Sorry in advance to the guys, today we’re discussing PERIODS!!! BUM BUM BUUUMMMM
Okay so I have met SOOO many people who have sucessfully thru-hiked the AT, and very few of them were girls. That isn’t to say that girls don’t complete it, no quite the opposite HUNDREDS of girls do it every year (I’m apparently just very bad at making friends with outdoorsy women). Girl hikers are just as badass as guys! Actually, I’d even go as far as saying girls can be MORE badass than male hikers, because they have their little monthly bitc-UMM…I mean ‘present‘ that they have to deal with on the trail. If you think about it, that is a topic that even in today’s world has become pretty taboo. There isn’t a lot of information out there for female hikers and what their options are while they are having their menstrual cycle on longer-term backpacking trips. The information out there is very limited and for the most part girls are left on their own to spend hours doing their own research for the best sanitation and disposal method in the back woods. Some bloggers and information out there suggest not hiking at ALL during this time because YOU become a ‘smellable‘. Yea. Right. I’m going to take a week off my thru-hike every month and waste time and money in towns because of WHAT NOW??? Mother nature hasn’t stopped girls hikers before and our lovely society has created several methods for getting around the big red dot on your calendar and still leading an active lifestyle, which is especially important for female thru-hikers who don’t have the luxury or option of stopping. Most thru hikers don’t see towns but once every few days or weeks anyways, showers and toilets are occasional luxuries and when you’re out in the wild you’ve got to be prepared, especially when you may only have one or two pairs of clothing. I still think you should research the options and find out what works best for you and your body, but here are several methods used by other girl hikers that worked for them.
One traditional method of controlling periods are the typical sanitary napkins, pads, or “marshmallows” (as my family of 5 girls calls them). I haven’t personally used these in years because during a middle school field trip to a water park I was forced to step outside of my comfort zone and try the dreaded TAMPON when my little ‘friend‘ hit the night before. Tampons are my personal preference because they involve less of a mess and when used correctly you don’t feel or notice them being there. You can wear a swimsuit, play in the water, and carry out normal activities without feeling like a big diaper is taped to your underwear. Some are scented or may have dyes, etc in them. I would look to avoid anything smelly or with chemicals in it, its just added drama.
So tampons are one option while hitting the trail, but what about trash? Leave No Trace still applies to girls on their periods, and there are ways to endure the frustration of a menstrual cycle while still packing it in and packing it out. For one thing, NEVER bury used materials or toss them in trash bins along the trail, they won’t decompose and you are basically putting up a big sign for wild animals to come dig them up. Plus, what about the poor souls who have to empty that trash, even if the animals haven’t torn through everything? The best thing to do is to carry an extra trash bag in your pack for used applicators and other packaging materials, as well as the used product itself. When you make your weekly town visits you can toss the package along with your other trash materials in a trash bin that’s in a bear-free environment where it will be emptied regularly. Don’t want to deal with the excess pack weight? If you’re on a heavy flow or one of those girls who flies through hundreds of tampons like clockwork, consider using tampons that come without the applicator. It may take practice inserting and removing them at first but the decimals of an ounce shed off your pack may be worth it to you. So yea….tampons.
Another method of control would be to use a re-usable, “eco-friendly” method to manage your period. Washable materials such as the Lunapad are available, the big thing is to just make sure they are kept clean and that you are not rinsing them out in water sources. After you’ve obtained clean water, rinse them out over a cat hole far from running water, just as you would dig for your normal bathroom needs.
THEN THERE ARE THE MENSTRUAL CUPS. I have personally never experimented with these, and in the process of researching them I found this video :
Which is quite possibly the funniest uhh…informative thing I’ve seen in a while. Menstrual cups like the Moon Cup or the Diva Cup are reusable, eco-friendly cups that collect menstrual flow. It takes a lot of practice to use them without spilling, and they are easy to rinse in the woods, homes and even in a public bathroom (just take a water bottle into the stall with you and rinse into a toilet). There really isn’t trash to take off the trail with you, and by rinsing into a cat hole your dilute any waste enough that you’re not leaving much to attract wildlife. Okay, sounds like a cool option, but I would try it out long before hitting the trail to make sure it works for you. I’ve heard it can spill when your practicing how to remove it…grody.
One blogger I found on Appalachiantrailgirl.com stated that she used sea sponges during her hike. It sounds a lot like a tampon mixed with a menstrual cup, but a little messy for my coordination (or lack thereof). To each her own, however. More power to you sponge girls!
And as always, you have the option of totally suppressing your period during your hikes. This is done chemically using pills from your healthcare provider. Usually its a type of birth control. To find out more, you’d have to speak with your doctor, I’m not gonna even try suggesting ways to do it on your own, and this should be done MONTHS in advance to get your body used to the new swing of things.
Now that you’ve read this far, it’s confession time. I am one of the oddballs, the irregulars.I do not have a monthly period, and haven’t in years. I have been using the birth control implant Implanon for almost six years now and while most girls have some irregularity and experience lighter periods for small periods of time, I straight up lost mine for five wonderful years. Now they’re back, -_- I’m not sure if its because I am getting closer to the end of this particular implant’s 3-year life cycle or if my body has just finally adapted to the hormonal changes, but I do get periods. Irregularly. I will sometimes go for months with no change and then one day SURPRISE!!! Three weeks of bleeding. Then Its off for a few weeks and just like “Honey, I’m hoooommme” it returns. Sometimes it lasts for a day, other times longer. It makes predicting periods a royal pain in the ass, but I don’t sweat it. In the long run its worth it for me, because I still don’t have to worry about bleeding as much as I would otherwise and I don’t have to take pills, get shots, insert and remove any IUD’s or do anything other than visit a doctor once every three years to get a big shot containing the small implant that sits under my arm. So when I hike, I will always be prepared for a weeks worth of flow and can always resupply in towns as needed. I doubt my body will make it the full 6 months without seeing my little friend at least once, so I will always be prepared.
The absolute BIGGEST and MOST IMPORTANT thing to remember though girls, Stay HYDRATED. Your aches, pains, and cramps will multiply exponentially if you become dehydrated on your period, so much that no amount of Midol can help you! Drink WATER!!! Always remember that no matter what method of birth control or period management you use, follow the instructions as directed and keep it clean. Wash your hands, keep everything down there sanitary and clean, and remember to keep your smell-ables and trash away from wildlife. The last thing you need is Toxic Shock Syndrome or a Urinary Tract Infection pulling you off the trail before you ever reach your end goal. Remember ,ziplock baggies and unscented wet wipes are you FRIENDS!
So, moral of the story: Find what works for you, stay clean and DRINK WATER!!!
Happy hiking girls,