Hiking and Menstruation: FAQ

Totally not a big deal

Woman hiking outdoors
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While menstruation is no longer a taboo topic, city life doesn't always prepare us for handling this natural function out-of-doors. Once you wrap your mind around it, the process is simple and common sense as you can certainly hike when you have your period.

Here are some of the most common questions about menstruation and hiking. Read on about what to pack and how to handle used menstrual items.

Will the Smell of Menstrual Blood Attract Bears?

An analysis of bear attack statistics over multiple decades, says no. To be more exact:

  • It looks like black bears could care less about menstrual blood
  • There's zero evidence linking grizzly attacks to menstruation. In fact, 79 percent of bear-caused injuries in Yosemite National Park over a 32-year period -- most of them from grizzlies -- were inflicted on men, who definitely don't menstruate.
  • One small study, on the other hand, indicates that polar bears might be interested in your menstrual blood... but given that polar bears don't tend to fear humans, we wouldn't advise hanging around them at all -- no matter what you're packing below the belt.

What Should I Do About My Used Tampons and Pads?

Pack out tampons and pads, just as you would do with any waste produced by personal hygiene tasks. (You do pack out your toilet paper, right?) Bring a few extra zip-close bags along for stowing your used menstrual gear, and a dark-colored stuff sack to stow it all if you're concerned about folks seeing what's in the bags.

If you're backpacking in bear country,  treat said used menstrual gear just as you'd treat any other "scented" material, including deodorant and toothpaste: Either stow it in a bear canister or bear bag it (you can hang it in a separate bag from the food, if you like).

What If I Don't Want to Pack That Stuff Out?

Consider trying a Diva Cup, Moon Cup, Keeper, or any of the other menstrual cup varieties out there. These collect menstrual blood instead of absorbing it, and you can dispose of the blood the same way you'd dispose of feces on the trail. Better yet, reusable menstrual cups are earth-friendly and can save you a good chunk of money.

I Got My Period Unexpectedly While Backpacking. What Gives?

Every woman is different, and extended outdoor outings can definitely affect your menstrual cycle. And yes, you really can sync up with the other ladies in your crew! So if you're not 100 percent sure your cycle will stay away while you're out, pack something just in case.

(That's the further beauty of menstrual cups -- you only need to pack one, no matter how long the trip. Also, unlike tampons, menstrual cups have never been linked to toxic shock syndrome.)

What Should I Pack to Handle My Period While Hiking?

You can find a packable equivalent of just about any comfort items you'd use at home, except maybe a hot water bottle. If heat does the trick for you, you can buy adhesive chemical heat pads that are reasonably small and light. (ThermaCare is the first brand that comes to mind.) If your periods tend to be difficult and you know you'll need some sort of a pain reliever, pack it! The degree of comfort it'll provide is worth giving up a tiny bit of space or weight.

You might plan to carry a little extra water for washing up, bidet-style. If you like to use pre-moistened wipes instead, pack the unscented version. If you're worried about keeping your underwear clean, opt for quick-dry, breathable undies made of synthetic materials, and pack an extra pair. That way you switch into a clean pair while you rinse the other pair out and let them dry.

If you're hiking with lady friends, you can just tie 'em to the outside of your pack to dry. For a slightly more discreet version of this method, put them in a mesh stuff sack or dark-color lingerie bag and hang that on the outside of your pack.