I am not afraid to poop in the woods. You can’t be when your guts send you running for a bathroom whenever they want to. I have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and after several years of thinking my condition would limit my activities, I have found ways to cope. I’m comfortable knowing I can go to the bathroom wherever I need to, and still come back to the trail feeling glad that I am outside, regardless of my current gut issues.
If you’re dealing with chronic issues like digestive problems, you’ll have days when you don’t want to leave your home–nonetheless go hiking. But, on the days you do want to get outside, you may need a little extra planning.
Here are four tips that have helped me enjoy the outdoors, even in the throes of an IBS flare-up.
When IBS is Getting You Down
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1. Get Comfortable with Poop
Outdoorsy people are a special breed. Along with chasing type-two fun, occasionally living out of vehicles and getting up way too early to chase that pre-obligation workout, they are also prone to talking about bodily functions openly. While you don’t have to broadcast every bowel movement (although some dirtbags do), don’t be afraid to talk about your gut problems. If you’re on a hike with friends and your stomach starts that rolling motion, it’s ok to share your needs and head off the trail to a suitable location. They’re not friends if they can’t support you when stomach issues arise.
2. Learn About Waste Disposal Rules
Where are you going on your outdoor adventure? When you begin planning your trip or outing look into the rules for waste disposal at potential locales. Some public lands require bagging all waste, including toilet paper, for off-sight disposal. Others feature portable restrooms or biffies at campsites and trailheads for your convenience. Don’t hesitate to contact the local park district, visitors center or rangers office with your specific queries, like, “What should I do if I have to use the bathroom emergency-style and I’m nowhere near a designated bathroom?” This knowledge can help you feel more confident in making the trip, even if your guts aren’t in great shape. You’ll know what’s expected of you in terms of clean-up.
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3. Pick Campsites and Trails that Offer Amenities
Consider your bathroom preferences when selecting a camping or hiking destination. You’re lucky if you’re comfortable pooping wherever the urge hits you. However, most people would prefer at least a biffy (a pot over a hole in the ground like the ones in Minnesota’s BWCA) so they can sit comfortably. Many campsites and trails offer port-a-johns or even fully plumbed bathrooms, complete with showers for maximum comfort. Consider which amenities make your heart sing and keep them in mind when choosing your next hiking or camping destination.
4. Try a Hiking Challenge
While handling difficult gut days, I sometimes don’t trust myself to leave the house for longer than to run a quick errand. Trying the 52 Hike Challenge helped me get out of a gut-rut as it gave me a sense of accountability. To complete the goal, I had to go outside every week and take a hike. I redefined my definition of a “hike” from “a many-mile feat that leaves me exhausted and exhilarated” to “any walk that I normally wouldn’t take.” This allowed me to work within my own comfort zone and to adjust for IBS-related issues as needed. Sometimes I’d visit a local forest preserve with a trusty roll of TP and hand sanitizer in my daypack. Other days I’d walk the dog for several miles in my neighborhood. While never far from home, (and my own bathroom, win!), I was still spending more time outdoors than I would have had I not started the challenge.
Keep in Mind
If you’re not up to being active today that’s ok. Revel in that. Take care of you and when you’re feeling better again, then get outside. Know that you are the only person who knows what your body needs and it’s your job to work with your gut — not against it.
From doing yoga to improve digestion to using witch hazel wipes during a flare-up, there are a lot of little things that can help you feel better. You might find that getting fresh air is at the top of that list. Being prepared can help you get out even when you’re not feeling your best.