Hiking on your period tips and tricks
Disclaimer: We’re talking about periods here, folks. If you have one, you know. If you don’t, but have a partner or adventure buddy who does, you could probably benefit from this knowledge just as much as they could.
Periods are unfortunately often a taboo topic, but they are normal and healthy and part of human life. And when you’re in the backcountry, you have to get a little bit creative (and sometimes a little more obvious) about how you’re managing the extra waste they can create.
So for everyone’s benefit, we’re going to get specific and honest about what this looks like and how you can deal with the (sometimes uncomfortable) reality of being on your period while you’re adventuring away from the comforts of civilization.
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Hiking and backpacking on your period: Leave No Trace period basics
Pack It In, Pack It Out
Hopefully this goes without saying, but this primary Leave No Trace principle is especially important when considering how to dispose of period waste. It’s also a great motivator to cut down on the number of single-use products you’re using!
Whatever you bring in or use to take care of yourself and keep yourself clean during your period, you need to have a system in place for carrying it back out. This includes tampons and pads, wrappers, applicators, wipes, etc. We’ll get into some different options for waste packing systems later on in the post, but just know that there are no products out there that are “safe” to bury or leave on the trail.
Even if you’re at a site that has a backcountry pit toilet or composting toilet, remember that your waste is still entering the natural environment! Use toilet paper sparingly and never place anything other than human waste or toilet paper in the toilet.
Camping on your period: Dispose of Menstrual Fluid Appropriately
Depending on what method you are using to manage your flow, you will need to be conscious of how you are disposing of your period waste. This is especially important if you are using a menstrual cup and emptying it outside of a pit toilet or backcountry privy.
To minimize environmental impact, LNT recommends packing out your menstrual fluids until you have access to an appropriate receptacle whenever possible.
If that is not a feasible option for whatever reason, the next best option is to dig a cathole and bury the waste (again, no products, toilet paper or wipes!). An appropriate cathole is 6-8″ deep and a minimum of 200′ away from any water source.
As with any recommendation, use your best judgment about what is feasible and appropriate for your circumstances. And remember there is absolutely nothing shameful about period waste! It just needs to be handled in a way that leaves minimal impact on wildlife and other hikers.
It’s also important to do your homework on any waste disposal recommendations specific to the environment where you’re camping or hiking. Different areas and ecosystems have different regulations, and it’s always best to know before you go!
Hiking on your period basics: Keep waste wildlife-safe
If you’re backpacking or camping, you want to treat period waste as you would any other “smelly” items in your pack (food, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.). Have a dedicated bear canister or a way to hang your waste storage system from a nearby tree.
Check out this post on Bear Safety and Leave No Trace Tips for more info on how to do a proper bear hang and other great LNT wisdom!
Zero/Low Waste Period Options
10 Steps for Sustainable Periods in the Backcountry (created by @she_colorsnature)
Our friend Chelsea Murphy, the sustainability-minded mama behind the @she_colorsnature Instagram account, shared some great wisdom with us about how to set yourself and the environment up for success while managing your period waste in the backcountry.
This series of images below walks you through a basic period “kit” and how to take care of your waste properly. Many thanks to Chelsea for giving us permission to share her wisdom – be sure to follow her on Instagram and on her blog for so many more practical sustainability tips!
Prep your Hiking Period kit (also great for adventuring, backpacking or camping on your period)
Whether you use Chelsea’s system or adapt it to fit your own needs, you’ll want to make sure your period kit is packed and prepped ahead of time. Think through everything you will need to clean yourself and your products, and keep it all together with your “poop kit” for easy access.
Whatever you use to contain the items in your kit, you want to make sure it is resealable, waterproof, and washable.
You can use a larger reusable storage bag (like the Stasher featured in Chelsea’s graphic series above) or a washable wet bag like the ones designed for use with cloth diapers. Wet bags like this one from Bumkins or this set from Flock Three are affordable, machine washable, and waterproof!
Join the Kula-verse!
We on the TMM team are HUGE fans of Kula Cloth – an antimicrobial, reusable pee cloth that is an environmentally-friendly and toilet paper free alternative to the “shake it off” method we all know and hate.
The Kula should not be used for anything other than pee (aka keep it away from your backside and only wipe from back to front in the “pee-zone”). The non-wiping side of the Kula is waterproof, so you also don’t have to worry about any liquids soaking through to your hands. Pure magic!
After use, the Kula can be washed with a few drops of biodegradable soap and then hung to dry on the outside of your pack until you’re ready to use it again.
Menstrual cup etiquette
If you’ve already made the transition to a menstrual cup, you know how game-changing it is in terms of reducing overall period waste. Yay for you and yay for our planet!
If you haven’t made the switch, you may want to consider it especially for backcountry use. While it can take some getting used to, once you figure it out the menstrual cup can hold far more than most tampons. This means more time hiking or adventuring and less time worrying about stopping to find an appropriate place to change your tampon.
The trickiest part of using a menstrual cup in the woods is keeping it clean. If you’re concerned about this, I would recommend carrying at least 2 cups so that you can replace the used one until you are able to properly rinse and/or sanitize it. Most menstrual cups are made of medical grade silicone so it is not necessary to sanitize them every time they are emptied, but it’s really a matter of personal preference.
It is NOT wise or sanitary to clean your cup in any natural water source, so your best option for sanitizing is to boil it. Wipe or rinse out as much of the fluid as possible and store the cup securely until you are able to make that happen.
Sidenote: If you’re feeling queasy about boiling a menstrual cup in the same pot that you use to make your noodles – never fear! We’ve got a solution for that in the cleaning section below.
As mentioned above, your menstrual cup should be emptied either into a cathole or a backcountry composting toilet or privy.
Period underwear for backpacking
Another great waste-free option to be used either on its own or as backup to a menstrual cup is absorbent period underwear. There are lots of brands out there, and while they can get quite spendy they are also incredibly handy to have and in my opinion are absolutely worth every penny.
Period underwear goes a long way to help reduce stress about leaking through clothing (especially annoying when you’re backpacking and have limited clothing supply!). If free bleeding is your jam, good period underwear is by far the most secure option out there.
Last summer I started spotting right before leaving for a planned backpacking trip, so I just wore my Thinx and didn’t have to stress at all about whether I would start bleeding more heavily while we were out.
There is a bit of a learning curve with period underwear since you can feel the bleeding, but have to trust they are absorbing your flow. If you tend to have large clots, period panties do still work, but may absorb slower than a regular disposable pad, which can be a weird sensation.
Period panties we recommend:
- Thinx: A complete replacement for pads and tampons, these
- Proof: These are the only triple-patented underwear for leaks and periods on the market, which means you can confidently wear them on your heaviest days. They will hold up to 5 tampons or 10 tsp of liquid, fight odors, and wick away moisture through any activity (including long hikes!)
Washing your period underwear is a process you need to be mindful of, again due to LNT concerns and wanting to be conscious of how you are disposing of any period waste.
If you don’t want to make the investment in period underwear, there are lots of options out there for reusable, washable cloth pads. One of our team members highly recommends Party in My Pants pads for their absorbency and ability to be machine washed.
Hesta Organic, Rael Organic, and GladRags are also highly recommended brands of reusable cloth pads. The downside to these pads is that they are typically made of cotton and thus much more difficult to wash by hand and air dry. You would most likely need to pack them out to be washed at home after rinsing them into your cathole.
Single-Use Options for hiking on your period
Dispose of pads and tampons responsibly
If for some reason you cannot make the switch away from single-use period products, it is absolutely essential that you pack them out appropriately. I cannot count the number of times I (or my kids, or my dog…*cringe*) have found used tampon applicators or wads of toilet paper along the side of a hiking trail. Not cool.
Whichever one of the following methods works best for you, you will want to make sure your waste container is clearly labeled to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Leave No Trace also recommends placing some crushed aspirin or tea bags inside the pack-out receptacle to help with odor control.
Wear easily washable underwear
Whether or not you’re on your period, it’s always a good idea to wear quick-drying, easy-to-wash underwear while adventuring in the backcountry. But because there is always the chance of leakage during your period, it’s especially crucial to avoid cotton underwear to keep things both fresh and comfortable!
There are lots of great options out there depending on what style and material you prefer. REI makes a simple, affordable Active Bikini and Active Brief that provide good coverage and have an antimicrobial treatment to reduce odor.
ExOfficio also makes several styles of their Give-N-Go Sport Mesh underwear, which is highly breathable and antimicrobial. Marmot’s Performance Briefs line is another excellent, comfortable option with multiple styles.
Prepare your pack out receptacle ahead of time
There are a few different tried-and-true methods for packing out used period care items and wrappers, one of which is a dedicated wide-mouthed Nalgene bottle wrapped in duct tape for extra discretion.
Another option is to use one of the reusable bags recommended above for storing all of your period kit items. If you absolutely can’t manage either of these, try a resealable Ziploc-style plastic bag. Just make sure it doesn’t get torn or punctured!
Keep It Fresh
Washing your underwear when backpacking
For any clothing items that need to be washed while you’re out on the trail, you want to make sure you have a good quality biodegradable soap on hand. And remember, wash water needs to be disposed of in the same manner as any other period waste – in a cathole at least 200′ from water, trails, and camp.
The most streamlined way to wash period underwear is to do so while you are taking care of your business so you can use the same cathole. That way when you get back to camp you can just hang them to dry and they will be ready to use again when you need them.
Keeping your menstrual cup clean
If you’re using a menstrual cup, June Cup makes a Compact Sanitizer that is perfect for use while camping or backpacking! Just place your cup inside, fill with boiling water, and let the cup rest for 5 minutes. Voila!
Bonus: due to the effects of COVID, June Cup is selling their menstrual cups at cost – only $7! A great option if you’re just looking to try them out or have some extras to swap out while camping.
While the individual packaging isn’t exactly a low-waste win, you can also purchase biodegradable cup wipes from companies like Pixie or OrganiWipes. It’s important to be conscious of any soap you use to clean your cup, as you don’t want to upset the vagina’s natural pH balance.
And again, even biodegradable wipes should not be buried. Pack them out and dispose of them properly at home.
Personal hygiene for hiking on your period
Let’s be honest…for most of us, this is one area that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention while we’re camping or backpacking. I often accept and embrace the fact that I’m going to be a sweaty, dirty, stinky mess for several days.
I’m all for this philosophy in general, but on your period you may need to pay a little bit more attention to keeping yourself clean in your nether regions. I love Chelsea’s tip of bringing a squirt bottle along in your period kit – if you’ve given birth vaginally, this may bring back some memories of the early postpartum days!
If you’re really feeling like treating yourself, you can upgrade to a “portable bidet” (basically a squirt bottle that you can hold upside down to minimize splashing). Of course there is always the option of using wet wipes, but these must be packed out and obviously can’t be used more than once.
Hopefully this goes without saying, but it’s also very important to sanitize your hands after handling any period waste or used period products.
Make adventuring part of your cycle!
Periods are a normal part of life, and if you’re an active person who gets them you know that they can really sour an outing if you’re not prepared. But being on your period doesn’t mean you have to stay home and hunker down!
With a little prep and practice, you can not only manage your period in the woods but you can do so while having a minimal impact on the natural environment around you.
What works for you? Tell us your best outdoor period hacks and advice in the comments!
- When a Bear Wanders into Camp and Leave No Trace Tips
- Educating our Girls: How Not Showering for a Few Days Teaches Your Daughter to Love Herself
- Bear Safety for Families
How to Period in the Woods
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