the previous night’s production and only realize it when you’re zipped up in your bag the following night! I made this recommendation at a gear check a while back to three clients and to a new apprentice guide. They all blew the suggestion off while in Anchorage, but were all converts to the idea after a couple of storm days at 14,200 feet on Denali. The Collapsible Nalgenes are lighter than a hard bottle, and plenty tough to withstand the abuses of repeated pack stuffings. It’s probably good insurance to apply some good tape, like Gorilla Tape, to the seams to reinforce the welds, just … in … case.
Personal question for ya: Do you know how big your bladder is? I’ve seen a climber find out he had a 34-ounce bladder while using a 1-liter bottle in the vestibule of a tent. It wasn’t pretty.
So, now that you have the right tool for the job, let’s talk technique. What’s the aim of the exercise (pun half intended)? You want to relieve the pressure while minimizing your exposure to the cold and its associated frosty tent walls. The two most efficient techniques that work are the “hip roll” and the “Divine Supine.” The hip roll works well when you didn’t follow the aforementioned 96-ounce bit of advice, and when it is not so cold that you’ve had to zip your bag shut. Roll over onto one hip, align your bottle, double check that you’re lined up (this is often a tactile rather than visual affirmation), and let it flow. After the stream has finished, screw the lid back on and DOUBLE CHECK that it’s tight.
The Divine Supine is an advanced technique that works amazingly well when it’s so cold out that you don’t even want to unzip your bag. You can start by aligning your soft, flexible Cantene along your preferred side of elimination before you zip your bag closed for the night. That’s right—begin the night with your bottle inside your bag. Advantages of this, beyond the obvious, are that the crispy yellow frozen ring inside the neck of the bottle will melt and drain to the bottom where your parts won’t touch it. It also lessens the disturbance to your sleep by otherwise bringing a cold bit of plastic into your bag.
The 96-ouncer is long enough to allow you to bring the opening across your pelvis to whatever point your anatomy requires for alignment without running the risk of having the bottle too horizontal for containment. Just lie on your back, bring the bottle across, unscrew the lid, line everything up (see above) and go for it. Remember to DOUBLE CHECK THAT THE LID IS TIGHTLY SEALED! I stress this because I have a friend who, while at Denali’s 17,200-foot High Camp, never fully awoke from his slumber while performing the task and neglected to tighten the lid—pretty gross. You should get at least several sessions out of the Divine Supine before you need to start paying close attention to the fluid level in the bottle. Again, do you know how big your bladder is? Find out before you try any of these techniques in your sleeping bag.
With practice comes the feeling of security with your technique, so grab a big ol’ Cantene and bring it into bed with you for a few nights prior to your next winter outing. Additional benefits of the pee bottle are that you can use them if it’s really windy outside and avoid embarrassing wind-spray. Lastly, if you are using a toilet system in which you need to separate solids from liquids, take your pee bottle with you and use it to avoid peeing into your toilet.
For the ladies, there is a wonderful little tool called the “Freshette.” I think that’s French for “funnel?” Apparently, it works great, and with practice can eliminate the need to shed layers while on the trail. Yup, you too can pee like the guys! Well, almost. A downside is that you’ll still need to get onto your knees to make this work in your tent with a pee bottle. Some ladies might prefer to use the vestibule of your tent. I have also heard that some ladies try hard to not have to use a pee bottle. Please stay hydrated!
My friend and fellow guide, Ashley, recommends that you practice, practice, practice before you have to execute in your tent with your sleeping bag around your knees.
Stay hydrated, my friends!