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Upgrading During the Pandemic
Like for everyone, the coronavirus pandemic had us re-evaluating so many ordinary things that we do, even peeing and pooping. By September 1, we’d each only used a public restroom once in 6 months, and that was when driving; we’d stopped using them entirely at trailheads.

Early reports of coronavirus particles wafting up from flushed feces in toilet stalls had caught our attention and we were even more terrified about using pit toilets. Essential all national park or monument rustic toilets have well-vented pits and usually have a strong updraft from the pile of exposed excrement. The stink from many was a deterrent to using them and the risk of coronavirus infection seemed too, too high, so we entirely stopped using them. Wearing a mask would afford significant protection in any toilet area but we opted for zero exposure risk in those settings by staying away.

Our need for upgraded toileting supplies didn’t spur us to action while we were hiking from Fruita, Colorado in the summer but it was anticipating being back in the Grand Canyon in October that did. We routinely visit the heavily-used pit toilets in the inner canyon on the way to Phantom Ranch and the North Rim while on the trails but weren’t at all keen on doing so during the pandemic. So, it was time to do a little shopping.

Female Travel Urinals: The Tinkle Belle
Before we became international cyclotourists in 2001, I bought both single use, paper, stand-up urine funnels and a hard plastic one. They pointed the urine away from me when peeing while standing but they weren’t very reassuring to use. Neither product seemed worth the trouble and I settled for squatting behind bushes or whatever I could find for 20 years of travel. Fortunately, I’ve always had an ample-sized bladder and good holding power.

With images of the Grand Canyon open trails in mind, I was surprised when casual looking online this summer to find a travel urinal that the girls raved about, the Tinkle Belle. “It just works” was compelling. I read the more elaborate reviews and watched the cute YouTubes of women peeing out and about with little fuss and bother, so I bought one.

I opted for the $20 version without the carrying case, which adds another $8. Custom, zippered cases are always pleasing but as a hiker and bike traveler, I’d learned that I never wanted to suffer the extra weight and bulk of them for most anything. A small drawstring bag from my stash and plastic bags would suit me just fine for storing the item.

Indeed, the Tinkle Belle “just works.” Like I’d done 20 years ago and the manufacturer recommends, I did my first test in the shower. Yup, wet feet in that small space with hard surfaces, but it was only my feet that got wet, even on the first try. The sculpted design of the this device fits neatly, snuggly, unambiguously, and securely in place allowing the pee to discharge a safe distance away from my feet. And the “self wiping” feature inherent in the anatomically correct, silicon design that caught my eye in the ads, actually worked very well.
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Barb’s new trail companion: Tinkle Belle.

I was surprised that the lack of familiar cueing from squatting or sitting on a toilet interfered with initiating peeing. I deftly put the Tinkle Bell in position with the recommended stance and nothing happened. “OK, go!” Still nothing. It took a couple of times before the lag went out of the process. Now, there is nothing to it: I seat Tinkle Belle and out comes the pee from the other end.

Unlike most women I hike with, I always wipe with TP after peeing outdoors and dutifully haul the paper home with me in a reused plastic bag. Most women settle for having a pee-dampened crotch and underwear, but I choose not to. The elaborately designed Tinkle Belle has sort of a built-in squeegee feature for removing most of the pee from your external genitalia. Just a little intentional drag across the “lady business” wipes off most of the moisture and deposits it in the silicon ‘beak’. As touted, the silicon is hydrophobic, so a firm shake removes most of the residual liquid contained in it.

I however learned that I still preferred a quick dab with absorbent paper after the squeegee action. Paper towels are my toilet paper (TP) product of choice when outdoors. We buy cheap paper towels but ones that are perforated for short sheets. I do a ¼ fold of a mini-towel for my TP, which gives me a convenient shape and the right amount of absorbency. I found it easy to slide one of my standard folded pieces into my pants after removing the Tinkle Belle to do the quick dab that I liked. It was easy to get the results I wanted because there was little lingering pee.

After peeing, the user chooses whether to give the device a quick rinse with water from her water bottle, a deft wipe with a tissue, or settle for the efficacy of the firm shake and put the Tinkle Belle in a bag. Me shaking doesn’t dispatch enough pee off of me but me shaking the device does, so I pop it in a plastic bag after a shake and rinse it once off the trail for the day.

It wasn’t long after I received my Tinkle Belle that I was echoing the words of my mother “Where was this when I needed it?” Tinkle Belle would have been wonderful during those drenching rain storms when hiking and biking, when I was so miserable having to bare my behind to squat to pee in the cold and then struggled to pull my multiple, tight-fitting layers back up over my rain-wetted skin. Or biking in Croatia where land mines were still a very real threat and I settled for squatting behind a concrete Jersey barrier right on a busy road. Or in England where it seemed impossible some days to find a discrete place to go that didn’t expose my rear end that was skimming the earth to ticks.

Once we started hiking in the desert every winter, I settled for being discreet rather than unseen, but sometimes that didn’t work out so well. Tinkle Belle will allow me to solve these problems in standing with, at most, a bit of plastic exposed to the amused world. Long ago I resigned myself to others suspecting that I was peeing and I plan on continuing to use my Tinkle Belle after the pandemic is over. Maybe, if we ever go back to France, I’ll line up with the guys that only feel obliged to turn their backs to the crowds, not to get out of sight, to let it fly!

Poop Trowels
We bought 2 backpacker trowels to compare side-by-side with the 20 year-old, stainless steel one we keep in the truck. One was the Coghlans $6, 10+” long, orange plastic trowel, like the one we have in a bin back at home, and the high tech Deuce 2 at $20 that is 7”long. The Coghlans is heavier, at 1.6 oz compared with the Deuce at 0.6 oz, but lighter than the almost 4 oz stainless steel product.
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Bill dropped in: highly rated trowels that were useless in hard soil.

The long handle with rounded surfaces of the plastic Coghlans appealed to me whereas Bill was drawn to minimalist qualities of the Deuce. The “leave no trace” standards require digging 6” deep cat hole to receive your poop. With them in hand, we were prepared to do some digging in the Colorado National Monument. It didn’t take long to discover that, despite the rave reviews for all 3, that we wouldn’t be doing much digging in anything but sand or loam with these tools.

Our Plan B suddenly looked wildly more attractive, which would be to haul our poop out. We’d squat and drop it, use an intact, new plastic bag over our hand to pick-up the poo like one does when their dog relieves themselves. We’d double bag it and haul it out of wherever to either deposit it in the trash or empty into our toilet at the end of the day. If we were backpacking, we could envision hauling our poo until we found some easily soil to dig.

Armed with my new Tinkle Belle and a small stash of intact plastic bags, we felt prepared to decisively manage our excrement in the Grand Canyon this fall without the increased coronavirus exposure risk that comes with using the trail toilets.