Women know that their period can be an uncomfortable experience. Hiking on your period is a totally normal thing to do, but it’s not something most women talk about openly. Which can make some of us feel embarrassed or self-conscious about having our period while hiking or backpacking.
And if you’re camping overnight, you might worry about having to deal with menstruation without any supplies! If these things are concerns for you too, then this article is for YOU!
With a little knowledge and preparation, dealing with your period while hiking is no big deal. Here are some tips and tricks so you can enjoy your next hiking trip without worrying about what’s going on down below.
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Can you go hiking on your period?
In short, absolutely! In fact, easy to moderate exercise like hiking, before and during your period, can actually ease cramps and boost your mood and self-confidence. But if you plan to go on longer or more difficult hikes, always listen to your body. While there’s no specific time of your cycle that you can’t hike as long as you eat well and hydrate properly, listen to your own physical limits, and don’t push yourself too hard.
The hardest part about hiking on your period is getting the oomph to get off the couch and out of those comfy pajamas! Set yourself up for success by getting your backpack ready to go the night before, filling up your water bottles, get your favorite snacks ready to go, and lay out some hiking clothes that make you feel great while wearing them. This will make getting out the door much easier when you might be feeling a little blah about life.
Is it bad to go hiking on your period?
For the vast majority of women, the answer is no, it is not bad to go hiking on your period. However, if you experience debilitating pain or cramps along with your period, you’ll want to talk to your OBGYN or healthcare provider about any underlying health conditions like endometriosis, hormone imbalance or anything else that might be causing your severe period symptoms.
If you do have any underlying health conditions, also ask your doctor what exercises, including hiking, would be safe and appropriate for you.
Other than that, it is perfectly fine to go hiking during your period and we’ll share more tips in this post like what supplies you need, how to stay clean while on your period, and how to prevent and identify toxic shock syndrome while hiking or camping.
Best Period Supplies For Hikers
Luckily, there are several different ways you can handle your period while hiking. Ultimately, the best method is the method that feels most comfortable to you!
If you grew up like me and were only ever introduced to pads and tampons, I highly, highly, highly recommend that you branch out and at least try some of the reusable menstrual products mentioned below. It is not an exaggeration to say that they are life-changing, plus they are just more practical while hiking.
While they may be new to you, having been invented in the 1920s, menstrual cups are not new by any means. What is a menstrual cup? Well, it’s a small cup made of medical-grade silicone that is inserted into the vagina during your period to catch all menstrual fluid. It can be worn for up to twelve hours before being removed and emptied out, washed off, then reinserted.
Menstrual cups are my personal favorite because they are so low maintenance, extremely inexpensive and you never have the problem of it overflowing or leaking on your clothes. You can wear them overnight too!
I do need to warn you, there is a small learning curve to using a menstrual cup and you likely won’t get it in perfectly your first time using it. So relax, keep an open mind, and practice in the comfort of your home for your first cycle or two, and use pads or panty liners as a backup until you’re confident you can insert it properly.
Hint: If your cup is inserted properly, you won’t be able to feel it at all and you won’t leak if it’s actually placed around your cervix 😉
The cups I’ve personally used and loved are Diva Cup and June Cup. Diva Cup is definitely a more well-known brand and is a little bit firmer than the original June Cup. While firmer silicone means the cup will more easily pop back into shape once inserted, it also means it might be more likely that you could feel it inside you. Whereas the June Cup, since it’s softer, might require more deliberation while inserting it, but once it’s inside, I never feel it. The June Cup has also recently released a Firm Cup, which I imagine is more similar to a Diva Cup.
Using the cup on the trail is easy. When I wake up and before I go to bed, I empty the cup’s contents into a cathole, just like you would dig if you were pooping in the woods, rinse the cup with purified water and reinsert it. Then I’m good to go for the entire day or through the night.
I wash my menstrual cup with hot or boiling water and Diva Wash soap after my period is over or when I get back home after a backpacking trip.
While I haven’t personally used period underwear, because there’s really no need for it with the cup, I have heard good things about it from other lady hikers. What is period underwear? There are several different brands that produce underwear that is absorbent enough to keep you clean during your period, without having to use tampons or pads. Most period underwear will hold anywhere from 2-4 tampons worth of fluid, make sure to clarify this in the underwear description before you buy so you know what to expect.
Then you wash them and reuse them, which drastically reduces period waste and saves major money over time, just like with menstrual cups. Period underwear is a little bit of an investment upfront though since most women buy between 4-7 pairs of varying absorbencies to get them through their cycle. Or you could start out with only 2 or 3 pairs to try them out, knowing you’ll have to wash them more frequently during your period. This is what we recommend doing while backpacking anyway, only packing 2-4 pairs of period underwear and washing and rotating through them each day on the trail.
Here are some of the most recommended brands of period underwear. Take your time exploring all the different styles, from bikinis to boyshorts, and absorbencies from light to super, and choose what sounds most comfortable to you.
Thinx Period Underwear
While on the pricier end, they are the leaders in period underwear (and customer service!) Thinx also seems to have to widest variety of styles, sizes, fit and absorbencies, so you’re sure to find something that works for you.
Goat Union Period Underwear
Goat Union is one of the most loved budget-friendly options for period underwear and a great way to dip your toes in the water without spending a ton of money up front to see if they’re right for you.
Bambody Period Underwear
While not as absorbent as some of the Thinx underwear, this is another great option if you’re on a budget or just looking to try out period underwear.
Pad and tampons
These are listed last because they are already the most well-known, most readily available, and most-used period supplies out there. AND they are also my least favorite, especially for hiking and camping!
Can we have some real talk about tampons and pads??? Brace yourself.
I’ve always found tampon applicators pretty painful, why would we subject ourselves to that? Plus when you’re backpacking, you’ll have to pack out all your used tampons, applicators, and any pads, which just takes up unnecessary space in my bear bag, in my opinion.
But, before I knew about menstrual cups, I used to love and live by O.B. brand tampons that don’t have applicators. I found them way more comfortable to insert plus they take up less space and create less waste than other tampons or pads.
This also may be a personal issue, but pads have just never worked for me, especially for strenuous activities like backpacking or like when I used to train in martial arts. Pads and panty liners would never stay stuck to sweaty underwear and I would always end up leaking out the front or back (or both!) of the pad after hours of repetitive motion like walking…. or after no motion at all like while sleeping for that matter.
Lady hikers also have to be careful to change their tampons every 6-8 hours max to prevent TSS or other health issues. As opposed to cups or period underwear that can be worn 12 hours and changed less frequently – which is awesome on the trail.
If you do use disposable period products like pads, panty liners, or tampons, be sure to always Leave No Trace, pack out all of your trash and properly store all used sanitary products overnight in a bear canister or bear hang to prevent animals from getting into your trash.
How to Leave No Trace while hiking on your period
No one wants to see your applicators, wrappers, or used tampons and pads on the ground or dug up by animals. And the wonderful trail crews who maintain the trail you’re enjoying don’t want to handpick them out of privies or pit toilets either, which is a thing that they have to do when women plop them down into the abyss. Bless their souls!
But also, now that you know better, do better.
Pack out all of your trash, that includes any food waste, food wrappers, wet wipes, and yes, menstrual trash as well. When I used disposable products like pads and tampons, I found it easiest to bring an empty quart-size Ziploc bag specifically for wet wipes and period waste.
You can greatly lower the ick factor here by wrapping the clear bag in duct tape or placing all used products inside a solid-colored dog poop bag, then inside the Ziploc bag to contain any smells. You can also place some crushed Aspirin in the bag before you go to help lessen the smell.
If you’re backpacking, this is still considered a ‘smelly item’ and should be packed away at night the rest of your smelly food, trash, and toiletries, whether that’s in a bear canister, bear bag, or Ursack, that’s up to you. Just know it might attract curious critters so should be stored properly overnight.
If you use a menstrual cup, Leave No Trace by digging a proper 6-inch deep cathole to bury the contents of your cup in. For convenience sake, I empty and rinse my cup at the same time I’m going to poop, so I can dig one less cathole.
If you’re using period underwear, don’t wash them directly in any streams or lakes. Carry a pot/bucket/bag/container of water at least 200 feet or ~70 adult steps away from your campsite and water sources, then wash your underwear and any other clothes, or even your body, there. I hear the larger, collapsible silicone dog bowls are great for camp shores like this.
Periods and Bears
Or wolves. Or coyotes. Or marmots. Haha just kidding, I’ve never actually heard any women say they’re afraid of marmots on their period.
But my point stands, this is a myth, and bears or other wildlife will not try to hunt you down if you’re on your period. If this is something you’re still worried about, or just worried about having a smell in general, menstrual cups are your most odor-proof option.
As I said earlier, your used tampons and pads will definitely have a smell to them. While animals won’t necessarily track that down and try to get you or eat your pads, they may be curious about it and rip through your gear trying to figure out what it is. So always be sure to secure all your waste and never bury it, or leave it somewhere animals have access to.
How to pee in the woods while on your period
Peeing in the woods while on your period is just like peeing in the woods any other time. Simply find a secluded spot, out of sight from other hikers and at least 200 feet away from water sources, squat down… and pee.
It really can be as simple as that. But here are a few pointers to make peeing in the woods while on your period a little more hygienic and enjoyable.
I personally use and love the Pibella, but there are lots of other brands of female urinary devices out there as well. I use the Pibella both when I’m on period, using the menstrual cup, and while I’m not on my period. While I still tend to squat while using the Pibella (less splashback on my shoes!) the added benefit for me is that I can ‘squeegee’ myself after peeing. I find this to be much cleaner and less smelly over time than trying to drip dry, as some women do.
Although, I’d guess that female urinary devices probably won’t work so well with a tampon string in the mix, so be mindful of that. If you’re using pads or period underwear, you could absolutely still use a female urinary device. Just bring some water with you to quickly rinse it, just in case. Or of course, you could simply squat and go.
Before I was introduced to the Pibella, I did often use a pee-rag, a regular old bandana, to wipe after peeing and then tied it to the outside of my pack to dry in the sun. It never smelled or got super gross or dirty. I would just throw it in the wash after each trip or whenever I got the chance.
A lot of women swear by the Kula Cloth, a more fancy pee-rag that is made of silver-ion-infused anti-microbial cloth and has a waterproof barrier so your hands don’t get wet.
Even if you’re not keen on a female urinary device, I highly recommend using a pee rag, either a bandana or Kula Cloth to help keep yourself dry and clean down there.
If you do use toilet paper while peeing in the woods, always either bury it in a 6-inch deep cathole where allowed, or pack it out with you in your period trash bag and throw it away when you get to town. Never leave toilet paper or tissues lying on the ground, nobody else wants to see that, let alone clean up your used TP after you. *gross*
So, do you feel ready to go hiking on your period? Just make sure you have the right supplies and know what to expect. We hope this post has given you some helpful advice for making your time of the month a little more manageable when out in nature!
What’s next? Explore even more with these backpacking tips:
- First Time Backpacking? Here’s What You Need To Know
- 10 Essential Backpacking Skills Every Hiker Needs
- A Guide To Backpacking In The Rain
- 35 Backpacking Tips and Tricks
About the author, Mallory Moskowitz:
After studying Recreation, Park & Tourism Management, Mallory spent several years teaching environmental education, guiding hikes, and leading backcountry trips. Her life-changing trek from Georgia to New York on the Appalachian Trail is what sparked the creation of Your Adventure Coach, to share backpacking tips and resources with as many new hikers as possible.