Menstruating in the Mountains

I recently submitted this letter to Outside Magazine in response to an article I saw come across my Facebook newsfeed several times. I wanted to share it with you here, too!

Dear Editor,

While I can appreciate the sentiment of Heather Hansman’s praise of IUDs in the backcountry. (“The IUD is the Most Important, Underrated Piece of Outdoor Gear I own”), I’d like to argue that talking about backcountry bleeding need not be as shameful as she suggests. If you think that talking about periods can’t be funny and easy, you’ve never met my former boss, Doris Kolodji. When I was an anxious 16 year old headed for a ten day Girl Scout canoe trip, Doris stood in front of our group and boldly discussed minimal impact menstruation. “You might be nervous about it now, but by the end of the trip, you’ll be so close with everyone you’ll be shouting from across the campsite ‘open up the trash! Incoming!’ and chucking your pads from the latrine trail.” True, I’ve never quite witnessed that scene, but I can attest that a real openness about all things menstruation that can develop if you foster it.

In Hansman’s piece, she mentions leading teenagers on trips and having girls pull her aside to hesitantly ask what to do if their period makes a visit in the woods. I urge anyone leading others in the backcountry to bring up the matter well before putting anyone in the awkward position of having to ask. I followed in Doris’s footsteps on this when I returned to work fore her as a canoe guide after that formative first wilderness trip. My favorite way to broach the subject these days? Bring out a variety of rolls of colorful novelty printed duct tape and Ziplocs to make the sort of trash bag Hansman describes- but way more fun. My husband can attest that I use every camping trip as an excuse to buy a new print of duct tape.

Lots of us menstruate, for lots of reason- we have an IUD but are the 50% who get our period (a statistic Hansman notes); we are using another contraceptive because we like the monthly reassurance that we aren’t pregnant (or for other reasons); we don’t need a contraceptive because we aren’t heterosexually active or we are and would like to conceive. As someone who menstruates, a piece of outdoor gear that I consider important and underrated – nitrile medical gloves like you find in your first aid kit. I wear the gloves while taking care of this business, then inside out them around my trash, tie it off and stick it in my festive Ziploc. This way I know I won’t touch anything messy next time I open my baggie nor do I worry about meticulous hand washing (especially important when water supplies are scarce or frozen).

Menstruation and contraceptives are two topics we should all be more comfortable talking about, both in the backcountry and the frontcountry. I applaud Hansman for speaking to the later, and I hope that this letter can inspire more conversation on the former.

Sincerely,

Atiokokan Kae

 

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