When you are climbing Everest, having a wee can sometimes be a spot of bother, especially if you are female. A survey finds that although women think ‘urinary devices’ are a great idea, only two in fifteen women interviewed on a trek actually use one.
When Clare Chalmers Hobart, 51, first imagined trekking above 5,000 metres in Mount Everest national park, one anxiety emerged above all others. She had accustomed herself to the idea of ‘hole in the ground’ squat toilets but was concerned about the ice that often forms around the gap in the floor. “I was seriously worried about my foot slipping down the hole,” she says.
Lying awake that night she had a vision of using some kind of ‘cooking funnel’ to avoid the problem. The next day by chance she went for a drink with a school friend who told Clare that Female Urination Devices (FUDs) actually do exist. Clare soon checked out various pages on the Internet and settled on the Shewee, because she felt it suited her needs and ‘had the funkiest website’. “The Shewee arrived within a week and I started practising with it in the shower to learn how to best place it,” she says with a giggle. “I admit that I also had to refer to anatomical drawings online to remind myself where the pee actually comes out!”
Shewee on Everest
While many people still initially laugh at the idea of a woman ‘peeing standing up like a man’, in fact the need for women to feel comfortable on mountain treks is a serious one. An average of four people a year die in the area of Everest alone as the result of Altitude Sickness (AS), and experts recommend that hikers drink at least three to four litres of water a day to combat the effects of AS and maintain their fluid levels.
However out in the wilderness, when temperatures often drop to below 20ºC at night, and the squat toilet is either outside or an unpleasant option, many women consider drinking less so that they do not have to get up during the night. “My priority was not to have to get out of my room at night. I did not want to disturb my fellow travellers, I did not want to lock my door or think about security issues and I knew it would be freezing cold as soon as I left my sleeping bag,” says Clare. “Instead I was able to use my Shewee, empty water bottle and traveller’s bowl in my room, and get back into bed straight away. This method also gave me the chance to check the amount I was peeing and the transparency of my urine; something women cannot normally do when they use a toilet. As a result I could monitor my water intake and drink more at night without worrying.”
In fact FUDs are not a new invention; the first patent was made in 1922. The many alternatives currently available range from disposable cardboard devices to highly advanced soft plastic mouldings that are impregnated with antibacterial and antifungal agents. Some also have a fluid-repelling hydrophobic agent that only requires a few shakes to dry. Additionally because urine is sterile it prevents no health risk. A quick clean of your hands with a hygienic hand gel or wet wipe and you can rapidly return to the welcoming warmth of your bed.
What is perhaps more surprising is that although FUDs have been around for almost a century, and that they are also standard issue for women in many armies, is that so few women have heard about them.
Enthused by her own discovery, Clare Chalmers Hobart, who has a Diploma in Health Care Education and two years’ experience working on women’s health issues for the United Nations in Bolivia, decided to undertake a survey of women’s use of FUDs on her trek around Mount Everest national park. During November and December 2012 she interviewed 15 women aged between 9 and 62, from all backgrounds, and found that only two were actually using an FUD. A further three other women had heard about them, although when made aware of their existence and use, all thought they were either a ‘good idea’ or ‘essential’.
American Dana Levy, 40, and her nine year old daughter were found to be the only two travellers who were carrying and using an FUD; in their case a rubber Go Girl. “There are many types available on the market and I was sceptical at first, but for 15 dollars and with a little girl with me I thought ‘why not give it a try?’” says Dana. “From uni onwards I’ve heard female friends say ‘men are so lucky’ and now at last we have something. Specifically on this trip I felt a lack confidence to go outside, some of the toilets are far away, and in our case I would have to always go out with my daughter which for me would have meant double the number of trips. So it has been really useful and worth the investment.”
Other female travellers had heard of the device but for various reasons were not travelling with one. “I heard about it from my friend who had used an FUD at a music festival, but I was not sure where to get one,” says Morgan Harding, 17, from Tasmania. “I learnt about it five years ago from a hiking magazine and think it is essential on high mountain trips but am not carrying one this time,” says Maria García, 51, from Spain.
In recent years the demand for these products has grown due to increasing awareness by women and better marketing, however Clare Chalmer’s survey shows there is far more that can be done. They are now more accessible than ever; the vast majority of ‘outdoor stores’ and an increasing number of chemists in the UK, for example, have FUDs available and they are also accessible online through Amazon.
The Shewee is available from Amazon in pink, Nato green and desert sand.
“On a trip with so many inconveniences anything which helps you feel more comfortable is a great help,” concludes Clare. “When you are a woman travelling in countries with few facilities, an FUD and a bowl is like having your own en suite bathroom!”
Thanks to Paul Rigg for this great article. The lengths some people go to for a good story is fantastic. You can get more details about Shewee from the Shewee website.