Hiking on your period isn’t a problem for some people, but for others it’s a right pain. When water is scarce or dirty, your tried-and-true period protocols can fly out the window. Plus, as ecologically conscious beings, you might be thinking about reducing your impact. Or, you might not want to carry a tonne of waste over a long expedition. Let’s talk about your options for period maintenance while on the trail.
Traditional Options: Pads & Tampons
The main issue with disposable pads and tampons is that you’ll probably have difficulty finding anywhere to do the disposing part. Good hikers follow the Pack it in, Pack it out rule – which means your best option might be a ziplock bag. This can get pretty gross on longer trips.
If you’re using pads you’ll probably want to bring wet wipes too. Consider that this will also increase the amount of waste you’re making – and carrying.
Pads – (1) take up a tonne of space in your pack, (2) might slip during long periods of exercise, leaving you at risk of leakage, and (3) can cause rashes and be uncomfortable during extensive hiking. On the plus side, they’re super quick to change.
Tampons – take up less space and are more comfortable during physical activity for a lot of people. However, they can’t be inserted very discretely, so you might end up hunting for a good tree to squat behind for a long while. Also, consider your access to soap and water or sanitiser, because inserting dirty fingers is a rookie error. Some tampons come with applicators, so you’ll only need a wet wipe!
Alternatives: Menstrual Cup
Menstrual cups are a more environmentally friendly alternative to tampons, but they take some practice. Try a few periods in your day-to-day life with menstrual cups before using them outdoors. They come in different lengths and materials, so they may need some experimentation. If you’re not experienced, you’re gonna come out of the woods looking like you just killed someone with your bare hands.
As with tampons, make sure you have a way to clean your hands before inserting. They’re reusable, which will help you trim every gram from your pack. This also has the benefit of meaning you don’t run the risk of not packing enough! Menstrual cups can be left in for a full day, which is really convenient for hiking.
The cups need to be rinsed with clean water before re-insertion, and boiled for 3-10 minutes at the end of your period. So, if you’re having multiple periods out bush, consider the logistics of this. Some people choose to bring a dedicated pot for the task, but this will obviously counteract your weight-saving measures.
Stop Your Period Altogether
Some folks have the option of going on hormonal contraception, which can stop or lighten your period. Speak to your doctor about whether this is a suitable option for you.
If you’re taking the oral contraceptive pill, you can skip periods if you prefer not to have to deal with them in the outdoors. Simply skip the sugar pills and go onto the next month – there’s no negative health effects of doing this. This option allows you to go totally tampon/pad/cup-free!
For a large percentage of users, the Implanon (inserted into the arm, lasts 3 years) and Mirena IUD (inserted into the cervix, lasts 3-5 years depending on type) will reduce (or stop) the length and intensity of your periods, as well as reducing cramping and other symptoms. Not only can this increase your comfort out on the trail, but it’ll reduce your waste.
- Download a period tracking app (like Clue) so you don’t get caught out in the middle of an adventure
- Consider taking extra pads and/or tampons if you’re going in a group, in case someone else needs them!
- Be conscious of people’s privacy; consider why they may be taking lots of long toilet breaks, or why they seem a little out of sorts
- If you get bad cramps or feel generally crappy during your period, try to schedule your hiking itinerary so that you have easier legs on the ‘worst’ days of your period
- Remember to pack extra ibuprofen/paracetamol if you suffer from cramps!
- Account for extra toilet paper usage!
Feature photo by Miranda Fittock
Pack it in, Pack it out