A women’s guide to backcountry hygiene || Menstruation, pee & poop, UTI’s, skin care

Has the fear of managing your bodily functions kept you from hitting the trail for a weekend of fun in the outdoors? Does the thought of dealing with your period in the backcountry prevent you from backpacking for several days in a row?

Don’t fret! You are not alone in having hesitations about managing feminine hygiene in the backcountry. With the right tools and practice, you can still have a clean and enjoyable time in the woods, even when it’s time to go or when it’s your time of the month.

In this post I’m going to cover it all: Pooping, peeing, and period management, plus a few extra tips and tricks to keep all of your lady parts happy while you’re frolicking in nature. Some of this may be repeat information for some folks, but proper backcountry bathroom technique is important to refresh upon, so bear with me. 

Men: This is for you, too!

Odds are, at some point, you will be on a trip or hiking with a woman who is squeamish about these topics. It’s a natural thing, and all genders should be aware of the best practices while in the wilderness. 

Poop Considerations and Goals

Unfortunately, I recently returned from the Sawtooth Wilderness and was appalled by the frequency of unburied human poop. Simply doing your business behind a tree and putting a rock over it is unacceptable! 

But, before we get into the ins and outs of backcountry pooping, let’s talk about why we should care about properly disposing of human waste in the first place: Water contamination. After all, we get our water from lakes, streams, and snowmelt, so what ends up downstream could make us sick. 

There are some valid concerns about wild animals getting into human waste too, since our diets can be packed full of preservatives, artificial ingredients, medications, etc that are not natural to the ecosystem. When wild animals ingest our waste, it may harm them and their offspring. Also, if you hike with a dog and they are prone to eating poop, there is nothing nastier than your pup offering you some kisses after chowing down on someone else’s sh*t. 

As a general rule, you shouldn’t leave anything behind besides your poop, pee, or menstrual blood. Follow Leave No Trace standards and dig a six- to eight-inch-deep cathole at least 200 feet from a water source. Poop directly into the hole, dump all bodily fluids, and any water used to clean your period supplies inside it, and fill it back in tightly with dirt. Easy! 

Supplies

Before going doo-doo though, you’ve got to put together a proper poo kit. Your kit should contain the following:

  • A small shovel for digging your cathole 
  • Clean toilet paper (remove the cardboard roll for easier storing), and wet wipes if desired 
  • A small ziplock for packing out used toilet paper, tampons, wet wipes, etc. I like these odor-proof reusable Opsak bags.
  • Hand sanitizer

When you are in an area where digging a hole in the ground isn’t possible (such as on snow, a glacier, or super rocky areas), you have to pack out your poo with you because (spoiler alert!), it does not magically disappear when you bury it in snow. Wag bags are a simple solution to pooping in these areas. These are puncture-resistant bags that you poop in which contain a “magic powder” to cover any smells within the bag.

Menstruation

Do you have fears that a bear will pick up your scent and track you while you are on your period? An age-old myth was born in August 1967 when two separate women were killed by grizzly bears in Glacier National Park – one of the women was on her period.

As a result, the NPS and the United States Forest Service put out a brochure on outdoor safety and advised women to “Stay out of bear-country during their menstrual period.” This set the stage for years of rumors that period blood attracts bears and other wildlife. Time to put that myth to rest! Studies have found it pretty inconclusive that bears are attracted to menstrual blood. 

However, some women also choose to avoid the outdoors while they are on their period because they just don’t want to deal with the management of tampons/pads and navigating how to stay clean. These feelings are completely understandable, but nowadays there are lots of ways to manage your period that can make your backcountry experience less stressful. 

Options

Start with these simple steps so that you won’t have to think twice about heading into the backcountry during any time of the month:

  1. Practice at home: Whether you’re going to use tampons, pads, menstrual cups, or period underwear, be sure that you are familiar with it before you leave the house. Menstrual cups take practice to insert, and if you’re giving period underwear a try, you want to make sure you can hike comfortably in them.
  2. Organize your supplies: You should have a clean plastic bag, and a plastic waste bag. Your kit should include TP or wipes and hand sanitizer. You can wrap your waste bag in duct tape to conceal it. If you’re using tampons or pads, you can put a fragrant tea bag in it to help cover any odor. 

Personally speaking, I haven’t had a period in almost 6 years thanks to the birth control that I take, so I reached out to my friend Theresa Silveyra who is an avid backpacker, trail runner, and mountaineer for her input: 

“My go-to item for managing my period in the backcountry—as well as in daily life!—is a menstrual cup. I can wear it for up to 12 hours on light to moderate flow days while out on the trail, and I don’t need to worry about creating additional waste like I would if I were using tampons. Similar to pooping in the backcountry, I dig a Leave No Trace standard cathole when it comes time to empty the cup. Keeping the cup clean is important. I always sanitize my hands before removing it and inserting it. I also make sure to clean the cup itself—with clean water or with specific menstrual cup cleaning wipes that I then pack out—before re-inserting it. I will say that the removing/emptying/cleaning/re-inserting process is a little more tedious than the “fast and convenient” feel of dealing with tampons, but this process only needs to be done about twice a day and you don’t have to worry about packing out and storing a bunch of used tampons in your pack for days on end!”

Chafing

“Swamp Ass”, “Booty Juice”, “Monkey Butt”. Whatever you want to call it, everyone experiences butt sweat, and for some, it can be uncomfortable and cause chafing. On top of that, some of us ladies also experience the dreaded underboob sweat. Many people (myself included) are sweatier than others and even though excessive sweating is mostly harmless, it can be embarrassing. 

Some ways to prevent it are: 

  • Clothing: I highly recommend investing in quality, moisture-wicking clothing that will dry quickly. Cotton should be avoided, especially when it comes to your underwear. 
  • Topical treatments: There are several balms and powders, but my favorite for pretty much anywhere on the body is bodyglide. 
  • Keep yourself fresh: If you feel some unwanted chafing on the horizon, give yourself a quick wipe down with a wet hygiene wipe.

Peeing

Now, when it comes to peeing, some prefer to squat while others prefer to stand using a pee funnel. Just like with a menstrual cup, be sure to practice using your pee funnel at home first in the shower, and always be sure to rinse it at least once a day while you’re out in the backcountry. 

Whether you squat or stand, a pee rag can be helpful instead of drip-drying. Kula Cloth makes a reusable antimicrobial pee cloth that has quickly developed a cult following. I also recently reviewed some awesome pants called SheFly. They are designed with a zipper that starts in the front and unzips all the way around to the back, allowing women to simply unzip, squat, and pull their underwear to the side to pee. You can read my full review of SheFly pants here.

Also, women are more prone than men to have a pee or sweat related hygiene issues on outdoor trips, so you should plan on bringing extra pairs of clean underwear to avoid yeast infections or UTIs. 

Skin care

I’ll wrap this up with a push for a good daily facial moisturizer with sunscreen because outdoor elements can be harsh when you’re in the backcountry. Your skin will take a beating and likely get very dry while backpacking, especially at altitude.

My favorite facial moisturizer with sunscreen (that is also sweatproof) is the Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen. Wipe your face down every evening before bed with a wet wipe, and then apply a fresh layer of moisturizer with SPF every morning after you’ve cleaned your hands. 

With the right preparation and care of your body you’ll be sure to have an awesome time exploring Mother Nature!

Your turn: Leave a comment

  • What questions do you have about female hygiene in the backcountry?
  • How do your own best practices differ from those suggested in the article?
Posted in , on August 14, 2020
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2 Comments

  1. Katherine on August 18, 2020 at 3:21 pm

    Great advice. I’d add:
    1. The Brondell GoSpa Bidet has been key item in my menstrual hygiene kit. It’s great for clean-up.
    2. Deliberately plan a trip when you’re likely to have your period, and it will be less of a concern for future trips once you know you can deal!

  2. Mia on September 14, 2020 at 3:22 am

    Thanks for the article!
    Regarding menstruation: I’ve been using a menstrual cup for a while now, but have ran into situations where it was just very difficult/awkward for me to empty the cup while on the trail. A very recent game changer for me has been period underwear, I tried the ModiBodi’s (Europe) but I know that there is quite a range to choose from. One pair lasts me all day even for the heaviest flow, without any leakage. I dont know how it can absorb so much blood but it somehow never feels uncomfortable or wet.
    Regarding hygiene/chafing: I also like to carry a small bottle of Tea Tree oil in spray form, and use it daily under my arms and between my legs. It helps with any odour control, helps against chafing and is a great overall disinfectant.

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