Bloating, cramps and achy backs make that time of the month extremely uncomfortable, and the thought of heading outdoors—where clean water and a hot shower can be elusive—seems too inconvenient and almost unbearable. But with proper preparation and the right tools, you can feel more comfortable and at ease about managing your period while camping, overnight hiking or going on a multi-day paddling adventure.
Being on your period doesn’t have to stop you from getting outside and adventuring. These tips will help you have an enjoyable camping, paddling or hiking adventure during that time of the month.
Which Period Products Are Right for You?
With a wide variety of period products available, knowing what works best for you will take some time to figure out. When trying out new products, make sure to do it in the comfort and familiarity of your own home instead of on an adventure where running water and a proper toilet may not be available. There are pros and cons no matter which method you choose, and it all comes down to personal preference, so stick with what you’re most comfortable with.
While menstrual cups cut down on waste and are ideal for hiking and swimming, you’ll need a clean water source to clean out the cup. Depending on your flow, most are safe to wear for up to 12 consecutive hours before needing to be emptied and cleaned, so you can also use it for overnight protection. If you’re not near a bathroom, you’ll need to dig a cathole 15 to 20 centimetres deep and at least 60 metres away from a water source. Dump the contents of the cup into the cathole. The cup will also need to be cleaned using potable water. In a designated pot, allow water to reach a rolling boil before placing the cup in the pot. Different brands have different instructions, but DivaCup advises boiling it for five to 10 minutes between uses. This water should also be dumped into the cathole before covering it up.
Tampons and Pads
This more traditional way of managing periods requires you to dispose of the waste properly if you’re planning on being somewhere without equipped trash receptacles. Following the Leave No Trace principles, you’ll need to allow room in your pack to store used tampons and pads until the end of your trip. These products, even the organic or biodegradable kind, should never be disposed of in pit toilets or buried in catholes as animals can dig them up.
Period underwear, by brands like Proof and Thinx, can be a convenient alternative to managing your flow. This underwear can be worn on its own or paired with a cup or tampon for extra protection. These come in different absorbencies, ranging from one regular tampon’s worth to five. Thinx also boasts a variety of different cuts for different purposes. The quick-drying ability of Thinx Air is ideal for backpacking and the cut of the Thinx Sport allows for more movement on the trails. Thinx's period leggings and Knix’s leakproof leggings are also great options for convenience and comfort in the outdoors. Bonus: these do not look like period pants, so no one will know.
If you're planning an overnight adventure, then it's best to bring more than one pair of period underwear or leggings so you always have a clean pair ready to wear. You can wash the used pairs in a dedicated pot and dispose of the water as described above, or you can pack them in a sealed Ziplock bag to wash at home.
How To Deal with Cramps
For those of us who have to deal with persistent cramps each month, there are a few ways to ease the pain. Other than over-the-counter medication, try wrapping a t-shirt or towel around an uninsulated bottle filled with hot water. For maximum mobility, try an adhesive heat patch. Heat patches allow you to be discreet while on the trail.
How To Pack It Out
If you’re planning on being somewhere in the backcountry without proper trash receptacles, you’ll have to pack out what you pack in. Use a Ziplock bag to seal up used period products. Cover it with brightly coloured duct tape to keep the contents private. This also ensures you won’t accidentally mistake the bag for anything else. For help with odour control, try popping some dry tea bags in the waste bag.
Have a System
Keep your pack organized by putting together a kit with all your period products and a separate Ziplock bag so you can access everything easily. This kit should include hand sanitizer or baby wipes, biodegradable soap, toilet paper and your chosen period products. To help feel clean and fresh throughout your adventure, pack some gentle cleansing wipes, like these ones from Rosebud, or a portable camping shower if you’ll have privacy to wash.
If you’re using a cup or period underwear, then you’ll also need to include a pot in your kit to clean these products.
iStockWhile the idea of bears being particularly attracted to period blood is thankfully a myth, any waste from period products should still be stored away for the night in your vehicle or bear-safe container when you sleep, the same way you would with scented toiletries and food products.