Women’s Whispers: Potty Talk and Other Trail Tips
Written By: Kathy “OBAL Unbranded” Vaughan
Photos: Ras Vaughan/Kathy Vaughan for UltraPedestrian.com
While getting my Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 ready for the trail, I took into consideration some special concerns that would apply to me, but not necessarily to my life and hiking partner, Ras. I’m not talking about supplies for menstruation here, because let’s face it, at 53 years old, I am post-menopausal. I’m referring to other things. So, if you are a guy and are still interested, keep on reading! For you gals, I offer some insights based on my trail running and thru-hiking experiences.I have completed more than 40 trail ultramarathons, including a 200-miler and two 150-milers. I have thru-hiked the 2,600-mile UP North Loop through the inland northwest, the 800-mile Grand Enchantment Trail from Phoenix to Albuquerque (and almost all the way back), the 800-mile Arizona Trail as a point-to-point and then also as a Yo-Yo hike, and the 600-mile Wild Idaho Loop through vast wilderness tracts of the Frank-Church River of No Return, the Gospel Hump, and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Areas. My cumulative thru-hike trail miles are somewhere in the range of 7,000.
On Bras, Boob Care, and Chafing
I’ll get started by giving some tips on bras and boob care. I have realized that I do not need to wear a sports bra under a hiking shirt. It is just not necessary. I do bring one on a thru-hike, as it’s great for hot spring stops and hot hiking temperatures. When I am hiking in just a sports bra, I use arm sleeves to tuck under the shoulder straps of my pack so they won’t rub against my shoulders. I don’t wait for that to happen. I like to bring merino wool arm sleeves because they are such a versatile clothing item (but that’s for another blog).For trail running, I do wear a sports bra because of the jostling. I tend to get chafing underneath my boobs in the front, where the ribbing rubs against my skin, over the miles. In order to prevent this uncomfortableness from happening, I use 2Toms Sport Shield in the roll-on form. On hikes, I bring along a small tin of herbal salve, as it can be used for a number of different purposes.
Gossamer Gear has a very nice salve called First Aid that is made by Green Goo and comes in a 0.7-ounce tin. Applying this salve underneath that bra line helps prevent chafing and heals any that has already occurred. It can also be used for insect bites, rashes, sunburns, allergic reactions, scrapes and cuts, chapped lips, hemorrhoids, and calluses, as well as on cracked skin that develops on fingers and the heels of hands from poling. Although I use the Gossamer Gear LT5 Three Piece Carbon Trekking Poles with a super comfy cork grip, my hands still get dry and the cracks can become painful. The salve heals the cracks in a couple of days.
We girls get another awkwardly uncomfortable situation when we are running for days in a row, as in a 200-mile ultramarathon, or hiking day after day on a long distance hike. Chafing occurs in between our butt cheeks and, yes, in our genital zone. It hurts, it burns to pee, and it stings to continue running or hiking. I would say it could bring a trail race or a thru-hike to halt if not dealt with. So, that is where this herbal salve comes in very nicely. It doesn’t burn or irritate to apply it. The healing herbs will soothe and heal as you continue to move, and it creates the lubrication needed to prevent the chafing from continuing to worsen. Take a small piece of toilet paper to get the salve out of the tin and apply to the body part where it is needed. This will prevent any cross-contamination (or double dipping?) from occurring, as you use it for multiple reasons.Other products that work well for this are Bag Balm and 2Toms, but the salve will both heal and prevent. Warning: the oiliness from any chafing product will show through to your shorts or running skort if precautions aren’t taken. Some suggestions are to:
- Carefully choose the fabric of your underwear
- Wear dark colors, or black, for your running bottoms
- Put a panty shield in your underwear and change it as necessary
On Keeping Clean
Now, let’s talk about hygiene. On desert hikes, water is hard to come by and bathing just can’t even happen for days on end sometimes. During long ultramarathons, there is no time to stop and shower. Our biological needs can’t be put on hold though, and sometimes our digestive tracts aren’t very happy because of our physical output and nutrition choices. We may just have to poop during a race, and we will definitely have to poop during a long distance hike. We are also sweating, chafing, and using products to address these challenges. This can create an environment that leads to hemorrhoids and additional chafing.
I have found the best solution for staying clean is to have baby wipes in your running vest or backpack. I like the Huggies brand because they are strong and reliable. They don’t shred into pieces and they stay wet in a ziplock bag. They have sensitive skin ones, and aloe/cucumber scented ones. I have a whole package in my pack during thru-hikes. During trail runs and races, I put a couple folded up ones in a ziplock inside my toilet paper ziplock in my running vest. I also include an empty ziplock for used paper products any time I am out on the trail.
If you are on a long distance hike and have ample access to water sources for bathing, it is a great idea to stay fresh on the trail by taking dips in creeks and lakes. Be sure to not use any soap or shampoo products as you do so. The residue disrupts the ecosystems and contaminates these sources for all others, mainly wildlife. Just rinsing with the water will do wonders to clean off the trail grime.
Pooping on the trail doesn’t have to be a “big” deal, if you are prepared. On long distance hikes, I carry a Gossamer Gear Deuce Backpacking Spade. It weighs 0.35 ounces and is 6.5 inches long. This lightweight shovel can be used for digging your hole to poop in, also called a “cat hole”. The handle can be used, as well, and the sharp tip on the spade end can move rocks out of the way. When you have to go, find a spot well off the trail, dig a hole at least 6.5 inches deep (just the depth of the Deuce spade), make your deposit, and bury your poop with the soil and duff you had dug out. Put your used toilet paper and baby wipes into a designated ziplock. I tuck this inside one of the Gossamer Gear Cuben Q-Storage Sacks to keep it all together. I like to tie a bright fluorescent piece of ribbon to my spade so I am less likely to leave it in my chosen spot when I pack up to get back on the trail.
During a run, you may not necessarily want to carry a small spade, but a sturdy stick can be used to dig your hole, as well. There is no excuse not to properly take care of your poop, or to carry out your used toilet paper. If you have to poop in a rocky area, get way off the trail if your plan is to cover your poop pile with a rock. On a long hike, if you have camped in a rocky area, you will need to plan ahead for morning and hike well out of camp to do your business to find a rock that won’t later get unturned. If the urge comes quickly for you in the mornings, it really is necessary to plan your camp based on your ability to poop appropriately when you awaken in the morning. This could mean pre-digging your hole the night before outside of camp, choosing sites away from established campsites and water sources, or at least eyeing where your spot will be the next morning so you can quickly head for it.
If we are staying well-hydrated, we are also peeing often. Rather than carrying toilet paper for this purpose, and having to tuck it away in a ziplock each time, I carry a softened bandana. I bring one along on every thru-hike that is designated specifically for when I pee. I make sure it is an older bandana where the cotton has become soft to the touch. I tie it on my waist belt so I can access it easily and it can dry out after use. I carefully rinse it out when I come to water sources.
Wander Women Gear has several options for different sizes and fabrics of reusable pee cloths. Bamboo fabric is used for these cloths, which has an antimicrobial, hypoallergenic, and anti-fungal quality to it. Gossamer Gear now also carries the popular Kula Cloth. For a longer hike, these products would likely work better than a bandana. However, I just put a fresh bandana in one or two resupply boxes that I send ahead to myself, depending on how long I will be out on the trail.
Either way, using a cloth rather than dealing with toilet paper is the way to go. I am often surprised at how often I see a wad of used toilet paper on or alongside a trail. It can take anywhere from one to three years for it to decompose. It is such an eyesore in an otherwise wild place, and rodents and other wildlife often find it and shred it up into smaller pieces, spreading the paper to an even wider area. In addition, the tissue is harmful to these critters.
On Taking These Women’s Whispers into Wild Places
Spending time on the trail, moving through forests, canyons, deserts, mountains, and creek valleys, is my passion. As ancient hominids, women certainly dealt with issues unique to them and yet similar to ours. When in wild places, I feel an interconnectedness to that ancient female energy. In these modern times, I have found these tips and product choices have helped me to sustainably last, months and miles at a time, tapping into my inner hominid.
Kathy “OBAL Unbranded” Vaughan is an adventure runner, thru-hiker, and long-distance skier, who is fascinated with pursuing the limits of trail endurance. When not on an adventure, she and her husband Ras use Whidbey Island, Washington, as their base camp. While currently off-trail, she is completing a poetry book inspired by The Wild Idaho Loop, a 650-mile thru-hike she and Ras completed last summer, and working as a gardener. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Facebook, and Team UltraPedestrian on Instagram, Facebook, and their website.