I’m looking around the circle of Girl Scouts and my eyes come to rest on my daughter who sits head in hands. She knows what’s coming. I did a dress rehearsal of my “how to pack for our backpacking trip” performance in our living room, and this part is not her favorite part. I remind myself that anyone who menstruates might try to avoid multi-day outdoor experiences because they are afraid they might get their periods. I reach into my bag.
“You all should pack a menstruation preparedness kit,” I tell them. “Even if you are sure you will not get your period while we are out, it always pays to be prepared.”
Embarrassment registers on some of their faces, and a few of them drop their heads into their hands mimicking my daughter. I continue, “Getting your period should not keep you from anything, including the outdoors. There is no reason to be embarrassed by the fact that you menstruate. Most people do.” A few of them laugh, and they start taking notes.
So, what’s in a menstruation preparedness kit?
- Enough of the full range of products that you use—overnight pads, tampons, panty liners, etc.—for the duration of the journey.
- A roll of dark-colored pet waste bags. Leave No Trace remains a priority, especially for menstrual products. Pet waste bags are a great way to store used products for packing out. Some are infused with a baking soda or another fragrance.
- A package of flushable wipes that are approved for vaginal use. These can serve the dual purpose of cleaning the hands before and after you change products. DO NOT USE DISINFECTING WIPES. (This needed to be said.)
- Finally, all items should be placed in a dry bag, whether it’s a Ziplock or some other waterproof package.
How do you use the kit while in the backcountry?
- Tell the group you need to step off the trail for a break.
- Bring the kit along with you.
- Use the flushable wipes on your hands and anywhere else that needs a little cleaning.
- Take care of what you need to take care of just as though you were at home. It’s OK to change pads and tampons in the woods.
- Dispose of any used products and used wipes in one of the pet waste bags. Tie a knot in the bag.
- Store that waste bag in the dry bag with everything else until you can pack it out or add it to your other trash that is being packed out. This applies even when you have access to a backcountry privy, as menstruation products are not compostable.
A few weeks after the talk with my Girl Scouts, we went on our backpacking trip in the White Mountains—the first mountain trip for most of the troop members. Our primary goal was the comfort, safety, and success of the group. We stopped if someone needed a drink. We stopped if someone needed a rest. We also stopped if someone needed to change a tampon, just like anyone would.
Note: This article has been edited to reflect a more inclusive message. Thank you to those who brought this to our attention and continue to educate us on important ways to better represent the LGBTQ community.