Many female hikers, climbers and adventurers often choose to cut their water consumption and risk dehydration, which can lead to UTIs. Especially when faced with complicated or dangerous conditions, the need to answer nature’s call can prevent people from feeling safe doing what they love. Our very own Co-Founder Georgia Grace Edwards had that experience while working as a summer glacier guide in Alaska. She found herself drinking less water so that she wouldn’t need to remove multiple layers and get really cold while peeing on the glacier. Similarly, Co-Founder Charlotte is an avid climber but tries to drink less water while summiting a mountain, in order to minimize the dangerous moments where she has to find a crevasse and take off the harness to pee. We started SheFly so that other people wouldn’t have to make these same tradeoffs and can hydrate as much as they need to. But we also know that sometimes, UTIs just happen. So we put together a little resource guide for ways to avoid them and what to do if you get one.
Overall, UTIs are caused by disruptions to the normal urinary bacterial community. These can happen after normal sexual activities, certain medical procedures, changes in bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation) and sometimes, without any clear cause at all.
Sexual activity, menopause, and menstruation are all directly linked to UTIs, but while we wish we could assist with those, we know that SheFly can help with the causes related to exercise and “holding it”. For example, when exercising or being active, sweat and moisture can let bacteria shift around. This bacteria can then be transferred to the urethra. If you aren’t wearing breathable clothing, then there is more moisture which can make it easier for bacteria to travel. This can also be exacerbated by not showering for an extended amount of time, giving the bacteria more time to move around in between washing.
The best way to prevent bacteria from getting into the urethra is by physically flushing it out through urination. So, the more time we “hold it”, the more we allow bacteria to travel up the urinary track, and the more we risk a UTI. This is why people with professions that offer limited bathroom use, like teachers, nurses, active military personnel and many more, can often experience higher rates of UTIs.
How do you know when you have a UTI? It usually feels like a sudden onset of pressure and/or pain around your bladder, accompanied by changes in your urinary patterns - more frequent or urgent urination, sometimes with pain or blood. Symptoms can evolve as you age as well, with changes in how urine looks or smells. Additionally, during infection, UTIs can cause behavior changes related to confidence, discomfort and intimacy.
The good news is that most people can resolve a simple UTI on their own by drinking a whole lot of water and taking ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory medication. Sometimes antibiotics are needed to address the symptoms more effectively (and work more quickly). If you are in the backcountry and don’t have immediate access to medical care, try to just keep chugging water. Symptoms should resolve in a few days, but if it takes more than a week, it may be time to get back to civilization and visit a medical professional.
As mentioned earlier, the best way to prevent UTIs is to proactively flush out the bacteria by peeing. That’s why medical professionals highly recommend increasing water intake (and why no one should have to cut their water consumption on a glacier in Alaska!), so drink up, unzip your SheFlys wherever and whenever you need, and flush out that bacteria! Try to ensure you are changing your clothes frequently, even while backpacking or doing other physical activities, to minimize bacteria-loving moisture. There are also several other ways of treating UTIs, including antibiotics, vaginal estrogen and non-antibiotic medications that are often recommended in relation to sexual activity and peri/post menopause. But while we are definitely expert pee pant makers, we are not medical experts. This is general advice; please ask your doctor about what to do if you’re struggling with recurrent or complex UTIs.
This piece is not intended to provide an official medical council. If you are having serious symptoms, including a fever (101.4 F with a thermometer), severe one-sided pain in the side of your mid-back or feel really sick, you should head to an urgent care or ER setting and call your doctor.