As I skimmed my suggested gear list for a Rainier climb a few years ago, I hit an item that read “pee funnel (for women). Optional. Practice is critical for the use of this item.” I cringed.
I'd never heard of a pee funnel before, and I was skeptical that I'd find it useful. But Rainer was going to be the biggest climb I'd ever done, so I figured I would play it safe and get all the recommended gear. I was glad I did. During that first Rainier climb, when I arrived at the summit with gale force winds and another rope team nearby, I discovered that squatting to answer nature's call was not an option. Two years and countless uses later, I’ve learned that the pee funnel is totally essential and liberating.
The pee funnel levels the playing field when it comes to going to the bathroom in the backcountry, allowing women to pee like men—standing up, anytime, anywhere. Using one is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth practicing your technique, say, in the shower or on a low-stakes camping trip. Tips I've gleaned through trial and error: Apply constant pressure with your hand, or you'll break the seal and end up peeing in your pants; Lean forward a little to make sure the cup is close to straight up and down; Pee at a manageable speed; Take note of wind direction.
I tried to pass along all this wisdom to a friend before we climbed Mount Baker this summer, but she was skeptical and could not be persuaded to drop the $20. On summit day, I hydrated aggressively, unconcerned about my ability to pee wherever and whenever I wanted. Then, halfway up the Roman Headwall, the steepest part of the climb, my friend had to pee so badly she couldn't proceed without doing so. Unable to unrope or remove her harness for safety reasons, she was forced to awkwardly wiggle her pants down around her harness and pee while still attached to the rest of the rope team. Lesson learned.
There are a surprising number of pee funnels for women, but my favorite is the Sani-Fem Freshette. It’s made of sturdy plastic and the extra wide opening makes it easier to not screw up than other models. A five-inch tube directs your stream far away from clothing.
Nowadays, I take this funnel on nearly every outdoor adventure, and I suggest other women adventurers do the same. It will feel weird at first, but then it’s going to feel like pure, unadulterated freedom.