04 December 2008
Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
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 that 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, and my partner, that I daren’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? 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. When you’re sharing a piss bottle, it’s bad practice to leave the bottle half full for your mate. 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 actually is. So if you’re yet to make the breakthrough then here’s a breakdown of piss bottle technology.
In the beginning, there is the Nalgene bottle, the training aid for future piss bottle adventures – with a wide-mouth and crucial not abrasive plastic rim (a supercooled metal container could result in midnight calls for your mate help separate penis and 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 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 other, another climber who got to use it first. Well, hydrated he emptied his bladder deep inside his own sleeping bag, looking forward to a good nights 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?”
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 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.