personal problems // what everyone wants to know but is too polite to ask

Originally, we all took care of our bodily needs without plumbing, toilet paper, or tampons. I bet we weren’t so squeamish about it either. Honestly, I’m a little embarrassed to tell the internet all about my new pee device and my birth control methods. But I want to be helpful, so here goes.

I figured out what works for me through the time consuming process of trial and error. Which everyone will have to do, to a certain extent. But if I can spare someone the twenty or so backpacking trips I went on before I discovered the SheeWee, why not. I’m also aware that some of my solutions differ from the typical, and I like people to consider other things. So I present you with my best laid plans for dealing with personal problems on-trail.

Bathroom breaks: I’m not new to using mother nature’s restroom. I even prefer it to other options like gas stations or porta-potties, from which I often emerge on a moral high horse because of people who splash water with abandon and leave trash all over the place for someone else to clean up. The pooping part is easy and simple: get off trail and away from water, dig a deep hole, and for the love of god do not leave your used toilet paper lying on top of the dirt. (Apparently I have a bit of a soap box issue about maintaining the same level of bathroom etiquette inside and outside our own homes).

For me, it’s peeing that’s more annoying in the woods. I have a tiny bladder, and all the stopping, taking off your pack, finding some privacy, contorting yourself so as not to pee on your feet, et cetera…it gets tiring and time consuming, to the degree that I’ve let it interfere with my hydration. For this adventure I’m trying something new: the SheWee and a pee rag. The SheWee is a “female urination device” that makes some progress in leveling the urination playing field by letting you keep your pack on and remain standing (although it’s still annoying to have to carry around an extra device to achieve the same pee-freedom as the boys). I haven’t used it backpacking yet, but I’ve tried it out a few times at home, and I think it will radically change this small part of my hiking life. As for the “pee rag”: in the past I’ve carted around a lot of toilet paper (tiny bladder, remember?). This time I’ll save the paper for greater needs, if you will, and carry a bandana for urine. I know that sounds horrifying and disgusting and whatever else. But, barring urinary tract infection, pee is sterile. And plenty of people are currently living without toilet paper.

Edit: The SheWee ended up being a bust. First time I used it, pee on my pants. I didn’t need to take off my lighter, smaller pack to go, so the SheWee was trashed pretty early on.

Periods & fertility: This terrifies me a little. Okay, a lot. I’ve hiked during my period before, and that’s tiring and hard but doable. What I have not done is hike during the first 24 hours of it. To say I have a rough start each month is putting it lightly—I am completely debilitated. I lie on the floor, sweating and moaning, and try to imagine if this is worse or better than childbirth. I get up to throw up and I move my arm to turn the heating pad back on when it shuts off. That is all. I’m hoping that intense daily exercise will work some kind of hormonal magic and reduce the severity of my cramps, but for now I’m assuming everything will remain the same, and planning that way.

It’s very tempting to take a pill and just not have a period for five months. But, though I did it for six years, I’m no longer down with putting synthetic hormones in my body. Since I went off the pill, I’ve used the method outlined in Taking Charge of Your Fertility to track what’s what and know when to expect my monthly evening of torture. Originally I was bit old fashioned and charted on paper, but for the trail I’m using an app called Kindara. It’s a lot more portable than paper, and prettier too (if you’re a charts-and-graphs nerd like me and that matters to you). On the trail, I’ll use this information to try to make sure we are near or in a town when the pain hits. I think just being able to throw up and sob in private will be worth whatever the hotel costs.

So, if you’re not taking birth control and need to know when your period is coming, this works phenomenally. It will require you to carry a thermometer—which some ultralight-ers might not like—and spend a few minutes taking your temperature before you get out of your tent—which I view as an excuse to stay cozy a little longer. I would also make sure I had plenty of months of practice and felt 100% comfortable with it first, especially if you’re coming off birth control (it can take some months for your body to get rid of the synthetic hormones and resume natural activity). I’ve been doing this for more than a year, and it does take a few go-rounds to feel confident that you’re interpreting everything correctly. It’s also good for avoiding pregnancy, though I don’t know how much of an issue that is as a disgusting and physically exhausted thru-hiker. And obviously, it’s not ideal for everyone. If you absolutely cannot afford get pregnant, or if you’re prone to lapses of judgement or something, then stick with what you know.

Another new tool in my toolbox: the DivaCup. I bought one of these immediately after using tampons on a backpacking trip this past summer. It was my first time doing that, and my last. I absolutely hated carrying around a plastic bag of used tampons and their plastic wrappers. The DivaCup is just as comfortable, and only needs to be emptied every twelve hours or so. No trash. I guess that sounds gross to people as well, but for me there’s no comparison. I haven’t used the DivaCup on a backpacking trip yet, but after I used it at home once I never bought another tampon again. You reduce trash, weight, and grossness. Win, win, win.

For pain management, I’m going all ayurvedic and bringing turmeric with black pepper extract. I don’t like to take a pharmaceutical when there’s a plant available, and turmeric has been shown to be as effective as ibuprofen. This is also a new strategy for me, so I’ll have to let you know how it works.

So there you have it. Nothing to discuss at your next dinner party, but hopefully enlightening. If there’s anything else you’re curious about, I’m obviously not being shy right now, so feel free to ask!

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2 thoughts on “personal problems // what everyone wants to know but is too polite to ask

  1. maud says:

    Hi, I was wondering if you’ve had the occasion to try the divacup while backpacking.
    I am preparing for my first trek this Summer (Iceland from North to South) and I thought it might be a good option if my periods happend during the hike.

    1. Hi! Yes, I did use the divacup during my thru-hike. It worked great for that. These days I don’t use it anymore as it started to get uncomfortable to me (because of the suction). Now I use sea sponges like resuable tampons. Iceland trek sounds amazing! Good luck!

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