How to Survive Your Period on the Mountain
Hey rock stars, here’s another excerpt from me and Fox in the Forest’s upcoming e-book on How to Be a Kick-Ass Lady Dirtbag.
(We are SO excited to share it with you. The other night at Taco Tuesday, we were arguing loudly about who gets to write the poop chapter. I’m pretty sure everyone in the bar wanted to leave.)
One very important note: while today’s excerpt is all about PERIODS, I totally feel like it’s essential reading for dudes too.
Because unless you live in some kind of Lord of the Flies world where you climb exclusively with your bros, you should probably understand how this stuff works.
Plus, if you can give a chick some useful backcountry period tips, you will probably be regarded as a god.
(Just don’t use this as mansplainin’ fodder. Humility and helpfulness FTW.)
So without further ado, let’s dive in.
How to Survive Your Period on a Glacier When You’re Tied to Two Dudes With a Rope
Let’s face it. Having your period in the wilderness sucks so hard.
And not just because of bears. Though they can be a problem. (More on that in mo.)
Camping on your period, hiking on your period, and backpacking on your period are complicated enough. Because even lady dirtbags have certain standards when it comes to hygiene.
And if you get into an alpine environment, you might have to rope up with other humans for 6, 10, 12 hours at a time. And you can’t untie to change your tampon without risking everyone’s lives.
Fortunately, there are some pretty good ways to deal with this. But first, make sure you follow these two almighty commandments:
#1 Whatever you do, test it.
Seriously, you don’t wait for the mountaineering trip of a lifetime to try out your Diva Cup. Only to have it leak all over your harness.
Instead, take time to practice placing it properly and figure out how long you can go without emptying it.
And by the way, where are you going to empty it? Are you just going to dump it on the glacier and leave a frozen bloodbath for the whole camp to see? (Ew.)
And did you bring stuff to wash your hands before you change it? Hrm?
Our point: no matter what method of period management you go with, test it and practice it before you need to use it in a combat situation.
Keep your period skills as fresh as your glacier rescue skills. Use training climbs to try new ideas and perfect your systems.
#2 Carry reinforcements.
Assume no matter what you do, your hormones will flip out in the wilderness due to stress, dietary change, or whatever — and serve up an unexpected visit from Aunt Flo.
And don’t underestimate the power of menstrual synchronicity. It’s that thing your body does when it wants to sync cycles with other chicks.
So always bring an extra pack of pills and plenty of tampons, liners, and wipes. They don’t weigh much. And even if you don’t need them, someone else on your trip might!
What to Try
Here are three effective ways you can manage your period while camping, backpacking, or mountain climbing:
1. Skip your period altogether
Like, just get rid of it. Never have one. You can do it for a few months. Or forever.
To accomplish this, use hormonal birth control like the pill, patch, ring, or Mirena IUD continuously. (No break or placebo pills.)
If you’re new to “skipping,” start a few months ahead of your next big trip. It usually takes your body awhile to get the idea.
During the adjustment period, you might have some spotting or breakthrough bleeding. If this is a big problem, changing your prescription or method might help. (Some pills are specially designed for continuous use.)
Another downside: it’s hard to tell if you get pregnant on continuous birth control. So if you’re sexually active, consider taking a pregnancy test once a month.
A side note: even if you don’t skip your period entirely, hormonal birth control can make your bleeding a lot lighter and more manageable on trail.
2. Kick it old school with tampons
Tampons and pads are simple, tried, and true. They don’t require practice or mess with your hormones.
And with a bit of prep, you can use them just fine for camping, backpacking, and hiking.
- Wrap used tampons in tin foil with a little bit of baking soda to absorb odors.
- Carry used feminine products and wipes double-bagged in a Ziploc. (You can cover the outer bag with duct tape to improve the aesthetics.)
- If you’ve got an open Wag Bag, blue bag, or Restop 2 Bag, you can also put used period supplies in there.
- In bear country, store used tampons and wipes (well-bagged) in your bear canister or Ursak.
- If you’re above treeline or on a glacier, carry a sarong for extra privacy while changing.
It’s even possible to change your tampon while you’re roped up.
Practice (there’s that word again) doing it with the waist loop of your harness attached. Experiment with pulling your pants down and forward under the harness. If needed, loosen or undo the leg loops.
3. Try a menstrual cup
This method can be a little fussy for some. But we know lady dirtbags who swear by it!
The Diva Cup (or a similar product) saves you some space, because you don’t need to carry as many feminine supplies. And when you have lighter flow, you can wear it for as long 12 hours at a time.
(Huge caveat: wearing time might be more like 4 hours on heavy flow days. Everyone’s body is different, so test it, test it, test it.)
With experience, you’ll learn how long you can wear your menstrual cup without springing a leak. And it’s always a good idea to wear a liner or pad as backup.
One major thing to plan for is hygiene.
You’ll need to clean your hands well before placing or emptying your cup. So make a little kit with hand sanitizer and wipes and keep it near the top of your pack.
Emptying the cup in a Leave No Trace manner can also be a bit of a hassle. The easiest method is probably to put the contents in a Wag Bag or Restop 2 Bag.
Finally, make sure you clean and rinse your menstrual cup well before replacing it. Either rinse into the bag, or fling your wash water onto a rock or durable surface where it can evaporate. (Do this at least 70 steps from water sources and camps.)
Another option is to use a cat hole (make it about 6 inches deep) for emptying and rinsing purposes. (This is the best method for bear country). Again, be sure to dig away from camps and water sources.
So there you have them. All our best tips for climbing, backpacking, and camping on your period.
Hope they were helpful. And if you’ve got awesome tips of your own, please comment to share!
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That’s all for today. Happy hiking, periods be damned!