Menstruation on The Appalachian Trail: The Bloody Truth
The Bloody Truth about Menstruation on The AT? IT SUCKS.
Dealing with those 3-7 days every month in the real world is just about enough to make women lose their marbles… now take away flushing toilets, garbage cans, sinks, showers, spare underwear/clothing, heating pads and/or ice, excess amounts of junk food and then deal with your uterus shedding its lining. Piece of cake.
Anyone that has gone through menses in any type of wilderness environment deserves five gold stars and a trophy just for existing. Give yourself a pat on the back if you’re one of them. If you’ve yet to experience the joys of bleeding in the woods, you’ve come to the right place. I, Allison Kieley, just so happen to be a Certified Woman and with the help of my fellow lady ATrials bloggers/writers (they’re also Certified Women) have compiled some helpful information and resources to make sure you’re fully prepared to deal with your period on the AT.
If you’re a woman who is still menstruating and is thru hiking the AT you will need to deal with your period in some capacity. Sorry. Every woman’s body reacts differently to that time of the month and finding what works for you before hitting the trail is absolutely 100% imperative. Experiment with different options and find out what you prefer. Can you rock the Diva Cup? Are you going to stick to what you know and use tampons? Do you say a royal F U to your uterus and take birth control, skipping the placebos every month in hopes of avoiding your period all together? Do you get an IUD so you KNOW you won’t have your period? The variety of feminine products can be overwhelming, so lets break down the most popular options, shall we?
1. Tampons/Pads: Riding the cotton pony is probably the most common practice of controlling your period on trail. You can buy tampons/pads anywhere and that convenience factor can seem like a luxury while scouring the aisles of a gas station searching for individual packs of PopTarts because you only need 3, not a box of 8. If you choose to use tampons and/or pads on trail, remember the Leave No Trace principle of ‘pack it in, pack it out’. Discretion levels significantly decrease the second you step on trail, so carrying around a bag of bloody tampons isn’t THAT big of a deal…try wrapping a Ziplock bag in duct tape so you don’t have to look at the mess, or double bagging a Ziplock inside of a colored plastic bag (Dollar General bags come in a beautiful electric yellow color). If you want to save some weight, try using non-applicator tampons (for example, OB tampons).
2. Menstrual Cup: Menstrual cups are a lot of hikers go to product during their period. The Diva Cup and Moon Cup are the only two I’ve ever heard of, but I’m sure there are alternative options as well. This is a great option for those hikers who don’t want to bother with the mess of packing out tampons and pads. Menstrual cups are also reusable, so worrying about resupplying your feminine products becomes a non issue. I am biased towards menstrual cups and think the Diva Cup is a gift from the period gods. It only needs to be changed every 12 hours, is cool to sleep in, and is surprisingly comfortable. During your period, simply dump out the cups contents, rinse (with clean water, and unscented soap if you have the capacity, or wipe with a wet wipe) and reinsert. At the end of your period you can boil the menstrual cup for complete disinfection. **practice using this before hittin’ the trail, you’ll thank me.
3. Birth Control: When you’re on the pill, you don’t ovulate, so your uterine lining doesn’t build up as much. In fact, you don’t have a true “period” during the placebo phase – just withdrawal bleeding, in which your uterine lining breaks down in response to the drop in horomones. So most pill-takers bleed less for a shorter time, and have little or no cramping. This is a great option for those who are already on birth control, or those who have bad cramps. If you’re more serious about birth control, getting an IUD is also an option.
Speaking of cramps, lets talk about that for a hot sec. Period cramps can be absolutely crippling. Make sure you’re drinking enough water, take a break when you need one, and have a fresh supply of drugs to ward off the cramp demons (my drug of choice is Motrin). If you’re into the whole heating pad thing, try filling up a Nalgene with boiling water and putting it on your tummy. I’ve never tried that because I carry Gatorade bottles, but I assume the effects are the same. Increasing exercise also helps alleviate cramps, so it’s a good thing you’re walking all day. If all else fails, just stop for a second and remember you’re one tough cookie and imagine how much harder your hike would be if you were pregnant.
Sanitation is another issue many women are concerned about during their period. I always carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer in the same plastic bag that has my toilet paper in it, so I always have it when I need it. Wash your hands with soap and clean water if you’re near a water source (200 ft. away from it, of course). Carrying travel sized Wet Wipes is always an option, as well as extra toilet paper during your time of the month.
Whether you’re on the trail or at home, periods suck. Being prepared with a Period Plan and tackling your menses head on is the only way to get through it! Buddy up with a fellow woman hiker and just let those hormones flow…it’ll be over soon. How do you deal with your period on trail? Curling up in a ball and crying is NOT an option.
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“…and I will set out NOBO for Katahdin March 13, 2014.” Along with the picture isn’t this a little TMI ?
I first read this when it was first posted, and after having been on the trail now I have to say THANK YOU. I appreciated the memo and this article did help me prepare for on trail. And I was successful! So thanks! Really helpful there =]
I had my IUD removed October of 2017 (to do a natural “reset”) and I’ve been using the diva cup in the backcountry.
For shorter training hikes I discovered I could “force” my period about 2 days early by adding turmeric powder to my diet!
This worked out well for me as I began a 14 day entirely off trail grand canyon backpack and I was the only female, phew!!
Oddly enough the night we hiked out the blood began to flow like crazy!! It was a full two weeks early and lasted 3 days (not pregnant and incredibly healthy). Soooooo grateful it waited until I was in the shower haha
Rinsing diva cup in camp isn’t hard. I dig a cathole dump the contents and use some treated water for a quick splash. With divas it isn’t 100% necessary to do a full rinse if you dump it more often than 12 hours. (I try to dump and rinse first thing in the AM and right before bed depending on day length)
Absolutely love that thing!
Great article thanks much!