Birth Control Options while on Trail

While I may or may not have kids in this lifetime, I most certainly don’t want to be worrying about keeping my birth control consistent while on trail.

As I was searching for information about lady hygiene on trail, I noticed that there was a lack of information on birth control. There’s plenty of info about periods and what to do when you’re bleeding. So I researched some birth control methods (data source here), with a little help from my fellow AT thru-hiking ladies, before deciding which one I will use on trail.

It’s guaranteed some of you will have opinions that differ from mine. Please respect mine while I respect yours.

This is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health-care provider with any questions you may have regarding the right birth control method for you. 

The Pill

The lowdown: 91% effective, take daily, hormones into the blood stream, $0-$50.

The pill sounds easy because it’s in a lightweight carrying case that you pop out whenever you need. But I have a hard time believing that I’ll remember to take an itty bitty pill at the same time every single day and don’t like the thought of having hormones go throughout my entire body. There’s also the issue of resupplying on trail. With a few exceptions, I’m avoiding doing resupply boxes because I don’t want to be bound by a strict schedule while hiking.

The Ring

The lowdown: 91% effective, replace monthly, localized hormones, $0-$200.

My experience with the ring was great and it’s the only form of birth control that I’ve used prior. I loved it because the hormones are administered locally to your lady parts. However, like my concerns with the pill, I don’t want to stress about the schedule that comes along with it. The ring also needs to be kept in a cold place, which hinders your ability to ship in the summer.

The Implant

The lowdown: 99% effective, lasts up to five years, hormones into the bloodstream, $0-$1,300.

My sister recommended that I get the Implant for the Trail. It’s put in and lasts for four years! You don’t have to worry about resupply or a schedule! All positive things. Except… the thought of having a tiny rod inserted just below the skin in my upper arm gives me the heebie-jeebies and the hormones aren’t administered locally. Getting thoroughly creeped out by feeling hers in her upper arm, I kept looking for options.


The lowdown: 99% effective, lasts three to 5 years*, localized hormones, $0-$1,300.

*My gynecologist does not perform the copper IUD insertion so this section is about the plastic one.

Last, and most certainly not least, the IUD. A little, T-shaped bit of plastic that is inserted into the uterus and releases hormones to prevent pregnancy for up five years. Fellow female AT thru-hikers told me that this is the birth control they will be using on trail and they love it so far. Ding ding ding! Something that uses localized hormones and is a long-term solution. I spoke to my doctor and he confirmed that this would be a great option for me and it’s covered by my insurance.

However, many women say that the pain of insertion is the worst pain they’ve ever felt.

I had my insertion appointment, and while it is in my top five of worst pains, it does not top the list. I even had to go through the pain twice because the doctor accidentally pulled the first one out. Ugh. For me, the cramping and pain lasted about 48 hours. Here’s hoping that it stays a positive experience.


This post is full of my personal thoughts about the four main methods of birth control. There are many more options out there. If you want to know more about any of these methods or other options available, Planned Parenthood has a very informative page here.

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Comments 15

  • Scott A Brotherton : Jan 14th

    You do realize everyone will smell so bad that will be the furthest thing from your mind, right ? Sleep and food….and sleep will be your top priorities. That being said a well thoughtout post as you are correct. You seldom ‘Hear’ about trail romances and/or couples hiking – It would be good if they could weigh in as well ! GL !!

    • Nic : Jan 15th

      I met quite a few couples hiking. And heard of a few trail romances, and was involved in one. So they definitely happen. There is a lot of time in a day to think about things other than food and sleep

      I can definitely see the point in thinking about what to do if it happens. Because a trail baby is probably not most hikers dream

    • Nancy : Jan 15th

      There is a lot more to birth control than just hindering the process of reproduction. Birth control helps keep many women on a predictable schedule, controls cramps and period flow as well as other symptoms experienced, it helps with hormone imbalances, organ issues/discomforts, even acne and other dermatological concerns. Yes birth control gives a woman more control over whether or not she may become pregnant when she decides to engage in sexual intercourse with whatever partner she so chooses but that certainly is not its sole-purpose.
      Also, sexuality is a perfectly normal and healthy response and experience so to deny it or its occurrence on the trail or in the woods is sort of silly. Sex in the woods is perfectly fine when consenting adults participate and understand that when dirty parts go into “clean” parts things can get uncomfortable (think UTI’s or yeast infections).
      I won’t deny that hiking behind my husband has been a nice bit of foreplay for me before. Nothing better than staring at a nice bottom for 8+ hours, over mountains, rock scrambling, crossing bridges. Thats sexy to me. LOL! Even when we smell something fierce. But then again, we are married, there are fewer and fewer boundaries as the years pass by. Peace, love, cheers, and happy trails my friend. hahaha

    • Nick : Jan 15th

      Sleep and food might be your top priorities. But there’s a lot of time in a day. I heard of quite a few trail romanced, and I was involved in one myself. And I saw many couples hike together. Sure, it’s not going to be like a nightclub at closing time. But when people hang out so much for such a long time as a trail things can happen. And it’s better to be prepared for that than not to be

  • James aka Squirrel : Jan 14th

    Interesting read. It was by chance that I came across it too. Although the above mentioned does not directly pertain to me. I think it is awesome that women are being proactive too. As a guy, condoms are my go to. Other than abstaining which is 100% effective (laughs, but it is true) I think a good rule of thumb should be what you recommended for the ladies and condoms for the guy(s). That way you are covering babies and STD’s while exploring the great outdoors. I’m planning to do a hike thru of the AT in 2020 🙂 Good luck, make memories and not babies *chuckles*

    • Melissa : Jan 20th

      Thank you so much for your comment! Happy trails!

  • Nancy : Jan 15th

    Just sharing additional info: With the IUD there is an increased risk of infection. The string that you should have been instructed about essentially “dangles” out of your cervix into your vagina. It is there for you as the user to be able to feel that the IUD is still there as well as a tool that a professional will utilize for removal. The issue is that when you are not in a monogamous relationship there is an increased risk of multiple bacteria strands being introduced directly into your “reproductive system”. That string that is there for your security is also like a little rope ladder for bacteria to enter your actual uterus and if allowed to proliferate can cause all sorts of issues for you. Inflammation, infection, as well as a more direct route for STD/STI’s to inoculate your system. I just wanted to share that so that there can be extra precautions taken as well as simply sharing the education/knowledge.

    Nuva Ring is also 98% effective

    Great share. Female reproduction/health is an important topic for me and I truly appreciate there being light brought to this, especially for trail use. I wish you had incorporated sources for your data, that always helps even when you share a personal/opinion piece.

    You are also correct that there really is not a whole lot out there on this topic when doing research for a thru-hike – – i too was met with few articles or useful sources beyond those of the manufacture and planned parenthood as you also mentioned. At the very least, you have written an article that should at least get some readers more interested and invested in researching what is best for their individual situation, circumstances and bodies. And that is truly what is most important. Cheers and happy trails

    • Melissa : Jan 20th

      Thank you so much for the additional information! I wrote the article to consist of some basic information and then some of my opinions on things. I do encourage women to do their own research before making any choices which is why I wrote a disclaimer at the top and bottom.
      I updated the post to show that my source for the data is from the Planned Parenthood birth control page.
      I super appreciate your support and passion for sexual health 🙂
      Happy trails!!

  • Brian : Jan 16th

    Unfortunately, not all of your information is complete and/or accurate. I will just point on the biggie: While the shorter term plastic IUD does use localized hormones, the longer term IUD does not use hormones at all. It is made with plastic and copper. The copper, which is not hormones, is what creates the barrier for birth control.

    “The ParaGard IUD doesn’t have hormones. It’s wrapped in a tiny bit of copper, and it protects you from pregnancy for up to 12 years.”

    If you are a woman that hormone type birth control adversely effects, the copper IUD may be a good alternative.

    • Melissa : Jan 20th

      Thank you for your comment! I realize now that I made an error in my IUD description and have edited it for clarity. My OBGYN, over his 30+ years in the field, has seen the copper IUD show more negative side effects than the plastic one and therefore does not recomend them to his patients. I have edited my post to make it clear that I am speaking about the plastic version! Happy trails! 🙂

  • Rachel : Jan 16th

    IUDs are amazing!! I’m on my second one and luckily, the pain wasn’t too bad. I’ll gladly take the pain over not having a period for 5 years.

  • Jo : Jan 19th

    The best part of some of the hormonal methods is they stop menstruation. I take the pill for months at a time to avoid menstruating. And I’m on so many other meds, I never forget to take it. I get three months at a time with the Seasonale brand, but don’t take a week off in between, so that’s six months menstruation free. Well worth it.

  • Marissa : Jan 20th

    Thanks for your post! I went without birth control on the AT, until I met someone (now my husband!) and we used condoms. Not ideal to pack out haha.
    We’re starting the PCT this year and I decided to get nexplanon (arm implant) so I don’t have to keep up with the pill!
    Again, thanks for putting out this information and your thoughts 🙂

  • Kimmi : May 17th

    I definitely agree that family planning is part of planning a successful trek that a novice may take for granted.

    Soon after they were married we invited my brother and new sister in law on a backcountry expedition just the four of us.

    She was new to it and had lots of questions for me including birth control. She had heard the whole bears and menstrual blood thing so I ended up having a discussion about her cycle and birth control. My first recommendation was just to skip her placebo pill week but then she explained that she wasn’t on the pill and was using a diaphragm.

    Birth control that you have to wash with soap and air dry seemed like a terrible idea, so I suggested we could go at the end of her cycle so they could skip using birth control. She said something about PMS. I then suggested just pulling out, but I got a no on that too because she “always” uses protection and “no way” was she risking it. Something about grad school and being too young to be a mom at 22. Whatever.

    Well, there was no way we were going to leave behind a week’s supply of condoms discarded on the trail. Besides, at the time my partner and I were trying to conceive, and why shouldn’t our kid have a cousin the same age?

    So I lightened her pack by finding her diaphragm and ditching it in a trash can at the trail head.

    There’s not a lot of privacy camping backcountry so the very first night we heard the whole story as she whispered to my brother about how she couldn’t find her protection.

    My partner and I weren’t very modest about our efforts at baby making and gave them a show worthy of a porno while she was trying to convince him that they couldn’t have sex.

    Knowing where she was in her cycle and listening to her resistance slip bit by bit as we screwed very loudly just a few feet away was . . . Interesting. She went from “no, we can’t” to “wait, what are you doing” to “no way am I getting pregnant ” to “umph” to “mmmm” to …. It was a huge turn on hearing her slowly but surely have her hormones kick in and get the better of her.

    The next morning we woke them up with our out in the open sex show, and soon he was very enthusiastically continuing what they had started last night, with much less “dialogue” than the night before.

    I suggested a zero day that turned into 48 hours of nonstop sex.

    So a different sort of family planning, but we both conceived on that trek!

    • Meg : Nov 1st

      So naughty and so much fun, Kimmi! I had a similar experience on a camping trip when I was a senior in high school on spring break. There were two nerds in our group so we got them both really drunk and put them naked together in her sleeping bag. The next morning we woke up to the sounds of them having sex. They both were totally unprepared to take any precautions and were just doing it the way Mother Nature intended. We all had a good laugh when she realized she had just had unprotected sex in the middle of her cycle. Oops. She was our class valedictorian and also a mommy her first year in college.


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