Periods and Backpacking
You’re finally doing it. You saved up for months, packed up your somewhat death-trap of a car, and hit the road to see the United States. The first week went smoothly, but as you’re reaching the top of a hike that was advertised as “moderate” but is definitely “hard,” you have your first “uh-oh” moment of the trip: With your backpack full of water and protein bars, you forgot one essential thing on your nature hike—a tampon.
Women and other people who menstruate already have a lot of extra things to think about whilst traveling compared to cis-men. There is so much pressure to be “careful” when out experiencing the world, so the last thing that should be stopping them is their own period.
Preparing in Advance
Though this might seem like obvious advice, the first step in dealing with your period on the road is to be prepared for it. If you’re not already tracking your flow, it can be helpful to start doing so: This way, you can know for certain when you’ll need menstrual products, and when you won’t (for example: whether you should pack them on an overnight backpacking trip). This can also be useful when planning trips, as you can tailor activities around flow days if need be.
A good rule of thumb for sanitary products is to always have more in your car than you’ll need in a flow cycle, so make sure to have a hearty stash that can be accessible at a moment’s notice. If luck is not on your side and you’ve run out right when the going gets tough, most general stores within National Parks carry period care products.
What to Expect
Whether you realize it or not, traveling can greatly affect your period. The further you venture from your home time zone, the more your hormones and menstrual cycle can be thrown off. For this reason, it is important to always be prepared with menstrual care items, even if your period tracker says you’re not necessarily due yet.
Even if traveling doesn’t put stress on you mentally, your body is affected in different ways that you should become accustomed to. Travel can disrupt your circadian rhythm, which in turn throws off your hormonal timetable. It’s especially key to be conscious of this so that if your period ends up being a couple of days late in a new destination, you don’t have to immediately worry that you’re pregnant, or that something is wrong with your body. Your cycle is simply experiencing jet lag, as is the rest of your body.
When it comes to backpacking, the number one rule is “leave no trace.” People are urged to pack out everything they bring into the wilderness, including used toilet paper. But used menstrual items are a whole other beast, and different products come with pros and cons. Pads and tampons, for example, don’t require any cleaning, but they add ounces to your pack as you’ll need to be carrying both used and unused products for days at a time. In addition, they also need to be stored in a separate, special waste bag to keep your other items clean and mask the scent from bears.
Reusable menstrual cups are good for lessening weight, but the lack of soap and water for cleaning your hands—and the cup—on overnight hikes raises some hygienic issues. A common solution to this is to bring pre-moistened wipes and hand sanitizer, as well a couple of pairs of latex gloves to keep your hands clean when inserting and removing the cup when you are away from water sources. It’s also important to remember that when emptying the contents of your menstrual cup, to adhere to the guidelines of disposing of human waste. This means that it should be emptied into a hole dug six inches into the ground, at least 200 feet away from a water source, and buried. Also keep in mind that cleaning the cup properly in the backcountry will be difficult, so extra care should be taken to clean it when you return home/to your campsite.
You Got This!
There is nothing in this world that should stop you from doing the things you love—least of all your period. Though it can definitely be a nuisance and almost comically ill-timed at points, it only goes to show how powerful menstruating people can be by pushing on with their passions even when their bodies add some challenges. The key is to be prepared: Stay on top of tracking your period, always have an abundance of supplies, and have a plan before you set off anywhere. Good luck and happy menstruating!