How to Handle Your Period in the Outdoors

Do you want to go on a longer backpacking trip but don’t know how to prepare to go during your time of the month?

Have you ever passed on a hiking trip with friends because you knew it would be on the first day of your moon cycle?

Or maybe you’ve wondered if the myth about bears smelling your period is actually true.

I’m here to answer your questions about handling your moon cycle in the outdoors, so that you never have to feel held back, intimidated, or uncomfortable again. 

If you're wondering why I use the term "moon cycle" it's because our bodies move through a full cycle every twenty-eight days, just like the moon. The more I can get in touch and synced with nature, the more grounded I feel and is also why I prefer to use this term. 

To begin, I’m going to answer the most common question I’ve been asked about feminine products and disposal. Then, next week I’m going to answer a question about moon cycles in the outdoors that’s not often talked about (be sure to check back in to catch this). 

My answers and tips come from years of personal time spent in the backcountry during my moon cycle, and from helping other women do the same. Because having your cycle should never prevent you from going outside. Let’s get down to business! :) 

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:

Menstrual Cup

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 Moon 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. 

Disposal: 

When you empty your cup you have two options (I always opt for number two):

  1. Empty the cup into a durable/resealable bag (gallon Ziplocs are great) and “Pack It Out” like you would any other trash or waste.
  2. 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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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. Mainly 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. 

Disposal:

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:

  1. 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). 
  2. 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. 
  3. Make a moon cycle 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!
  4. 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.

Now, we’d love to hear from you! Which moon cycle tip was your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

With love and gratitude,

Megan
Founder, Quiet Adventures

P.S.  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.

P.P.S. Be sure to read Part 2 where we answer a question that’s not often talked about. Get the full scoop here!

Photo by Nirzar Pangarkar.