Female hygiene: a backcountry guide and tips

Introduction from Skurka:

I’m qualified to write about many backpacking matters. Female hygiene best practices is not one of them. For this topic, I asked Trinity Ludwig to share her wisdom, figuring she must have a few pointers — in September 2012 she and her two hiking partners, Shelley and Sarah, finished an 11-month 1,785-mile trek the length of South America. And right now she’s backpacking in Argentina.

Even if you’re a guy, it’d be worth reading this article: If you ever want your girlfriend, fiancee, or wife to join you on a backpacking trip, your ignorance on this subject could be major roadblock.


Drying a pee rag (dark blue bandana), socks and underwear on the outside of a backpack. Choquequirao, Peru

Drying a pee rag (dark blue bandana), socks and underwear on the outside of a backpack. Choquequirao, Peru

A female should develop a plan to maintain their hygiene in the backcountry before the trip begins. In this respect, it’s no different than the food you’ll eat, the shelter you’ll use, and the routes you’ll follow — it usually works out better to plan it than to wing it. The plan should account for the likely conditions on your trip, e.g. temperature, humidity, snow coverage, water availability, vegetation, group size and privacy, etc.

Females have two chief worries with regards to their hygiene while in the backcountry:

1. A vaginal infection (e.g. yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis) is due to an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina and results in discharge, itching, soreness and discomfort.

2. A urinary tract infection (UTI) is caused by germs getting into the urinary tract system, and potentially travelling up to the bladder or even the kidneys. Preventing UTI’s is critical because they can escalate quickly and must be treated with antibiotics, unless you can flush out the infection through hydration at the beginning stages.

The goal of this article is to share with you backcountry care and infection prevention tips.

1. Inspect your V

I’m not sure that Skurka would be stoked with a full inspection how-to clinic on his blog. So, I will leave you to browse The V-Book by Elizabeth G. Stewart, M.D. and Paula Spencer on your own.

2. Keep your V comfortable and dry

Wear comfortable underwear that will promote a dry environment, as bacteria is better able to grow in wet environments. Arguably, cotton underwear is the most comfortable because it is very breathable; however, it may not foster a dry environment because of its long dry time, especially when trapped under your shorts or pants.

Active performance underwear is typically made mostly of polyester or merino wool; smaller amounts of spandex (for stretch) and/or nylon (for durability) are often added, too. I prefer merino wool for two reasons:

  1. Synthetic underwear is like synthetic clothing — it smells after 10 minutes of exercise. Wool is naturally more odor-resistant.
  2. It’s easier to clean the wool, the weave of which is looser.

I prefer light-colored underwear so I can see, rather than mask, what I am cleaning, unless the underwear will double as a swimsuit.

It may be popular, but I’ve never been a big fan of hiking commando. However, during any downtime, some air time is always refreshing.

3. Keep it “hygienic”

You have lots of good bacteria in your vagina that keep its delicate, self-regulating environment fully functioning. It’s just as important to maintain the good bacteria as to avoid bad bacteria. Hence why I recommend to keep it “hygienic” rather than “clean.”

For example, if you use an alcohol pad to wipe after you pee, you will kill the good bacteria along with the bad bacteria, and thus increase your chances of getting a UTI because there’s nothing left to fight one. Some gentle soap and water around your V (but not in it) should suffice. How often? Ideally, daily. But it depends on your perceived risk of infection: Have you been sweating a lot? Are you well hydrated? How dirty are you? Have you been able to take advantage of a river crossing by going bottomless?

This river was a little too technical to go commando. Near Surumi, Bolivia

This river was a little too technical to go commando. Near Surumi, Bolivia

I recommend that underwear washing become part of your daily routine. If conditions are not optimal, like if it’s raining or cold, you can just wash the crotch. During my 11-month South America trek, my two girlfriends and I each used only two pairs of underwear. If one pair wasn’t being worn, it was being washed and dried. We never complained about our lack of underwear, though we dreamed of cotton t-shirts.

For shorter trips, an alternative strategy to regular underwear washing is a panty liner. Swap the panty liner each day — and pack out the used ones.

4. Wipe well

My wiping evolution

My wiping evolution

It took me three months into our eleven-month South American adventure to begin using a pee rag. Something about it grossed me out, even though I accepted previous backpacking partners for using them. Once I tried it, I never went back. It’s drier and less stinky, and unlike natural materials (e.g. rocks, twigs, leaves) there is little risk of abrasive particles getting into your V.

I started out with a lightweight microfiber (high-absorbent) towel and then switched to a traditional cotton bandana. Like a dried-out sponge, microfiber towels are not always immediately absorbent. In contrast, cotton absorbs immediately so you can wipe quickly. And since you’re only wiping a few drops, the dry time is insignificant.

Make a pee rag using one-quarter of a square bandana. Tie a knot in one corner for a handle, and to help attach it to the outside of your pack via a clip or stretchy cord.

Quick and easy access! I attach my pee rag using an elastic cord and mini cord lock, strapped into an accessory loop on the outside of my pack.

Quick and easy access! I attach my pee rag using an elastic cord and mini cord lock, strapped into an accessory loop on the outside of my pack.

To those who may question whether a pee rag is sanitary, consider that ultra-violet rays from the sun are one of earth’s most powerful disinfectants. A pee rag on the outside of a backpack is probably cleaner than the toilet paper rolls in many public bathrooms.

Finally, learn to poop in the woods correctly. The most common way to get a UTI is the transmission of bacteria from the backdoor to the frontdoor, so always wipe front to back, always. There is good information online and elsewhere on how to poop in the woods.

Watch out! Cows and other wildlife like pee rags too. A cow (not this one) stole my pee rag that was hanging on our tent overnight. Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Watch out! Cows and other wildlife like pee rags too. A cow (not this one) stole my pee rag that was hanging on our tent overnight. Cordillera Blanca, Peru

5. Stay hydrated and go to the bathroom

If you are dehydrated or just trying to avoid having to pee outside, you will increase your chances for a UTI because you are not adequately flushing your system.

I learned this lesson the (very) hard way. When I was twelve years old at summer camp, I was too cold and afraid to get out of my bed in order to use the bathroom. So, I held it. Shortly thereafter, I found myself in the hospital for five days with a kidney infection.

Fifteen years later, I am still too cozy to get out of my bed at night so I’ve adapted preventative measures: I remain well hydrated during the day, and I stop drinking liquids after dinner.

Stay hydrated! Near Tinogasta, Argentina

Stay hydrated! Near Tinogasta, Argentina

6. Mange your period

I am asked about this topic more than any other. You have three options:

Option 1. Use a traditional maxi pad or tampon — ideally, an applicator-less model, which has less waste — and pack it out.

Option 2. Use a DivaCup, which is a reuseable, bell-shaped menstrual cup that is inserted into your V in order to catch your menstrual flow. It’s quickly gaining popularity but it has one drawback: insertion can be uncomfortable to get used to. However, it has several advantages:

  • Reuseable and eco-friendly
  • Can be worn for 12 hours
  • No “icky” tampons to pack out

Option 3. Schedule your period via birth control so Flo doesn’t visit during your adventure. Or, better yet, use a birth control method such as the Mirena IUD or Depo Provera injection and don’t see Flo at all!

66 Responses to Female hygiene: a backcountry guide and tips

  1. Liz March 11, 2013 at 1:16 am #

    Love it! Thanks for the straightforward post.
    My two cents:

    4. If it’s too cold or wet to climb out of the tent, pee in a Ziploc (double X chromosome version of the bottle). Hikers always have a few extra, right? I can honestly exaggerate and say that a Ziploc probably saved my life in a snowstorm once.

    5. Option 2b: Instead SoftCups are similar to DivaCups, but less bulky and after rinsing and reusing one for the entirety of my period, I discard it — no disinfecting and transporting ’til the next cycle required. Bonus: It’s possible to schedule a gentle “trail tail” session with it inserted.

    • Jess March 11, 2013 at 6:05 am #

      awesome to see such a candid post on this…know it’ll be a help to many. Also, an ‘assist’ of sorts can also be a huge help! …esp for winter conditions & pee bags. found the Sport & Travel Freshette especially light & packable

    • MacGyver March 22, 2013 at 11:10 am #

      Another option to the Ziploc is a plastic mayonnaise/pickle/peanut butter jar. You can get one as large and/or wide as you need, as a direct answer to the male pee bottle. I would imagine the “firm” receptacles to be easier to hold and use while also having less potential for spillage.

      • Debra L Bailey November 7, 2013 at 5:19 am #

        I love this stuff I never would of thought of all these neat things. I love FB and other places I have learned. Thanks A Bunch

  2. RenegadePilgrim March 11, 2013 at 4:23 am #

    Love this write up! I am going to share it with my meetup group. I’m a huge fan of the Diva Cup and have been using one for the past three years. I wish I had discovered it sooner. I used it while traveling around the world and have continued using it each month. It makes hiking and backpacking a little more tolerable while on my period.

  3. My Name March 11, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    #5 Mange

    but you meant

    #5 Manage ?

  4. Dianne March 11, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    Nice, and just adding on:

    1. To cut down on how much post-pee wiping you need, sit on a rock to pee, and let the pee flow down a nice rolling surface.
    2. After the pee, take a tip from OB nursing and aim your water bottle at your girlie self. A few tablespoons of fresh water following the pee will keep you nice and clean.
    3. You might like checking out menstrual sponges, too; only one brand I know of that sells them sterile to start with: Sea pearls. I carried two, swapped them out, and sterilized them once a day.

    Oh, yeah, and:

    4. Look forward with glee to your post-menopausal hiking, where I am now. I occasionally get nostalgic for my bygone young-and-fertile self, but never ever nostalgic for Flo.

    Dianne

    • Laura April 29, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

      I just can’t say enough about post menopausal backpacking. Not that I ever shaved my legs or pits, or took deodorant on treks, but wow I haven’t shaved in years and just discovered that I don’t seem to need deodorant anymore. My 60th birthday gift to myself will be spending five months doing the PCT. You have to train more as you get older but the benefits are worth it. Hooray for old ladies on the trails!

    • Jo Crescentc July 22, 2013 at 11:26 am #

      Great post – The most exciting thing I discovered on this backpack was that a nightly glass of salt water stopped the persistent & annoying stress incontinence leakage I’ve been experiencing when hiking downhill with a backpack! I started with the salt water to flush out a UTI; since this is not a usual problem of mine, I suspect it was from not completely emptying my bladder by using a flow diverter too often – something to consider unless your elimination muscles are are stronger than mine! I was, however, able to flush it out in short order by drinking a glass of mild salt solution water each night. After that, I did not continue to use the diverter. I found that squatting was just as quick, especially since I don’t remove my backpack. In other news, I, too, use a sponge for menstrual flow, and have used a pee rag for years.

      To deal with stress incontinence in general, I do kegels regularly (have a device at home!), have adjusted my diet per the Mayo Clinic instructions, and in general don’t have have much problem anymore, but the 20+ lb pack & a descending trail have been an ongoing challenge for me, so I am delighted with this saltwater solution even though I don’t understand and can’t explain it.

  5. Sarah Fowler March 11, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    Great post. I was really worried about this before our 6 month Pacific Crest Trail hike last year. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of a pee rag earlier! Made my hike much more comfortable :)

  6. Katherine K. March 11, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    The pee rag and the wool undies are interesting ideas, thanks for sharing. I had been wondering about cotton v. synthetic.

    Question: Do you use filter/treated water when washing the cup/pee rag?

    Note that the Diva cup is only the best-known of many brands of menstrual cup. LadyCup and Lunette are two other popular silicon cups. There is a classic post online somewhere that compares several models, I’ll try to track it down. Some women like certain fits better than others.

    Tip: Many women need to trip the “stem” – it can vastly improve comfort if you feel you’re being poked. If you need to trim in completely use an infant nail file to smooth the silicon. It works surprisingly well.

    Curious how well other field washable cloth options would work out as back-up alternatives to liners. At home I use “preemie pre fold” cloth diapers for nighttime. For backpacking I’d be inclined to use 1-ply cotton baby wipes, layered as necessary, instead.

    • Trinity Ludwig March 23, 2013 at 8:15 am #

      Hi Katherine, thank you for your comments and insight. With regard to your question on filtered vs. unfiltered water, I use unfiltered. For the pee rag, it shouldn’t matter since it will sun-dry and disinfect regardless (any bacteria in the unfiltered water will die once dried). For the menstrual cup, “officially” it is probably not sanctioned to clean with unfiltered water, however, I think it’s probably okay as long as you are keeping up its maintenance, washing with mild soap, and letting it dry completely before insertion. Cheers!

  7. Susan "Backpack45" Alcorn March 11, 2013 at 5:42 pm #

    On our Torres del Paine circuit, the Pacific Crest Trail, and Kilimanjaro, I carried an empty yogurt container (quart-sized) to use as a pee container for those nights when it was too cold and/or windy to get out of the tent. Minimal weight to carry, can be stuffed with extra socks, etc. in the day. And when it got kicked over, in the vestibule, during the night when on Kilimanjaro, I was relieved that the pee froze by morning :-)

  8. Denise March 11, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

    I’ve been using the Instead Softcups for years – at home and on the trail and in the mountains. So easy – and a quick swish with some fresh water once a day keeps it clean.

    I’ve never used a pee rag – going to try that – I generally just airdry when hiking – and usually commando – hate extra stuff around my waist. Yeah windy days. The freshette is good in winter when you don’t want to drop your drawers in the cold. (also very fun to aim from the standing position – snow art).

    I have a yellow nalgene bottle that is ‘designated’ for nighttime in tent use. Be careful though – mistakes are messy.

    • Elallu September 13, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

      Love reading that you brought up the Instead. I used to use instead cups and loved them. I actually used only 1 per period and found no consequence to doing this off label. I than switched to the Diva Cup… but only to be more environmental and for the economic benefit of it.

  9. Becky March 12, 2013 at 2:35 am #

    Thanks for the article, there are some useful tips. I think it is important not to make such a big deal about it, however. As an Expedition Leader I spent 3 months in a tent last year, which is quite typical for me. I don’t buy special pants, wherever possible I wash as regularly as I do at home, when this isn’t possible I’ve never had any issues, our bodies really are quite resistant. The only UTI I have suffered from have not been on a trip but at home.

    I have led overseas youth expeditions for a number of years and have noticed an increase in anxiety, especially among the girls, on managing toilet/periods/washing whilst camping I have to spend a lot of time dispelling myths and misinformation on this. Often their solutions are disposable pants, wet wipes and various options to stopping periods. I have to give them tips and reassurance but it basically can be summed up as ‘it’s not a big deal, do what you do at home.’

    • Elallu September 13, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

      Disposable pants? Wet wipes? That doesn’t sound light weight! :)

  10. Alison Simon March 14, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    I have to agree with Becky. I am in the camp of preferring not to make such a big deal out of this particular topic. I have also dispelled quite a few myths and spent much time “teaching” others to be clean. But in short, if people absolutely believe they need to take extra-special precautions, nothing you can say will convince them otherwise (kind of like lightweight backpacking, actually).

    For me, backcountry living comes down to staying as clean as possible given the circumstances. So, even when I am tired getting into camp at night, I make time for 10 minutes of cleaning. A sandwich bag for used tampons (the small ones) covers the “leave no trace” rule — otherwise, I’m good to go. The only special clothes I wear are my attempts to get women’s sizes rather than men’s (they always hang funny).

    Thanks for the pee towel idea. I may need to try that one. Otherwise, as Becky says, it really is no big deal, do what you do at home.

  11. ElliGateKeeper March 19, 2013 at 11:32 am #

    Love the Diva Cup!!!! Introduce your teen girls to it. After a year of cycles, my daughter started using her Diva Cup, after her second use, She is now excited for her summer hiking trip.

    Someone mentioned the “hurt” of inserting the Diva Cup. Just think back to teenage years and inserting the tampon at first. Ouchy/uncomfortable. The same for the Diva Cup-I wouldn’t say it hurts, it feels awkward for a time-when you insert it, it is rolled or tucked-the first time it untucks quickly. It gives you a hard startle-like clapping your hands-it is there and gone before you know it.

    My question is: Do you burry the blood-like human waste? and if so how deep?

    • Trinity Ludwig March 23, 2013 at 8:28 am #

      Elli- good question! With any waste disposal in the backcountry, I always like to make a thoughtful evaluation of the landscape I am in and its level of use to decide how I dispose of waste (before I even take off). But probably in most cases, I would dump the cup and mix in the menstrual waste in some top soil with a stick or rock over a square foot or so, out of any passerby’s sight and in a good place where it will decompose quickly.

  12. Diane March 22, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    I carry a small squeeze bottle to hose myself off after I pee. Doing this and then using a pee rag would be cleaner for the pee rag but so far I just drip dry. I also made a lady J type thing out of a salad dressing bottle. I will flush a squeeze of my bottle up into it to clean myself off. With my lady J type thing I have peed into my cooking pot in the middle of the night to avoid Oregon mosquitoes that never sleep. I used a plastic container at first, then it got a hairline crack I did not see and leaked urine all over my tent slowly as I slept. I found urine really gets the burnt on stuff off my pot and cleans easily enough in the morning. I agree that not being too aggressive with hygiene helps keep the balance of bacteria in check. I do not shave and I think that helps.

    • Debbie March 22, 2013 at 8:58 am #

      I too use a squeeze bottle and skip the pee rag; it also acts aa bidet for washing up after poop, at the end of the day, and back in pre-menopausal days, for washing out my Instead cup. I an so glad to see someone bringing up the use of the cup; so much more LNT not only on a hike but for the world in general. I used and re-used then until they would start to leak just a bit; as I recall, one would last for several periods.

  13. AuntieCoosa March 22, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    Thanks for this article, well written.

    I’ve used the Freshette in the past, but found it ‘overflowed’ and am now sold on the Pstyle. Since I like to rinse it, I’ll now incorporate a slight spray in the V and let the water trickle down and clean the Pstyle. I carry a bandanna as a P-rag but use it as a ‘pad’ and rinse it out each evening [sometimes we Senior Citizens need a p-pad]. I’ve been using a full size bandanna but think I’ll cut it in half and see how that works.

  14. Rachel March 22, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    Thanks for this post! I recently started using a pee rag and it is so much better than other options. Also, I’ve done the panty liner trick on overnights more than once, though honestly, on short trips I usually just carry an extra pair of undies anyway (mine weigh an ounce, and it’s nice to have something clean to put on in the morning).

    A couple of notes:

    If you have an IUD and still get your period, DO NOT use a menstrual cup! The suction can pull your IUD out through your cervix when you remove it. This happened to a friend and a couple of gynecologists have confirmed the risk. I wish all doctors would tell women this when they get an IUD. I have switched to applicator-less tampons because of this, but I rarely need them with a Mirena.

    Whoever above mentioned spritzing with a water bottle, I do this too and it’s awesome! I first learned this method while traveling in India, where there is a bucket or spray nozzle in every bathroom, and I even keep a spray bottle of plain water in my bathroom at home now! Once you start rinsing with water, you’ll never go back – no worries about killing too much good bacteria, but it rinses away the bad and leaves you feeling super fresh and clean. Just a sports bottle will work while backpacking. Works great for #2 as well, just make sure you aren’t aiming a stream too far forward or you can wash bad bacteria into your v.

    Thanks for this candid, helpful post!

  15. Rachel March 22, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    Another quick note: while I appreciate the sentiment of those saying “Do what you do at home” and “Don’t make a big deal about it”, I don’t agree. I think it’s important not to create artificial barriers that make women think backpacking is too hard, but at the same time, women DO have special considerations. At home, I sit on a toilet, use toilet paper, and flush waste away. That’s not an option in the woods. Some people may wish to pack TP in and out, but it’s extra weight and mess (I live in Oregon where it is rainy, so TP can be a soggy mess) that I don’t want to deal with.

    The other issue is, at home, many women still use disposable pads and tampons with applicators. They think reusable cups and pads are “gross”, but think nothing of flushing blood away to a treatment plant or throwing it in a landfill. Talking about options for the back country is a great way to introduce women to options they may not otherwise consider, which they then might take home with them.

    It’s great if you have never gotten a UTI or infection, but some people are prone to them (particularly if you have an IUD) and any information is helpful.

    Cheers!

    • Elallu September 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

      I love that you brought up a common misconception among some women who have an IUD or have heard about it. I work in a contraceptive clinic and can assure women reading this blogs that IUDs do not cause UTIs. To go a little deeper, an IUD has a string that goes through the cervix and into the vagina but not out of the vagina like a tampon. This string is usually cut so that 2-3cm are in the vagina. Since this string is deep into your vagina, it won’t cause women to get a UTI which is an infection in a whole different system. Of course, the vagina and anus could cause a UTI if bacteria is shared between them… but an IUD would not be able to cause that. Once again, thanks for bring this up-I encourage all women to get an IUD. If you are at all interested, speak with a professional before giving into common myths. Most women don’t know that IUDs are in fact SAFER than the traditional birth control pill.

      • Air April 1, 2014 at 3:02 am #

        I have had a Mirena iUD for nine years now and never had a period. More effective than the pill and less hormones in your system because of its proximity. It has been one of the most empowering things I have done. Still bewildered why more people don’t know about it. Out of five friends who have one, one had spotting for four months so she had it removed.

      • Leigh June 19, 2014 at 11:19 am #

        You encourage all women to get an IUD?

        I encourage all women to learn about fertility awareness (FAM or NFP). Safe, no chemicals, no strings, no side effects, and very, very effective so long as you learn it. It gives tools to know about your sexual & reproductive health for a lifetime by really knowing your cycles, helps to identify diseases or other problematic conditions well before normal diagnosis might find it, & can be used to prevent OR achieve pregnancy.

        No hormones polluting yourself or the environment, no constant irritation of a critical organ, completely sustainable. Nothing at all to bring with you or worry about while on the trail.

        Then, if you want, get an IUD. But the idea that all women should get an IUD…? No, thanks.

  16. Carol March 22, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Nice post and comments. I’m curious to hear gals’ ideas on two points:
    1. Anyone else see the phenomenon of altitude bringing on Flo? I’ve had my period move up 10 days to join me on a backpack.
    2. Any thoughts to deal with those of us who pooh when we pee? Many of the fine solutions described here don’t stand up to the extra onslaught. The worst is digging “6 to 8 inch deep” holes for every pee stop.

    • Jen March 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

      Carol: Regarding Flo showing up unexpectedly early, I’ve never experienced that happening because of altitude, but timing can definitely change based on proximity to other women who are at a different place in their cycle. Spending a single night sharing space with my sister can shove my cycle forward or back several days. Were you hiking with other women when your period showed up too soon?

      • Trinity Ludwig March 23, 2013 at 8:33 am #

        Carol: I was thinking the same thing as Jen – you will definitely sync to other women. We are bonded without even knowing it! I have never heard or experienced anything with regard to altitude affecting menstruation… however, altitude puts your body under stress which could affect your cycle. My guess though would be that it would delay your period instead of move it forward. Hmmm.

      • Talia March 24, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

        Actually, the whole “women sync up their cycles when they’re around each other” thing is an urban myth and has been scientifically disproved.

      • Carol April 9, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

        It’s an interesting idea, but I’m confident this this is altitude related. I’ve planned for it for the last 4 or 5 years of backpacking, and remember times before that when I was simply surprised or annoyed by it. I was pleased to have anticipated it when trekking in the Himalaya and was able to hand out supplies to at least one other woman who had the same issue. I’ll have to look at diet or something to see what makes me so lucky ;-)

        • Maria March 13, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

          Carol – I also have this problem… even after airline flights. Whacks me right out of my cycle.

    • Trinity April 7, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

      Carol: My best answer (sorry) to your question #2: perfect the “clean dropper” (c:

    • Lindsay March 28, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

      Carol, I have the same issue as your #2.

      I just make a point of peeing on softer ground whenever I can, of course a fair bit off the trail. If I need to I dig a hole after with a stick and just shift everything into that hole, then so be it. Good or bad, if it’s teeny tiny, then I cover it with a few leaves.

  17. Pat C March 22, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    I love my Pstyle. It works great when hiking the AT, or with guy friends (and little privacy). It actually has a squeegie effect that reduces the need for wiping. I have also discovered that since peeing is way more convenient, I drink a lot more. I works great for unsanitary privies or restrooms too. As for Aunt Flo, getting older is pretty awesome in this respect! So ladies, don’t fear getting older, embrace it.

  18. Trinity Ludwig March 23, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Thank you everyone for your great comments, insight and questions! I loved coming off of the trail here in Argentina to such a great discussion. Muchas gracias!! I wanted to make an additional note to the article as a result of this trip:

    I threw out my coveted old wool undies after I completed the trek up South America at the end of this summer. When it came time for this new expedition in northern Argentina guiding for the Pacific Biodiversity Institute, I assessed my underwear situation: I had a million pairs of synthetic Patagonia hipsters (I randomly keep getting them as presents) and no wool undies. I always bring two undies. I decided to purchase one pair of IceBreaker underwear for $27.50 and use one of my existing synthetic Patagonia hipsters so I wouldn’t be spending nearly $60 on underwear (despite my advice in the article! but hey, you’ve gotta respect your wallet). So, I took off for three climates with my two pairs of underwear – the muggy jungle, hot desert and high and dry alpine (up to 4700m). The wool underwear outdid the synthetic underwear (okay, as expected) by far… especially in the jungle and desert environments. I felt like I had a muggy plastic bag on my V, so I would try to dry my wool undies asap so I could wear them more frequently.

    • Katy May 3, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

      Love all the great information! Going on my first back country trip this summer to Philmont with my son and a Boy Scout group. All past participants have been male, so have not gotten a lot of female specific advise. Never thought of wool undies, though I love my wool base layers. I will definitely be using these tips this summer.

  19. H.D. Lynn March 25, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    I’m a fan of the diva cup/moon cup. (There are many brands of cups, btw.) I started wearing mine because of backpacking, and I use it in everyday life now because it’s so much nicer than tampons. I’d add that you should make time to wash your cup everyday because it gets stinky if you don’t. I also take a three day course of antibiotics with me because I did get a UTI on one of my first backpacking trips. Also, I never thought of a pee rag because I’ve only been backpacking with men thus far. Nice tip and thanks for the article!

  20. Mike Clelland April 3, 2013 at 8:14 am #

    I drew a picture of the pee-rag in a previous book – but I forgot to put it in the TIPS book. Drat, this is good stuff (that I knew and have taught) – am I a shallow boorish man for forgetting this???

    • Trinity April 7, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

      Mike, totally shallow and boorish. (c: Just kidding! I would love to see the drawing. Your TIPS book has inspired me on so much (and made me laugh out loud), thank you for it.

  21. Kristen April 4, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    I did a video review on the Freshette a couple of months ago and it has over 133,000 views. I really love the product! Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOIdeGK4uhU&hd=1

    • Trinity April 7, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

      Love it! Rock on! Thanks for sharing.

  22. LivesOutdoors April 18, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    Might I ask what brand of wool undies do you use? I have used ExOfficio for about a decade now, and have great luck with them, but they tend to retain sweat and odor and need washing every night. I love wool and have never seen ladies wool undies.

    • Trinity Ludwig May 5, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

      I have used several Icebreaker styles – I like their siren hipkini best. I also just got some Smartwool wool-blend undies that have been working well – they are a little bit thinner so I don’t think will last long but will be great for short hot weather trips… I haven’t used them long enough, however, to judge their odor retention.

  23. Ellie May 30, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    Ladies using a Pstyle, where do you keep it? I’m starting an AT Thru hike in July and have one and am not sure where to put it. I’m apprehensive about keeping it in a pocket or in a plastic bag. I’ve been thinking about punching a hole in it and hanging it from my pack. Any thoughts?

    • Jenny June 29, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

      I have a little canvas style pouch that attaches to my hip belt that I put the pstyle in…or sometimes I just put it in the stretchy side pocket of my pack where a water bottle would go.

  24. Rebecca June 5, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    Thanks for covering this topic! I just wanted to add into the mix that another option to avoid periods altogether is continuous birth control pill use. Basically you take a regular low-dose monophasic BC pill and skip the placebo row. After trying and disliking depo-provera I started continuous birth control pills several years ago and LOVE IT. Besides never having my period at home, I get the added bonus of not having to worry about timing of hiking trips.

  25. Shelley July 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    Thanx for excellent post & comments – exceptional posters! About UTIs: I carry D-Mannose as insurance against UTIs. If you swallow two capsules at the first sign that something isn’t right, 9 times out of 10 it stops the UTI since it prevents bacteria from clinging to the wall of the urethra. The powder absorbs moisture from the air so having it in capsules in a double layer of ziplock best.

  26. shawn September 2, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    A couple of pointers that have been passed on to me in the many years I have spent in a female body on this planet, many of them living in semi outdoor situations.

    The first is that when you need to pee, you don’t have to let it get all over you. Squat as usual, then gently pull apart your V lips to get them out of the way of your urine stream, and you will find that your pee will come out as a stream and not create much of a mess to clean up at all. Just a couple of drips to flick off at the bottom.

    I have also adopted the Roman ( or was it Greek?) method of cleaning myself when I pooh. Basically it is just a stick. But you need to prepare a good smooth one without bark. When done properly there is not much left to clean up, but I will use a bit of TP or water to make sure I’m clean. Throw the stick in the hole you dig for the pooh. Then the tiny bit of paper gets carried out.

    On bladder infections. This used to be a huge problem for me post menopause. It turns out that your your urethra is protected from your “backdoor” bacteria by one of the types of estrogen your body makes (or used to make). This estrogen, sometimes referred to as the “good estrogen” (because it is thought that it may protect you from cancer), is called estriol or E3, as opposed to the estrogen usually prescribed, called estradial. You really need both.

    Estriol is important as it keeps your mucous membranes moist. This is important because your antibodies an only be active and protecting you from bad bacteria when your mucous membranes are naturally lubricated – for example in your nose, mouth, and in your vagina too. This lack of estriol is why we post menopausal women become so much more susceptible to bladder infections.

    So if you are post menopausal and getting many bladder infections go to your doctor and ask for a prescription for estriol cream which you apply topically to the vagina. You may have to do a google search for “bio-identical hormone doctors” in your area to find a doctor, as most doctors only prescribe estradiol (E2), which did not work for UTI’s. Estriol is the scientific name of a natural substance, not a brand name. Your doctor will have to send you to a compounding pharmacy to purchase it.

    I have not had a bladder infection since my doctor prescribed this for me, and it has been years. I use is at home too. And I definitely always take it with me on hikes!! In fact i think that hiking might be impossible for me without it.

    • Leigh June 19, 2014 at 11:47 am #

      I’ve tried the labia spread many times, but I still get wet hair everywhere. I never, ever, get a straight stream. Sucks.

      While I can confirm that poo *should* come out with little mess when done properly, this is hugely dependent on health. When I switched from a conventional idea of a healthy diet to a paleo diet, my poo went to just the right size & consistency, comes out easily, makes little or no mess (on me) at all. It’s been this way for several years now (after a lifetime of constipation), and I am THRILLED. So much easier for living on and off the trail.

      My solution for UTIs has been different. I had them constantly, and was on antibiotics way too much, till I discovered two things. One, megadosing vitamin C (look it up) can get rid of a UTI without antibiotics. I’ve done it successfully many times (works for mastitis & abscessed teeth, too). So now I carry sodium ascorbate powder everywhere I go (works better than d-mannose, in my experience). Two, more importantly, I learned how to prevent UTIs when I realized that nearly all UTIs are caused by something getting in ye olde V that “doesn’t belong.” It could be “toys”, monistat applicators, KY, you name it. When I switched out KY for coconut oil (I don’t use condoms, which can be ruined by coconut oil), my UTIs stopped and I’ve been done with them for years now.

      Love the sharing going on here! I’m definitely adopting the pee rag and already using my wool undies. I’ve been trying to find a wool washrag (b/c wool gets rid of pee odors naturally, and you won’t have to wash the rag every day – just like my wool diaper covers), but no one seems to make them … and darn it, I don’t know how to sew.

  27. Elallu September 13, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

    Thanks for the great post-such a great topic for back country women-or really all of us women, back country or not!

  28. Alissa September 25, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    Great post – tons of good solid information all in one place. I would add: to care for the awesome Diva Cup between periods, soak it in hydrogen peroxide for a few hours before drying and storing. Gets it squeeky clean everytime.
    Also, I was my Camelbak parts in H2O2 with same amazing results.

    • Leigh June 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

      I was wondering if you could use H2O2. The instructions say not to, but I wondered if it would really hurt it, or if they just wanted to sell more Diva Wash, LOL. So yours has held up over time with your care routine?

  29. Tabitha September 25, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

    What i REALLY want to know is… how do you all manage to go on all of those multi-month hikes??? Where does the money come from? How do you all get that kind of time off from work?

  30. Dawnee September 25, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    Erm… I don’t recommend the Depo shot to stop your period. One, it’s unnatural and causes way more harm than good. But two, I know several people (myself included) where it caused bleeding for almost a year STRAIGHT. Don’t risk it.

  31. Phoenix September 26, 2013 at 5:33 am #

    Great article, thanks!

    I learned years ago that to stop a UTI cold, it’s really helpful to take a teaspoon or so of baking soda — you can mix it in water (which I find really nasty) or pack it into gelatin caps (probably easier for a hike). Follow with as much water as you can stand. The baking soda numbs the nerves that trigger the frequency and urgency, so your bladder actually gets to fill up. It works much better for flushing out the bacteria.

    WRT hormonal contraceptive methods, I recommend extreme caution. I’ve tried a number of methods over the years, including norplant and varying dosages of birth control pills. They all caused migraines which increased gradually in frequency and severity. The norplant messed up my hormonal balance for years.

  32. Parker October 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    This is a great thread and lots of great information. I’ve been using the DivaCup for about 3 months now and love it in both the backcountry, and front country. Trinity, you may not know the answer to this, but what do you do with it on multi-day backcountry river trips. I usually bury the blood on backpacking trips, but I haven’t yet used the Diva Cup on a river trip and was wondering if you had any information. I have been tirelessly searching the internet and seemingly nothing has come up about it.

  33. Marissa Fischer November 19, 2013 at 2:58 am #

    Lovely post, and interesting thread. I’ve been minimalist camping for two summers now (longest trip about two weeks) with a male friend. Somehow I’ve managed to time it that I’ve yet to have a full period during a trip – and I think I was at the tail end of one exactly once. I’m not on any kind of hormonal birth control or IUD – I use condoms exclusively, and my cyle is about 30 to 32 days long.

    I notice the majority of the commentators use one brand of insertion device or another – does anyone have experience taking and cleaning reusable flannel or cotton menstrual pads on prolonged hikes? I use flannel pads that snap around panties at home, and have a ceramic cookie jar to pre-soak them before they go in the machine. I plan to have maybe three heavy pads on a hike, and just rinse out and dry tied to the pack as needed.

    For #2 I typically use Salal leaves -since it’s rather abundant in BC, Canada. I’ve tried snow and liked it, too. For #1 I’ve always just drip-dried. This is the first I’ve heard of a pee rag and I’m eager to try it out. I tend to have allergies, and bring a handkerchief, but it honestly hadn’t dawned on me to bring a hanky for my V.

    I’ve seen a lot of different brands of flow diverters coming on the market recently, and I’m dubious about them. For one thing, as a minimalist camper, I’m leery of dedicated use items. Ditto for carrying around an extra container, no matter how light, specifically earmarked as chamberpot. During a torrential rainstorm recently, I filled up my 2-cup enamel cup three times and dumped it out of the shelter.

    Someone mentioned expelling muscles – I’ve noticed in the city I tend not to pay much attention to how I pee, because I can always go back to the bathroom. In the woods I’ve noticed what helps with the need for frequent trips, and for drips is to pee as much as I think I need to, pause for ten seconds, and then ‘force’ myself to push out more. Usually I get a short extra burst I think of as the “afterpee.” If I don’t do this, I tend to dribble the last little pee into my shorts/down my leg or whatever. Kegel exercises at home definitely help – if you don’t have a K-bar, you can just practice flexing and relaxing the muscles (like you’re trying to hold it when you really have to pee) while sitting at your desk. Generally feels good too *G*.

    For underwear I’ve typically been using two pairs of light, synthetic biker shorts. I don’t like how fast they get odorous, and have been wondering for a while about incorporating more wool into my kit. Cotton, being hydrophillic, always seemed a bad choice for backcountry undies.

    I’m concerned about my reusable pads being cotton flannel – and have been wondering about alternatives. It strikes me that making a few wool pads might be a good solution. My male camping partner suggested making pads out of ShamWow (which we use small squares of as towels) but I found that they don’t hold moisture – they squish it all out when you move.

    I’ve only had one problem so far. It was on a shorter trip, which turned out to have less fresh water sources. Typically, I’ve gone creek wading at least once a day and swished out my V, but on this trip there didn’t seem to be any opportunities. As a result, I got a very minor yeast infection (or possibly a UTI – I had mild irritation and frequency of urination which at the beginning stages might be either) which I solved with chugging cranberry juice for a couple of days. BTW – cranberry juice is an excellent yeast infection and UTI cure – http://www.livestrong.com/article/486388-yeast-infection-cranberry-juice/

    Someone suggested rinsing one’s V every night before bed – that’s a good idea. I either didn’t think of it, or the lack of fresh water was making me concerned about conserving water for drinking.

    Anyway, I’m glad to have learned stuff, thank you all for sharing.

  34. Lise March 3, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

    What about using a pee rag when it’s raining and you don’t have an opportunity to dry the pee rag in the sun for a day or more?

    And a hint. If prone to UTIs, take along some pills that relieve UTI symptoms, such as AZO ( http://www.azoproducts.com/uti/azo_works ).Available over the counter. It can be a life-saver out in the wilds until seeking treatment upon returning home.

  35. kate booth March 5, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    Being a very long time backcountry woman, I’ve used the cotton bandana as my pee rag and never thought twice about it as a “solution”. Just common sense. The smartwool underwear is the new idea! I plan to walk the Camino and I’m sure there will be ample opportunities to pee and wet-rag it!

  36. Tabitha July 23, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    All of these things are great advice!! I will definitely have to try the pee rag as I generally just drip dry but sometimes end up with soreness due to moisture :(
    My biggest issue is the backcountry poo. I eat a vegetarian diet that is pretty high in fiber and my poos are not of the one-wipe variety unfortunately. Very healthy and solid but not easy to wipe clean, sorry for the TMI. Wondering if anyone else has this problem? It becomes very troublesome to pack out all of the tp I use for my regular morning poos. Is it really so bad to bury the first few messy squares of TP with your poo since it will decompose quickly anyway? I would rather pack out the non-gooey stuff and bury the worst of it to decompose.
    I also recently stopped taking the pill after 20 years and am at the mercy of my 25 day cycle :( Tends to be quite heavy and with massive cramps. I am trying to stay away from hormones but sounds like the diva cup can stay in longer than a tampon so maybe I will try that. I take dicyclomine or aleve 500mg for the cramps and hope for the best.

  37. Kaile August 18, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

    Just an. FYI about the Mirena IUD:

    Not all women completely ditch their period when on it! For myself, my cycle has shortened and lightened considerably! From 7-9 days med/heavy flow now it’s 4-6, and light to moderate! A huge improvement in my book, but not a “cure-all”.

    And ALWAYS make sure you know how your preferred BC affects you BEFORE you start your treck! If you’re not used to how it effects you (physically, mentally or flow-wise) even a short day trip can be miserable!

    Thanks so much for the post! Loved the article and the comments! So much good info :)

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