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Emma Linford
Written by Emma Linford
Vedangi Kulkarni
Written by Vedangi Kulkarni
Published on 20th March 2022
7 min read

This two-part piece documents conversations with seven people (profiled below) about their experiences adventuring with their period. Rosie Watson conducted the interviews and Emma Linford and Vedangi Kulkarni produced the piece and wrote the closing text.

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Part one of this piece contained seven conversations with people about their experiences adventuring with the periods, from viewing their period as a teacher to a harrowing night spent guiding on Kilimanjaro. Part two turns to practical advice around how to manage a period while adventuring.

What’s your preferred method for managing your period?

SG: "For a long time I had the contraceptive implant, which lasts for three years. I would only get my period for the last six months of that, which at the time I thought was amazing, but in hindsight it also meant that I wasn't ever actually able to use it as a tool to make sure that my body was ok. So, for the last few years I have been using tampons during races and adventures (although I have got a couple of pairs of period pants that I sometimes use too). I am lucky that my periods are generally not super heavy, but I still need a better solution than using tampons”

RC: "I have now fully embraced a menstrual cup. I tried a few and didn’t get on with the first one I used as it didn’t feel comfortable. Now I use a Lily Cup one. I really like it because it’s not only comfortable, but is easy to remove and has a concertina design that comes with a case so it packs away conveniently.”

LC/AM: “We use a combination of a Mooncup Menstrual Cup, period underwear and free-bleeding into cycle shorts. For free-bleeding, we each have two pairs of padded cycle shorts: our premium fancy ones for riding every day, and our less expensive ones for period days. It added a bit to our packing, but as anyone who knows us knows, we aren’t lightweight tourers…”

Susan Doram cycling. Photo courtesy of Susan Doram.

SD: “I use a Luv Ur Body menstrual cup and sanitary pad. Whilst touring, I didn’t have any problems with finding sanitary pads. There were some countries that I visited that didn’t sell tampons (in a few countries I was told that only married women could use them because of the belief that a woman is no longer a virgin once she uses a tampon). I took a couple of menstrual cups on tour with me because this brand was difficult to source and I discovered that not all cups are the same.”

ED: I have always used sanitary pads as my cervix is tilted slightly forwards, and tampons are painful AF. When I worked full-time on bike trips, the only method I felt was ‘available’ to me were pads.”

EL: “Similar to Emily, I’ve had to use pads on the first day or two as the pain is too intense for tampons or a menstrual cup. I will occasionally use tampons after that first day. Then I will carry them with me in a nappy sack until I find a waste bin. Pain management is the most important thing for me, so medication and sometimes over-medicating (not advised!) to be able to function in extreme cases such as summit night!” 

Other considerations in the wild

Sustainability

RC: “Using sustainable products is really important to me, so this was also a big motivation for the switch away from tampons. With a menstrual cup the main consideration is washing it between uses. I’ve always found that this can be done simply with water from a water bottle.

ED: “I now have several reusable pads for the end of my period when the blood is reducing in volume, to save using as many disposable pads.”

'With a menstrual cup the main consideration is washing it between uses. I’ve always found that this can be done simply with water from a water bottle.'

Lack of privacy

RC: “Many of the places I travel to are very remote, so privacy is really from your own team, and you can ask them to look the other way if there is no cover, such as on a glacier. I’m often camping on trips so I usually make sure I’m organised in my tent before getting up in the mornings.”

Ultralight?

ED: Whatever kind of trip I am on, I will take enough pants and period products. It does not matter what kind of sport, which country or for how long. Having the knowledge that I am prepared and can be ‘comfortable’ while I am on my period is more important to me than anything. Looking back now, it feels like a big act of self love/care, and I really like that I did that for myself.

'Having the knowledge that I am prepared and can be ‘comfortable’ while I am on my period is more important to me than anything. Looking back now, it feels like a big act of self love/care, and I really like that I did that for myself.'

Any top period tips and tricks?

SG: “I am not sure I have any. Just to carry some tissues - or hell, even a buff would do in a pinch!”

RC: “Being prepared is my biggest tip. Especially regarding what you’ll do with any waste. Many people forget this element. I find nappy sacks useful for packing sanitary waste out. Also, have a back-up plan. A UTR, for example, may mean that you can’t use your usual sanitary product.”

AM: “Looking for larger size period pants? I’m a UK size 20/22 and I have recently purchased my first pairs from ModiBodi (who go up to a size 26).”

Sophie Grant. Photo courtesy of Zoe Salt.

EL: “Make up emergency ‘expedition adventure period’ packs (compost bag, period item of choice, toilet paper, medication, energy bar). As an alternative to plastic-based wet wipes, use biodegradable. Or, better still, make a reusable hygiene kit: two small, waterproof wallets - one stores damp, clean bamboo flannels, the other takes the used ones. Wash as you go; they’re only good for places where you can wash them thoroughly and recycle. 

Using a Platypus bottle as a hot water bottle in the appropriate environment - preferably non Arctic - works like a charm! It also helps to note your period down in your diary. Working with a nutritionist, exercising regularly, working with your energy levels and getting to know your body well can help. 

Consider Norethisterone if you want to stop the flow for a set period of time. I’m not an advocate, but if you’re in the Arctic it may be the best option! Try this at least six months beforehand, so you know you don’t get breakthrough bleeding.”

'Using a Platypus bottle as a hot water bottle in the appropriate environment - preferably non Arctic - works like a charm!'

ED: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Communicate and share with those around you. I find now that the more open I am with those around me about how I am feeling, the more they are supportive and ok with it. It took me a long time to get to that place due to loads of things: societal shame around periods, not being able to articulate myself and feeling like no one would want to listen or would care. Products that have been a life saver for me on many occasions have been Clary Sage oil; a TENS machine; heat wheat packs; hot water bottles; and teas containing lavender, raspberry leaf, chamomile, peppermint and rose. I also avoid caffeine and high-processed foods, but I do let myself eat whatever I am craving, within reason. I take it easy and see how I feel each day. I used to beat myself up so much for having to change or cancel plans. I am incredibly thankful that I don’t do that any more. It will all still be there for me to enjoy and visit - I just have to be a bit more patient and kinder to myself.

'I used to beat myself up so much for having to change or cancel plans. I am incredibly thankful that I don’t do that any more. It will all still be there for me to enjoy and visit - I just have to be a bit more patient and kinder to myself.'

Image courtesy of Rebecca Coles

What can people without periods know, or do, to make these things easier for those with periods? 

RC: “I think something we could all do is to understand that people’s bodies react very differently to periods. So allow for very different physical as well as emotional effects. My experience could be very different from someone else’s. If you have never experienced a period, then allowing people a bit more time and privacy is helpful, and appreciating that a bit more head space is taken up thinking about managing a period, especially in challenging or unfamiliar environments. The most important thing, I feel, is not creating shame or embarrassment around periods.”

AM: “Things like premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) have flown under the radar for so long because the medical system has historically ignored any illness which mostly affects cis women. It can mean that people, doctors especially, can be really dismissive of the sort of debilitating symptoms I experience every month. A better understanding of things like PMDD (both socially and medically) would help all people who menstruate. There is a culture of dismissing the very real ways in which people suffer emotionally and mentally during their periods and I think we all need to do a better job of understanding, empathising and validating the different experiences of periods that people have.

'here is a culture of dismissing the very real ways in which people suffer emotionally and mentally during their periods and I think we all need to do a better job of understanding, empathising and validating the different experiences of periods that people have.'

LC: “One thing that would make my life easier is remembering that menstruation isn’t just something cis women do. Non-binary people and trans men also menstruate, and adding us to the conversation only benefits the cause! Also, if any cycling company wants to create removable padded period inserts for cycling shorts then that would be ace. 

In general, I think my ask links to a broader shift in how we talk about adventure. I think there can sometimes be an emphasis on pushing past your limits and on physical endurance, and I would like to hear more voices talking about reaching limits and respecting them, being flexible with your goals, not thinking in terms of success/failure, and being kind to yourself, your body, rather than bending it to your will. I think that shift would also create space for stories about all different types of adventure.  

EL: “It's important to be visible and transparent in what you’re going through, especially to the younger generation. We are the period role models!”

ED:Listen to those in your life that do menstruate. Everyone's experience is different, so be aware that one woman’s journey isn’t identical to the next. Be prepared to step up for them, help round the house, offer to cook, have a chilled day with them. Don’t pass any judgements.”

SG: “I would love for men to experience having PMS. For me I know that my fuse is super short when I have it, and literally everything is annoying. I would love to not feel like that. It is not fun, and we are not being ratty on purpose! Also it's just blood. It isn't gross and it washes off.”

'I think there can sometimes be an emphasis on pushing past your limits and on physical endurance, and I would like to hear more voices talking about reaching limits and respecting them, being flexible with your goals, not thinking in terms of success/failure, and being kind to yourself, your body, rather than bending it to your will. I think that shift would also create space for stories about all different types of adventure.'

Moving forwards

It is important to remember that each of our bodies are calibrated slightly differently to deal with menstruation. The general message is to listen to your body, as Emily Davis suggests, and be prepared with not just what’s required to actually manage the period, but also to pack away any waste, so as to not have to dispose of it in wild places. Being compassionate towards our own bodies, as well as others who menstruate and communicate their lived experiences, helps make the experience of exploring the outdoors better for everyone. 

Thankfully there is cultural momentum towards subverting the familiar shame narrative. In 2020, the first research into the effects of menstruation on the performance of female athletes was published (results were inconclusive but suggestive). In 2019, the film Period. End of a Sentence won an Oscar. 2015 was the year ‘the period went public’ and Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon whilst free bleeding. And in recent years organisations like Red School - which claims ‘there is magic in the menstrual cycle’ - have been appearing. 

We are incredibly grateful to all the badass people who agreed to participate in this interview and share their experiences with us in great detail.

Profiles  

Sophie Grant (SG) is a GB trail runner and UK Sky running champion who has competed in events such as the Marathon des Sables, Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc and many more. She spends her leisure time exploring trails, either while running or skiing.

Emma Linford (EL) is a professional expedition guide and educator for social change. She works in environments as diverse as the sea ice of the High Arctic, bush, jungle and high-alpine mountains. Her personal journeys have been multi-day adventure racing and endurance running.

Rebecca Coles (RC) is a professional mountaineering instructor and expedition leader in ranges including the Himalayas, the Alps and UK ranges. Her personal trips are often solo cycle tours.

Abigail Melton and Lea Cooper (AM/LC) are long-distance cycle tourers (aka Gears for Queers). Abi and Lea have cycled together from Amsterdam to Montpellier and Scotland to Budapest.

Susan Doram (SD) is a solo cycle adventurer. Susan has organised women-only cycle tours in the UK and France, has solo toured around the UK and, most notably, toured around the world from 2017 - 2020!

Emily Davis (ED) is a keen ‘multi-adventurist’, having discovered many adventure sports whilst at uni. She takes part in and sometimes works on challenges in the UK and overseas.