Blood and Mountain: Menstruation on the Trail - by Jennifer Custer
Menstruating is a bore at the best of times. How often have I done the math on my cycle and groaned? Of course it would have to come during that hot date/board meeting/galactic battle/City Mountaineering adventure. This is partly about mood, partly about movement (I find I’m strangely uncoordinated in the first days of my period), partly the sore heaviness in the body. Of course it will fall at inconvenient times: it happens every bloody month.
But look, the wild is not a bad place to have a period. Mountains are moody too – you can lean into it. I find long walks do as much good for cramps (I get them bad in my lower back) as pain killers. The problems to solve relate more to hygiene and privacy, and, women, there are solutions. In fact, trying to solve these problems for trekking is what led me to the greatest discovery of my menstrual life: the menstrual cup. I made the switch from tampons and pads because I got sick of packing them out. But really, I always found tampons and pads uncomfortable and inconvenient, and I sometimes literally forget the menstrual cup is there – which is about as strong an endorsement as I can give it.
Here’s what I pack:
- Menstrual cup: mine is a Mooncup, but there are several reputable brands on the market;
- Pre-moistened wipes: period or no period, I always have these;
- A small, reclosable freezer bag for waste*: I line mine with a dog poo bag for opacity and convenience (can easily throw away liner and reuse main bag) but you can line it with kitchen foil or put gaffer tap around the outside (this weighs more), or do whatever suits you; I also sprinkle some baking soda into my waste bag to absorb any odours;
- Hand sanitizer: always, always within easy reach;
- Ibuprofen and/or paracetamol: tossing and turning on your sleeping mat all night is no wilderness heaven.
*If you use tampons/pads, you just need a bigger waste bag.
And here are the logistics when modern conveniences are not available:
- Dig a cat hole as you would for other toilet requirements
- Clean hands with sanitizer
- Remove cup and empty into hole
- Clean cup with wipe
- Replace cup
- Put used wipe in waste bag
- Clean hands with sanitizer
I keep a small stuff sack with all my toilet things together – toilet paper, wipes, waste bag, extra hand sanitizer (see picture). Much easier to grab one thing from the rucksack and be sure you have the full kit.
The menstrual cup does take some getting used to. I had a few awkward moments with it in the beginning, including one that left my trousers stained for a few days on a trek. (This is the worst that can happen! And it was barely noticeable.) So, if you’ve never used one, and you want to, give yourself a few months to get used to it before taking it into the wild.
I find that stigma and squeamishness around periods is fast disappearing from trekking culture. It is extraordinary how, even five years ago, there was so much reluctance to acknowledge it as something to deal with, and much harder to find or share information on practicalities. Strange for that to be true in an environment where other bodily functions can be breezy conversational currency. I wonder if mountain guides (Stu?) keep tampons in their first aid kits for emergencies nowadays – or if they should. I’m not sure it would have occurred to me to ask, if I were caught out.
I was joking with Stu on the Cape Wrath Trail recently (part of the expedition series, and totally freaking amazing) that woe would befall those who annoyed me on Day 1. It turned out that the midges took most of my temper, which may or may not have been related to hormones at all. I did burst into tears when Stu said we had 5k more of mountain bog to hike before we could camp, but then everyone did (just kidding, it was GREAT).
Stu said: you should write a blog about it. Here you go.