Menstruation on the trail is a topic generally glossed over with Victorian modesty, but as something that affects over 25% of the adult population*, probability suggests that if you’re a woman who menstruates and regularly thru-hikes, the two will have coincided at some point. Even for women who don’t go backpacking, the chances are that menstruation will have got in the way of other sporting activities at some point in their lives.
Read any guide on how to be a conscientious hiker and ‘leave no trace’ and you’ll likely find a brief passage on going to the bathroom. Probably a cursory paragraph advising you to take a trowel, bury your business, bag up toilet paper and take it home. I’m yet to find an article that details bathroom practice on the trail specifically for menstruating women, but the guiding principles are the same: take all waste home with you. The problem is that if a six-day period coincides with a six-day thru-hike, that amounts to rather a lot of waste. A carrier bag full of used sanitary products isn’t particularly pleasant nor convenient to carry, especially if you’re part of the ultra-light brigade and use a backpack barely larger than your pouch of sanitary towels.
Related: Best Backpacking Backpacks
For countless women in sport and the outdoors, menstrual cups have been a game changer. A silicone cup is roughly the length of your thumb and weighs on average less than 20g, saving valuable pack space and weight compared to traditional sanitary products. The same cup can be used for up to 10 years, making it a much more environmentally friendly option. Another bonus for backpackers is that it can be left in place for 12 hours at a time and easily rinsed out on the trail using drinking water (just remember to boil/sterilise your cup when you return from the trip). Although 12 hours is a guideline, if you need to leave your cup in for longer it shouldn’t be an issue. Since menstrual cups collect blood rather than absorbing it, the risk of toxic shock syndrome is much lower than it is with tampons.