Over half the population have to deal with periods for a pretty decent chunk of their lives. So why are they often taboo to mention? Sarah gets to the bottom of how people deal with their periods in the bush when battling pain, a lack of hygiene, and a hell of a lot of inconvenience.

How to ‘Just Deal With It’

A friend told me about the time she hiked a glacier in New Zealand. She had her period and said, ‘It was a fucking nightmare…I was bleeding through my tampon every two hours’.

I felt my anxiety rise – what if that was me? What would I do and how would I handle it?

We don’t often talk openly about our periods, do we? There are cultural and generational reasons for this, there’s even a term for it – ‘period shame’.

Even in general conversations, it gets turned into ‘Well I just dealt with it’. Which leaves me wondering – yeah sure, but how? And what about managing the physical and emotional rollercoaster that comes along with it?

When I was younger I used my contraceptive pill to skip my period when I went travelling. That worked well back then, but these days it’s just not an option for me and it’s not something that works for a lot of people.

I started thinking more about this issue when I had a multiday hike coming up. With a temperamental peri-menopausal cycle, the thought of having to deal with my period in the wilderness was not ideal.

I wanted to keep a period-positive mindset but was finding it difficult. I became fixated on checking my Garmin, making sure I was logging all my symptoms so I could keep track of my cycle in order to mentally and physically prepare for it, should it occur.

A period tracker app can help predict your cycle

I researched and found a lot of wonderful information on the options available for managing periods in the wilderness. Learning more about products that weren’t mainstream when I was younger like period undies and moon cups has been helpful. Yet I still wanted more.

I wanted to hear first-hand experiences like that of my friend, so I reached out to my network of adventurous people. I asked them how they felt about getting their period while in the wilderness.

What they did, how they planned for it, and what advice they could give to those on the cusp of being adventurous, with concerns about how to handle their period.

Once you start talking about this topic, the dialogue just flows (pardon the pun). There’s something cathartic about sharing period stories – be it the good ones or the horrors. It builds connection and eases the anxiety so often felt when heading into a challenging environment with your period in tow.

I spoke to many people from ultra runners to multi-day adventure seekers, and they were all beautifully honest in sharing their stories with me.

Here’s what I learnt.

It’s All in the Planning

A lot of the people I spoke with track their cycles, whether through Garmin or using the various apps around such as Flo and Clue.

While tracking may reduce the chance of being ‘caught out’, it’s bound to happen our periods and adventures overlap. Kirsty* reflected that ‘going on a camping trip, knowing you’ll have your period is often enough to make you second guess the idea’. But sometimes it shows up as a surprise.


She remembers well having to craft makeshift pads out of toilet paper on a camping trip with friends when she didn’t realise her period was due.

‘It’s a really uncomfortable situation, when you’re in a social setting, enjoying nature, just constantly aware that you’re leaking blood everywhere with no real way to clean yourself up or do anything much about it,’ she said.

For some, their periods have either stopped or are just too unreliable to track. This isn’t ideal either, but rather than letting the anxiety of ‘what if’ stop them, ultra runner and remote worker Sarah’s attitude is ‘Nothing exciting happens whilst you stay stuck in your comfort zone’. But preparing well can help make the situation more comfortable.

Jane’s an experienced multi-day hiker. Planning her end-to-end walk of the Bibbulmun Track meant she had to factor in multiple periods and plan around waste disposal, hygiene, and ensuring she had enough supplies.


‘I had to overbudget because you can’t just nip down to the shop for another packet’, she said. ‘Our longest stretch between towns and therefore bins was 11 days. Carrying used tampons in my backpack was pretty gross but I couldn’t drop them in the long drops or bury them.’

Jane’s hike was in the days before moon cups and period undies, which have really changed the way we approach living with our periods.

Many of the people I spoke to now use these products. Kirsty was initially hesitant to use a moon cup when camping, but soon realised it was the best camp-period solution she’d experienced.

Eva agrees that period undies provide great protection, especially during the night.

‘If I got my period in the middle of the night, I didn’t want to go outside and find a bathroom to use the cup, so I would have period underwear handy, pull them on in the night and organise my menstrual cup the next day,’ she said.

As a fan of water sports, Eva’s found the moon cup to be a much better option for her than tampons.

Ultra runner Kelli is also a field worker, often spending over ten hours a day out in wet environments for work. She uses both period undies and tampons to manage long periods of time where the combination of a wet environment and finding the opportunity to change may be a challenge.

No matter what products you decide to use, making sure you prepare adequately will help ease any worries when your period comes. This includes practising using products before going on your adventure. ‘The more comfortable you are with your own body and period products, the easier it is to manage outdoors,’ Eva shares.

Hot tip for period preparedness!

I find the best way is to create a period pack and have a waste bag specifically for menstrual waste. Use a dry bag to carry your products of choice as well as wet wipes, hand sanitiser, and biodegradable soap. Some people also like to take disposable gloves with them.

To make a menstrual waste bag, use an extra large zip lock bag and line it with a dark-coloured rubbish bag to make it private.

Alternatively, get hold of a few dog-poo bags from your local park, keep those in the large ziplock bag and use them to put your waste and used undies into. Sprinkle in some bi-carb soda to help dissolve the odours.


DIY period waste bag

Pain Management

Our energy levels change throughout our cycles. Adventurer Lilly tells me, ‘I know the week before my period is usually my worst, I usually don’t feel like doing anything strenuous this week so if I can, I opt to not have any big adventures planned’. For many, with their period comes intense pain and discomfort.

Recently I was on a long run on part of the Bibbulmumn Track. I came across a female solo hiker. Noticing she wasn’t looking very well I asked if she was okay. ‘It’s the first day of my period,’ she said. ‘I shouldn’t be hiking, I really should be resting.’

Lilly told me her period involves intense abdominal pain alongside debilitating nausea. ‘I’ll often vomit or have diarrhoea (or both).’ At the tender age of 14 she began multi-day hiking.

The experience was extremely challenging for her but, ‘As horrible as it was – I managed to do it. I not only learnt how to prepare for the trips physically, but I learnt how to mentally manage my pain’.


While it’s not always advisable to put your body under this kind of pressure, sometimes it’s unavoidable. So what can we do?

‘The main thing I try to plan for is my energy and emotional levels, but that’s not always possible,’ Eva tells me. ‘I have water and ibuprofen close by and comfy clothes to wear. I also find that it’s so important to give yourself time to rest. Just because you’re travelling doesn’t mean every day is going to be amazing.’

Ultra Runner Rachel told me her major plan has “generally been to hope my period doesn’t come up on big adventures”. For Runners, the physical effects of our periods can hugely affect our results.

As a woman in her 50s, Rachel has to deal with fatigue and lethargy, poor temperature regulation, stomach issues and less regular bowel movements. ‘In training if I’m feeling lethargic, I’m simply kind to myself and don’t train’.

Adventurer Jane who is used to long multi-day stretches hiking in remote areas uses a strong analgesia to manage the first 24-36 hours of pain.

Not only that but as a woman going through menopause, temperature regulation can be challenging with hot flushes. For this Jane shares that she’s ‘learning to sleep cooler’. This means having her sleeping bag open at the bottom so she can quickly put her feet out to cool down.

Interestingly for both Rachel and Jane, when being active the physical pain lessons. ‘Was that because I was fitter, distracted? I’m not actually sure,’ Jane offers.

There’s research that suggests light physical exertion reduces the symptoms of pain associated with our periods, it’s also important to stay well hydrated. But as Lilly explains, ‘It isn’t always as straightforward as that, you need to know your own body and make the right decisions for you’.

Understanding how your body responds throughout your cycle will be important when planning any adventure, so you can manage your daily activity in a way that supports your body.

Hot tips for period pain manegement!

Adhesive heat patches are great to use for cramps. Alternatively, make a hot water bottle by filling a bottle with hot water and wrapping it in a piece of clothing.

Privacy and Hygiene in the Wild

Part of Rachel’s hesitation about having her period during an adventure or event is due to the lack of privacy and hygiene, and Kelli feels the same. During an ultra-running event there isn’t always a toilet to nip into. Sometimes the bushland isn’t even that thick, so finding a giant tree to hide behind can also prove a challenge.


When it comes to privacy, in the conversations I had the common theme was actually around communication – letting people know they ‘needed to stop for a wee’ and to ‘just keep going ahead’ so they gave more space.

How do we shift the hesitation we have about openly communicating the fact we have our period and need extra privacy?

If we’re to encourage our girls to get outdoors and be active, the narrative has to be about embracing our natural functions and working with our bodies to get the best out of them.

Ultra runner Kelli recently supported and paced a couple of friends during a large ultra-running event that ended up being cancelled due to dangerous weather conditions.

She found the mental challenge most difficult because of having to worry about her friends as well as having ‘period stuff on my mind’.

Kelli’s concern was around not being able to stop when she needed to and finding privacy to change and clean herself up.

When the conditions turned bad and the rain became torrential, Kellie worried about leakage while wearing period undies.

Then with the lack of aid getting through to the teams for a long period of time due to safety, the worry about running out of products became very real. The anxiety for Kelli in this situation was high and added to the mental load.


Hygiene is another important issue to consider. When water is limited it can be anxiety-inducing knowing you need to keep your body and lady bits clean, not to mention your hands.

Hot tips for period hygiene!

Be sure to pack wet wipes to use for hygiene washes, and to clean your hands when water is scarce. Always use hand sanitiser before changing tampons, or moon cups and make sure to sanitise your moon cup every day.

Open the Flood Gates of Communication

How do we keep a period-positive mindset when it feels as though our bodies and the elements are against us?

‘Yep, it’s tough being a girl,’ Kelli tells me. But she added that ‘there was a bit of period talk after (the ultra-running event), even by men’.



And this is important – keeping communication open helps you feel less isolated. We ourselves gain support and by sharing our experiences, we realise we aren’t alone. Talking about what’s going on normalises this very natural body function.

‘I found it also helped that my boyfriend knows my cycle and my normal symptoms,’ Eva mentioned when I asked her about it.

Letting others know what’s going on with us and what to expect helps relieve the pressure we feel to subtly brush our periods behind the nearest bush.

In spite of the challenges faced when we have our period, when given the choice, what would you do? Lilly summed it up beautifully.

‘I think adventures are worth having, even if they’re going to be a bit uncomfortable or difficult. In some way, if you can embrace the challenge, maybe you can find even more meaning in the process of finding your way through it.’


*Surnames have been removed to retain people’s privacy.

Feature image thanks to @tronle_sg