Leave No Trace Skill Series: Feminine Hygiene - How To Deal With Your Period While Camping

Kanab, UT: For many women, periods can be an uncomfortable and personal topic. Some may find it hard to ask, "What am I supposed to do in the outdoors if I'm on my period?". In addition, male guides or educators may skirt the issue, avoiding a topic they may not feel knowledgeable about. If some women are unwilling to ask and men feel uncomfortable explaining, we risk damage and impacts to the outdoor places we visit if periods are dealt with in a less than Leave No Trace way.

But have no fear! Amanda, Jessie, and Donielle from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics are here to teach you what to do with your pads, tampons, diva cups, and urine so you can protect the places you love to visit. We dispel myths about period smell attracting bears and tricks to keep the modern woman happy and healthy in the outdoors! If you're a woman about to head out on a camping or backpacking trip tell your female friends. If you're a male or female guide or educator use this information to educate your participants prior to the trip so everyone knows and feels comfortable. For more, see our tips for communicating to women about their periods

Pack Out Tampons & Pads:

Tampons and pads are generally made out of synthetic fibers or have plastic that resist decomposition. Because of this, all items must be packed out. This helps minimize pollution, prevents the spread of disease, and minimizes aesthetic impacts. Wrap these items in toilet paper and pack out in a Ziploc or water bottle covered with Duck Tape.

Alternatively, use the surgical glove trick: put on the glove, take out your tampon, then remove the glove by turning it inside out with the tampon inside. Tie up the end of the glove and pack out in Ziploc bags or a water bottle covered with tape. When possible, use thinner pads and smaller tampons in order to reduce the amount of waste and bulk that will have to be packed out. If odors are a problem add crushed aspirin or tea bags to minimize smell. You can prep these items before your trip so you’re well prepared.

Dig A Cathole When Urinating:

If you’re using a menstrual cup like the Diva or Keeper, pack out the menstrual fluid to the nearest receptacle. If this method is unrealistic for your trip and it is allowed in the area, bury in a 6\8” deep cathole a minimum of 200ft from any water source, campsite or trail. Usually cathole's are reserved for feces waste and urine can be deposited on rocks or vegetation. However, if you're on your period you'll want to dig a cathole for urine as well. This helps prevent the spread of disease, protect wildlife, and minimize aesthetic impacts. 

You can boil water to clean your menstrual cup. Never rinse in rivers or lakes due to giardia and other disease concerns as well as the pollution of clean drinking water sources. Take water 200ft away from source to boil and purify before cleaning.  

Store Waste Properly from Bears:

Research shows no evidence that black and grizzly bears are specifically attracted to menstrual waste but regardless these items - like all smellables, (anything scented that could attract animals like lip balm, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.)- must be safely stored while in bear country. Use a bear canister or do a bear hang.

For the Modern Woman:

Use iPhone or Android apps like Clue that can tell you when your period is coming and what your flow might be like. This is a great way to Plan Ahead and Prepare and know what you might expect while camping or backpacking on your period. Use Thinx Panties to minimize the pads and tampons you bring with you. If you're an educator or guide, see our tips for communicating to women about their periods to help your participants or students feel comfortable and included in the outdoors. 

Enjoy Your World. Leave No Trace. 

Leave No Trace's Donielle Stevens and Aaron Hussmann are part of the 2017 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Fjallraven, Eno, Deuter, Thule, Smartwool, and Taxa Outdoors