How to deal with your periods outdoors?
It might be going walking, running, kayaking, being at a festival, doing your Duke of Edinburgh award, biking or on an expedition.
It is probably one of the most commonly asked questions I get asked when working in the mountains and leading expeditions. I’ve had my fair share of having to deal with my period outside and an equal amount of mishaps. Unfortunately, there is still a bit of embarrassment/taboo/lack of knowledge out there. So here's your ‘go to’ guide to help you on your way.
Find a suitable spot
Easier said than done sometimes. It’s useful to get a friend to be a ‘look out’ (that’s if you have a friend with you). Trees, walls, dips in the land can be useful to look for. I advise weeing at the same time (two birds with one stone and all that). Remember to look at the ground below you, it should be flat, or angled away from you, you don't want any rocks or raised bits of earth getting in the way of you weeing. Otherwise you'll get a load of splashback. You'll also need to be 100m away from a water source (river/lake etc). Now get your products ready and have it laid out to the side of you. If it is super windy or raining, keep it in a handy pocket If it is super windy or raining, keep it in a handy pocket.
Change sanitary item
Prepare all your items
Organisation is key, I normally have things I need laid out to the side of me or if it's windy I'll have it in an accessible pocket.
Clean your hands
Cleaning your hands is important but can be a challenge in more remote areas without easy access to water and soap. It is important to keep hygienic but how do we do that outside at the same time as protecting our special and unique environments. I personally find it easier and more practical to use hand sanitiser or use nearby water to wash my hands and then use hand sanitiser afterwards.
If you are wanting or need to wash your hands, either take a small bottle of water with you or a vessel to take water from a river or lake and wash your hands well away (100m+) from the water source with soap. Lots of soap has harmful chemicals in them, so if you are going to need to use soap look for an organic biodegradable soap and always check the ingredients list (even in the ones that are marketed for the outdoors). Organic soaps like Dr Bronner’s, The Dartmoor Soap co, The Wild Nettle Co or Ecosoaps have minimal chemicals that negatively impact the environment (and support small businesses where possible). Watch out if you have a nut allergy though, as a lot of these soaps contain coconut. These could be stored in a reusable silicone bag and dried out once home.
Lay out bag next to you
Having your waste bags next to you ready makes the whole process a bit smoother. I tend to wrap disposable items in toilet roll before either double bagging them or putting them in my dedicated waste bag/box/tub. Reusable silicone bags are a good environmentally conscious lightweight solution that can be easily washed out.
How to change menstrual cup outside
A popular choice. I love that this is an environmentally friendly option and doesn’t involve using more unnecessary disposable plastic. They last for years, and costs range from £20 to £25. If you have an IUD (coil) make sure the cup doesn't interfere with the strings (they can be cut to be shorter) and remember to regularly check the strings to make sure they’re still in place. It's worthwhile practising with a menstrual cup at home first. Cleaning these requires water that's safe to drink or water and soap, but check with each manufacturer.
A great alternative to the above, once you need to change the pants you can put them in a bag and take them home with you to wash. They have 4-layer protection, you can put inserts in them for extra protection on heavier days. I also love that they come in all shapes and sizes and go up to size 24/26 from what I’ve researched. They start from about £10/11 (very reasonable) and go all the way up to £40.
Considerations for having your period outside
Leave no trace & protecting the environment
If you're out for an extended period of time you want a place to put all your waste in one place. A sealed plastic container or silicone bag works well for this.
If it's see through you can always tape over it so you can't see inside. Nappy bags or 'wet bags' are also a great solution. Leave no trace is a fundamental practice in the outdoors, no one wants to stumble across used toilet paper, tampons or sanitary towels.
So please, ensure that you take all rubbish with you.
When going to the bathroom ensure you are 100+m away from a river or water source & avoid rocky ground or hill tops as the soil is thin here and the phosphates in your waste impact the sensitive ecosystem. Sanitary items should be carried out with you, waste from menstrual cups should ideally be deposited into a hole in the ground & washed away with some water. You can make a hole with a stick or rock or if you carry a small trowel with you that would work too.
There are many options to taking out your waste:
Taped up tupperware (an old one that you no longer use for food) or a silicone bag
Wet bags (used for nappy's) - they have a 'wet' and 'dry' side
Plastic container with a screw lid works well for waste as it often fits in a pocket on the side of your rucksack.
Remember toilet roll counts as waste!
Tracking your periods
Tracking your periods (if they are regular) can be extremely helpful tool in planning harder and more physical days outside. Tracking apps such as Clue are great for this, as it's easy to use and they don't sell your data. By tracking you can plan around your period and do less on your heavier days.
Ensuring you're staying hydrated and well nourished
Diet and nutrition is incredible important for period and hormone health. As is being hydrated and having the right nutrition especially outside for extended periods of time. Eating little and often works well for a lot of folks. Every persons body is different, Dr. Stacy Sims suggests that women perform better in a fuelled state so carbohydrates are really important, as is protein. Each meal should aim to get 30g of protein per meal plus 30g of protein post exercise.
Tips for leaders
It's important to recognise that women, non-binary and trans folks do all get periods. People are always grateful when leaders address and educate the whole group and not single anyone out.
Ensuring you have the kit as part of your leader's rucksack is also useful, as many of the items are multi purpose in terms of first aid. If you're heading out to buy some supplies:
Some people and religions will and can only use sanitary towels so this is a great option that everyone can use.
Tampons go for medium flow & organic cotton (no harsh chemicals that are hormone disruptors and less likely to cause dryness) sanitary towels (organic cotton).
Remember to pack some toilet roll, hand sanitiser and waste bags and hand it all over in a pack to make it easy and more discreet.
A group shelter can be used for privacy
Having you period in winter is a whole other game. You need to get everyone in the group to turn away and not look! It's often too windy for group shelters, but worth a try.
Letting folks know where and when the toilets are going to be is also helpful.
If you like this article, here's a free downloadable pdf.
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