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October 6, 2015 / Comments (47)

Trail Hygiene For Women

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Trail hygiene is a piece of cake!

For women hitting the trail, knowledge of proper hygiene is essential to having an enjoyable hike. If you’re day hiking or spending six months on the trail, you’ll pick up a hygiene tip or two. And guys, if you’re looking to get your girlfriend, wife, sister, or friend that has female parts give this a share.

Pooping in the Woods

I know I’ve just let out the big secret that women actually poop. Now that we’re over that, let’s talk details.

There are a few different ways to do the deed, but all require digging a proper cathole. You are required to find a spot 200+ feet away from water sources, camp, and trail. I suggest measuring out 200 feet at home and see what that feels like to walk that distance to follow proper Leave No Trace Ethics and leave the trail looking beautiful! Make sure to use a trowel to dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter. Do your business in the hole and cover it up properly. Make sure to pack out your toilet paper. There is a huge issue with hikers not digging a proper cathole or even worse, not even attempting to make one. This can be very problematic. Why?

Animals will dig up poorly buried waste.

“toilet paper blooms” found in the wilderness are unsightly.

Hide your waste under a rock? Volunteers often use found rocks for trail maintenance. Think of them next time you’re too lazy to dig a cathole.

tp-on-trail

Some Additional Tips

Dig a cathole the night before if you often have to go in the morning. It’ll be a much better hole if you’re not in a rush.

Too late? Dig a cathole after and move your waste into it.

Carry a proper poo kit:

poop kit

Contents: Ziplock to hold all contents, trowel, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and extra freezer bag to carry used TP. You can also duct tape around your used tp bag to hide the contents.

 

Peeing on the Trail

moosilauke

Orange bandanna hanging off pack = pee rag

First things first- don’t pee on the trail. Make sure you’re 200+ feet from any water sources. Also don’t pee in places where you plan to cook or sleep — or where you think others might reasonably do the same.

There are five main methods women use for cleanup:

Toilet Paper: A traditional method. Make sure you pack out all TP. If you’re hiking a long distance trail you can send yourself additional footage in each resupply.

Shake/Drip Dry: This method means nothing to pack out, but with added moisture from that little leftover pee comes a chance of bacteria growth. I recommend this method in conjunction with another. If you’re running low on toilet paper or head into the woods to pee without the tools below, just drip dry.

Natural Materials: Smooth rocks, leaves, and snow are all great natural materials for wiping. You can use all for wiping your bum as well, just put it in the cathole. Be aware of leaves you use!

Pee rag: My favorite method uses a corner of a bandanna to wipe up any excess pee. You hang your bandanna off your pack where it is sanitized by the power of the sun. There’s nothing to pack out, it’s sanitary, and eco friendly.

Urination Device: I’ve yet to try one, but the idea is you have the convenience of peeing while standing up without exposing yourself to the world. Just rinse the device after and there’s nothing to pack out. It is the heaviest option of the bunch and may take some at-home practice to master.

The most popular devices include:

pStyle

Freshette

GoGirl

Shewee

Having Your Period While Backpacking

First, bears aren’t attracted to menstrual blood so you’re fine to hit the trail. If you use tampons or pads, you need to pack it out. The OB brand is a nice option as there is no applicator so you have less trash to deal with. Bring a freezer Ziplock bag for this or invest in some MaskIt pouches for ultimate cleanliness on the trail.

An alternative method is to use a menstrual cup. There are a few different brands but all serve the same purpose. Some benefits to using a menstrual cup over tampons include reducing excess trash from packaging and one time use products, 10-12 hours of usage before reusing, and is easy to use. On the trail you don’t have any trash to pack out. You should dig a cathole to rid of the contents.

Popular Menstrual Cups:

Diva Cup

Moon Cup

Lunette

Lilly Cup and Lilly Cup Compact

Some women women use hormonal birth control such as pills, Depo-Provera, or IUDs to regulate or skip periods. For bonus points, carry a couple tampons. First, that desperate hiker who forgot her feminine products will be forever grateful. There are also multiple uses for tampons including making a medical bandage or fire tinder.

 

Having Long Hair

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The biggest worry with long hair on a backpacking trip is it dreading. Make sure to comb your hair out daily. Either bring a small pick comb or use your fingers. I suggest putting your hair in a ponytail, bun, or braids. Wear a hat if you have a part to prevent burning your scalp, especially if you hike in high altitude or desert areas. Make sure you use hair bands that don’t have metal to prevent breakage and be gentle with your hair. Some women opt to drastically cut their hair before a long distance hike to make maintenance easy.

When you get home use either a clarifying shampoo or go natural with apple cider vinegar to get rid of all the additional buildup.

 

General Cleaning

For daily cleaning, focus on your feet, pits, face and privates. I use Huggies Natural Unscented baby wipes. Do not use anything antibacterial on your V. You don’t want to get rid of the good bacteria doing its job. You can dry wipes at home to save weight and re-wet in camp with water. I like to bring a teeny tiny bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap for extra cleaning.

Make sure you take care of your feet during the day. Deal with hot spots before they become blisters, air out your feet whenever possible, and keep your socks clean.

Don’t bother with deodorant. Ever smell a middle school boy covered in Axe spray? That’s what you’ll smell like.

Pick your underwear carefully. By wearing a pair of synthetic underwear like ExOfficio, you can take 1-2 pairs for your whole trip and stay sanitary.

For laundry, don’t get soap in water sources! Bring a gallon ziplock bag, fill it with water and a tiny bit of Dr. Bronner’s soap. Seal the bag and shake away. Wring your clothes out and let dry on a rock in the sunlight. Synthetic or merino clothing is best for hiking and dries quickly. I wore Merino head to toe on the John Muir Trail and loved how versatile it was in both the heat and cold. If you are in an area that requires a bear canister, like the Sierras, it makes for a great washing tub!

Shaving is optional. For some women, going all nature is part of being on the trail. For others, shaving helps them feel clean. This is a personal preference.

I recommend making your hygiene routine consistent. Air out your feet every afternoon on your lunch break. Wash up once you get into camp while your water is boiling if you are preparing a hot meal. Brush and floss your teeth before bed. In the morning, wash the socks you wore the day before and hang on your pack to dry. Even if it’s cold, it will eventually warm up. You only need two pairs of socks if you rotate each day.

There you have it. Solutions to all your hygiene woes and questions. Once you get a hygiene routine down, you won’t believe how easy it is to do in the backcountry. You may even jump for joy!

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Have a tip to add? Leave a comment below!

Last modified: February 23, 2018

47 Responses to :
Trail Hygiene For Women

  1. BeeKeeper says:

    Love our shared jump for joy photo! Excellent article with WHAT? . . . real information. . . what will Backpacker Magazine think? Kudos for being a role model and mentor.

    A couple of additional tips:
    1. I use black dog poo bags for my waste
    2. I use a bidet with a drop of baby Dr Bonner’s
    3. After pooing in the hole, stir into dirt and pee to help erode quicker and reduce likelihood of being dug up or eaten.

    1. Scribe says:

      Beekeeper, great list, but can you explain #2? I use a water bottle as a bidet, splashing as needed, using Baby Wipes liberally. Do tell if you have found a specialized backpacking gadget. Btw, I am a new beekeeper since June with 2 hives.

      1. BeeKeeper says:

        Sorry it’s taken me a while to get back to you.

        I use the GoToob 1.25oz bottle for my bidet. http://amzn.to/1Hc26Ab

        Here’s another option to babywipes. http://amzn.to/1Hc2fDF

        BTW, my trail name BeeKeeper is not because I keep bees, but rather as the antithesis to Queen Bee. I’m a keeper of the bees πŸ™‚

      2. Denver says:

        That’s a genuinely imsseprive answer.

  2. Anya says:

    You answered a couple of the questions I always wondered. I hope to do my first overnight next spring so this is super helpful!!

    1. allison says:

      Good luck and have a blast!!

      1. Roby says:

        Going to put this arcilte to good use now.

      2. Although he wasn’t an antichristian, he did see through some “religious” people:Luba Gurdjieff: A Memoir with Recipes, “My Uncle never taught us how to go to church, or pray, or anything like that. And he never liked priests or the nuns. When we were out driving and he saw a priest, he would say, ‘Shoo! Son of a bitch.’

  3. Kristen Reis says:

    And now I need to get the Diva Cup! I had just head of them and it sounds SO much better than packing out tampons.

    1. allison says:

      It’s a life changer for sure!

    2. Sonia says:

      I heard the problem with the diva cup is more skin contact. That makes you more susceptible to germs and bacteria on your hands, hence inflections.

  4. Scribe says:

    First, I have heard of a group of women hikers in California, FLAB (fun loving adventurous broads), who use plastic salad dressing bottles with a corner cut off instead of a go-girl or similar silicon item although I have not personally tried it. The last time I visited their website, they had pictures of an Italian dressing bottle (evidently no need to remove the label) and instructions. Very clever, I thought, but bulkier than other options. I think it takes practice no matter what you use. I have a Go Girl but have known women hikers to use the other brands, and they liked them. Second, I hike in a skirt because it is way easier to pee modestly standing or squatting in a skirt. In my reseach, I have found there really are cultures where women stand to urinate; it requires parting the skin/folds with your fingers so that there are no obstructions to the stream, but skirts are helpful since you merely slide your underwear to one side, so no need to drop your undies to pee with skirts. Hand washing takes on new significance with this method. Third, I have used both the Diva cup and the Lunette. I highly recommend both although the Lunette is my preference because it is a tad stiffer so less leaking for me. I do wear a cheap panty liner each day while backpacking, packing it out as trash; it extends the life of your underwear between washings on longer hikes. And, it eliminates the need to wipe when also coupled with a Go Girl since you pull the silicon lightly across your skin to end drips when finished. Finally, solid waste is the most problematic, particularly when the ground is frozen because cat holes are impossible when temps drop near or below freezing. I was in the Smokes several years ago in February and did not realize that they do not have privies like we do in Virginia on the AT. Had I realized, I would have taken wag bags with me and packed it all out with my trash. That’s my .02 cents. Thanks for the helpful, well-written article! Good job!

    1. Scribe says:

      *Smokies

  5. I have three items I am never without: MaskIt bags. collapsible 1L Platypus bottle and my Shewee.

    1. The Shewee: is AMAZING!! I don’t wear skirts but buy men’s convertable pants. (Shorts if I need em, long pants if I need em.) Men’s pants come with long zippers for…well…the obvious reasons. Since the Shewee works like their weewee same deal: unzip, pull down a little on the shorts (I leave them buttoned), then move undies aside and go! When you use it properly there is no need to worry about TP as it’s either drip and dry or wear a thin liner pad that catches the moisture.

    2. I pair the Shewee with the collapsible Platy for nighttime needs. Just roll onto knees and use. No need to leave the tent! (I don’t sleep with anyone so it works.) You do have to be a little careful especially if you are really sleepy. I keep a bandana under me in case of spills.

    3. The MaskIt pouches are VERY versatile. Not just for your period but for all TP needs. The large size holds several rounds of TP and then you just fold them up and over and seal them in an odorless bundle! I’ve carried them around for multi-day trips with no discernible smell. Best thing? The bags are biodegradable so you can toss them in the first garbage can you see and still know that you are not adding to the landfill pollution! I have also used them to hold my empty salmon bags or any other really strong odor packaging from food. PS….I do make sure that they are kept in the bear bag and hung at night rather than keeping them in my pack or near me. Just in case πŸ™‚

    Great article!

    1. allison says:

      Thanks for all that great info!! I thankfully never need to pee at night or I’d be following the same protocol as you!

    2. Kathy says:

      SUCH a good idea to pair a Shewee with a collapsible Platy for nighttime needs. Wish I would have thought of this on the AT–I once lost may way in the middle of a moonless night and couldn’t find my tent for a while, lol. I also didn’t realize the MaskIt pouches were biodegradable. I’ll keep all this in mind on my next trip!

  6. Valerie says:

    One change to the poo kit- Hand sanitizer alone won’t kill the bacteria that causes giardia, so best to wash with soap after pooping. (source: an RN I met on the trail, and an internet article somewhere. The RN seems more reliable)

    1. allison says:

      You’re so right! What’s your soap of choice? Dr Brommers or something else?

      1. Kelly says:

        As a PS – Any soap will work, it’s mostly the friction of rubbing your hands together that dislodges the bacteria from your skin. It’s why the scrubbing for 30 seconds is so important. Then once they are dislodged, the soap scoops them up, traps them and away they go when you rinse! (From another RN)
        And thank you for the amazing post! I can’t wait to use some of these tips!

  7. outdoorsyarchivist says:

    Great! I always really enjoy hearing what other women suggest for backcountry hygiene (as opposed to our “beauty routine,” hehe).

    The ONLY thing I would add to this is a quick comment in regards to synthetic clothing. You say: “Synthetic clothing is best for hiking and dries quickly.” Totally true! However, I’ve started to use a lot of merino stuff, and I REALLY love it. Super comfy, stays warm when wet, and does a much better job of not getting smelly as fast as synthetic stuff (interestingly, I have a backpacker friend who is a textile expert, who works for big outdoor brands, and she talks a lot about how the make-up of synthetic fiber just invites body oder to stay around). On the downside, merino stuff can get pricey, and I’ve found that it doesn’t have the lifespan of synthetic. Interestingly, I have a blue Icebreaker shirt that I’ve worn through brutal desert backpacking trips AND really chilly alpine trips, and it’s done fantastic at keeping me cool and warm when I need it. I have no idea how that is possible, but it’s pretty amazing material πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the write-up!

    1. allison says:

      I was implying “wear anything but cotton” but didn’t include merino as I should have! I’ll be updating. I actually was head to toe in merino for my JMT thru hiker. As you said, wool is fantastic in the heat! I talk about it so much it didn’t get a mention here!! Thanks for adding πŸ˜€

    2. marijka says:

      Re. merino – wool is easily mended. Even if you don’t sew much or have a machine, you can pick up a variety of weights of wool thread at a good yarn or needlecraft store and mend by hand. (The thread would often be intended for hand embroidery, crewel, or even machine stitching.) Or just have a sewing friend or alterations person do it for you, especially if it’s a hole that needs filling rather than a tear where you can match edges. Regardless, be sure to hang on to old merino wool garments to use as scraps for that very purpose, or to line other garments for warmth! Wool can last forever and just gets better with age.

  8. Diane says:

    Thank you for some great tips! However, IUDs do NOT regulate periods, in fact, they may cause them to be heavier.

    1. allison says:

      Thanks for sharing! Misinformation on my part. I’ll edit this. Thanks!

    2. Dafne says:

      I’ve been using an IUD for approximately 3 years and my periods have all but disappeared. YMMV.

    3. CN says:

      My IUD reduced my periods dramatically.

    4. Kathy says:

      My teenage daughter got her IUD and hasn’t had a period since! I think it depends on the type of IUD you get, and whether the IUD has hormones/medications in it.

    5. Carrie says:

      I’m lucky, my IUD has stopped my periods!

  9. La Chatte says:

    It is a myth that bears are not attracted to the menstrual blood. It’s a politically correct egalitarian thing to say and frequently repeated. It’s false.

    Bears smell EVERYTHING. Go near a house dog, he knows. Gnats hover too in heavy insect wilderness. Use common sense. Political correctness is fake science.

    1. Kathy says:

      I didn’t get the impression that the author was trying to be politically correct. I appreciate her tips–I’m an experienced backpacker; I’ve done a lot of research on this topic and this is one of the most helpful articles I’ve found on feminine hygiene on the trail.

  10. I’ve never done an extended camping trip and I was thinking about trying one this fall…this was, of course, the first obstacle I thought of. These are some great tips though! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Kara says:

    this was INCREDIBLY helpful! such great tips! i’ll be backpacking the white mountains in July and Glacier National Park in August… so I can’t wait to share some of the tips I’ve never heard of with my girls!

  12. Ursa Major says:

    Fantastic articles! Much Needed! I hope you don’t mind that I shared them.

  13. Kathy says:

    Thanks for this article; it’s one of the most helpful ones I’ve ever read on feminine hygiene on the trail. I appreciate your experience and resourcefulness.

  14. Annie Abbey says:

    First of all, you are hilarious and informative and I am sooo glad I found this article! I am new to backpacking so this comes in really handy for me! Secondly, I thought I would recommend Thinx underwear as a period alternative because it is kind of a two birds one stone packing decision. Their underwear has an antimicrobial layer too so they stay sanitary! Thanks again for the article!
    xx Annie
    http://www.somethingswellblog.com/

  15. Miss Massa says:

    Clarification and support on the comments I read through…Perfect for off the beaten path travel whether in 3rd world countries or the wilderness.

    IUD w/ hormones reduces or even eliminates periods. IUD with copper can increase heaviness & cramps.
    Menstruation is an attracted but should not be a reason not to go in the backcountry (walk into a head of cows on your period and you can set them all on edge).
    Menstrual cups are awesome for all places off the beaten path.
    If you can afford it, merino wool underwear is the ultimate option for these kind of trips. The tip to use thin period liners for underwear longevity and catch drip-age is a good one.
    My next test will be trying the THINX underwear.

  16. Liz says:

    I wear a disposable cotton thin panty liner everyday on the trail. I change it out in the evening when I wash up. I drip dry and find that after a few days the urine smell gets a little strong. My day pants get air water and sun but my sleeping fleece nothing. Keeps my night fleece fresh. Only place I have found the cotton (allergic to others) panty liners is Dollar General.

  17. Megan says:

    Just a small comment on menstrual hygiene. I was told that animals were attracted to the waste created (tampons, pads) so place tea bags or baking soda in the bag you plan on packing it out with. I covered a zip lock with duct tape for privacy and broke open a few tea bags. Even if animals aren’t attracted it helped with the smell for my benefit.

  18. GutsySpirit says:

    Thank you everyone for your wonderful pointers! There are some tips I wish I knew for my backpacking trip to iceland. Being on my period was pretty tricky, being around a bunch of male friends. Privacy and subtlety is a bit hard. I found MaskIt at REI and it helped so much with disposal. The problem I ran into was the fact that the majority of the island is all tock. Digging catholes was tricky and sometimes impossible, so I had to wait for the next store or hostel or campsite.

    I do want to share these products I just discovered: reusable cloth pads and liners: https://mightynest.com/shop/bath-body/personal-care/feminine-products/reusable-cotton-menstrual-pad

    Apologies for not being able to hyperlink them. Scroll down and recommendations for the liner and night pad are there. They’re great because you just need to rise them with a little biodegradable soap and water when you can. There is a wet bag you can buy, but bringing a ducttape covered Ziploc baggie will do just fine for holding your used pad inserts and liners until you can clean them. I like the idea of the tea bag for odor reduction, you could exercise that too! I think these would be great for drip-age, as well as any possible leakage from tampons or the menstrual cup.

    Safe travels!

  19. GutsySpirit says:

    Rock*

  20. Erin says:

    This article was so helpful!!! Also another option for menstrual hygiene: Thinx underwear, google it. Creates no waste, and you can hand wash them just like you suggested washing laundry in this post.

  21. Sorcha says:

    For menstruation, you can also buy washable pads and liners that are more eco-friendly and can be rinsed out and re used. Also, you can get wet/dry bags to carry them in, with one side for used and another for clean.

  22. Andrea says:

    For #2, smooth rocks, sticks, and leaves (not poison ivy, please) can eliminate the issue of TP on the trail (or in your pack). I couldn’t convince my husband and children to use this method on a recent CT hike, but I find it satisfactory, in combo with the bidet bottle. To avoid menstruation issues altogether, I LOVE my Mirena IUD. It eliminates menstruation or reduces it to almost nothing, as well as cramps and other discomforts/pain that go along with a period.

  23. Hey, Allison

    Nice post.

    In my opinion, the diva cup should be among our stuff.

    About pooping, we already knew that. It’s seems that you are pulling our legs.

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