If you’re a woman and have spent at least a day outdoors without the convenience of a toilet – let alone toilet paper – you certainly have encountered a situation, where we females have to think more about our basic bodily needs than our male counterparts.
Even though feminine hygiene is a very important topic when being outdoors (hiking, camping, kayaking, biking, etc.), it is oftentimes neglected. So I’ll try to give you, my fellow female nature lover, my acquired knowledge and expertise about feminine outdoor hygiene 😉
→ If you’re a guy reading this and your companion is female, then please mail her this post. I’m sure she will be thrilled to know how much you care about that side of the story…
5 Things Women Need to Know About Feminine Outdoor Hygiene:
- Feminine Outdoor Hygiene I How to keep yourself clean
- Feminine Outdoor Hygiene II How to (properly) go to the toilet outdoors
- Feminine Outdoor Hygiene III How to deal with menstruation
- Feminine Outdoor Hygiene IV How to deal with contraception
- Feminine Outdoor Hygiene V How to choose the best underwear
Feminine Outdoor Hygiene I: How to keep yourself clean
The finest thing that can happen to you after a strenuous day hiking through Swedish Lapland is a wood fired sauna next to a cold river. I swear, it’s the best recovery you will get. Ever. And you’ll never feel as clean and refreshed.
But surely, not every day spent outdoors ends like this. So here’s my first advice regarding feminine outdoor hygiene. In the unlucky but likely event that there is no sauna available, please still make sure that you wash your face, armpits, feet and genital area regularly, ideally daily. Getting sweat, dirt, sunscreen and insect repellent away is crucial not only to keep your odour in check but also to maintain a healthy skin.
I know it’s cold outside. I know the water is probably even colder. But imagine how nice it feels to slip into your sleeping bag clean and fresh rather than muddy and sticky.
LEAVE NO TRACEWash yourself 60 metres (80 steps) away from water sources, using a minimal amount of biodegradable soap. Also, wash yourself before a swim in a river or lake as sunscreen, insect repellent and body oils can do a great harm to natural water sources.
Keeping your genital area clean is especially important for feminine outdoor hygiene. It might prevent you from getting skin irritations, bacterial infections and other nasty things. Using a rag to wash might be convenient, but it also works well enough with water and your bare hands (make sure you sanitize them before and after).
Here’s how you could do that: Squat, take a bottle full of water into your right hand (if fuel is not an issue you could even use warm water) and pour it slowly onto your left hand to wash yourself. Usage of soap is up to you but make sure it’s biodegradable (f.e. from Dr. Bronner) and that you use a minimal amount only. When finished, change into a fresh pair of underpants and wash the used one, giving them enough time to dry until your next washing sequence.
The importance of keeping your genital area clean can’t be highlighted enough, especially if your prone to bacterial infections. Furthermore, to lower your risk for urinary tract infection (UTI), keep yourself well hydrated.Back to the top
Feminine Outdoor Hygiene II: How to (properly) go to the toilet outdoors
The most important thing about going to the toilet outdoors is to remember to leave no trace. If you only got to pee, there is no need for toilet paper. Really. To still minimise the bacteria caught in your underwear rather use a “pee rag”. Just take an old piece of cotton clothing, cut a square piece (20x20cm is enough) and use it as your new reusable toilet paper. Sounds yukky, I know. But believe me: it works and probably isn’t more unhygienic as toilet paper that’s hanging next to your toilet getting sprays of all kinds of bacteria with each flush.
As long as you keep the pee rag out of your pack (just strap it on somewhere on the outside and away from food and water bottles) the sun will dry it and the UV will work its bacteria-killing magic every time you used it. Furthermore, you also should wash it thoroughly with water regularly, depending on your usage.
Ah, and you might have seen these “female urination funnels” (Link) that help women to pee like men do: standing, without taking off your pants or pack. I saw these silicone funnels being sold in more than one outdoor-shop but have never used one. If you did and think their one of the great inventions the outdoor industry has produced and that they indeed do justify their additional weight, then please give me and other readers a shout through a comment!
Anyway, if you happen to have larger business to do while out in the woods, there is, like mentioned before, one main thing to always (always!) keep in mind: leave no trace!
LEAVE NO TRACEIf there is a toilet, use it! If there’s no toilet, use a shovel/spade (we use the Titanium Deuce Scoop) and burry all waste at least 15cm deep and 60 metres (80 steps) away from water sources, camps and tracks. You should also pack out your toilet paper or follow the gold standard and use natural objects. 😉
And always remember to wash and sanitize your hands. Your partner will surely assist you in pouring water over your hands and putting sanitizer gel or spray onto your hands. This way you don’t have to poke around in your pack and touch water bottles.
→ Of course, these tips apply for women and men. So please make everyone in your group live up to the standards.Back to the top
Feminine Outdoor Hygiene III: How to deal with menstruation
Having the painters in, having cousin Red visiting, having your menses, period, menstruation… There are many ways to describe one annoying, messy thing that befalls us women every month. It’s a crucial topic of feminine outdoor hygiene.
So since we can’t avoid it, the question is: How do you keep the mess and discomfort of menstruation to a minimum?
There are tampons and liners, the obvious products. But there are also – and this is what I’d go for no matter if outdoors, indoors or between doors – so called “menstrual cups” (Link). They are made from silicone and come in different sizes, shapes, prices and (most importantly) colours! 😉
There are a couple of suppliers for menstrual cups, which sell mostly through online shops, but you might find them at your chemists as well. Just google it, compare prices and see which shop delivers to your country.
A menstrual cup has several advantages:
- It’s fairly easy to use.
- It’s lightweight.
- It minimises waste = it’s ecologically friendly.
- It can be “kept inside” for up to 12 hours depending on your flow.
- It’s inexpensive. It costs about as much as a couple of packages of tampons and can be used for months and months.
- Also, you will never have to think about stocking up on liners and tampons and calculating how many you might need.
While using your menstrual cup clean it with toilet paper, rinse it with water occasionally and your good to go again. After each cycle, clean it thoroughly by either putting it into boiling water for 3 minutes or use a disinfection spray or towels.
If you take medication to deal with PMS, pains and cramps, don’t forget to take them to your outdoor adventure. Hiking with abdominal cramps is not nice.
By the way: if you start on a long distance hike, other strenuous activities or begin a lifestyle that requires you’re body to adjust to, it might happen that you’re menstruation is late for weeks or even months. It happens and is usually not to worry about. Check with your gynaecologist to be reassured. There surely also could be other reasons for not having your period such as iron deficiency. Make a pregnancy test, if you do suspect that your pregnant (see the next paragraph).Back to the top
Feminine Outdoor Hygiene IV: How to deal with contraception
Not technically a topic for feminine outdoor hygiene, but it needs consideration nonetheless. There are tons of contraceptive methods. Condoms, pills, vaginal rings, birth control implants, IUD.
When going on a long distance hike or other long endeavours, consider the usual criteria for contraception:
- cost (check prices and availability if you go abroad)
Sure enough, I’m no gynaecologist, but can only talk from experience. And as you surely know already, all contraception methods have their pros and cons.
The methods you’ll have to think about the least while outdoor, not carry one gram in your pack, and not worry about it at all for the longest, are the birth control implant or the IUD. They might cost you a bit more to insert, but you won’t have any additional costs for three to five years. So, do the maths.
However, using condoms is always safest (considering diseases) and cleanest (considering the lack of regular access to a shower).
→ I advise you to consult your gynaecologist before changing anything about your contraception.Back to the top
Feminine Outdoor Hygiene V: How to choose the best underwear
The first and most important decision you’d have to make about your underpants for outdoor usage is their fabric:
- merino wool
The most important criteria for underpants fabrics should be:
- dry quickly
- are breathable
- are moisture wicking / have a good moisture management (as wet environments are where bad bacteria thrive)
- keep odour under control
In terms of odour control I’d recommend merino wool. However, synthetics dry much quicker than merino wool so washing them daily is no problem. Cotton is not ideal when it comes to moisture management, and it also takes fairly long to dry, encouraging the cultivation of bacteria. I actually haven’t given bamboo a try yet, they are marketed with similar benefits as merino wool.
I’ve got lightweight (cheap) synthetic underpants as well as merino underpants from Icebreaker (Sprite Hot Pants).
LEAVE NO TRACEAlways wash your underwear and clothes at least 60 metres (80 steps) away from water sources, using a minimal amount of biodegradable soap.
When looking for bras, make sure they are breathable, moisture wicking and comfortable, especially when you carry a backpack. Too thick straps and hooks at the back might lead to pressure pain.
I’ve got the Under Armour Eclipse Bra and can recommend it.Back to the top
These are my advices and recommendations regarding feminine outdoor hygiene. I wrote from experience only and putting to use any of my advices is at your own risk entirely. But like they did for me, I hope these recommendations help making your adventures unforgettable and comfortable. 😉
Find more about the Leave No Trace Principles here.