Do you want to head out into the outdoors, but aren’t sure about backpacking on your period?
Have you ever skipped going hiking on your period with friends because you were afraid you wouldn’t be able to keep up?
Maybe you’ve wondered if bears can smell period blood or if it’s just a myth?
It’s normal to feel held back, intimidated, and uncomfortable when it comes to backpacking on your period with no bathroom in sight.
For years, I didn’t have any female outdoor role models to talk to. The women around me always talked about their periods like it was a nuisance or something to “suck up” and not let it ruin your plans.
Today, I know this is the furthest thing from the truth. So I want to share what I’ve learned about backpacking on your period so you don’t make the same mistakes.
I’ve spent years backpacking and hiking on my period and have helped other women do the same. I believe having your cycle should never prevent you from going outside.
But before I get into the practical steps, I want to tell you about a time I pushed too hard while backpacking on my period.
Climbing to 14,000 feet while on my period
Lying in my sleeping bag, I woke up to a deep feeling of dread. For the rest of the day, all I wanted to do was drink a warm cup of tea and cocoon in my tent. But my husband and I had other plans: we were going on a 13-mile day hike.
As soon as my husband noticed I was awake he said, “Sweetheart, I’m so excited to hike Mt. Princeton with you today.”
Instead of letting my husband know that I was tired, didn’t feel well, and was about to start my period, I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag and went through the habitual pre-adventure motions. Get dressed, heat up water for breakfast, pack up the gear, sip tea, treat water, apply sunblock, and double check for rain gear.
We headed out and began our long hike to the summit of Mt. Princeton, standing 14,197 feet tall with a total elevation gain of 5,400 feet. I began the hike feeling cloudy, irritated, and super fatigued. I kept hoping that a few miles in I’d “wake up” and get my energy back, but with each mile I felt worse.
Slowly, we made our way up the trail. As we rounded the corner of a switchback, we saw the mighty and majestic Colorado fourteener on the horizon. Seeing Mt. Princeton in the distance gave me a burst of energy and I started to feel like myself again.
But it didn’t last long. The path ahead was a never ending boulder field of loose talus and scrambling.
I slogged my way up the rocky path step by step, but my legs felt heavier the further I climbed. My husband cheered me on with enthusiasm as we approached the summit. Why is he so freaking happy?
My emotions felt intense, and I was mad at everyone and everything—even the strong, frigid wind blowing over me.
As we reached Princeton's dramatic summit we shared congratulations and hugs. Then, I immediately went to find a spot to go to the bathroom. As I squatted down, I noticed my period had started. Relief washed over me and I was so happy to finally be bleeding! Then, a wave of sadness quickly replaced the relief—why did I push my body when she really needed to rest?
I walked over to tell my husband that my period had started and he said, “I knew it was about to start any minute.” I burst into tears and then we laughed together about how silly it was for me to push through backpacking on my period.
I don’t regret hiking Mt. Princeton on the first day of my cycle. In fact, I’m grateful for all of the lessons it taught me and the path it started me on to really honor my body and her rhythms.
How to manage your symptoms while backpacking on your period
Now, just because you’re having your period doesn't mean you have to change your plans completely. But it will require you to listen to your body and care for her accordingly.
Intense climbing, long days backpacking, and hiking to summits probably aren’t for the first day or two of your cycle.
But there are still plenty of other ways you can be in the outdoors during this time of the month.
Here’s what you need to know about managing the symptoms and navigating the drop in energy:
Hibernate. Remember how I wanted to cocoon in my tent? This is a pretty natural feeling for most women because it’s your most introspective and introverted time, and your energy is the lowest of the month. Give yourself permission to curl up, rest, and do nothing.
Take time to self-reflect. Turn inward and connect with yourself, whether that be through breathing practices, journaling, or meditation. Your intuition is heightened during this time—create the space to connect with it.
Drink lots of water. It might seem weird that you need to drink more water when you're feeling the most bloated, but the more water you drink, the more easily you will eliminate the water building up in your body and the less cramps you’ll have.
Plan to go to the bathroom more. When we move into the beginning of our cycles, there’s typically more urination and loose stool. Be ready to find spots to go to the bathroom more if you’re backpacking on your period. Stay at a campsite if you know you want a toilet or be on the lookout for trees and bushes that will give you privacy.
Make a hot water bottle for your belly to relieve cramps. Bring a pot of water to a roaring boil, pour it into a nalgene bottle, and curl up with the water bottle on your belly. Avoid putting it directly on your skin and place outside your clothing or wrap the water bottle in a t-shirt.
Don’t be afraid to do your own thing. If you're heading into the outdoors with a group, don’t feel guilty that you’re not doing as much as everyone else. If your adventure buddies are planning a huge hike, opt to do just a part of it. Or go on a solo hike so you can take it at your own pace.
Slow down. Practice restorative or yin yoga, go for walks in nature, and plan lots of downtime during the day. Move gently so your energy doesn’t stagnate, and don’t overdo it. Near the end of your bleeding, you can gradually start increasing your movement again.
My hike up to the top of Mt. Princeton was over 7 years ago. Today, I head out into the outdoors when it’s my period with a much different attitude, one of slowing down and savoring versus pushing and conquering. I plan relaxed backpacking trips with lots of alone time, gentle hikes, meditation, and naps.
How to choose a feminine product and dispose of it properly when backpacking on your period
The number one question I get asked about backpacking on your period is, “What type of feminine product should I use and what’s the proper disposal?”
The options for feminine products aren’t any different from when you’re at home, and like most anything, each option has pros and cons. The key is to be comfortable and confident in your choice.
To help you decide the best fit for you, here’s a simple breakdown:
A reusable, flexible cup made of silicone or natural rubber that captures your menstrual flow. To use, insert the cup and remove it later to empty out the contents. A few popular brands are DivaCup, Lunette, and Lena Cup.
What’s great about this option is that you only need one for your entire trip, so there’s no need to bring lots of products. This also means, you don’t have to deal with “Packing it Out.” The biggest challenge with using the cup is keeping it really clean in the outdoors.
When you empty your cup you have two options (I always opt for number two):
Empty the cup into a durable/resealable bag (gallon Ziplocs are great) and “Pack It Out” like you would any other trash or waste.
Dig a 6-8” inch deep cathole, empty the cup, and bury it. Make sure you’re 200 feet away from water sources, campsites, and trails.
Quiet Adventures’ Tips:
Use lube. Seriously. Just a little bit can help you get used to inserting the cup. Make sure the lubrication is water soluble, since anything else will slowly break down the silicone. Plus, it's better for your vagina.
Only use clean, potable drinking water to clean your cup. This means no rinsing it off in a lake, stream, or river. One, because of the effect on the environment, and two, there’s a potential of picking up waterborne parasites. Also, don’t use hand sanitizer to clean the cup. Similarly to a non-water soluble lube choice, hand sanitizer will degrade the silicone.
Try really hard not to drop your cup, but if you do (and you probably will at some point), sterilize. To do so, boil the cup in water for 5-10 minutes. You’ll want to use a deep pot so the cup is completely covered in water.
Like any new gear, do a test run at home before your adventure. Take time to become familiar with your cup and get some practice with inserting it before hitting the trail.
Once you’re back home, make sure to give your cup another thorough cleaning with warm water and with water-based soap (we love Bronner’s). Or, you can do the sterilizing method using boiling water.
Tampons, Pads, and Panty Liners
We’re all familiar with these options but using these feminine products in the backcountry definitely changes things. Because you can’t dispose of used ones in the trash, like you can at home, you’ll have to follow the Leave No Trace Principle and “Pack It Out” (more on that below). And there are some things pads aren’t suited for, like any outdoor water activity.
Over the years, I’ve found that some women strongly prefer tampons or pads over menstrual cups, and that’s totally fine! Again, this is about finding what works for you and your body.
If you choose tampons, pads or panty liners, you’ll need to “Pack It Out” with your toilet paper. It’s really not a big deal (I promise). Just use a gallon Ziploc bag as your waste basket. If the scent bothers you, add a little baking soda, kitty litter, crushed aspirin, or dry tea bags to absorb the odor.
Be sure to store this bag like you would your food and any other scented items overnight, away from your tent in order to keep animals away. And if you’re worried about your adventure partners seeing your bag full of used feminine products, you can place duct tape around the zip-lock bag, color the inside with a sharpie marker, or use a small dry bag.
Quiet Adventures’ Tips:
Follow the number one Leave No Trace Principle, “Plan Ahead and Prepare.” Decide what product you’ll use, buy your supplies, and always bring more than you think you’re going to need (in the middle of nowhere on a trail is the last place you want to run out).
If you’re not backpacking, keep your product in more than one place. The outside pocket of a crash pad, in the car, and in your daypack are always good places to have an extra stash of products.
Make a backpacking on your period kit and put all of your supplies in one bag. We love to use a small dry bag where we put our feminine products, water-based soap, hand sanitizer, U-Dig-It shovel, wet wipes, and extra Ziploc bags. Bonus points for adding a pretty patch!
Some say to bring tampons without applicators for less waste to “pack out,” others say use the kind with applicators because your hands are not as clean as they normally would be. We say do what feels right to you! You know you and your body best.
And about those bears…
The bear thing is a myth! No empirical evidence shows that bears, or any other wildlife, are more attracted to the smell of a menstruating woman than to any other human-related smell. If someone tells you not to go in the outdoors because you’re on your period, tell them they shouldn’t go outside if they’ve been cooking food, sweating, or wearing deodorant.
I hope this information and these lessons help you to go backpacking on your period with more confidence and ease!