It was day one of a three day backpacking trip on the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, which wanders it’s way along the wild west coast of British Columbia’s stunning Vancouver Island. My partner, Mat and I had spent the previous day cycling to the southern trailhead along the undulating highway hills from the capital city of Victoria, navigating a torrid rainstorm that pelted down on our Gore-tex laden bodies. All night long, large droplets of wet coastal water reminded us that we were deep in a lush, temperate rainforest at the crisp beginnings of shoulder season.
A deep relief coursed through us as we woke up to the sun's rays stretching through the sturdy timbers of evergreen trees standing tall around us. We knew dry redemption was ours to behold. As our gear laid outstretched in a small patch of morning sun, I wandered my way to the nearby outhouse.
I let out a small sigh of dissatisfaction as the evidence on the two ply toilet paper signalled to me that my monthly period had arrived just in time for the adventure to begin. I caught myself feeling like a victim of my body's perceived poor timing and quickly reframed my outlook.
It’s taken years to shift my mindset from experiencing my period as a painful and inconvenient burden to understanding that it actually is a beautiful gift. It’s a reminder that I am alive, a natural part of my being and a very important barometer of my overall state of health. It’s such an important metric in fact, that it is now being recognized as the fifth vital sign of a menstruator’s state of well-being.
The debilitating pain that I experienced for decades during my periods, eventually diagnosed as endometriosis, was so severe that it led me to skipping out on any and all extracurricular activities and fun-filled adventures for the first twenty four to forty eight hours of every cycle. But that pain also did something truly amazing.
When I finally embraced that the pain was a signaling from my body that something was deeply off track, it led me down a wellness journey that changed my entire life. That pain encouraged me to eventually embrace a healthy, active lifestyle from which my profound love for outdoor adventure was born. In a sense, I owe all of the newfound joy and exploration in my life to my period and the pain that once came with it.
Because I had been tracking my period on the Clue app for so many months prior to our trek on the Juan de Fuca, I knew it was set to arrive any day. Thus, I was well stocked with my favorite adventure period tools; my Diva Cup (in its cloth bag), two pairs of Thinx sport period panties and a travel pack of unscented, biodegradable wet wipes.
These three period essentials have become so integral in my life because they make menstruating in the mountains (or wherever I’m exploring) far easier, convenient and much more enjoyable.
Back in the early days of my cycle, I used regular, mega-brand tampons to absorb my menstrual blood, not knowing all the harmful chemicals they contain (like super absorbent rayon, chlorine, dioxin, pesticides, plastics, bpa and many more). Then, I switched to organic cotton tampons (like Natracare), which are a much healthier option for my body and for the environment. But, I didn’t like having to carry the unused and then the used ones around with me in a Ziploc bag on adventures. (Since they aren’t supposed to be disposed of in toilets — traditional, outhouses, composting or otherwise. Pack it in, pack it out applies to period products too!)
Furthermore, I didn’t like the idea of all the waste that tampons created, like the individual plastic wrappers on each little white bullet or the fact that they take so long to decompose. Biodegradable, organic cotton tampons can take anywhere from five months to five years to break down, depending on the environmental conditions, and regular tampons, which often contain plastic materials, can take five hundred to a thousand years. And that’s not even considering the ones with plastic applicators!
I decided that since every action matters I would buy my very first reusable menstrual cup, which I did, a little over ten years ago. I chose the Diva Cup because it was readily available, made in Canada from 100% bpa-free medical grade silicone, has no chemicals, plastics or dyes, comes in multiple sizes and includes a lovely little drawstring bag to keep it clean and discrete.
I love that I can empty my Diva Cup in any outhouse, composting toilet or ‘cat hole’ I dig in the ground when I am out exploring the wilderness. Since menstrual blood is a natural, organic compound made up of elements like sodium, calcium, phosphate and iron, it can easily be absorbed back into the soil and potentially even uptaken by plants as fertilizer.
I used the Model 1 Diva Cup, which holds one full ounce (30ml) of blood. I usually empty it once in the morning and once before bed, depending on the rate of my flow and how much movement I’m getting. Since day two and three of my cycle are the heaviest, I often empty it a third time around midday.
Sometimes, I’m having so much fun that I forget to empty my cup right on time, so I rely on my Thinx period panties to step in for the win. Period panties are a great way to catch any leaks that might happen while you’re dancing and prancing through the great outdoors (or indoors for that matter). Leaks can happen from overflowing cups or full tampons, or perhaps you’re the type that prefers to just let the good times flow.
Depending on the style of underwear, period panties can hold up to four times the amount of blood that one single tampon can. When they are at max absorption, you can simply rinse them out in clean water (away from natural water sources) and hang them up to dry. Because of this, I like to have two pairs along, which gives me one to wear while the other is drying.
The wet wipes come into play because, well, there will be blood and there isn’t always access to water for the clean up. I choose biodegradable, unscented wipes because they are great at cleaning my hands and my cup and I can leave them in a composting toilet or outhouse if I pass one along the way. Plus they are lightweight and easy to carry if I end up having to pack them out in my plastic baggie. I know one-time use items aren’t great for the environment, so I try to limit their use to when it is absolutely essential and for me, adventure periods fit the bill.
When it comes to camping during menses, many studies have been done to find out if bears really can ‘smell the menstruation’ as Anchorman suggests. So far, the research has found that while grizzly and black bears are NOT attracted to menstruating women, they are attracted to used period products.
I’m always sure to stash anything that has a scent in my food bag, slung high up in the tree or stowed securely in a food cache, which includes my menstrual cup (when I’m not using it), soiled period panties and my unscented wipes as well, used and unused. I know they claim to be ‘unscented’ but that’s probably just to humans.
With these period tips and menstrual adventure essentials, I never let menstruation come between me and my outdoor adventures!
Why do I Support Diva Cup?
I continue to support the Diva Cup company because of their amazing products, yes, but also because of their advocacy through education, access and awareness toward ending period poverty. Period poverty affects 500 million women every month and is defined as the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and/ or waste management.
Many menstruators cannot afford access to menstrual products and are often forced to choose between life essentials like food or period supplies. This affects women and girls that live in every community, every neighbourhood, every social circle.
DivaCares has donated tens of thousands of cups to those in need, created advocacy and education programs, plus they are a Canadian-based Certified B corporation. All things I love.
Why do I Support Thinx?
Thinx is another amazing brand that is stepping up to help end period poverty and break down social barriers, generational shame and cultural taboos around menstruation. Many women and girls around the globe are ostracized for their periods, not allowed to attend schools, sporting events and spiritual gatherings or eat certain food while they are menstruating.
Along with certified teachers and medical professionals, Thinx has created an amazing education program called EveryBody that provides medically accurate information to schools, extracurricular programs, and nonprofits serving youth to help demystify menstrual cycles and bolster period pride.
Everyone can help support the movement to #endperiodpoverty by becoming more informed through self-awareness and education, by donating to various causes (Period, Freedom4Girls, Dignity Period and Days for Girls) and by supporting brands that are dedicated to ending global period poverty.
Ali Becker is an adventure writer and narrative storyteller who shares compelling conversations about personal transformations, overcoming limitations, wellness education and adventurous situations. You can read her recent ramblings at thisisalibecker.com.
More Adventure Period Products to Check Out on GGG:
- Kula Cloth — an antimicrobial, reusable cloth for all the 'places you go.'
- .pac — a lightweight carrying case designed for that time of the month
- CuloClean — a portable bidet
- Trowel by TentLab — for digging those cat holes!
- Venture Wipes — for the final clean!