FAQ: How to Deal With Periods in the Wild
New challenges are part of every backpacking trip: learning how to set up your brand new tent, figuring out how to bring your at-home coffee experience along for the ride, or trying to get that song out of your head (the one you’ve been singing under your breath for miles). Add in being on your period though . . . and you might start to feel less than enthused about your upcoming trip.
But you’ve had this adventure on the calendar for months and the weather’s going to be perfect . . . so staying home just isn’t an option. Plus, once you get the hang of it, dealing with your period outdoors isn't all that different from dealing with it at home or work. Let’s dig into some big period questions so that the next time you pick up your trekking poles (during that time of the month), you’re ready to get out there, hike your cramps out, and cure any period blues with some good ol’ fresh air.
1. When it comes to managing my period in the great outdoors, should I use pads, tampons or a menstrual cup?
In most cases, whatever you use at home is going to work best for you in the wilderness too. The one caveat being pads. Why do we recommend leaving these at home when backpacking bound? Because they can cause chafing and irritation while hiking (which is the last thing you’ll want with 10 or so miles left before camp). Go for tampons or a menstrual cup instead. Tampons are great on the trail because they pack small and you can always have a few on hand for those ‘surprise!’ periods. A menstrual cup is an excellent option for outdoor adventures because it can be worn for up to 12 hours at a time. There's also little to no odor associated with cups because yucky smells are created through oxidation, which is prevented when using a cup. Plus, you only need to bring one cup for the whole trip which drastically cuts down on waste.
Pro tip: Worried about leakage? Pack some period panties. Many brands offer styles that can absorb up to three tampons worth of flow so you can use them for light days or in lieu of a panty liner on heavy days. Pair them with a menstrual cup, and you’ll never need to buy period supplies again. How cool is that?
2. What do I do when I need to discard a full menstrual cup or tampon?
For lots of backpacking-while-on-your-period first-timers, this can be one of the more baffling aspects of it all. Back at home, there are toilets and receptacles that make disposal easy. But don’t worry, it can be easy outdoors too. You just have to be prepared. Whether you’re using tampons or a menstrual cup, you’ll want to practice WDW, or Wash-Disposal-Wash. First, give your hands a good washing using soap and water. (You can also carry a few disposable gloves for those instances when getting sudsy just isn’t possible.) Next, prepare for disposal. For a menstrual cup, dig a hole (exactly like you would when following the Leave No Trace Cat Hole method) and bury the contents, being sure to rinse the cup over the hole to bury any wastewater as well. For tampons, (since they do not readily decompose) drop them into your waste bag, seal it up, and pack ‘em out. Last step? Wash your hands again, and you’re done!
3. What is a period kit, and what should I include in it?
Think of your period kit as a Bathroom Kit but with a few extra things for people with periods. Assemble items into a designated dopp kit, and throw it in your bag’s top lid or side pocket for quick access while hiking. You’ll want to pack:
• Tampons or menstrual cup: Consider packing some extra tampons even if you use a cup. Who knows when you or a friend might really need one.
• Toilet paper: You’ll definitely be needing this so pack plenty (plus a little extra).
• Resealable plastic bags: Use one to keep all your supplies dry and double up another two for a waste bag to pack out any toilet paper, wipes, and tampons. To keep contents discreet, you can line with foil or give it a duct tape makeover.
• Soap and hand sanitizer/wipes: Keeping your hands clean is really important when managing a period on trail. Biodegradable soap and hand sanitizer or body wipes should be part of your kit.
• Trowel: A small trowel for digging your cat hole. Sure, a stick can work, but a trowel is made for the job.
Pro tip: Many thru-hikers recommend including a portable bidet head in their bathroom or period kit. These devices attach to most water bottles and let you wash those private parts easily, keeping you clean and happy while also cutting down on the waste you have to pack out (like wipes or toilet paper).
4. Do I need to worry about bloodthirsty bears?
Nope. Don’t believe the rumor that bears are out to get hikers who are on their period. A paper put out by the National Park Service suggests that there is no hard evidence linking bear attacks to menstruation. Since bears are attracted to odors in general though, it’s recommended that you opt for unscented menstrual products (because although your period won’t attract bears, scented products might).
Pro tip: If you’re in bear territory, put your waste bag into your bear canister at night. While you’re at it, toss in any other scented items like toothpaste or deodorant. Fewer smellables = fewer curious bears visiting your campsite.
5. But what do I do about cramps?
According to many health professionals, one of the best things you can do to ease pain associated with cramps is to exercise, so hiking is going to help no matter what. Packing a pain reliever and disposable heating packs can also be helpful.
Pro tip: You can also use a water bottle as a heating pad for some relief at night. Heat some water, fill a non-insulated water bottle, wrap it in a sweatshirt, and voilà . . . cramps be quiet.
The truth is that being on your period while naturing is gonna be annoying (and most likely annoying and a little messy) but once you get the hang of it, it’s just another part of the adventure. Got any other helpful period advice? Tag @KEEN and share your tips.
Trek through it all in KEEN comfort