The route’s planned, the gear’s packed, and the great outdoors are calling. But… what if you or your kid gets their period on the trail? Everybody’s (okay, nobody’s) favorite monthly visitor can be anxiety-producing in many occasions, but if you’re far from modern plumbing, periods pose additional challenges.
There are lots of options for navigating periods the backcountry. They all come with their own benefits, drawbacks, and tricks to making sure their usage is following Leave No Trace principles. (Remember: leave nothing not created by your body in nature and know how to dispose of human-made waste properly!)
These are reusable, flexible cups that collect menstrual fluid. They’re lightweight and don’t generate waste to pack out. The cup’s contents can be disposed of in the same way as other human waste – in a cat hole 6 to 8 inches deep that’s 200 feet from water sources. The cup should be rinsed with clean water, leaving dirty water in the cat hole. Try out the cup at least one month before the trip, as it can take a few tries to get the hang of using it and determining the correct cup size.
Waste and weight for tampons can be cut in half by using applicator-free tampons. If applicators are preferred (they can help make removal and insertion more hygienic) be sure to pack them out, along with the tampon itself. According to one study, the closest thing to a tampon in terms of decomposition is a disposable diaper, which takes about 450 years to decay! Use an opaque Ziploc bag wrapped with duct tape for used tampons and safely store them with food items. (Although there’s no evidence that menstrual blood attracts bears, unusual odors can attract animals to a campsite.)
Pads don’t require any tricky insertion, but they can feel clunky, be uncomfortable and cause chafing. Bring Body Glide to apply to the inner thighs for comfort. Like tampons, pads and their wrappers must be packed out.
Products like Thinx are super absorbent, leakproof, and often sweat-wicking underwear that can absorb heavy flow. They need to be rinsed out away from streams and lakes with clean water, and can take a couple days to dry.
Wanting to skip the period altogether? Some contraceptive methods such as birth control pills, Nuva Ring, and IUD often eliminate periods. They’re safe and doctor approved. Schedule an appointment with a provider (like Bridgercare!) who will help you or your child decide what will work best.
More game-changing tips:
-Pack baby wipes! Wipes can be helpful in avoiding infection and maintaining cleanliness and comfort.
-Packing out waste? Add crushed up aspirin and dry tea bags to waste bags for odor control.
– Don’t bury anything that’s not made by a body! Items like toilet paper and tampons can be unleashed during rainstorms or dug up and strewn around by animals.
– Bring ibuprofen and adhesive toe warmers for cramps.
– Take the time to take care of yourself and stay clean. Store the cup, pads, or tampons properly and wash hands frequently. Use hand sanitizer or wash hands any time you’re switching out products.
Lastly, if you’re thinking about periods, your kid probably is too! Chat about concerns ahead of time so they feel comfortable and empowered to take their health into their own hands. If you’re looking for suggestions on having those conversations, Bridgercare’s Education Director Cami (firstname.lastname@example.org) would love to hear from you! She offers Puberty Workshops and other options for education. Happy trails!