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Camping, backpacking, and hiking are great ways for everyone to enjoy the outdoors! However, longer trips may entail unique planning needs for women. For instance, have you ever looked at the calendar & hoped that your period won’t come during your upcoming trip? Or, perhaps, you’ve wished you didn’t have to squat to pee and when your legs are already burning from a long hike? Maybe you've looked at racks of sports bras and underwear & wondered what you should be looking for? Many other women have these same thoughts!
We realized there wasn't a comprehensive resource with all this information, so we wrote a guide. We want women to know that with a few simple steps, you can plan any kind of outdoor adventure, any time, any where! We tried to provide you with a wealth of information to help you decide & plan, since these are not one-size fits all topics. Feel free to skip around to what is most relevant for you! Click on a section below to expand it.
This is a tool for anyone with female biology or who wants to learn more. This is NOT meant to be a substitute for a doctor’s consultation or manufacturer’s instructions.
Because washing, keeping clean & managing waste are important to health, we want to briefly introduce general hygiene with some tips & tricks for the backcountry.
Whether for managing menstruation, going to the bathroom, or even eating a meal, hygiene is important. Keep in mind the following:
Leave No Trace has created guidelines so that everyone can enjoy the outdoors safely and appreciate its beauty without causing unnecessary harm to the environment. Imagine if people picked every beautiful flower they saw so no one else got to enjoy them, cleaned their underwear in streams other people will drink from, or left their trash lying in the middle of the trail! Leave No Trace helps keep the outdoors pristine for everyone! Check out their guidelines here
When heading into the backcountry it is always good to bring supplies to manage your period in case you get it on your trip. Changes in exercise level & food consumption can alter your cycle, so your period may come at an unexpected time or you may miss it all together (for extreme deviations, remember to check in with your doctor!). In this section, we compare the different methods of managing your menstruation.
MEDICATION: Your cramps may be better or worse in the backcountry. It is a good idea to bring any medications that you usually take during your period (e.g., painkillers or medications that help with digestion, constipation, or diarrhea) . You may also want to consider bringing something even if you don’t normally use it. In general though, exercise improves cramps and makes your flow lighter.
PERIODS DO NOT ATTRACT BLACK OR GRIZZLY BEARS: Nor do they attract sharks! Whether you're on your period or disposing of menstrual waste, neither are more likely to attract a black or grizzly bear to you than food is. But do be sure to store & dispose of waste in accordance with wildlife regulations & Leave No Trace principles!
|The method (click on name for more info)|
|Tampons||Pads||Reusable Pads||Period Underwear||Menstrual Cups||Birth Control|
|Does it save you from packing out soiled products?|
|Does it minimize chafing||Depends on person & product|
|Does it work in water?||
Will become waterlogged & may fall apart
|Does it reduce waste?||Depends on the type used, click above for more info|
|Are most women familiar with it?
(Practice at home if not!)
|Similar to regular pads||Similar to regular underwear|
|Is it chemical free?||Depends on brand|
|How much do you need to carry?||Enough for your usual needs + extra||~ 2||1|
|Is it internal or external?||Internal||External||Internal|
|How often do you need to buy a new product?||Single use||3-10 years||Like normal underwear||2-4 years|
|How often do you generally need to change it?||4-8 hours||3-6 hours||3-6 hours
May be able to switch out inserts
Depends on style & whether you're combining with another method
Menstrual sponges are NOT a safe option! They are not clean enough and can lead to infections including toxic shock syndrome and pieces of sponge can break off & be left inside
Peeing in the backcountry means beautiful views & no lines! However, when your thighs are burning after a long uphill & you have to avoid hitting your shoes it can seem a little less amazing. Luckily, there are some strategies to help make it all easier!
If you're wearing something flexible (e.g., hiking dress, swimsuit, shorts), you may be able to pull it to the side and just pee standing up! Be sure to keep your legs wide enough to not get splashed on.
FUDs allow you to pee standing up! It's totally optional but can be useful in cold environments (when you don't want to take your pants off), or when wearing restrictive clothing (e.g., a climbing harness), when discretion is important, when you don’t want to squat, or when you want to stand up & write your name in the snow!
To use, hold the device against your body or insert it (depending on device). It then catches your pee & funnels it away. Be sure to aim downstream & away from anything you don't want to get pee on. If you have never used one before, practice in the shower first. To store it, place it in a resalable bag or manufacturer’s case. If it is still wet you may want to let it air dry, wipe it with your pee rag or toilet paper. There are various models, this is a good guide, please follow manufacturer's instructions for use, storage, & cleaning.
Chafe is caused by the rubbing of skin on skin or skin on material. It plagues some people more than others, but it can happen to you even if it has never happened before.
These two go hand-in-hand. Keep in mind not all preventative measures will be appropriate once you are actually chafed, depending on the degree of chafing.
SHAVING: Shaving choices can sometimes affect chafe or skin irritation depending on the person & their shaving practices
If symptoms become severe stop the activity causing the chafe
|Type of chafe|
|External & minor||Exernal & open-wound||Semi-internal (e.g., labia, anal sphincter)|
|Clean hotspots regularly|
|Rinse, don't use soap internally|
|Adjust gear or clothing to decrease rubbing or add extra protection|
|Washing gear or clothing to keep clean|
|Rest & stay hydrated (reduce irritating salts in sweat)|
Some people use drying powders
Don't use drying powders
|Cover (e.g., with bandage or tape) or otherwise provide padding||
Non-adhesive over open wounds
|Apply lubricant||Product must be safe for intended use; when in doubt, ask a doctor!|
|Apply antibiotic (existing chafe)|
Packing underwear for a trip takes a little bit more thought than just grabbing some from your drawer. Here we lay out of the pros and cons of wearing underwear as well as what to look for in terms of materials and fit.
Some people like underwear, some people go commando, & then there are those who like the in-between with clothes that have built-in liners. We recommend you experiment & figure out what works best for you. While experimenting, pack some underwear just in case.
|PROs of Wearing Underwear||PROs of Going Commando|
Impact on Chafe depends
On the one hand, going commando allows more air flow and can decrease chafe because there's no fabric (no friction, risk of poor material choice, ill-fittedness, etc.). On the other hand, fabric can be a barrier that increases chafe, especially with nipple chafe.
When shopping for underwear be sure to pay attention to the fabric, size, and intended purpose:
Remember: bringing a spare set will allow you to clean & dry one pair while wearing another. Hand washing (also gentle machine washing) & air drying will also help prolong lifespan! Replace your bras when they show obvious wear, usually at least once a year.
What sports bra you should use depends on the activity you're doing & breast size. Some general guidelines are below:
For more detailed information, see this awesome guide
The two most common types of infections in the backcountry that are particular concerning for women are Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)s & Yeast Infections. We discuss risk mitigation & treatment options in the backcountry.
|Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)||Yeast Infections|
|Risk increases when||
If UTIs progress, they can turn into bladder infections, and eventually potentially life-threatening kidney infections!
Sex when you're not clean and/or in an outdoor environment increases risk of infection. That said, if you do have sex in the backcountry, try to:
Almost every gear company has started making women’s specific gear for every type of item. Some differences are important (like sizing, shape and insulation), other differences are superficial (like color and style). In general, don’t rule out a gear item just because it is men’s or unisex, as long as it fits you and your needs go for it! We’ll summarize some of the more important distinctions here.
Raynaud's disease is much more common for women. Symptoms are cold fingers & toes, skin color changes, and feeling numb or tingly when warmed. Be sure to keep extremities warm & see a doctor if symptoms become severe. We have several protips on how to keep warm outdoors, here's one example. There is not yet real understanding of the exact cause or a perfect treatment.
The outdoors is not inherently more dangerous for women, for instance a tree is no more likely to fall on you, nor is a bear more likely to attack you. For anyone going on trips, it generally increases safety to go in a group, but more important than having others there is being appropriately prepared for your trip! Always leave a trip itinerary with someone you trust. If stalking is a concern, delay your social media posts so people do not know exactly where you are. Lastly, never enter a situation that feels unsafe!
Some topics we chose not to cover because, while they may be different for women & men, everyone should plan for their individual needs, such as nutrition, and hair care (particularly for women of color); other topics don't differ much between men & women, such as pooping. or blister care. We also chose to not cover topics related to maternity as these are not applicable to all women; as with above, here are some links to get you started learning more about hiking while pregnant or as a new mom.
Illustrations provided by Allie Ghaman, or "Knock on Wood," an award-winning art director & editorial illustrator. In recent years, she's hiked over 5,000 miles on the Appalachian, Colorado & Pacific Crest Trails.
Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below, or contact us for immediate help with trip planning, gear, or anything else we can do to get you outdoors. We're Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear!