Hey, Ladies (and Men who want to get educated!!)
I am writing to talk about the ‘unspoken,’ the ‘secrets’ and not just yellow snow but also RED snow!! Sadly there is still a sense of embarrassment and almost a “taboo” feeling around having our periods, toileting and keeping fresh in the outdoors. So I thought why not try to break down the walls and get people more comfortable talking and sharing information about this very normal human thing that we all go through. It makes me mad that women would be put off experiencing the outdoors due to shame of periods or lack of knowledge about how to manage toileting and such things in this day and age. Although sometimes this can be tricky, hopefully, I can help some of you out there and give some hot tips. If you already know it then lets share and support those that don’t!
First, we have the Period talk, and I’m not writing to convince you of what tool to use for your period, as I believe it’s a personal choice but rather giving options for how to manage out there.
1- Pads and tampons
Sometimes managing our used sanitary items can be hard in the outdoors and the last thing we need is our toilets’ filled with them. So to be a tidy Kiwi you can bring with you a zip lock bag with some baking soda inside (to keep the hairs on your nostrils each time you open it), to put your used sanitary items in.
Another option that is a little more environmentally friendly is a reusable container (one that’s not see-through helps with possible embarrassment). You can do the same as above with baking soda and put sanitary items in here.
What I do with my students is; put on a disposable glove, pick up your sanitary items and as you take the glove off, turn it inside out, tie a knot and voila clean and tidy. This can now go into your reusable container. Although not as environmentally friendly this is very handy for harsher environments if you want to keep things a bit tidier, or for first-timers. The same thing can be achieved with biodegradable bags for your tampons to be eco-friendly.
Even if you don’t need/use tampons or pads, they make great tools in first aid kits. Essential for the times you or a friend gets a sneak up visit from Miss Period. Tampons also make great fire starters and pads can be used to stop any bleeding.
2- Period Proof Underwear
These are great products to use either by themselves or in conjunction with other items for extra protection. You may ask, how on earth is that supposed to actually work? Or maybe you refuse to wear a “nappy” just because you have your period. There is no need to stress at all because that is simply not the case.
They typically consist of three or so layers. The first layer will wick away any moisture and prevent odor with the second layer holding the moisture. Don’t worry, they come in all different flow levels, and the third layer is a fully waterproof one to make sure there is absolutely no spillage.
These are great on trips, especially in the snow when your hands are too cold to be fiddling around trying to insert something. Although the downside is that you will need to take multiple pairs if you are going on a long trip. For summer you can rinse and repeat as you would any other underwear on a multiday trip.
I like these for shorter snow trips as I use them with my menstrual cup. I will use my menstrual cup during the day and at night take it out to clean it. Then because it can be so cold at night I am already set to go with my period-proof underwear for the night.
3- Menstrual cups
This was a total game-changer for me. Similar to the freeing feeling you get after moving from pads to tampons. The progression into the menstrual cup was even better and I have never looked back. Like anything that is new I had to practice to get a good system and master the inserting but like I said I have never looked back.
For those of you who haven’t heard of them, they are a silicone cup that you insert which creates a seal and catches all the bits and pieces that fall out of you in this ‘special womanly’ time. You can get different colors -because we all know someone who doesn’t suit red! Different sizes and slightly different shapes are also available. Some companies will donate a cup to a country in poverty whenever you make a purchase so you know you are helping a good cause.
The way I use mine in the outdoors is to empty it out into some dirt, I carry a water bottle so I can rinse it out, and then reinsert. If I am near a river I clean it out downstream, after all, it is just a small amount of blood. Beware of Eels though!
In the snow, I do the same but water can be sparse so I use some snow for a rinse. I have found inserting to be hard with freezing hands and this is where a combination of period-proof underwear and menstrual cups can come in handy. Another thing to note is the hygiene of your hands when in snow. They are usually put in and out of gloves, which may not always be so clean. A quick rinse with hand sanitizer, a wet wipe or water first is a good idea.
Menstrual cups hold a lot of blood and typically I would change it morning and night with the exception of heavier days when a lunchtime change is necessary.
If you are in town and don’t want to carry a water bottle around you can buy small collapsible cups to slide into your pocket or bag. I have used mine in the past to fill with water once in a public toilet and take that into the cubical to rinse it out with.
Moisture-wicking fabric for underwear like merino is a great start. The last thing you want on one of your amazing adventures is getting an infection and turning it into an uncomfortable experience. Plus feeling fresh always makes us feel good.
If possible changing underwear is best but not all always practical, especially when you have a limited amount of space or are going out for multiple days. Other options are to use panty liners. I love them for trips all year round and you can even buy reusable ones too. Combining them with a wet wipe to clean is even better still. I use a liner per day and in winter I clean down there with a wet wipe.
In summer we aren’t so worried about the cool air temps freezing our items so I use water and a buff or rag to clean with. You can rinse it and hang it out to dry on your pack, which works a treat, and you know the cold isn’t going to freeze it!
This is a pretty easy thing to do when you have lots of bush to run away into and have practiced your squats but what about when you need to pee off the side of the boat? Or nature strikes you in the middle of a blizzard on the side of a snowy hill? Or even when there is just no privacy at all. Well, this is when it would be great if EVERYONE had a spout attached to them which made peeing a breeze. But we don’t, so us amazing humans have invented a few. There are many different urinary device brands on the market such as the Shewee, GoGirl and Whiz Freedom. My personal favorite is the pStyle. At first, I wasn’t completely sold on any of the devices as I had used a few different ones and had no luck. However, I wanted to keep persevering as many people had told me how useful theirs had been. It wasn’t until someone introduced me to the pStyle and I have had 100% success rate even when practicing in the shower first! I believe everyone is made differently so finding which one works for you is the key. They have made my life so much easier especially when instructing.
Granted it can still be hard to pee standing in the wind but I spoke to a few of my male friends who told me to stand side on to the wind rather than having your back to it, which works a treat and you don’t end up with wee all over yourself.
If you have heard of a pee rag, it is exactly what it sounds like. It is a replacement for toilet paper to keep us fresher and cleaner. Use a designated piece of quick-dry material to wipe after weeing and you won't experience the “one drop and your drenched” episode. This makes a big difference for the smell and feeling fresher too. Rinse out in a stream and dry it out on your pack just like I mentioned before.
I hope that some or all of this information is useful to someone out there. Please don’t be afraid to talk to others and ask questions about how to manage out there ladies! I have heard too many sad horror stories about women not being able to manage so please as a unity share your own hot tips, thoughts, and ideas to help everyone and together we can change the culture around this topic.
Below are a few websites to access some of the items I mentioned but these are only some of the many out there. I would encourage you not to just take my word for it, but find something that works for you.
Lunette.co.nz is an NZ company that sell period-proof underwear called Modibodi, as well as their own menstrual cups
Iameva.co is another NZ company that also sells period-proof underwear and have a cool book about womanhood and how powerful we can be with Maori culture playing a part in the storytelling.
Written by local adventure badass and all-round advocate for getting women into the outdoors, Kate Woolley. When she is not up a mountain she is coaching kids to get up one! Teaching young women that having a period is no barrier to scaling massive height is a passion and a privilege for this young lady.