How A Menstrual Cup Changed My Outdoor Life
I use a menstrual cup. This silicone "hygiene device" has become far better known in the past few years, but it's still a bit of an eyebrow raiser. It's also the source of countless conversations across social media that mostly can be summed up in two questions:
"Which one?" and "But how...?"
If you're on question one, then a great place to start is the aptly named website Put A Cup in It - their cup finder quiz, comparison chart, and FAQ are the very best place to start.
I'll add this note: after years of cup use and helping others figure out their own, most of the deal is not finding "that perfect magic cup" but in making the one you pick work by understanding how it should fit and getting comfortable with the whole thing.
My 3 term pregnancies, two of which ended with varying degrees of traumatic birth, plus endometriosis and possibly adenomyosis and two surgeries over 10 years for that... my inner bits are, and I mean this in the nicest way possible... completely buggered up.
But why are we discussing menstrual cups here, on a website dedicated to kids at play? One, because a large percentage of parents will at some point deal with both at the same time: kids and periods. And two, because menstrual cups changed the way I experience the outdoors with my kids.
Fifteen or so years ago, single and kid free, I hiked and backpacked solo and in groups whenever I could. But the knowledge of my own cycle was critical - my periods were savage - I did not want to be caught out in the woods, miles from no where, pulling out the pads and tampons I stored for emergencies (backpacking first aid hint: pads and tampons make an excellent edition to a first aid kit for their ability to soak up blood). I scheduled around my period and just didn't go out.
If you've never tried hiking with a disposable pad taped between your legs, take my word for it and don't try it. That's a non-option. And tampons, while the advertisements of our teen years decree these will make swim parties fun again, are not that fun either. Tampons take up precious space in your bag and when it's time to change them out, you're stuck bagging them up and carrying them out. (Even "toxin free" tampons should not be buried, as animals will dig them up.)
With kids, my goals and needs have changed. I don't want to call off plans, but I need easy. I need to know I can get my kids outside, and be there too, comfortably. I need to attend to their needs and allow them space and time to adventure, without calling it quits because I've got a monthly habit of bleeding out. And I don't have to: using a menstrual cup means I can get out - with and without my kids - any time of the month.
Once you are confident with your menstrual cup, you'll know both how to change it and how often you typically need to do so. Cup and individual body dependent, you can estimate 3x the volume of a tampon - so if you get 2 hours on a tampon, you'd likely get 6 from your cup. This alone is a huge win not just for backpacking but for getting outdoors anytime.
I can change my cup, head out to the woods with the kids for a few hours, and come back before I even have to think about it. I can take the kids hiking without pre-planning bathroom spots, which means we can leave the playground and really hit the trail or enjoy exploring. Most times when we are in the woods, we're too far from an actual bathroom for that, and too close to a very active trail or outdoor area for any change from hiding from view - and without the confidence of a menstrual cup, I'd have to change plans, or leave early.
Using a cup means I'm more stress free out there - I don't worry about being able to get somewhere on time (have you ever tried to hurry kids out of the woods?) and I don't worry about supplies.
If you're backpacking, you'll need to think through a few supplies - wipes, soap, a carry out bag... and if you're hiking for long enough, consider the ability to boil your cup. Blood should be buried in a cat hole, away from water, just like poop.
But for most of us, getting out with kids is far simpler - but also, easier to put off then a long planned multi-day trip. But there's no need: with a cup and a bit of confidence, you'll be back at your everyday adventures every day of the month.
Get to know a cup, and get out there.