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October 5, 2022

How To Deal With A Bad Period While Hiking & Camping

Photo by Krivec Ales on Pexels.

The most frequent question I get asked from women is how I dealt with a bloody bad period while I was hiking for months and wild Camping in the Scottish Highlands for weeks. 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 (and mainly focused on men…blah!) 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. Most of the sites advised to plan your hike, or camping around your period, meaning to stay somewhere civilized during your moon time. I was like, really? These advices came off for me as they portrait periods as some unnatural bad thing, something that ruins your life and stops whole life for you. I know it can be as bad that you literally just lay all day but that shouldn’t be considered normal. Periods are the most natural things on Earth. Animals don’t stop with their life when they have it and our ancestors never treated these times as something filthy, unnatural, instead they embraced is as part of our lives. And while I agree that if your period gets so bad, take a day or two out if that feels best (I also do that) but you shouldn’t think of your period ahead, as something that will ruin your fun. So here are some tips I worked out for myself that help me with my period when on the road.

Note: I was never on the pill, so my period is natural but it you’re on the pill not everything you read here might apply.

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 for my zip lock bags. It happened once that it leaked and everything got stained in my backpack.

Pad, tampon or cup?

The next thing you have to decide about is 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… 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 saved me from lots of trouble and unconvinient situation.

How to Carry and Store Your Hygiene Items

Once you’ve decided what items you’re going to bring with yourself, you can make a travel kit. For me, this is a transparent bag with a zipper, where I keep my period cup, two clean period panties, my painkillers, wet wipes, a hand sanitizer, and zip lock bags for the occasional waste.

By keeping all your items together inside the larger kit, Ijust need to pull out one bag when I reach into my backpack for my supplies.

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 are dangerous 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, shivered 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 all night, besieged with period pain, to make you appreciate the wonders of modern medicine. Wrapping a shirt around a water bottle filled with 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 and weight. You can clean your menstrual cup rinsing 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 any other animal 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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