Tips Tuesday: Ode to the Piss Bottle Redux
Back in 2008, I wrote a short piece in my blog titled “Ode to a piss bottle”, which I’d like to think was a classic in pee bottle literature, no doubt inspiration for The Main Outdoorsman’s classic Ode to the Pee Bottle part one and part two.
I thought I might revisit my original post below, and then add an update, based on another ten or so years of pee bottle work.
Ode to a Piss Bottle
Carrying a piss bottle is a right of passage for any mountaineer, wall climber or alpinist. It shows you that you’re now climbing routes that are SO hard that even pissing requires specialised equipment.
I can remember the first time I realised that this time had come, busting for a piss all night on a tiny sitting ledge, trapped in that terrible limbo when you know you have to piss because you can’t sleep, yet somehow you’re just asleep enough to keep kidding yourself you have. On that occasion, I was wrapped up so tight in slings, ropes, along with my partner, that I dare’’t move all night in case we both toppled off the ledge (more than one climber died taking a wiz).
My first piss bottle was a Nalgene bottle, still one of the best piss bottles around – the question really down to whether or not you’re a 1litre man or a risk-taking 0.5-litre user?
The piss bottle technique is pretty simple:
Keep the bottle close by.
Piss in it without spilling too much.
Then either stick it down in your bag to keep your feet warm (why waste it?), or pour it out.
There are very few hard rules for piss bottles, but when you’re sharing a piss bottle, it’s bad practice to leave the bottle half full for your mate. Also, don’t drink it, which might sound an easy rule to follow, even though it isn’t (the mind plays tricks).
The use of a piss bottle brings with it many new skills, of which the most important is the ability to judge the fill level in the dark. Mistakes do happen, but on a multi-day route, who cares?
Another skill, and perhaps the second right of passage, is the ability to piss while lying on one’s side, something that sounds far easier than it actually is.
So if you’re yet to make the breakthrough, then here’s a breakdown of piss bottle technology.
In the beginning, there was the Nalgene bottle, the training aid for future piss bottle adventures – with a wide-mouth and crucial not too abrasive plastic rim (a supercooled metal container could result in midnight calls for your mate’s help to separate penis from bottle). It’s essential to mark the piss bottle clearly, and in a way that can be identified by touch, after when you’re thirsty, you might mistake it as warm Gator aid. The best way to do this is to rap a band of gaffer tape around the bottle, including match sticks, every 10 centimetres. Also, draw a big skull and crossbones on it, and the words “piss, wee, urine” etc. In every language, you can think of.
The problem with a rigid piss bottle is that it takes up room in your sack. Another alternative comes in the form of the wide-mouthed flexible bottle that can be rolled when not needed. The downside with these bottles is that they’re prone to leaks.
A funny example of this is the storey of two friends of mine who spent 12 days upon the Grandes Jorasses on a big winter wall. One of them brought all the hardware, portaledge, food, stove, in fact, everything, while the other one only had to sort out a piss bottle.
The bottle he brought was a flexible one of mine that I’d left with him the month before because it was getting a bit ratty. As it would happen, it was the other climber who got to use it first. Well, hydrated, he emptied his bladder deep inside his own sleeping bag, looking forward to a good night’s sleep, when suddenly he noticed that liquid was pissing out of the bottle. At this point, the other climber said, “Oh yes, I forgot to tell you …it’s got a hole in it…have you got some gaffer tape?” Such incidents solid climbing partnerships do not make.
The above problem can be easily overcome by just using a new bottle each time; only this time the bottle is free. A typical foil or plastic-backed cardboard juice container makes a perfect piss bottle, just cut a hole in the top, roll it up, and you’re away. When you get down, dispose of it. The only drawbacks are that you have to pour it away – that is, unless you fancy balancing it between your knees all night.
At the end of the long road of piss bottle use there lies something as dreadful and unspoken as a Chilean rugby team eating the rest of their doomed flight over the Andes. If you get to this stage, you must promise never to tell a soul, or else you’ll become a social pariah. This technique is the most simple and involves pissing into your cup, pan or empty water bottle. Technically it won’t do you any harm, in fact it may be good for you (well that’s what the Romans thought), but when it comes round to morning, and it’s brew time you may not think of it that way.
Oh yes, if you’re sharing a pan, and you piss in it, it’s best not to tell your partner.
Ode to a Piss Bottle Redux
What can I add to this? Well, here are a few thoughts:
The biggest hurdle for women in alpine climbing and mountaineering is the inability to lie on their side and have a wee. Generally, they will keep it in all night, which often translates to dehydrating themselves on purpose – not good at altitude – or having to get fully out of their sleeping bag to wee outside the tent or on a ledge. This is also no good, as you’re losing pretty much all the heat out of your sleeping bag, which might have been minimal anyway.
The only practical solution for female climbers is to learn to piss inside their sleeping bag into a Nalgene bottle, which might sound difficult, but it’s not once you learn how. This technique can be done in a few ways, and it’s best to practice is outside of a sleeping bag first, ideally when heaving a shower. Yes, we all like to talk about Sheewees or weeing on a spoon, but this is a game-changer once you can do it.
If a Nalgene bottle does not rock your boat, then another option is a medical urine bottle, one that has an attachment for women.
1 Litre is not enough
If you’re on a big expedition that involves a lot of tent time, acclimatisation etc, drinking tons of water, where bulk is not an issue, the I would recommend getting a 1.5 litre Nalgene bottle. This eliminates the problem of finding your wee bottle is almost full at night, which might cause you to stop early. Of course, with an attuned ear, you can tell how much space you’ve got, but having that extra 0.5 litres comes in handy, plus you’re a little safer if weeing on your side.
One in, one out
Every-time you wee at altitude, you should try and replace that water. This means you need to have both a pee bottle and a water bottle close at hand. If you pee half a litre, then try and drink half a litre, or at least something.
Practice makes perfect
If you want to be a real pro at this wee bottle thing, the only option is to practice, practice, practice. Stick one beside your bed and use it until you’ve achieved mastery; plus, it’ll be a good icebreaker if you’re single and get lucky.