How to Deal with Getting Your Period on Trail

Periods are no fun and they're even less fun on trail, but expert Hannah K. offers some advice on how to make them suck slightly less.

A woman hikes across a field with mountains in the background

Photo by Ziga Plahutar

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Periods suck. Cramps, bloating, pimples, back pain, breast sensitivity, nausea, and hormones I swear try to make me feel everything at once. Period poops are the worst, sneezing too hard is scary, and the stereotype that I just want chocolate drives me insane. Yes, sometimes I do want chocolate, but that isn’t only during my period. So again, periods suck. And they can suck even more when you’re not near a bathroom with running water and a trash can.

How do you deal with your period in the wilderness? For those who never have had this experience, I will gladly share my experiences, what works for me, and how I don’t let my period ruin a good time.

A sanitary pad with decorative star-shaped beads laid on it

Photo by Alexander Sergienko

My Experience

First off, I want to note that my birth control has mostly stopped my period. I use the nexplanon, which goes into my arm and lasted for about three years, although now lasts even longer. If you don’t want to deal with periods ever or on the trail, try a birth control that is known for stopping or slowing them. I loved not having periods. But there was about a five month section of my life where I chose to not add the additional hormones into my body, and that is when I got my period on a two-week road trip and backpacking trip through Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming.

It was my first period after removing the nexplanon for my arm. It lasted the entire two weeks of the trip. It was heavy and I was bloated, but I knew that I didn’t want it to ruin my trip. Thankfully, a lot of the campsites we stayed at had flush toilets and some form of running water. But if they didn’t, we always stopped in the nearest town before heading to our campsite or the trailhead.

Now, I use a menstrual cup instead of tampons. It is eco-friendly, body friendly, and saves you money in the long run since it’s a one-time purchase rather than a monthly purchase for new tampons or liners. I also recently have purchased a pair of Thinx period underwear, and I really love those as well.

On trail though, the cup can be frustrating. It is messy and, to keep it as hygienic as possible, running water is super helpful. Although, I did change my cup in a non-flush toilet with no sink and I was pretty proud of that accomplishment. I brought some wipes and sanitizer for my hands and used my water bottle to pour water over my cup and dried it with some toilet paper. I also did this without any light because of course I forgot my headlamp.

Thankfully on this trip, I only had to change my cup once in the morning and once right before bed, so I didn’t have to worry during the day. When inserted correctly, which does take some practice, the cup is leak proof, so I did not have to worry about that and could instead focus on the scenery around me. Turns out, hiking is a great distraction from bad cramps. But I mean really, what can’t hiking do?

Tips & Tricks

If you aren’t feeling the cup, there are other options that I highly recommend for longer section hikes or backpacking trips where bathrooms and trash cans aren’t really a thing.

Underwear designed to absorb like Thinx are amazing. They are pricier than your average pair of undies, but it is a one time purchase that will save you money in the long run that you may have spent on liners, pads, and tampons. If you have the ability to wash them at camp, these are a great option, especially if you only have one pair. If you can’t wash and re-wear them, bring a ziplock baggie and store them for when you get home and can throw them into the wash.

A pair of white women's underwear hang on a clothes line against a blue sky

Photo by Patrick Kool

For those who prefer the ease of tampons (totally understandable), there are some tricks to making it easier. To carry out the trash, you can have a designated “tampon bag” that you can simply throw away at the end of your hike when you get to town. I’ve seen people use duct tape to hide the contents of the bag if you use a zip lock. Many prefer this option because there is no washing involved and thus the cleanest option available. That being said, tampons take up weight and space in a pack when every ounce matters. This is also the least eco-friendly option.

Here’s a funny quote I heard once and remembered: “plastic applicators are bad for the soul but good for the hole.” Gross but understandable. They do create a lot of waste, but listen to your own body. If tampons work for you, then go with your gut—especially on trails when comfort and safety are key. But in the future, I do recommend at least trying a reusable option like the underwear, cup, or reusable pads.

Like tampons, pads take up space and weight in your pack and are not eco-friendly, but they are another alternative for those who don’t like tampons or the menstrual cup. Some people have started using reusable pads that you can wash. If this intrigues you, grab a few and bring them on trail and wash them if you can. Or simply bring the amount needed for your time on the trail.

Final Thoughts

So bring some hand sanitizer, extra baggies, and your preferred method of how to handle your period. Remember to never clean your products directly in a water source and if you do clean them, make it at least two hundred feet from camp over a hole and stay as clean as possible. Whichever option you choose, stay positive and let the magic of the trail distract you from any period symptoms that may be bothering you. Pack some Advil for cramps and swelling, drink some hot beverages, and if you want to, eat some chocolate. Most importantly, do not let your period stop you from living your life, doing what you want, or getting to that peak.

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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