Why Menstrual Cups Are Great Alternatives To Pads And Tampons On Treks

Menstrual cups have been around since the 1930s to my knowledge (at least in the US). But they continue to be a niche. The reasons for this probably reside in deeply rooted taboos surrounding period management and the market power of sanitary article companies.

I was introduced to the cup by a friend, about 14 months ago. And my experience has been surprisingly positive! I had used tampons for about 15 years, and I was never really happy with them (due to the sometimes dry and itchy feeling they cause, and due to some limitations while doing sports).

Menstrual cups are great alternatives to pads and tampons. They leave no inorganic waste behind and are safer to use.

Hence, I would like to share my personal experience to debunk some of the myths about this, perhaps underestimated, product. Every woman is different, and preferences are different, too. Feel encouraged to try something new!

This is a personal account, not medical advice. Please consult your gynaecologist for health-related concerns.

Why use a menstrual cup in the outdoors? 

1. A menstrual cup can hold blood longer on average as compared to tampons. Despite my heavier flow, I still feel that I need to change less often as compared to tampons.

2. The cup “blends in” with my body quite smoothly, thanks to its flexible material and soft surface. Hence, when I’m moving and stretching, it feels very natural and comfortable. In fact, most of the time I don’t feel it at all (which for me, was different for tampons).

3. It does create far less trash compared to tampons and pads. The blood is natural, and direct disposal should not pose a problem for the environment. This is a big advantage when you’re out for a multi-day trek and/or camping.

4. If you are confident with the cup, you might have less things to carry as compared to pads and tampons. You need your cup(s), drinking water, and some paper tissues for cleaning.

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Using menstrual cups, you have to carry lesser paraphernalia in your backpack.

How do you sanitise them? How do you dispose of the sanitary waste?

Step 1: Before you take the cup out, always wash and/or disinfect your hands.

Step 2: You need clean/drinking water to rinse and wash it. Take a small bottle of drinking water with you when you are changing it.

Step 3: Warm water might feel more comfortable because it warms the cup before you put it back in, but it is not a requirement. Alternatively, you can also wipe it dry with tissues if there is no water available. Then rinse it with clean water the next time you take it out. I use a combination of drinking water and paper tissues.

Step 4: Take a plastic ziplock bag with you to dispose of dirty tissues, until you find a trash bin.

Step 5: Wash your hands after the procedure.

Step 6: After the end of your period, you disinfect the cup by boiling it for 10 minutes in a pot of water (or about 2 to 3 minutes in a container with water in the microwave).

Step 7: If you are still in the outdoors when your period ends, rinse it thoroughly with water and wipe it dry. Store it in a light, closable (but breathable!) cotton bag until you are back home or at a place where you can conduct the above mentioned cleaning ritual.

Tip: Do not use disinfection wipes to clean the cup if you put it back in afterwards (alcohol and fragrance compounds may irritate or damage your vaginal flora).

Will it hurt? 

In general, no. As stated in section 1, it starts fitting quite smoothly after some practice. Before inserting the cup, fold it (check online for different folding options). It opens up inside your body.

While inserting the cup, you might feel it is too big to fit in. There might be a moment when you feel some back pressure. However, this gets resolved a soon as you relax your pelvic floor muscles. Making the cup wet before inserting it might help, too.

What some women may consider a disadvantage is the fact that it takes longer to insert the cup because you need to fold and adjust it. Also, cleaning the cup may take another 2 to 3 minutes.

You need to touch yourself more to make it fit and to check if the cup has opened up inside. This might feel strange at first. I got used to it very quickly. In fact, it improved my body consciousness! The cup does not make your vaginal flora dry during the period. Hence, it may improve your vaginal flora over time.

How do you know when to remove it?

This requires some experience. Knowing your cycle, your timing of the lighter and the heavier days, you can rely on your previous experience using tampons or pads. On average, the cup should hold the blood for a bit longer than a tampon.

For me, it is quite an intuitive feeling. It starts feeling a little “heavy” when it’s getting full.

To be on the safe side, use a pad or tissues in addition to the cup during the heavier days.

If you’re in the outdoors, and you can’t remove it, what do you do? 

The same thing you would do using pads or tampons – try to get a pee break as soon as possible and put some additional pads or tissues in your underpants, just to prevent the blood from leaking any further.

Talk to one of your hiking mates or to your guide. Tell them that you got your period. Having your period on a trek or adventure trip is a very common thing to happen. Many women have been there! Most people will be empathetic and ready to help.

Can you use a menstrual cup when you have a urinary tract infection, or if you’re generally prone to UTI?

Since I haven’t suffered from UTI in the last 10 years, I asked my gynaecologist (licensed by the state in Germany) for advice. She says, “When you have a UTI, do not use the menstrual cup.”

If you often contract UTIs, it is best to only use the cup for shorter periods of time to prevent infections.. Change it every 2 to 4 hours, if possible.

Some people may contract UTIs more often when they use the menstrual cup. This is because the cup may put pressure on your urethra and trap urine in your urethra or bladder. Bacteria can get trapped more easily, too. In that case, use a smaller or differently shaped cup. However, if it doesn’t work at all, the cup might not be the best solution for you.

Any tips for those who consider using it while trekking?

  • Cups come in different sizes, for the lighter and the heavier days.
  • Practice using a cup in everyday life, and see if it works for you in general, before going on a trek.
  • If you’re not sure (yet), use a combination of the cup and pads. Bring some tampons for situations in which you can’t insert the cup.
  • Search the internet for more information, testimonials, and instructions of use. Ask other women (e.g. me).
  • I recently discussed cup usage with 3 other women I had met at a conference. 2 of the 3 happened to use cups, both of them affirming an overall positive experience with it.
  • At the end of the day, it is really your decision based on what you feel most comfortable with. Which product do you trust the most?

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Tanja Matheis

Tanja Matheis

Tanja is a researcher and consultant, focusing on international supply chain management and the quality of employment. Being raised in a home with mountain views, she soon became fascinated by the European Alps' big sisters - the Himalayas, when she came to India for the first time in 2015. She enjoys spending time outdoors, including hiking, running, biking, and snowboarding. She is a photographer, and engages herself in gender aspects of health, education and employment.

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