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How can I handle multiple months of menstrual cycles on a long trek like the Appalachian Trail? I am asking about how to handle the mess. Here are my personal considerations:

  1. Using hormonal birth control to skip five months of periods is not an option for me.
  2. I'm concerned about the amount of space pads or tampons would take up in my pack, not to mention the amount of trash that would accumulate.
  3. I'm of the opinion that 27 is a bit young to be having a hysterectomy (though I have considered it).

Are there any other options out there?

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@Mat Banik: Interesting, yes, but I will not be looking to be pregnant or lactating while on the AT. And I think that taking a five-day break every time I'm on my period is sort of out of the question, though we will definitely have to slow our pace a bit. –  Clare Steen Feb 3 '12 at 14:23
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I would also ask around your local marathon running club to speak with women that are in training for marathons or ultra marathons. Yes the intensity is higher and the time on the trail shorter, but most women I know have reported a large reduction in menstrual activity when their bodies are working hard on a regular basis. For most, the problem happily solves itself without needing artificial hormones. You might even start training for a marathon to see how your body responds. –  bmike Feb 3 '12 at 15:56
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On the AT you can get to towns all the time, why not just act normally, store used pads/tampons in a WAG bag, then dump them in town? –  Ryley Feb 3 '12 at 20:26
    
@bmike: I was wondering if amenorrhea might kick in. I was hoping I'd find females here that might have done extended hiking, but I think I have connections where I live to marathon runners-- great idea! –  Clare Steen Feb 3 '12 at 20:38
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Clare, really that won't be an issue unless you make it one - you can get to towns as often as you necessary. I have hiked the CDT and PCT and even on those trails you hit town weekly. People I hiked with said that on the AT they hit towns every 3-4 days. –  Ryley Feb 4 '12 at 2:47

2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Try a menstrual cup. The advantage being that you only need one (maybe having two is a good idea) and that it can be washed.

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I like the idea. I love that silicone is so safe, and I love that it can be boiled to sanitize it. I'm now having trouble finding how to clean them, since that might be hard while on the trail. –  Clare Steen Feb 3 '12 at 20:39
    
I chose the menstrual cup as the answer because I can see being able to handle the mess of the cup, and also because I can see that boiling will keep the cup sterile. Some sources online, including the Diva Cup website, say that you only really need to wash the cup with soap once a day-- and I think that's doable. I hope camp soap will work. ;) –  Clare Steen Feb 6 '12 at 16:23

This question really made me curious as my wife has asked me the same thing. If you end up finding a better solution than anyone on this site can provide, I ask that you would please share it.

I searched the web for a bit and found this website.

Allow me to quote the part I found most important.

Sponges Isabelle Gauthier of Blood Sisters, an organization of women in Montreal, created a publication called Hot Pants which describes the use of sea sponges for menstruation. Often sold as cosmetic sponges in pharmacies sea sponges can be inserted into the vagina and can be left inside until saturated. The sponges should be soaked overnight in water with white vinegar before and after each period. It is necessary to dispose of the sponge in the garbage once it begins to fall apart.

Pros: This option is environmentally friendly and chemical free.

Cons: Being aware of the saturation level of your sea sponge may be the last thing on your mind as you portage across a rushing creek. Although Gauthier insists that the sponge will not get lost "up there" it may be difficult for some to get used to reaching up to extract the sponge. There may not always be fresh water available to rinse your sponge.

Cost: Pharma Plus sells a bag of 3 natural sea sponges for $6.49. Gauthier approximates that a single sponge could last "six months if you take good care of it." A lifetime of menstruation could be yours for just over $100.00

Site: http://www.logy.org/~alana/blood.htm

Article: How to Handle your Period while you Enjoy the Great Outdoors

Author: Beth Clarkson

Upon further investigation, you should take care to thoroughly clean the sponge before first use and subsequent uses (obviously). This site notes they are no longer sold as hygiene...things... (not sure what to call them) as they have been known to contain bacteria.

Here's the relevant stuff:

Your concern about ocean pollution making sea sponges potentially dangerous is justified. In fact, this is the reason sea sponges are technically no longer allowed to be sold as menstrual products. In late 1980, menstrual sponges sold commercially were examined by a University of Iowa laboratory and found to contain sand, grit, bacteria, and various other contaminants. Other studies have found chemical pollutants and fungi in sponges sold for menstrual use. The Centers for Disease Control have documented a least one case of toxic shock syndrome associated with the use of a sea sponge.

Site: http://www.foodrevolution.org/askjohn/49.htm

Article: Menstrual cycles and sea sponges

Author: John Robbins

EDIT

The more I research about this issue (which I should probably stop now) the more I see that most women vastly prefer a menstrual cup, particularly the Diva Cup

EDIT 2 Just ran across this article about bears and menstruation. It is hypothesized that the odors from used tampons and pads attract bears. If bears are attracted to them, my very uninformed opinion is that other carnivorous animals may be attracted also. So I hope that immediately eliminates the use of pads and tampons for you.

Site: http://www.yellowstone-bearman.com/menstruation_data.html

Article: Bears and Menstruating Women

Author: Kerry A. Gunther

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+1 for the amount of research you did, whew! I would be wary of sea sponges personally, as they are, well, dead creatures. I would be concerned about lingering bacteria or microorganisms, but-- it's still something worth researching. –  Clare Steen Feb 5 '12 at 15:28

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