The Thru-Hiker’s Guide to Female Urination Devices for Backpacking
I balked at the idea of a female urination device (FUD) when I first heard of it. It sounded silly and not very hygienic. But eventually, I was enticed by the prospect of faster pee breaks and not having to get out of the tent to pee overnight. I’ve never looked back since. The FUD is nothing short of glorious.
But which “pee funnels” are best for backpacking? It depends on your individual needs.
A word of warning: if you weren’t looking for excruciating details about my peeing habits, you came to the wrong place because that is all you are going to get in this post.
The Best Female Urination Devices for Backpacking
Weight: 0.8 oz
My personal favorite. The Pstyle is sleek, lightweight, and straightforward. And, most importantly, it’s easy to clean. Some funnels are literally modified versions of kitchen funnels, with complicated bowl shapes and enclosed tubes that make cleaning difficult. The PStyle is totally open and made of rigid plastic, so you can rinse every part of it and let it dry in the sun easily. Also, it’s easy to aim, which is more than I can say for certain other funnels I tried.
There’s no learning curve with this one, though you might want to test it in a controlled environment, such as the shower, for the first time.
Pros: Easy to clean; no need to meter your flow rate; lightweight; inexpensive; easy to use (leaks and accidents are rare)
Cons: Rigid lip is rough on sensitive skin
Weight: 1.8 oz
The Tinkle Bell has a very similar design to the PStyle but combines flexible and rigid materials. The flexible spout allows it to fold down to a smaller size, and there’s a soft squeegee ridge at the back so you can use the device to wipe rather than using a Kula cloth or toilet paper. On the one hand, I like the idea of not needing my Kula cloth. On the other hand, “squeegee” and “my crotch” are two terms that possibly should not exist in the same sentence.
According to the company website, “antimicrobial properties are built into the Tinkle Bell to inhibit the growth of bacteria.” This funnel is the most expensive on the list and also among the heaviest.
Pros: Softer material for a gentler experience on your lady parts; squeegee lip eliminates the need for TP; flexible spout folds so the funnel packs down small; antimicrobial properties; easy to clean; no need to meter your flow rate
Cons: Expensive; heavy
Weight: 2.5 oz
I was initially drawn to this FUD because I liked the name. However, it’s rather stressful to use in practice. My internal monologue while using the SheWee was just an unbroken, open-mouthed scream. Aiming is tricky, and my torrential downpour was too much for the small cup to handle, so I had to meter it, which was a terrible feeling. And because it’s an enclosed tube, cleaning is tricky. Finally, it’s heavy.
Pros: Optional extension tube; thoroughly clean by putting soap water in plastic carrying box and shaking
Cons: Enclosed design harder to clean and dry; small cup means you have to meter your flow; leaking common; heavy
Weight: 1.2 oz
Similar to the SheWee, but with a deeper cup and a flexible, interchangeable tube. I like the idea of multiple tube lengths on the one hand, but the three length options are five inches, 36 inches, or 48 inches, only one of which is realistic for thru-hiking. Hard to clean.
Pros: Flexible tube; multiple tube lengths available; wide lip for gentle skin contact
Cons: Difficult to clean; expensive
Weight: 2 oz
Full points for availability. You can buy GoGirls at Walmarts and some CVS stores across the country. The flexible silicone molds to your body and provides a gentler contact than the rigid plastic of many of these devices. That softness also makes it more packable. It’s fully enclosed, though, so not as easy to clean and dry. Also, it overflows pretty quickly.
Pros: Compact; soft and gentle on the skin; widely available; medical-grade silicone
Cons: Hard to aim; easy to overflow; hard to clean
Weight: 0.5 oz
I’ll be honest; this thing scares the shit out of me. It’s so tiny! So slender! I haven’t tested it personally, but I envision much peeing on my own hands, legs, surroundings, etc., while trying to aim down this tiny straw. Still, if you want the most streamlined, minimalist design out there, this is it. It’s probably the best choice if you wear tights or running shorts and don’t want to pull them down too far.
Pros: Don’t have to pull your pants down very far to use; discreet; ultralight
Cons: Difficult to aim; rigid plastic can be harsh on sensitive skin
Why You Should Backpack with an FUD
They’re fast to use.
You will no longer have to drop your pack, locate your pee rag, and stagger off to find a private place to pull your pants down whenever you have to wee. With a pee funnel, you can move off the trail, unzip your fly, and do your business without having to remove your pack. This makes the whole affair much faster and more efficient, plus you save energy shucking and hoisting your pack repeatedly. I keep my Pstyle in a holster I bought from the company that hangs from my hip belt so it’s always within reach.
So much more discreet.
I’m not ashamed of my body, but that doesn’t mean I love exposing my bare ass to whatever random hiker comes wandering through the woods when I have to take a piss. And let’s be honest, we’ve all had the experience of finding a private spot to pee and dropping our pants only to later discover that the trail switches back and goes right past where we’re squatting, as evidenced by the obligatory conga line of day hikers marching past, looking studiously in the opposite direction. It’s a rite of passage, really.
Much less exposure to the elements.
Whether it’s dense underbrush, freezing temperatures, poison ivy, or swarms of mosquitoes, there are plenty of reasons a hiker might not want to expose more of her skin than is strictly necessary. With a funnel, all you have to do is pull the front of your shorts down just a tiny bit, or better yet, unzip your fly, and you’re golden (heh).
You can even take things a step further by packing a clean plastic bottle to use as a pee bottle in your tent overnight. If that sounds unsavory, think about how awful it is to untangle yourself from your lovely, warm sleeping bag to go out in the dark and pee on a cold, rainy night. The FUD can liberate you from that misery. As a bonus, you can use the pee bottle even more to your advantage by sticking it in the foot of your sleeping bag to warm your tootsies after you’ve filled it.
They’re easy to clean.
What held me back the longest from trying an FUD was the fear that it would be downright unsanitary. In reality, it’s not hard to keep your funnel clean. With my Pstyle, all it takes is a splash of water to rinse it and a square of toilet paper to wipe the business end every day or every few days. You can do a more thorough job in town with soap and warm water to keep it fresh.
No need to squat.
Squatting doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially after schlepping a heavy pack through the mountains all day. An FUD bypasses the need to squat at all.
Beyond Female Urination Devices for Backpacking: The Pee Rag
A pee rag is just what it sounds like: a reusable cloth with which to dry yourself after peeing to save toilet paper. Some women carry pee rags, while others swear by FUDs. I say bring both. For one thing, I still find squatting far more natural than standing to pee. If I’m already taking a pack-off break and need to relieve myself, I would prefer to grab my pee rag and pop a squat somewhere rather than being limited to the pee funnel.
Also, after using my Pstyle, I still need a way to wipe afterward, and squeegeeing with the hard plastic edge of the funnel is not cutting it.
Kula Cloth vs. Wander Wipe vs. Bandana
- Cheapest option
- Widely available
- Lots of surface area
- No easy way to tell which parts you’ve used/avoid handling the soiled part
- Not antimicrobial (could be a good or bad thing depending on your outlook)
- Not absorbent
- More discreet, with a snap so you can fold it up to hide the pee stains.
- The outside fabric comes in various fun patterns, which is a) delightful and b) makes it impossible to grab the soiled side of the fabric accidentally.
- The fabric is thick and absorbent, so you’re never at risk of soaking through and getting your hands wet.
- The fabric is allegedly antimicrobial, but I’m never sure what that means in practice or how effective it is. Is it even good to wipe an antimicrobial cloth over a sensitive region with a delicate microbiome of its own?
- A cottage industry alternative to the Kula cloth.
- Different colored outside than inside—obvious which is which. Fun colors and patterns.
- Sewn in a way that allows it to “hang shut” so the soiled inner fabric never touches your hands.
- Deliciously soft, antimicrobial bamboo fiber interior.
- Too thin in practice—pee can soak through inner fabric and get your hands wet. You’re probably thinking, “holy shit, how much does this girl pee?!” I don’t know, guys, I really don’t know. I’m just telling you the facts.
Hiking Skirt or Dress
Whether you squat or stand to pee, a hiking skirt or dress will allow you to do so discreetly without having to bare your whole ass to accomplish it. It helps if you go commando with this technique, but you can also just pull your underwear to one side before letting rip. Any old dress or skirt will do. The Purple Rain Adventure Skirt is especially popular with thru-hikers.
I just made that term up, but a refreshing number of companies are now making pants designed with modified flies so women can pee without pulling their pants down, just like men. Pee pants typically have a long fly from the front waistband to the back. That way, whether you squat or stand to pee, you don’t have to expose your bare skin to swarms of mosquitoes and the eyes of the world to take a leak.
Some companies that make pee pants:
Tips for Standing and Peeing
I never gave much thought to the art of the standing pee before getting a funnel, and let me tell you what, there’s a lot I didn’t know.
Wind direction. When you’re three inches off the ground, it doesn’t matter. When you’re standing, it is hugely important to aim downwind. The expression “pissing into the wind” makes sense to me on a more visceral level these days.
Wide stance. So wide. Wider than hip-width. Maybe some lady pee-ers are better at this than I am, but I never achieve the long, graceful arc males seem to create with ease. In short, I can’t get the pee to land more than a foot or two in front of me, which places my feet firmly within the splash radius. I can protect my feet from that undignified fate only by adopting a ridiculously wide stance.
Pay attention to what you’re peeing on. Pee downhill, obviously, and if you can pee off the edge of a ledge or something, that will do wonders to protect you from backsplash. But also, pee on something that’s going to quickly absorb or disperse your urine, like a nice loamy soil or a bed of pine needles, rather than, I don’t know, a bunch of dry magnolia leaves or something that will make your pee bounce around and splash back at you with even more enthusiasm.
Counterpoint: Leave No Trace says it’s better to pee on bare soil or stone than vegetation because animals often want to get at the salt from your pee, damaging vegetation in the process—food for thought.
If not using an FUD: If you’re not using a pee funnel and can’t squat or crouch easily, it can be a struggle to pee without getting it on your feet. There are a few ways to get around this.
- Find a sturdy tree and plant your feet on either side of the base. Grip the trunk with both hands and lean back. This way, you can pee further from your feet without losing your balance or straining your legs. In some circles, I’ve heard this technique called “the orangutan hang.”
- Sit on the edge of a log or large rock. Lean back a bit. Let rip.
What have we learned?
Wow. OK. That happened. I think I was just more honest with you guys than I’ve ever been, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Was it cathartic? Unburdening? Merely uncomfortable? I’m not really sure, but at least we’re all on the same page now. If you’ve been wondering whether FUDs are worth it, I encourage you to give one a shot. They’re not expensive, and for me, the convenience and flexibility of being able to stand and pee is well worth it.
Featured image: Graphic design by Zack Goldmann.
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