A handy guide to dealing with menstruation, and menstrual products, in the wild.
This post was first published on the Department of Conservation blog.
I’ve got six or seven rational fears and about 900 irrational ones.
On the irrational side there are things like killer seagulls, drop bears, accidentally driving into quicksand, losing my mum in the supermarket (I’m 28), and elevators with those double metal grates you have to pull shut.
The rational ones are all about climate change and endemic population statuses, as you’d expect from a DOC blog.
Something that sits reasonably in the middle is going on a hike to a remote public conservation area and getting a surprise period.
For readers who don’t menstruate, the concept of a surprise period might seem strange or funny. I assure you that those of us who do menstruate have all experienced this particular surprise at some point or another, and it’s one of the unfunniest things I can think of.
Your period isn’t due to start for three more days? Surprise.
You period was supposed to have finished by now? Surprise.
You aren’t even supposed to be getting periods right now? Surprise.
It’s a good practice when writing government blogs not to make sweeping generalisations, but in this I feel relatively confident: everyone who menstruates knows the panic and embarrassment that comes with a surprise period if you’re caught without the necessary supplies or somewhere to responsibly dispose of items.
It’s a genuine fear of mine to be out on an offshore island somewhere, or in the hills, and be caught with a surprise period, or god forbid on a boat (that happened to me once and I’m still not over it – the boat hit a bump of water and it was like, ‘bam, hello, here’s your living nightmare’. But anyway).
It’s rational to worry about being caught off guard and ill-equipped.
But it’s irrational for me to think that this problem is unsolvable, and that I can’t risk going out into nature if there’s a chance of … shall we say red weather, radius: me.
The number one thing to do is pack supplies
Pads, tampons, moon cups, liners, applicators … whatever you use, take it.
Even if you’re not due, it’s good to have a few supplies on hand, just in case. Just like you should always have extra food and water and first aids kits, etc. No one wants to need their Just in Case supplies, but it’s better to have them and never need them than it is the reverse.
I may never get this blog signed off if I add this, but what the heck, here’s to living: if I have an excessive amount of menstruation products in my bag (which I sometimes do, see the above section re: ‘living nightmare’), I leave an unopened spare pad or tammy in the café or bar toilets for someone else to use in case they have need.
There are loos all over this country that I’ve left a spare tammy in, hoping that it might be of use to someone caught in the lurch. It’s me, I’m the phantom Carefree leaver, I confess. I couldn’t be a secret vigilante any longer, I’m unmasking myself.
But has there ever been a rogue tammy in a toilet when I’ve needed one? No.
Would it be the height of stupidity not to pack my own when going on a hike and just rely blithely on the tammy fairy? Yes.
Just in case.
What if there’s no loo?!
Look, there might not be.
There are toilets at every DOC hut and campsite and at some popular car parks. However, there aren’t toilets on most tracks and even when there are, they are usually far apart. Take for example alpine walks: we can’t exactly put a loo on a cliff face. So use the loo when you see one!
Toilets and long drops are good places to swap out products or empty a menstrual cup.
BUT. Loos are only for digestive waste and to empty the contents of your menstrual cup. Don’t dispose of used tampons or pads or liners in any DOC long drops or flush toilets. They can cause blockages and damage septic systems.
You can also bury menstrual cup contents like you would digestive waste: deeply in a 15–20 cm deep hole, which must be dug a minimum of 50 m (70 adult paces) from any water source, campsite or track. But this is only menstrual cup contents! You cannot and should not bury pads or tampons or lines (plastic! Cotton!)
There’s more information about loos and poos in nature on our website.
You’ve got to take all used menstrual products home with you
If you go out on a walk or hike or tramp (great!) and you’ve packed your menstrual supplies (nice one!) and you didn’t traumatise yourself finding a spot to look after things (proud of you), then the next problem is what do with the used materials. Especially because sometimes it’s messy – I don’t say that to pass judgement, it’s a fact of life.
It’s really important that you properly and responsibly dispose of all used pads, tampons, liners, applicators or any other menstruation product.
If you don’t, these items could contaminate water sources, damage septic systems, spread pathogens, as well as create litter problems.
What you need to do is put used items in a plastic bag (zip-close), and ideally double bag it. You can then put that inside another innocuous bag for extra privacy. I have a plastic unicorn one. It’s silly because it’s a bunch of unicorns dancing, but it does the trick. Store this waste bag away from your food.Bag space is a premium on big trips, but this is something worth planning for and making space for.
As an alternative to a plastic bag, you could also use a leak-proof container/jar instead, as a DIY option.
There’s also such thing as a sanitary product dry bags, which are specially designed for storing used products and are leak-proof.
There’s more information about menstruation products in nature on our website.
Seriously, take it home
Don’t try to burn used menstrual items in campfires or fireplaces – I know this seems like an obvious or perhaps even needless one liner, included only for humour. But it isn’t. This has happened. The human brain will do funny things when it’s panicking.
I’ve never had the misfortune of encountering burning menstrual products while on a hike (or ever, actually) and I would really like to keep it that way. So if you’re freaking out and get the urge to try and sneakily burn your bodily evidence, instead … don’t. Stay calm, bag things up and, sweet sunshine, please no burning.
Hold onto your carefully wrapped and packaged items until you return to civilization, then dispose of your used sanitary items in the appropriate bins.
I know what you’re thinking
You won’t want to put it into words, but it’s okay, you don’t have to. I know.
You can add dry tea bags, crumbled aspirin or baking soda to your waste bag to help control any odour. You could also use scented nappy bags; or those sanitary product dry bags I talked about earlier.
The usual rules apply
Make sure you store your cup or tampons and pads properly and wash your hands frequently. If you prefer, use sanitary wipes and hand sanitiser to help keep your hands clean – just be sure to carry those out with your used supplies: sanitary wipes as litter is another huge problem, as they clog toilets and are a non-biodegradable nightmare when left in the bush
And carry additional water, cloths or sanitary wipes to clean your hands and menstrual cup etc.
• Pack supplies
• You can empty menstrual cups in long drops or loos
• You CANNOT put used tampons, pads or liners down long drops or loos
• You must wrap up used tampons, pads or liners and carry them out with you
• You can bury menstrual cup contents in nature, as long as it’s in a 15–20 cm deep hole a minimum of 70 adult paces from any water source, campsite or track
• Don’t burn used items
• Once you’re out of the bush, dispose of menstruation items appropriately
Happy adventuring in nature, fellow menstruator.