Navigating your period in the backcountry
You've been planning this outdoor adventure for weeks.
It's going to be beautiful - you've heard so much about this place! You have your crew of adventure buddies organized. Your gear is prepped and you’re excited and ready to hit the trails.
And inevitably, that’s when it hits. That thing that happens to our bodies each month…. Your period!!
So, now what? Do you cancel your trip? Or, do you forge ahead?
This is a real and common dilemma that many women and femmes face. But not to fret! We got your back on tips to help you navigate your period while hiking or backpacking.
Removing the stigma around periods
This subject can not only be difficult to talk about but it can also carry a lot of stigma and shame around it.
As young girls, our bodies changed and developed, but our vocabulary around what we were experiencing didn’t grow alongside these physical changes. Even as adults, many women and femmes have a hard time expressing what they are feeling physically, mentally and emotionally regarding their periods.
The words “period” and “menstruation” are whispered, followed by a blush. Periods aren’t talked about openly, and especially not in a patriarchal society. Our diverse cultural landscapes also dictates what is, and what’s not, appropriate regarding our bodies and our periods.
We get it...kind of. It’s a messy topic! But should we shy away from talking about this very real experience that half of the world goes through?
We don’t think so!
Thankfully, the dialogue around periods is starting to change! And words like “Diva cup” and “period panties” are becoming more mainstream.
At LAAF Travels, we aim to take the stigma out of talking about our periods. You deserve to be recognized for what you are going through with your periods, and to not feel like you need to hide it. “Hello, World! I’m on my period...and it’s a bitch!”
You know your body best
Firstly, no one knows your body better than you do.
Every woman and femmes' experience is different. For many, it causes discomfort leading up to and even during the flow. For others, it can be quite debilitating and more than uncomfortable- it can be very painful. And on top of the physical sensation of periods, the mental and emotional side effects can be equally challenging to deal with.
All that to say, you know what's best for your body during those moments.
Self-care and periods
Rest. Sleep is one of the best remedies for being on your period, or at least at preventing a daily breakdown.
Drink enough water. Hormones can have an effect on your hydration levels, so it doesn’t hurt to drink more than you usually would that time of the month. Plus, when you’re on the trail with your period, the chances of dehydration are higher.
Get outside and move. Exercise and movement has more benefits than drawbacks during your period. Though you might be feeling lethargic and tired, working out has been shown to lessen the symptoms of PMS and boost your mood.
And nothing compares to doing this outdoors, where you can breathe some fresh air and let your anxiety, frustration or sadness out through movement.
You’ve got options for periods in the backcountry!
Of course, there’s your classic options - pads and tampons - that you can use in the backcountry. There’s no secrets here, you use them the same way you would in the front country.
Some lesser known options to think about that might suit your needs (as well as the planet’s!) are these:
Period panties. These underwear are designed to hold your flow. They are super absorbent, odor-free and will give you that extra sense of leak-proof confidence as you tromp around in the woods. And bonus, you won’t be throwing them away after each use! You can clean them in the washing machine and voila, they’re good to go for the next cycle.
Menstrual cups. These are how they sound, a flexible, rubber or silicone cup that you insert into your vagina to catch your flow. These feminine hygiene products are nice because there’s no waste to bring back to the trailhead with you. You simply reuse the same cup over and over again.Mother Nature is probably grateful for this.
No matter the method you use, make sure to wash your hands after doing your business in a nearby body of water or, with your water bottle and soap. If that’s not available, rinse your hands and then use hand sanitizer as a backup until you can wash your hands properly.
Tips and tricks for navigating periods in the backcountry
So, you have your pads, tampons, period panties, or menstrual cups.
What are your options if you decide to pursue your normal activities, whether you’re going to push through whatever discomfort you may be feeling or, because your periods are mild and don't prohibit you from getting outdoors?
Here's how to “use the bathroom” in nature:
Use a trowel to dig a cat hole. This hole should be about 6 inches deep and 4 inches across. (Make sure you’re doing this 200 feet, or 70 adult-sized steps, away from your campsite and any water source.)
Once you have your hole, squat over it and do your business. (If you’re using a menstrual cup, dump the contents into the hole.)
Cover the hole up. Remember, you want to leave no trace!
Pack out your used pads and tampons. Tip: use a Ziplock bag wrapped with duct tape on the outside as your discreet waste bag.
Wash and sanitize your hands.
Option: if you’ll be in the woods for more than one night, you may opt to bring a rag to wash yourself in a stream. Or, you can bring wipes with you as long as you PACK THEM OUT. Put them in your discreet Ziplock bag and throw everything away back at the trailhead or once you get home.
Mental health awareness around periods
We'd like to acknowledge periods as they relate to our mental health.
Most women experience PMS (or premenstrual syndrome) leading up to and during their periods. This can be a period (pun intended) of physical, mental and emotional pain and discomfort. Some even experience a more debilitating form of PMS called PMDD (or premenstrual dysphoric disorder) which affects 3-8% of women.
During PMS, our estrogen and progesterone hormone levels increase, while our serotonin levels decrease (lower serotonin levels correlate to depression, anxiety, “the blues”). This can lead some women and femmes to feel more tired and bloated and to experience mood swings, irritability, and more.
For those with PMDD, the symptoms can be even more severe. You may experience depression, extreme mood swings, difficulty with staying motivated and focusing, and more.
If these are things that you experience, we want you to know- you’re not crazy. You’re seen. You’re heard. And you’re not alone.
If you are concerned about the symptoms you are experiencing, consider talking to your doctor about it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional, such as a counselor or therapist.
Be kind to yourself- you’re going through a lot! Pay attention to what you need during this time. For some of you, it helps to be around other women and femmes that can relate. For others, you might need time and space away from other people. It’s okay to be moody, and to need solitude.
If you have the option, it might be a good time to lessen your workload and to spend more time on self care.
It’s safe to go backpacking on your period
The myth that women can attract bears on their period is just that- a myth. And it’s also a line from the movie Anchorman.
“I read somewhere their periods can attract bears. The bears can smell the menstruation.”
That’s according to the anchorman Brick, and what does he know about women, or bears?
Probably not much.
There’s been no significant evidence linking bear attacks to women on their periods, or evidence that menstruation attracts bears more than any other odor.
The do’s and dont’s of backpacking on your period
To recap, let’s go over the most important things to remember about having your period in the backcountry:
-Bury your tampons or pads in the backcountry- bears might dig them up and according to the National Park Service, this can attract bears to that same odor again (though there isn’t any strong evidence to do with periods. In general, any ‘reward’ a bear finds, it will seek again).
-Leave behind ANY trash- that includes tampons, pads and wipes.
-Pollute water sources by going to the bathroom too close to one. Keep at least a 200 feet distance.
-Overdo it. If you’re feeling tired or lethargic, don’t push it too hard. If you usually have very low energy during your period, it might be a good idea to postpone your backpacking trip. But for some women and femmes, this might be the best time to go backpacking and to get out of your headspace.
-Use unscented pads and tampons. In general, it’s a good idea to be as scentless as possible in the backcountry. i.e. - avoid wearing lotions and deodorants.
-Be prepared. If there’s a chance you might be on your period for your planned camping or backpacking trip, make sure to bring all the necessary items. It’s better to carry some extra weight than to start your period without any supplies, which could be messy and really not fun.
-Take Ibuprofen with you if that usually helps.
-Take care of yourself. Make sure you are eating enough, drinking enough water and getting the sleep you need.
Come backpacking with LAAF Travels!
At LAAF Travels, we aren’t afraid to talk about periods and other less sexy stuff. We are more than willing to provide you with tips and tricks on navigating your periods in the outdoors.
Come on our Backpacking Basics Course to learn about this and much more! You can read about our upcoming summer trips here.
By: LAAF Co-founders Katie & Megan