Women Backpackers: Pee Rags and More!



In July, I went with Cliff to the Appalachian Trail Conference. We each selected the workshops that intrigued us most.

My favorite featured four women who had thru-hiked the trail. All TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY MILES!  Three of the women took their hike when they were over forty. Wow!


I’m not a backpacker, and my words wouldn’t do justice to the magnitude of their experience. I won’t try to recount the mental and physical challenges they faced or what their hikes meant to them. Instead, let me share some of the nitty gritty.

The presenters gave us tip after tip such as cut your hair short and “Hike commando,” so you won’t get wedgies and won’t have to wash underwear. Most intriguing to me was: “Bring a pee rag.” (The trail isn’t dotted with ladies rooms.)

So what exactly is a pee rag?

A pee rag is a bandanna that hangs on your pack. Pee is sterile and the lady backpackers promised the rag won’t smell. It’s handy when nature calls and doesn’t clog the wilderness with toilet paper.

The shovels below are for poop, a bit trickier to deal with.You use them to dig what they called “cat holes.” The colored ziplock bags are for modesty. Your wipes/tissues can be zipped inside and your pooping secrets are safe.


Turns out menopause can be useful on the trail.  One of the workshop presenters took great advantage of her hot flashes. That’s when she’d leave the tent on a freezing cold night to pee. She explained that by the time the flash was over, she was toasty again in her sleeping bag.

Hot flashes had to be good for something! Too bad you have to hike the trail to take full advantage of them.

I could have listened to the women speak for hours. I loved hearing tales of their perseverance and ingenuity. But even more, I love knowing, that even though Cliff plans to do the big hike, I am NOT going. I can continue using real ladies rooms (and looking for fun doors!)

To finish, here are more tips:

  • Make sure you get fitted for a pack especially styled for women. Hips are an issue, and most packs are designed for men.
  • Baby wipes are good for wiping you-know-where, but they’re also great for cleaning up the rest of you. Take hygiene seriously; skin infections can send you off the trail in search of medical help.
  • Eat well and prepare food in the manner you do at home. If you like to cook, cook on the trail. If you’re into eating in a hurry, bring nutritious foods that take less prep.
  • Choose merino wool for your socks. They won’t stink after a few days like synthetic fabrics do.
  • Hiking skirts work well on the trail and make for easy peeing. (Note “Hike commando” above.)
  • An underwire bra can be trouble if your pack’s straps rub against it.
  • And most of all, don’t forget the mantra of the trail: Hike your own hike. Listen to advice, but in the end, do it your way!

26 responses »

  1. Somebody finally found a good use for a hot flash. Finally. Just reading Cheryl Strayed’s book was enough hike for me. My idea of camping is an unairconditioned B&B in Hana, Maui

  2. I’m with you, Barbara! I would rather go to nice bathrooms and take pictures of the doors for you. We will help you have fun while Cliff is roughing it on the Trail!

  3. No way I’d go on the trail but kudos to the women (and men) who do. I especially liked the last piece of advice and immediately changed it to: Live your own life. Listen to advice but do it your own way.
    I like that idea!

  4. I think one day of that would be enough for me. I just cannot fathom taking pee rags or using them again. Great advice for the more um. . . determined hiker. I prefer to do my hiking in D.C. where there are lots of bathrooms available.

  5. I am like you, I enjoy hearing all about it! I loved reading Bill Bryson’s book about his adventures on the AT. It was hilarious. I hiked 1 night and 2 days on the Pacific Trail, beautifully pictured in the book and movie, Wild, and that was 35 years ago and that was that for me. I am not a snow cave, winter like weather kind of camper/hiker.

  6. I had my first experience on the Appalachian Trail this July. This summer our college age daughter is working as a Naturalist at one of the High Huts on the trail in New Hampshire. The only way for us to visit the hut was to hike in from the trailhead-which was pretty much rock climbing for 1.5 hours. It was way more challenging than my husband and I were expecting it to be-but also soooo much fun!
    The beauty of the place!!! I have a whole new respect for those who hike the AMC trail.

    PS… Tell Cliff he must visit at least one of the New Hampshire huts when he takes his walk-that is an experience not to be missed:)

  7. I would have thoroughly enjoyed listening to those women. I loved Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild, as well as the movie. It was such a testament of a strong woman. I am not sure if I have an adventurous spirit, but so admire woman that do. Love the hot flash “tinkle”!

  8. Never really done a backpacking camping trip (kayak camping yes, backpack no) but there’s something about the thought of that one that one (AT through-hike) that just seems so cool. Neat workshop!

  9. Tip # 3 references another menopausal advantage! Although I loved Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, the only part of the AT I’ve “hiked” is the railroad bridge at Harpers Ferry. Walking this short distance while a train was passing, though brief, was incredible – the closest I’ve been to a moving train (without actually riding it)! The Washington, DC Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club hosts monthly hikes to cover the Maryland part of the AT in 5 segments.

  10. Ah, backpacking! I did some overnights out in Rocky Mountain National Park during my Colorado days. We even hitchhiked into the park one time to reach the trail head. Slept in a tent one snowy night–My down vest, sewn from a Frostline kit, kept me warm! Those were definitely “Rocky Mountain High” days (1975 to 1979)! Can’t imagine going “Commando,” though.
    Love, Janet

    • Ah…Frostline kits! My brother, whose machine sewing skills were limited to poking holes in lined paper with a threadless needle (Mom’s Lesson One in Machine Sewing), made a Frostline 2-man pup tent!

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