Listen, getting your period sucks. Getting your period outside, while camping, backpacking, climbing or hiking is the absolute worst! I’m here to debunk the taboo of talking about what to do when you’re camping on your period.
Trigger warning: If bodily functions gross you out, don’t read this post.
What Are My Options When “Aunt Flo” Visits on an Outdoor Adventure?
Perhaps you’ve finally decided to head out on that epic camping adventure, and then you realize you’re going to get your period. ARG! WHY?!?! Fear not, I’m here to give you, serval camping hacks when on your period, starting with what to wear.
Using Tampons while Camping, Hiking, or Climbing
If you can’t use any of the alternative methods for dealing with your period in the outdoors and prefer to use tampons, there are serval things you should remember:
- Do not bury your tampons! This is 100% not okay. Be prepared to pack them out by using a plastic baggie. You can cover it in duct tape and sprinkle some baking soda in there to help with visuals and the smell. Alternatively, combine this with your used toilet paper disposal.
- Changing a tampon while in a harness sucks. Trust me.
- Consider using a tampon without an applicator. Applicators provide more waste, which is more volume of trash to pack out.
Using a Menstrual Cup
A menstrual cup, such as a Diva Cup, is a silicone cup you insert and clean out twice daily. If you have a lower flow, you can get away with cleaning it only once. It’s an excellent option for getting your period while camping, hiking, and climbing. Since you can simply insert and forget it, it’s the hassle-free way to deal with your period while camping, hiking or climbing.
Bonus points because it eliminates all waste, and is a plastic-free product. However, ladies with a heavier flow may find that the cup doesn’t work for them. If you’re traveling in bear country, you’ll also still want to seal it up in a plastic baggie with your other smelly food and trash when it isn’t in use.
Re-usable Pads and Period Underwear
If the menstrual cup freaks you out, or you have a heavier flow, consider investing in some period underwear (with a built-in pad) or re-usable pads. These items work well, but require a bit more maintenance and take up more space.
Like the cup, you’ll want a dedicated baggie to throw the used pads and underwear in when not in use. However, this is a viable option for women with heavier flows who don’t want to deal with changing a tampon every few hours.
Skip Your Period
One option, especially if you are on a birth control pill, is to skip your period. A lot of women do this, although I’m going to advise that you talk to your doctor first. It’s relatively easy to skip, simply don’t take the week of placebo pills in your pack and go straight to the next pack. There can be medical implications from skipping your period, so be sure to check with your doc first.
How to Clean the Magical Menstrual Cup Without a Bathroom
As a long-time Diva Cup advocate, I get asked frequently how to clean a menstrual cup without a bathroom. Here’s how it works.
- Walk a distance away from camp – at least 100 feet (35 adult steps). Be sure to be 200 feet (70 steps) away from trails and any water sources.
- Bring a small amount of water with you (try to use less).
- Dig a cat hole 6 to 8 inches deep as if you were going to poop.
- Squat and do your business if you have to, then remove the cup.
- Turn the cup upside down and empty the contents the best you can into the hole.
- Fill the cup with water and use your finger (clean your hands with hand sanitizer first) to rub and clean the cup as best you can.
- Dump the contents in your cat hole. Rinse the cup with a little bit more water (remember to conserve) both inside and out. Rinse your hands.
- Re-insert the cup.
- Sanitize your hands.
- Cover your cat hole and pack out any used TP.
- NEVER use hand sanitizer or other cleaners to clean your cup. It’s really unhealthy to put chemical cleaners on the cup, then re-insert it.
If you’re short on water, don’t use your precious hydration to clean your cup. As gross as it sounds, repeat steps 1 through 5, then simply wipe out the cup on both sides with toilet paper, starting with the outside first. Pack out your toilet paper in your duct-tapped plastic baggy.
Yes, this is gross and yes it is a dirtier method, but if you’re backpacking in the desert, or taking a limited amount of water for a burly, dry, day hike, you’d rather be a little dirty than risk dehydration. Clean yourself and your menstrual cup properly at home.
How to Clean Period Underwear and Re-usable Pads Without a Bathroom
Follow the above steps, except instead of using a little water, you’ll need a bit more. Clean your period underwear or re-usable pads, wringing them out over the cat hole. The point is to make sure you bury the waste to avoid attracting unwanted wildlife.
Hang your underwear or pads in a sunny spot to dry, or simply don’t clean them at all. Instead, pack them out like you would tampons and take care of the mess at home. As always, seal them in their own baggy and store with your odor-proof storage system if you’re camping in the wilderness.
Want more feme-focused content? I’m not afraid to get real with what it takes to get outside as a woman:
- Go Like a Pro: A Guide to Pee Funnels
- Kick-Ass Outdoor Clothing for Women on Any Budget
- How to Find a Comfy Pair of Hiking Boots
- Signs You’re a Lady Dirtbag
Hiking or Camping on Your Period with Bears and Other Wildlife
A lot of women wonder if they attract bears by being on their period. The short answer is no unless you’re toting around a lot of smelly treats that bears would be curious about.
The key to hiking or camping on your period with bears is to make sure you use that sealable baggy for any waste associated with your flow. Store the bag in an odor-proof container, such as a bear vault or an odor proof bag (take note of any regulations where you are traveling).
Aside from camping on your period with bears, you’ll also want to protect your period waste from other critters such as foxes. Foxes love human waste and will go to extreme measures to get to it. It may sound cute, but the last thing you want is a hole in your tent from a curious fox.
Honestly, my best piece of advice is to use a cup if you are hiking and camping with your period in bear territory. It’s the most hassle-free way to manage your period, and you can bury your waste far from camp and out of harm’s way.
Tips for a Heavy Flow in the Outdoors
Have a heavier flow? The Diva Cup or other mensturual cup product may not be the right answer for you. There are a few ways to deal with a heavy flow in the outdoors. My best piece of advice is to carry a backup. Couple a Diva Cup with a re-usable pad or wear period underwear with your tampon in.
That way you have a bit more time and you don’t have to fret as much about constantly changing and checking yourself. Unfortunately, you may have to deal with a bit more maintenance to keep clean and tidy, but you’ll thank yourself from avoiding an embarrassing leak on the trail!
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How to Deal with Your Period While Climbing
Nothing is worse than having to deal with a bodily function while roped up, much less have to change a tampon while hanging from a cliff! Climbing with your period can be a real nuisance, but with a Diva Cup, you won’t have to worry unless you’re spending the night on a portaledge. (If that’s the case, first, you’re a total badass, and second, follow the steps for cleaning your cup above, except use your WAG bags or poop tube to empty your cup).
If you have to deal with the situation at hand, try and time it right so that you’re stopping when you have to switch over gear (like swapping leads on a multi-pitch route). Get your gear swapped over and your materials ready (remember, don’t ditch tampons or other waste on the crag, that’s ultra un-cool!).
Loosen your harness, including the leg loops and hike it up high and tighten so the harness stays up, but your leg loops stay loose. Undo your bottoms as much as you need to for working room. Sling the rope (without untying) over your shoulder so it’s out of the way. Do your thing, remember, pack out all of your waste! If you’re cleaning out your menstrual cup, use the toilet paper method, to avoid raining nasty waste water down on other climbers or hikers. Clean your hands and off you go!
Hacks for Thru-Hiking on Your Period
When you’re thru-hiking, getting your period is inevitable. It’s going to happen unless you’re prepared to skip it. Here are a few handy hacks for thru-hiking with your period:
- Consider a menstrual cup. I really can’t stress the positives of using a menstrual cup while hiking enough!
- If you do opt for tampons, consider using ones with minimal waste and no applicator. This saves on weight, trash, and bulk.
- Clean re-usable pads or period underwear whenever you get the chance. Remember, walk off and clean 200 feet from water sources.
- There is no shame in doing your laundry in a sink. Zero. Shame. Just clean up thoroughly if you’re in a public place.
- Hang it from your pack to dry. Be proud of being a woman. You’re hiking your ass off – there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Periods are something to shy away from. As women, we have to deal with them, whether we want to or not. Going on a day hike with your period or even camping during that time of the month doesn’t have to be a monumental pain. Sure, it’s annoying, but with these camping period hacks, you’ll be all set to still have a kick-ass time on your outdoor adventure.