The most frequent question I get asked from women is how I dealt with a bloody bad period while I was hiking for two months and planting trees in the mountains. Honestly, I was not prepared for this either and I had to figure what works for me best along the way.
The internet is full with advise about how to do our “business” in nature but they rarely mention what women should do when they are out hiking and their period hits in earlier or later or just heavily. So I guess even if I’d done research on the topic, it wouldn’t have helped me much. If you are lucky you can plan your hike, backpacking, camping or travels around your period, but sometimes it cannot be avoided. But my recommendation is to always expect your period and be prepared for anything.
Know where you’re headed
First of all you have to know:
Where are you going and for how long? Are you going to hike, camp, attend a festival or backpacking?
What kind of toilet, waste disposal and washing facilities can you expect?
Is there a supply of clean water for drinking and washing?
How much space do you have in your bag?
Be aware: Travel and stress can affect your moon cycle, causing your period to come earlier or later than usual.
Basic period essentials
The most basic thing you will need to carry with yourself are:
- wet wipes/tissues/toilet paper
- zip lock bag for your used “tools”
- dark pants that hide any accidental stains
- hand sanitizer
- pain relief
I like to use another small bag, so surely I won’t make the zip lock bag dirty and can just throw away whatever is inside. It will keep the dirt and the smells inside.
Pad, tampon or cup?
The next thing you have to decide about it whether you want to use pads, tampons or a lady cup. You’ll need to experiment with this to figure what works best for you. I had some inconvenient experiences while backpacking in India where I simply just couldn’t get to a clean enough, well hidden place where I could just change my tampon without the paralyzing fear of catching some horrible disease down there or being watched by ten random people. So I decided to ditch tampons when I went hiking or camping in the mountains or when I stayed at festivals overnight. I only took a lady cup with me because it takes up less space than a box of tampon would, it’s zero-waste, and you can keep it in for longer in case you can’t find a place where you can clean it.
I still recommend keeping some pads or (my new favorite) a period panty on for emergency cases. When I was walking the El Camino del Norte, often we had to walk through thin paths with the rocks right on your left and a ravine on your right. There was no chance to even get 2 minutes for a quick pee without someone passing by catching you in the act (not to mention, when you’re bending over with your pants down to remove/insert your tampon or lady cup. You wouldn’t even see if someone was coming your way). On a day when I had a really strong flow, I couldn’t get to empty my lady cup and I ended up flooded, trying to save the situation without anyone noticing, using tissues that I kept pushing in my panty to “mop up.” Owning a period panty back then would have solved my problems.
How to Carry and Store Your Hygiene Items
By keeping all your items together inside the larger kit, you just need to pull out one bag when you reach into your backpack for your supplies. Some, however, prefer to keep the two completely separate.
If you’re going to a wilderness or a festival with a zero-waste policy, you’ll need to take everything out with you. Don’t discard or bury menstrual products, because they pose a danger to wild animals. Store them in a resealable plastic bag and you can put them in the trash later. If you’re using a menstrual cup you can pour the contents into any type of toilet. If you’re in a place where there are no toilets you can empty your cup in a “cat hole” six to eight inches deep. Make sure this is located 200 feet away from camp, the trail and any water sources. Pads and tampons (and wet wipes) are not biodegrade—so do not put them in composting toilets.
Be overprepared for cramps
Even though health care providers have been recommending physical activity to reduce menstrual pain since the 1930s, I had bloody bad periods more than once, when I felt dizzy, could barely get up, vomited or even got fever. Definitely make sure you’re prepared to deal with the discomfort. First, bring more than enough pain medication that usually helps you manage cramps. There’s nothing like tossing and turning in your tent or bed all night, besieged with period pain, to make you appreciate the wonders of modern medicine. Wrapping a shirt around a hard plastic bottle filled with very hot water, placed on your lower belly can help ease the pain as well. Hand warmers wrapped in a shirt could yield the same effect.
Natural remedies to ease your pain
Nothing can be worse than having horrible cramps while abroad in a country where you don’t speak the language. Luckily there are some amazing remedies you can get in any local supermarket to help ease the pain.
- bananas: they contain a mineral called boron, which can reduce the intensity and length of the period.
- watermelon: cramps often are cause by water retention. One of the most delicious ways to hydrate is watermelon.
- chamomile tea: contains an anti-inflammatory chemical called glycine that relieves muscle spasms.
- green leafy veggies: they are rich in iron and calcium, which eases cramps, they also replenish your energy
- almonds: contains manganese, a natural muscle relaxant
Period pain reducer tea
My favorite cure for a bloody bad period is a simple tea. Boil 0.5 liter water and pour over a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Sweeten with brown sugar and flavor with freshly squeezed lemon juice. You can drink this several times a day. It will ease your period pain and lessen the bleeding as well.
What about showers?
If you’re camping in the wild or are at a festival without showers, there are a few options for cleaning up. Always make sure to clean your hands with soap and water or sanitizer before and after changing your tampon or cup. If there’s nowhere to wash your hands, you could use your drinking water to clean your hands or to wash out your cup. Though for hands I prefer sanitizer—they’re handy to have in your first aid kit anyway, but this does mean extra waste. You can soap your menstrual cup and rinse with drinking water, or simply wipe it clean with toilet paper. Once you’re back home you can give it a thorough cleaning or sterilize it in boiling water. Hand sanitizer can damage some cups, so if in doubt check with the manufacturer.
What about the bears?
Before you overthink it and start to worry that a wild bear or wolverine will smell out your period and attack you while your hiking, camping, know this: there is nothing to fear. Even though this myth persists, a 2016 paper published by the National Parks Service examined existing research and found no substantial evidence that bears are more attracted to the smell of human menstrual blood than to any other odors. Still, it’s sensible to treat used period products the same as food or any scented item.
With a bit of preparation you can make the most of your trek in the mountains, crush your favorite festival, relax at the campsite.
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Photo: Holly Mandarich via Unsplash