Managing your period in the outdoors
Posted on Dec 18, 2017 by Anna Boardman
An outdoor women’s guide to handling everyone’s favourite time of the month: your period.
Those pesky periods shouldn’t stop you from enjoying your outdoor adventures. With a little preparation and knowledge, you won’t have to think twice about heading into the wilderness at any time of the month. Operations guru and wilderness guide, Anna shares some key info on managing your period in the outdoors.
– See our Wilderness Walking – What to Pack guide for a more general walking holiday kit list.
What should you use?
Your main choices are between tampons and a menstrual cup. If you use pads at home, bring pads, as it’s not the time to start experimenting with something new and you need to be comfortable that everything will be ok. However, pads are more bulky and not suitable for water activities, so it makes things easier to take some time to learn to use tampons or a cup at home before you go.
This is a flexible silicone cup you insert to catch menstrual blood and remove later to empty the contents. Brands may have different sizes based on your age, flow amount or childbirth history. It’s reusable, often up to years at a time, making it an eco-friendly and money-saving option and you’ll only need one product for your entire trip. You can safely keep it in for up to 12 hours, depending on your flow, as it holds up to 3 times more than a regular tampon. It does take practice to insert correctly, so do get used to using it before you head off.
Tampons and/or pads
Some folk strongly prefer tampons over menstrual cups and there’s nothing wrong with that, just make sure you bring enough supplies to last the trip. Its best to bring the non-applicator tampons, to save some weight, space and waste.
Knickers with a waterproof layer have recently undergone a revival. Their moisture-wicking fabric captures leaks and protects against stains, but they look and feel the same as everyday underwear. They can’t really replace the need for other protection entirely (especially if you have a heavy flow) but they are great as a back up when your menstrual cup runneth over, providing peace of mind when you’re not in a position to be able to empty/change your product.
Kit to take
Use a small roll top dry bag ( I recommend this 3 litre one from Cotswolds) and fill with the following:
- Clean tampons/pads/menstrual cup.
- Wad of toilet paper
- Resealable sandwich bag to keep the items above nice and dry.
- Hand sanitiser – good for killing bugs on your hands pre and post if you can’t wash them, but never use it on your genitals.
- Waste bag – a large resealable sandwich bag is perfect for this, you can store it in another non-see through dry bag if you’d rather or wrap it duct-tape. Wrap your waste in toilet paper or the scented sanitary disposal bags and seal it carefully. Once you’re back in civilisation you can dispose of this whole bag.
- A small trowel for digging your cat hole (there’s not necessarily a need for one trowel each if you’re in a group, but if you like to be discreet take your own). I recommend this one from Cotswold’s.
- Unscented wet wipes can make life a lot easier (some manufacturers do advise against using wipes or sanitiser on their menstrual cups).
- Biodegradable soap for washing hands and possibly your underwear.
- Sanitary disposal bags. I recommend these from FabLittleBag.com. Fantastic wee biodegradable bags. Starter pack of 25 bags for £4.49. Online shop here.
Use & disposal
After you empty out the cup, rinse it with clean water if possible, or wipe it out with tissue, and reinsert it. You can do this as often as you need to. Some people even pee on the cup to rinse it, then wash it when they get a chance. You may prefer to use the cup only at night or only during the day. A cup can be boiled for a thorough cleaning.
For disposal you’ve got a couple of options:
- Empty the cup into heavy duty, resealable bag and “pack it out” like you would with any other waste.
- Using Leave No Trace principals, dig a 6 – 8 inch deep cathole, away from water sources, paths and people, empty the cup and bury the contents. See here for details https://lnt.org/learn/principle-3
Wrap the used product in toilet paper or wet wipes and put it in the resealable waste bag. You’ll have to “pack it out” along with any applicators or wrappers. Under no circumstances should you bury your used products even if they say they’re biodegradable/compostable, these products can take many years to rot away and will often be brought back to the surface by the weather or animals before that happens.
– Privacy is an obvious one maybe, but do plan for a bit more privacy than a normal pee stop.
– Hygiene keeps you going strong. Make sure you understand the basics of cleanliness in the outdoors.
– Understand the Leave No Trace principles. More info here – http://www.leave-no-trace-training.co.uk/
– Wear quick drying sports underwear that can be easily washed and reused.
– If you suffer from cramps or other symptoms don’t forget your painkillers. Ibuprofen is a popular choice, but do talk to your pharmacist or doctor as there are thought to be risks associated with taking them during strenuous exercise.
– Keep your tampons and pads dry – they’ve used up all their absorbency once they’re wet and will be completely useless when you come to using them.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Being active outside will already require more water, but at this time of month, you’ll need to be even more hydrated.
Whilst on a Wilderness trip
If you need any help getting hold of the products you need, then please talk to your Guide who will be happy to help regardless of whether they have personal experience. They have supplies of pads or tampons if you run out and extra bits and pieces for managing your periods whilst out in the wilderness.
And last but not least
Have a bit of patience and understanding for any normally fast and fit female who’s in pain, more tired than usual, or taking long loo breaks. Periods can be a bloody nuisance and its important we look out for each other!
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