If anything should prevent you from heading out for a nature adventure, it should never be your period. Research has shown that moderate-intensity activities such as brisk walking, hiking, cycling and swimming can help reduce the pain of menstrual cramps. And while menstruation isn’t always comfortable, it’s a natural bodily function that a quarter of the global population is living with—right now.
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Thankfully, having your period isn’t a risk to your safety, and a variety of products aim to make managing your period in the great outdoors much easier. Here’s what you need to know—and buy.
Do you have to worry about predators while on your period?
You might be wondering if your period could make you a target for animal attacks. Turns out, probably not!
Bear encounters in general aren’t as common as you think—mostly, if you leave them alone and at a distance, they’ll return the favor. Concerning grizzlies and black bears, research published by Yellowstone National Park shows “no evidence that bears are overly attracted to menstrual odors more than any other odor, and there is no statistical evidence that known bear attacks have been related to menstruation.”
Unless you’re one of the unfortunate souls who traipses through the woods surrounded by mosquitoes, these bloodsuckers might not come to mind as a predator. However, mosquitoes transmit an alarming number of diseases to humans. It may seem like a natural connection that they could be more attracted to women during menstruation, but research shows mosquitoes are more attracted to women who are ovulating or pregnant.
You’ve probably heard that sharks can smell blood from a mile away. While this is true, experts state that there is, “no positive evidence that menstruation is a factor in shark bites.” That said, it never hurts to take precautions. If you’re nervous, it’s easy to minimize risk by staying out of the water during your period.
With the knowledge that predators are the least of your worries when it comes to periods in the outdoors, your concerns can move on to the more mundane: managing your period without easy access to running water and privacy. These four products can help.
1. A menstrual cup or disc
Menstrual cups and discs have gained popularity in recent years as a replacement for tampons and pads because they hold more fluid, require fewer changes and generate less trash. Menstrual liquid, like other human waste, can be emptied into a cathole and buried—just be sure your cathole is located away from nearby water sources. If you’re using disposable discs, they need to be packed out to observe Leave No Trace principles (LNT). Reusable cups and discs can be sanitized on the go with water and scent-free, biodegradable soap.
It might take some trial and error to find the cup or disc product that works best for your anatomy. The right product should be comfortable and leak-free. Inserting and removing discs and cups also has a learning curve, so it’s best to practice at home first.
The brand Flex offers a standard, disposable disc and a compostable disc (not to be confused with biodegradable, so please don’t bury them). Flex also sells a reusable disc and cup, both made with 100% medical-grade silicone. Other popular brands include Knix, Thinx and Period.co.
2. Tampons or pads
These standbys are fine for outdoor adventures but require a little extra planning. Burning or burying used feminine products, wrappers or applicators is a no-go. To align with LNT, they must be packed out to avoid polluting nearby water sources and prevent animals from digging them up.
We recommend carrying waste in a pair of nested, gallon-size resealable bags. If you don’t want to see the waste, add an aluminum foil layer between the bags or cover the outer bag with duct tape. Dry coffee grounds or a tea bag can be dropped inside to help with odor.
To reduce waste, applicator-free tampons are your best bet. Options include the original OB, or newer organic cotton options Cora and Veeda. Here, too, if you’re not used to inserting a tampon digitally, practice at home first.
3. Period panties
Period panties are perfect for light-flow days and as a backup to another feminine product on heavy-flow days. These undies are designed with absorbent materials to catch fluid and a moisture barrier to keep it contained. They come in a variety of coverage styles and are made with breathable, stretchable fabrics so you can hike, paddle, climb and play with confidence.
When you’re done with a pair and need to pack them away until you can wash them, give them a good rinse with water into a cathole. Be sure to have multiple pairs handy if you’re wearing these in the backcountry—the extra layers in these underwear for absorbency and leak-proofing take extra time to dry and may not dry overnight.
The First Line collection from TomboyX offers an inclusive size range and a variety of styles, ensuring people who menstruate of all shapes and sizes can find their perfect fit without worrying about wedgies or uncomfortable pinching. Other popular brands include Knix, Thinx, and Period.co.
4. Pants that offer easier access
If you get shy about dropping trou in the great outdoors, consider investing in a pair of pants that don’t need to be “dropped” at all! The SheFly Go There Pants and the ChickFly Leggings are designed to maximize privacy wherever nature might call. SheFly’s offerings have a hidden zipper that starts below the traditional fly and unzips to the back of the pants, while ChickFly’s work with a clever flap system.
Other period accessories worth packing
Ibuprofen and disposable hand warmers are a great way to manage cramps when you’re on the move. If you’re interested in reducing waste and how much you’ll have to pack out, and if you have a camp stove, reusable warming gel packs can be reset with boiling water. At night, a Nalgene bottle filled with hot water is an excellent stand-in for a heating pad and will help keep the inside of your sleeping bag toasty, too.
For hygiene, a go bag prepped with biodegradable soap, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and any other hygiene must-haves will make it easy for you to manage menstruation during your adventures. Adding a few nitrile gloves is a nice option to keep hands from getting messy when you’re inserting, removing or cleaning products.
Finally, just remember that anything that doesn’t come naturally from your body or isn’t biodegradable must be packed out to help preserve these beautiful outdoor spaces and keep them clean for everyone to enjoy.