Whether in the backcountry or close to your own backyard, there’s nothing like spending time in nature. When plans coincide with menstruation, you don’t have to put the brakes on camping trips or hiking itineraries. Make the most of your adventure no matter what time of the month, with answers to these common questions and tips for handling your period outdoors.
Can I still go hiking and camping on my period?
You can do ANYTHING! No, seriously. As long as you feel comfortable and prepared, there’s nothing stopping you from enjoying a swim, hike, or any other outdoorsy activities during menstruation. It may mean packing a little more carefully or carrying a few extra ounces in your pack, but planning ahead will make menstruating outdoors a much more pleasant experience.
I heard that periods attract BEARS!
Not true! Having your period will NOT attract bears. The National Park Service published research in 2016 that showed no evidence of bears being more attracted to the scent of menstrual blood than to any other smells.
That being said, products associated with menstruation should be hung out of bear reach as you would do with any other trash or hygiene items, such as toothpaste. You can rest assured, however, that menstruating doesn’t make you bear bait.
So how do you deal with your period in the outdoors?
There are a few more things to think about when menstruating outside the privacy of your own home, when you can’t just open the bathroom cabinet or run to the store for supplies. Planning ahead and knowing what to expect from your adventure will be hugely helpful in navigating the outdoors on your period.
Here’s a quick list of things to consider:
- Activity you’ll be doing and at what level
- Bathroom and running water access
- Managing menstruation and hygiene away from home and possibly without access to running water
Choosing Your Activity
As with any activity, you have to listen to your body when it comes to hiking and camping on your period. The great outdoors can be a serene and relaxing experience, but they can also put you pretty far outside your comfort zone. Make the best decision for you when the time comes, whether that means taking a rain check on outdoor adventures or adjusting the plan to better suit your needs for a shorter excursion or easier terrain.
Access To Facilities
If you’re camping in established campgrounds with typical drive-up campsites, you’ll likely also have access to bathroom facilities. In this case, treat cleaning your menstrual cup as you would in any public bathroom (your level of discretion is totally up to you) by flushing the collected blood and wiping or rinsing your cup.
Backpacking trips or backcountry camping may require you to be a little more creative when it comes to cleaning your cup, as you may not have access to any kind of toilet or privy in the wilderness. Follow Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics’ protocols for disposing of menstrual blood by digging a 6-inch cat hole and pouring any blood and cleaning water into it before burying. If you won’t have access to clean water along the trail, plan to carry enough to keep your cup clean throughout your journey.
Making A Period Plan
While there are plenty of steps you can take to be prepared and have a great time, planning for your period and maintaining good hygiene outdoors is important. For the majority of folks, there are two options for managing menstruation in the outdoors: tampons and pads or menstrual cups.
Both options have pros and cons, but the overarching benefits of the menstrual cup — like the zero-waste and one-time purchase factors — make it the better option for many. Menstrual cups can also be worn for up to 12 hours at a time without risk of toxic shock syndrome. They’re also super easy to pee with in, so they really are perfect for a full day of hiking with few interruptions.
When using a menstrual cup without running water you can pour clean water over it, utilize wipes, clean with dry cloths, or use a collapsible cleaning cup (just toss your cup in with clean water and give it a good shake!). For disposal of menstrual blood and cleaning water, LNT states that catholes should be 200 feet from water sources, trails, or campsites. If you do opt to use tampons in the wilderness, have a separate bag for ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ and always pack out used sanitary products with your trash. Never bury tampons, toilet paper, or any other trash.
What to pack for menstruating while camping:
- Menstrual cup
- Clean water
- Sealed container for cleaning
- Hand sanitizer
- Backup period underwear (optional – and period underwear are always a great choice)
- Hygiene wipes (optional – while none should be left behind, as previously noted, biodegradable wipes are ideal)
Good hygiene in the backcountry is also key to having a happy period. You’ll want to be able to change or wash and dry your underwear if you experience any leakage. If you happen to have an extra heavy flow you might want to keep an extra pair, or carry period absorbent underwear. If you know you won’t be having a shower for a couple of days, wiping your vagina gently between menstrual cup changes using a clean washcloth or feminine hygiene wipes is an option to help prevent potential bacteria.
Some studies have suggested that physical activity can be majorly beneficial to those experiencing some of the negative symptoms associated with menstruating, but you have to decide what’s best for you. The great outdoors can be incredibly healing, and if your body is still itching to get out there then your period doesn’t have to slow you down.