A common question asked is, “can you go backpacking on your period?” After all, traveling or exercising during your period can be inconvenient.
It is completely okay to be worried about how you will deal with your flow when backpacking. Navigating around your period cycle while understanding challenging routes can feel overwhelming. You feel more tired than usual, and the days seem to pass by in slow motion.
Yes, you can definitely go backpacking on your period. However, there are some additional measures you will need to take, like showering often and washing your underwear with your hands. Moreover, you will have to use a menstrual cup or cloth compresses and figure out how to dispose of them.
When you go backpacking on your period, it is important that you have a backup plan. After all, you never know how your body might react while traveling, and it is not worth taking a chance with your period.
Let’s find out how you can go backpacking on your period, things you need to keep in mind, and accessories you should take along with you when you know you are close to your period date.
Can You Go Backpacking on Your Period?
When you get your period on the road, the pain in your stomach might be intensified by the pain in your head. Your legs might feel fine, but your kidneys may hurt. Your period may affect you differently than it affects others, but one thing that all women can agree on is that getting your period, especially when you are backpacking, is highly uncomfortable.
You may love backpacking, but as soon as you start PMSing, you might start to feel tired and sad- feelings that come every month but never seem to diminish in intensity.
Managing and understanding your period when traveling through foreign lands is difficult. You miss the comfort of your home, night suit, and of course, shower. When you backpack through less developed countries, finding a box of tampons may be difficult. You might be unable to find your usual box of sanitary products and might have to visit different pharmacies and stores with a picture of what you want constantly flashing on your phone.
To ensure that you get through your backpacking trip comfortably even while on your period, here are a few things to remember:
Get Your Facts about Bears Right
Many people believe that just because one is bleeding, bears are more likely to smell the scent of blood and attack. However, according to the National Parks Service, this is nothing more than a myth. Bears are not attracted to the scent of human blood any more than they are attracted to other scents. This means that your period blood will not ring a siren in the bear world and cause them to charge toward you.
However, the waste you leave out in the open while you are on your period can be a problem. Everyone knows that when you are on your period, your craving for food increases. However, leaving that food or crumbs or even wrappers out in the open can attract bears and other dangerous animals. Similarly, leaving your used tampons and pads in the open can create a problem as the scent of blood may attract other wild animals.
The key is to dispose of your menstrual waste properly and treat it just as you would treat other kinds of trash; you should be okay. It is highly unlikely that you will find animals at the campsite looking to attack you at night.
Now that we have established that bears are not a concern when you get your period while backpacking, let’s figure out how you should manage your period and what kind of pad you can use.
Period Management While Backpacking
1. Menstrual Cup
If you choose to use a menstrual cup for your period, you must know how to dump and clean it. Most brands recommend that their cups can be worn for 12 hours at a time, which makes them a great option when backpacking. Since menstrual cups are reusable, they are great for the environment and are more eco-friendly than pads.
However, it is essential to remember that you need to get rid of your period blood from the cup the same way you would get rid of any other human waste. We would recommend digging a cathole six to eight inches into the ground and at least 200 feet away from your campsite. Empty the contents of your cup into this hole and then close the hole again.
Keep in mind that some campsites have regulations that do not allow individuals to bury anything as the waste could find its way into the water supply. If you find that this rule applies to your campsite, empty the period blood into a water bottle. Make sure that this bottle is reusable and keep it covered tightly at all times.
Keeping your menstrual cup clean is extremely important to your health when you are in the wild. You must find a source of freshwater to clean the cup or boil it if water is not available. You can disinfect the cup by taking some water and bringing it to a boil. Boiling the water sufficiently is vital so that it is as sterile and clean as possible. Once you are confident, you can drop the cup in the clean boiling water for between 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the brand you are using. You can look at the packaging of your cup to understand how to disinfect it and how long it can stay in boiling water.
In case water is not available to you, you can clean your menstrual cup with some alcohol or make sure of some sterilizing tablets. These cups are a cheap, safe, and environmentally safe option that will make your trip much more comfortable. They are especially great for longer trips.
When backpacking, you may not always have access to water and soap, but it is essential that you keep your hands clean. We would recommend using wet wipes that you can use to clean your hands before dealing with your cup.
2. Tampons or Pads
If you want to stick to traditional methods, disposable products are your best bet, especially pads and tampons. These products can only be used once, making them a cleaner and more sterile alternative to menstrual cups. When you are backpacking and unsure when a freshwater source might be available to you, tampons and pads seem like a safer alternative. However, if you choose to use these products, you will have to pack up the waste and dispose of it properly.
We would recommend using a Ziploc bag and only storing used pads and tampons in it. You can decorate the bag with some bright duct tape so that you do not confuse it with any other bag. If you are worried about whether the waste bag will smell, you can invest in some odor-concealing products to eliminate any lingering smell.
Keep in mind that regardless of how light or heavy your flow is, you should change your tampon every eight hours. If you keep the tampon in for longer than necessary, your vaginal microbiome may be affected. This can cause infections such as bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. Moreover, you may also be at risk for toxic shock syndrome.
On the other hand, Pads are worn on the outside, so you do not have to worry too much about an infection on the inside like you would about tampons. However, you will have to take care of how full your pad gets. Keeping your pad on for hours can make it lose its effectiveness, causing leaks. We would not recommend using scented pads or tampons as their sweet scent could attract wild animals and cause irritation to the human body.
3. Period Underwear
Period underwear prevents you from leaking, almost like a pad. Moreover, there is no fixed time at which you can wear it. However, you must keep in mind that your period underwear can only absorb so much blood before it becomes ineffective. For instance, some period undies hold the blood that is equal to four full tampons.
On days that your flow is heavy, or you are unsure how to wash your clothes, we would not recommend using period underwear. This will only cause issues as these undies need to be washed after every use. Without water, there is not much you can do. You must also ensure that you wash them away from the campsite; otherwise, you risk attracting wild animals.
4. Dealing with Cramps
Since the 1930s, researchers have found that physical activity helps lower menstrual pain. In one study, 11 subjects were looked at, and it was found that levels of prostaglandins are affected by physical activity. These are hormones that play a major part in the contractions and cramps one feels in the uterus when on their period. Of course, physical activity does not work for everyone- it depends on how much pain you are in and what your body can tolerate.
If you find that moving around helps with your cramps, you should go backpacking. You can choose an easier place to backpack too, but you must be prepared to deal with some discomfort.
We would recommend bringing along a pain medication that you have tested in the past to help you deal with your cramps. There is nothing worse than feeling a load of pain while walking around and tossing and turning all night long because of your period. However, modern medicine works wonders.
If you get your period while you are backpacking, you can make a hot-water bottle all by yourself. To do this, you need to find a plastic water bottle and fill it with hot water. You must make sure that the water is extremely hot. Then, you need to wrap any of your old shirts around the bottle. If you are using a plain plastic bottle that is not insulated, it should bring you some comfort with your cramps. You can also use hand warmers wrapped in an old t-shirt for a makeshift heating pad.
If you are not comfortable with the idea of dealing with your period while backpacking, you can find ways to delay it. Hormonal birth control works well in these situations. This means using birth control pills, vaginal rings, or even patches. All these methods will help delay your period by a week and ensure that you absorb or ingest any hormones. You might find yourself spotting, but this is not your actual period known as withdrawal bleeding.
Let’s say that you are on the pill and want to skip your period altogether to ensure a safe backpacking trip for yourself till you reach the comfort of your home. In this case, you should not take the non-hormonal pills found at the end of the pack. Instead, consume active pills found in a new pack immediately.
If you want to use a vaginal ring, you will have to keep it inside for four weeks. Even though the recommended time is three weeks, four weeks makes it safer. After your fourth week, you need to immediately insert a new ring. This will help you skip the week in which you would normally be getting your period.
If you are looking to use the patch, you need to follow the same rule- skip the patch-free week, and after wearing the same patch for three weeks, you need to put on a new patch immediately.
When done correctly, these are the best and safest ways to skip your period. However, there is no guarantee that manipulating your period will guarantee that you do not get your period. Breakthrough bleeding is always a possibility- you might find drops of blood in between your cycles. This means that even if you have made up your mind that you will skip your period, we would recommend bringing along period supplies anyway.
Moreover, we also recommend asking your doctor before you try new ways to manipulate your period cycle. After all, off-label use calls for some guidance and direction. You must be sure that you can try these methods with the kind of birth control you are using. Moreover, you want to do it properly so that you are still safe from pregnancy if you have been taking birth control pills before. Plan your trip in advance and talk to your doctor. We would recommend figuring out things a month in advance so that you have sufficient time to read up on different options and see what works best for you.
All you need is a bit of preparation so that you do not have to worry too much about dealing with your period while you are backpacking. After all, backpacking is about creating lasting memories that are not filled with glimpses of pain and discomfort. However, if you feel that despite these steps, you will not be able to manage your period because of the pain or flow, we would recommend visiting your doctor and finding alternatives to dealing with unbearable period pain.
6. Period Applications
In today’s fast-tracked world, there are many applications you can use to track your period. This is a great way to understand your cycle and know when your next period is due. You will also be able to understand the hormonal changes in your body and plan for the future.
Once you know when your period will fall, you can plan your trip accordingly. If your backpacking routine involves you hiking up a problematic mountain or spending the day at the beach, you can make your decisions accordingly.
About THE AUTHOR
I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.Read More About Peter Brooks