(Not so*) Secret Women’s Business

How shall I put this?

Spade a spade. Shovel a shovel.

One of the tricky issues I had when I first started bushwalking, was figuring out exactly what to do with, well, the issue. OK, periods. Freakin’, bloody periods. Or as the horn-rimmed glassed ladies in the 1950s school education videos would pronounce, “men-stroo-ay-shun”.


Random blue liquid (my nod to sanitary product advertising)

When I joined my fabulous bush walking club around 1999, the demographic of members was a little past having to worry about such things, so my hesitant enquiries to a female member were met with a bit of a, ‘hmmph’. Not particularly helpful. Thankfully, the club has gone through somewhat of a revitalisation over the past 5 years and of our 800 or so members, around 20% are in their 20s and 30s.

Let me paint you a picture… heck, I had the painters in, so I may as well…

Ettrema Gorge, Morton NP

Ettrema Gorge, Morton NP

Day 1 of a 5 day east-west crossing (Yalwal to Bungonia Gorge) of Morton National Park in New South Wales. On the drive down, we stopped at the lovely village of Berry in the local park for a pee-stop and what do you know?

I’d been cursed by the Red Fairy and her unwanted relatives – Aunt Flo and Cousin T.O.M**.

Yes, that’s right – I’d got the painters in, was surfing the crimson wave, reciting the periodic table or as my french friends might say, Les Anglais arrivee!

Thankfully, I was prepared and had brought with me what I needed, but as this was my first period during an overnight bush trip, it was going to be a bit of an experimentation.

Ziploc bags, toilet paper, tampons, hand sanitiser & my discreet Qantas baggie to keep it all in.

Ziploc bags, toilet paper, tampons, hand sanitiser & my discreet Qantas baggie to keep it all in (warning for the weight nazis though).

Working on the premise of leave no trace, I had decided that burying tampons was not going to work for me. And when you think about how long something like this would take to degrade or breakdown, regardless how properly you bury them or how biodegradable they may claim to be, the sheer nature of them is bound to attract wildlife who may dig it up and even attempt to eat it. Need I say more?

Day 3: So there I was, sitting around the dying embers of the fire, long after Fijian midnight (9pm) which is my traditional hiking bedtime, waiting…



…for the bloke on the other side of the fire to go to bed. Everyone else had left seemingly hours before and I was really hoping that he would follow and leave me in peace to hold an ancient and druid like ritual, akin to sacrificing virgins.

Yes, I was wanting to burn the previous 3 days used tampons. It’s not gross people – this is life – get over it.

By this stage, my already tightly packed backpack was starting to bulge more than usual with the additional waste double ziplocked and hidden from view. I really wanted to deal with it all tonight otherwise my companions might start to wonder why my pack was getting bigger, whilst theirs were getting smaller from eating their food supplies.

Anemone Fungus, Morton NP

Anemone Fungus, Morton NP

Finally, my fellow male bushwalker decided to go to bed. However, as is usually the case, his desire for leaving was brought about by the fire dying down and the temperature dropping.

Great. I was new in the club and had yet to refine my fire-lighting skills.

I’m not going to put it any blunter than this, but the first rule of lighting fires is that damp material/timber is never a good idea. Need I say more?

I’ll let your vivid imaginations draw the visual pictures for what the next hour of my life looked like.

So here’s what I’ve learned since this experience and over the years:

  1. Privacy – It’s a logical one, but you might be pleased for a bit more privacy than a normal quick pee. Being interrupted mid process might be quite embarrassing for both the interrupter and the interruptee.
  2. Setup – I like to ensure that I’ve got all that I need close at hand around me and like any good squat, I’m looking out for stray branches or stinging nettles. Oh, and watch out for downhill slopes as I once watched (in slow motion) my baggie with toilet paper roll over Splendour Rock in the middle of the night.
  3. Hygiene – This is one of the key considerations. I’m a fan of hand sanitiser before and after, although I know other people prefer baby wipes or bush soap and water.
  4. Ziploc bags (x 2 for double bagging used tampons, x 1 for keeping toilet paper dry, x 1 for keeping new tampons dry.)
  5. Toilet paper – As the photo shows, I would pack more than usual for a 2-3 day trip. Rolling off my own ‘roll’ at home and stashing in the ziploc bag. Use the paper to wrap the used tampon before placing it into the double ziploc bags. Just calculate how much paper you’re going to use. You might be surprised how much you go through.
  6. Outer bag for carrying everything. I use an old Qantas toiletries bag, although if you’re weight conscious, just a simple plastic bag would be fine.
  7. Spare undies… just in case
  8. Washing – More so than at other times, I feel like it’s a good idea to have a wash at the end of the day, whether it be a dry clean, APC or wash in the creek/river. Also good for helping out on the hygiene stakes.
  9. If you’re going to burn, you need a controlled, hot fire and to be good at sustaining/building/dousing said fire. Keep to the general rules of burning things on the fire – see my blog posts on Etiquette I and II. Oh, and don’t be afraid to announce to those who won’t go to bed that you need to burn some items on the fire that they may not want to be around for. From experience, some guys just don’t get it and unfortunately, you may need it spell it out.
  10. If you’re carrying out, be prepared to ensure your parcel of joy cannot be attacked by animals at night and leave enough room in your pack for said parcel to grow as the days continue.
  11. Most importantly, don’t let it stop you from getting out there and enjoying the bush.

Handy tips:

  • Although a fly or hammock might be a great lightweight alternative to wilderness shelters, when it comes to privacy, washing and having a clean space to get sorted in the morning/evening – nothing beats your own tent.
  • When it comes to hygiene, you may want to consider using applicator tampons when in the bush. However, be aware that these also mean more waste to dispose of.
  • There is also a commercial available gadget on the market called Divacup. They call it “the non-ick alternative to tampons”… but I’m not so sure. Have you tried them?

Q:  What advice or tips can you add to this list?

Supplies-in-hand-sm*The reason I called this post, (Not so) Secret Women’s Business, is because when you’re out on the track, it’s important that we’re all looking out for each other. It’s not that we want to make a big deal out of it, but hey, if you see a normally fit-fast-fabulous-female is lagging behind or you feel it necessary to complain if she’s taking a lot of loo breaks that seem to last for ever… have a bit of grace. Oh, and it might help you understand why the women are staying up late around the fire when throughout the day they’ve been lagging behind or seem more tired than usual!

**Time of Month

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  1. says

    Great post! I’ve been using Lunette cups (similar to a Diva Cup) for 2.5 years and absolutely love it. It does take some getting used to, but afterwards, it’s no big deal. I really like the fact that I’m not throwing out pads/tampons every month, and it saves me money. Luckily, I haven’t had a period whilst camping, but I’d imagine it’d be very easy to deal with as long as you have access to clean water; even without, you can buy specialised wipes to clean your cup. Another bonus (for camping/long hikes especially) is that you don’t have to empty/clean it for up to 12 hours at a time!

    • Renee says

      I’ve been using a Lunette for a while as well and would HIGHLY recommend for bushwalking. After one notable walk where I had to wash out and air-dry my tampons for re-use (ewwww) because I didn’t bring enough, I swore ‘never again!’.

      Just rinse it out with your drinking water and pop it back in. You’re meant to wash it with soap and water every time you take it out, but I only bother once every few days. Downside is that they can be messy, but that’s what water and hand sanitiser are for. Another downside is that you can’t always tell when ‘the cup overfloweth’ like you can tell when it’s time to change a tampon. But once you’ve used it for a few months, you know how often it needs to be emptied on each day of your period. Godspeed, ladies!

  2. Swansfan says

    Thanks for the great post Caro!

    I’ve just recently joined a bushwalking club (same one as yours in fact!) and this was my biggest worry for future overnight hikes. I was wondering how I was going to manage…very glad I saw your website from the newsletter.

  3. says

    Soo honest! I love it! I had a freak out moment where I started during camping but luckily we were camping next to a high traffic area so my boyfriend flagged down a group of girls and asked them for a tampon! Thanks for sharing!!

  4. Jo says

    Have been using a cup last 12 months. Love it.
    However: most come in 2 sizes so if you find a bit of leaking with the smaller size, get the slightly larger one. Also, if your menses are heavy or you empty the cup infrequently ie after a night’s sleep have a “security” liner in your undies. Just in case.
    BTW: I’ve never used hot or boiling water to wash these. Just a good clean after the period is enough. Still, use cleanish hands to insert and remove.
    Love your blog.

  5. Roger says

    No need to wait until everyone else leaves the campfire. Wendy Aliano used to just announce “Righto lads, I’m having a burnoff, you can look away or move away if you like”, then put her used items into the fire. We males were fine with that, no big deal.

  6. Nicola Strange says

    Love the post!
    I’m looking at using natural plants etc to catch my flow? Has anyone experience of anything like this? I was thinking of a washable/quick-drying cloth which could hold absorbent natural materials…
    Thanks :)

  7. Molly says

    Hi! Love your blog! 😀
    Thanks for sharing, Caro.. This would be a very helpful hygiene for future camping with my mates!

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