Part 2: How to Handle Your Period in the Outdoors (And a Story I’m Really Embarrassed to Admit To).

I wake early and lie in my sleeping bag, and do not want to get up. All I want to do is drink a warm cup of tea and cocoon in my tent for the rest of the day. I lie there a little while longer, and hope my husband has magically changed plans while I was sleeping the night before. But as soon as he notices I’m awake, he says, “Sweetheart, I’m so excited to hike Mt. Princeton with you today.”

Meh. Looks like the hike is still on.

I want to tell him I’m tired, I don’t feel well, and I’m about to start my period, but instead I say nothing. We had been planning this hike for weeks, hadn’t had much outdoor time together, and his work had been really stressful. I really don’t want to disappoint him, even though I know deep down he’d understand.

Instead of talking to him, I drag myself out of my sleeping bag and go through the habitual pre-adventure motions. Put clothes on, heat up water for breakfast, brush teeth, pack up the gear, sip tea, fill water bottles, remember sunglasses, and double check for rain gear.

We start our hike to the summit of Mt. Princeton, standing 14,197 feet tall with a total elevation gain of 5,400 feet. Round trip the hike is 13 miles, which is no easy day hike. I begin the hike feeling cloudy, irritated, and super fatigued, hoping that a few miles in I’ll “wake up” and get my energy back—but with each mile I feel worse.

  Me wishing I were still in my tent.

Me wishing I were still in my tent.

Slowly, we make our way up the trail and through the switchbacks to see the mighty and majestic Colorado fourteener on the horizon. Seeing the mountain lights me up and I get a burst of energy. Phew, I feel like myself again! But the energy is short lived and we’re now hiking through large boulders and loose talus. Concentration is mandatory with each step to avoid a slip.

I slog my way up the boulder field step by step, but it feels increasingly steeper the further I climb. Why do my legs feel so heavy? I sip water out of my CamelBak and notice it’s almost empty. Why am I drinking so much water? My husband is ahead cheering me on and encouraging me as we near the summit. Why is he so freaking happy? As I approach the summit, a strong and frigid wind blows over me, and I feel so angry at the wind. Why is it being so mean today?

My emotions feel intense, and I’m mad at everyone and everything in my vicinity.

 Me slogging my way up the boulder field.

Me slogging my way up the boulder field.

As we reach Princeton's dramatic summit we share congratulations and hugs. Then, I immediately find a spot to go to the bathroom, since I was about to burst from all of the water I was drinking. As I squat down, I notice my moon cycle has started. Relief washes over me and I’m happy to finally be bleeding, followed by a wave of sadness for pushing my body when she really needed to rest.

I walk over to tell my husband that my cycle has started and he says, “I knew it was about to start any minute.” I burst into tears and then we laugh together about how silly it was for me to push through.

 Us at the top (I'm done crying).

Us at the top (I'm done crying).

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. At the time, I didn’t know any better. 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 ruin your plans.

I know today this is the furthest thing from the truth and I want to share what I learned with you so you don’t make the same mistakes.

Now, just because you’re having your moon cycle 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 in the outdoors. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 moon cycle pace.
  7. 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.

That hike up to the top of Mt. Princeton was over 5 years ago. Today, I head out into the outdoors when it’s my moon cycle with a much different attitude, one of slowing down and savoring versus pushing and conquering. I plan relaxed camping trips with lots of alone time, gentle hikes, meditation, and naps. There’s something really grounding and connecting about bleeding outside. I hope this story and these lessons help you experience the same in your own life.

Now, I’d love to hear from you! How do you handle your moon cycle when you're in the outdoors? Let me know in the comments below!

With love and gratitude,

Megan

Founder, Quiet Adventures

P.S. Did you miss Part 1? We answered the most common questions about feminine products and disposal in the outdoors. You don't want to miss it!