How to Hike During Your Period
Many women are uncertain about backpacking during their periods. Is it sanitary? Is it safe? The short answer to both questions is “yes.” Here is everything you need to know to get started:
Pads, Tampons and Cups – Oh My!
According to my research, tampons are both recommended and preferred. The National Park Service (www.nps.gov) recommends using tampons over pads because tampons are internal and therefore reduce the odor of menstruation. Women often tell me they prefer tampons because they find pads bulky and messy during backpacking. Personally, I have always used pads and never had any problems. Choose what makes you comfortable.
There are a few “cup” products on the market that you insert like a diaphragm to catch, rather than absorb, menstrual fluid. I have never tried these. If you’re interested, check out www.devacup.com or www.keeper.com.
For sanitary concerns, baby wipes and hand sanitizer are recommended. Both are available in convenient, lightweight packaging. If you decide to take a bath follow Leave No Trace principles (wash at least 200 feet away from the water source using biodegradable soap).
Avoid Scented Products
There is no reason to carry anything scented into the outdoors, especially if it catches the attention of curious critters who might decide to investigate. Make sure all pads, tampons, baby wipes and hand sanitizer are unscented.
Storing Used Products
When disposing of used sanitary products seal them in an airtight Ziploc bag to reduce the odor of menstrual blood. Some women prefer to double bag used products or wrap them in foil. Place the Ziploc bag with your other trash. Always pack out your trash, including used sanitary products. If you bury them an animal might dig them up and, perceiving them as food, begin to associate the smell of menstrual blood with dinner time. Not cool.
At night, hang all used sanitary products with your food and other trash.
Bears and Menstruation
One of the most common misconceptions of backpacking during your period is that a bear, crazed by the scent of menstrual blood, will attack and kill you. Multiple studies documented by the National Park Service show no evidence of bears attacking women simply because they are menstruating. Take all necessary precautions when hiking in bear country to avoid an unwanted encounter but don’t cancel your trip just because you happen to be on your period. You have a better chance of being attacked by a bear for lingering in his huckleberry patch too long.
The Gym Class Myth
Remember in gym class when girls would sit out because their period somehow precluded them from participating in physical activity? Come on, girls. We all know you were just using this as an excuse not to mess up your hair or get sweaty. Unless you have special medical concerns associated with your period, it is perfectly safe and even advisable to exercise during menstruation. In fact, many studies show that women who exercise regularly experience less menstrual pain and shorter periods.
Exercise and Irregular Periods
Although most women who backpack for a couple days to a week will probably not notice a change in their periods, women who are thru-hiking might. Any time a woman exercises intensively on a regular basis – for example by hiking 15 to 20 miles a day every day for five or six months – she might notice irregularities in her period. It might arrive early or late with a longer or shorter duration or even stop altogether. If you are planning to thru-hike, be prepared for this. If you experience any changes to suggest the problem is caused by something more than exercise, see your doctor immediately.