I had just started a new medication which had the lovely side effect of increasing the flow rate of my menstruation. My kids were bouncing off the walls. I was cranky and irritable. I finally announced, “That’s it! We’re going hiking!”

I tossed our hiking bag together, threw in what I hoped was enough snacks and drove to the Loew Lake Segment of the Ice Age Trail. It’s my “go to” trail. Thirty minutes into our hike, my kids were terribly upset that this wasn’t a Hike it Baby hike (Mom, where are my friends?), and I knew I needed to change my cup.

Man, they were not kidding about the increased flow rate. Normally, the cup wouldn’t have been full until the end of our hike, but we were only a quarter of the way through. Loew Lake has many benefits, but a bathroom isn’t one of them. Plus, it was at least 30 minutes back to the car. Warren (1), being a bit of a runner, was up in our Onya. He was just going to have to stay there. We were right next to the Oconomowoc River and I didn’t trust him to stay out of it. Graham (3) could be bribed with the entire bag of goldfish and a bench to stay put.

I headed off trail. This was a bit back before I knew a lot about Leave No Trace, but I assumed that since blood was pretty smelly and carried pathogens that burial was probably the best choice. Luckily, there was a convenient log to balance on. I dug a hole with the best stick I could locate and took care of business. I still had Warren strapped on my back and had to be where I could see Graham. Needless to say, it was not one of the most relaxing bathroom breaks. However, the real trouble came when I realized I’d left the water and the wipes back with Graham in our daypack. Leaves would have to do this time.

At the end of the hike, we all felt better. I still wasn’t loving the new super heavy flow, but I felt more relaxed and calm and so did my kids. In this house, we call that success.

Periods Show Up Anytime … Bathrooms: Not so much

We’ve all been there. You’ve driven about two hours to the trail head only to find the bathroom locked. Or completely missing altogether. To top it off, you’re on your period and you need a bathroom … NOW.

Or you’re out in nature minding your own business and, suddenly, you realize that today is period arrival day.

Or perhaps you thought you had enough coverage, but surprise! It’s a heavy flow day.

Let’s talk about how to handle your period while in nature.

Consider an Environmentally Friendly Option

Menstrual cups are a great option for reducing your waste in general. Menstrual cups are made in a variety of different sizes and shapes. This is because no two women are the same inside. Two of the most commercially available are the Diva Cup or the Keeper. If you’ve tried one of these and it hasn’t quite worked for you, take a look at this site, Put A Cup In It, which has you take a quiz to figure out which cup is the right fit for you.

Underwear like Thinx are another option for reducing your environmental impact and are a great option for the short day hike or Hike it Baby hike. Simply rinse and wash out when you get home.

Consider a 100% cotton tampon. Companies like Seventh Generation, Natracare and the subscription service Lola produce tampons that don’t have synthetic chemicals and biodegrade faster.

Another thing to think about are reusable pads and pantyliners. Etsy has numerous stores that sell fleece or minky pantyliners and pads. These are a great choice for protection from leaks on day hikes and short trips into the backcountry.

Menstruation, The Trailhead and You by Heidi Schertz for Hike it Baby

Examples of reusable and environmentally friendly menstrual products. Left to right: menstrual cup, reusable fleece pad, reusable pantyliner and wet bag

Leave No Trace

Regardless of what method you use to contain your monthly flow, if you need to change your protection while hiking, remember to pack out what you bring in.

  • For those of you who use tampons and pads, check out Animosa. It’s an odor-proof system that allows you to transport your period trash in the backcountry. I love that it’s minimal, comes in two sizes and includes wipes for easy cleanup.
  • For a cost-effective option, cover a Ziploc baggie or Nalgene with duct tape (clearly labeled TRASH) and dispose when back to somewhere with a garbage.
  • Note that unless you use 100% cotton tampons, you must pack these items out. Most tampons contain synthetics and plastics that don’t biodegrade. This makes them unsuitable for burial.
  • If you use a menstrual cup, and it’s convenient, pack out the fluid. If not, you’ll want to follow the same practices you would for feces. Make a 6″-8″ hole in the ground that’s at least 200 feet away from a water source.
  • This also goes for urination while menstruating. Because of blood’s ability to transport diseases, it’s a good idea to urinate into a hole as well for the duration of your period.
  • Remember not to rinse your cup in a body of water. You’ll want to boil water to sanitize and clean your cup.

Quick Tips

  • Pack along wet wipes to clean up your hands.
  • Use a rubber surgical glove to keep your hands clean. As a bonus, you can use this to wrap your tampon in. It also can hold the fluid from your cup. It’s a good idea to have a few in your medical kit for emergencies.
  • Do remember to store period items in a bear canister or bear box while in bear country.
  • If you’re on a quick day hike, a wet bag, like the one used for cloth diapers, is a great way to store your period items.
  • Wool underwear and synthetic underwear are better options than cotton while on your period. The extra wicking is helpful with all the extra moisture generated by the blood.

Don’t let your period keep you home

If what makes you feel good is getting out of the house and into the fresh air, then don’t let your period stop you. I’ve found that hiking when I’m cranky and irritable changes the outlook of my day. So why would I want to remove that option on the days I need it most? I’ve tweaked my system and learned to plan for my period so that I feel prepared.

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Do you have a period survival story? Or a tip that perhaps we’ve missed? Share with me in the comments below. 

One thought on “Menstruation, the Trailhead and You

  • Stephanie
    Stephanie Jacobson

    I love love love the talk about periods on the trail. I feel like this is definitely something that keeps a lot of women at home!

    My most recent story is a two night camping trip to a primitive cabin in Shenandoah National Park this past November… I was seriously hoping I’d make it until after the trip before starting my period, but of course got it our first night there! The cabin had an outhouse, and I just kept a plastic bag in there, made sure everyone in our group knew to leave it alone, and used that for all of my waste, and then packed it out with the rest of our trash.

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