Ultimate Guide To Eco-Friendly Female Hygiene Outdoors
When I first started hiking I was only a little girl. I usually went hiking or camping with my dad so hygiene was very minimum. Just the main essentials at the most. Over the years new products have emerged, more awareness, and better guidance. In this post I will be going over the essentials for female hygiene that you will need for any type of outdoor trip along with tips and some words of wisdom from two experienced hiking friends.
WHAT IS HYGIENE?
I first want to start off with discussing the true definition of hygiene. There's more to female hygiene than what meets the eye.
conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease, especially through cleanliness.
For example, say a female doesn't do proper female hygiene on the trail, this can make them more prone to getting certain health issues. One of the healthy issues that many women face outdoors is Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) and us ladies know that those are no fun at all. Some other health issues can be sunburns, infections to the skin, or even irritation to some areas of your body.
WHY ECO-FRIENDLY PRODUCTS THOUGH?
As previously mentioned above, female hygiene is about maintaining health and preventing disease through cleanliness. Did you know that your skin is the largest organ on your body? Also did you know that what filters through your skin into your body is much harder to filter back out? This is why it is important to know what ingredients are in your products, the benefits of them for your health as well as for our environment. After all, you will be on a personal level with nature when outdoors. For this reason I feel that it is important to see if those ingredients will harm our planet or your health.
LEAVE NO TRACE: HYGIENE ETIQUETTE ON THE TRAIL
Leave No Trace has seven principles that everyone exploring the outdoors should follow. One of these principles is, "Dispose of Waste Properly." By following this principle you would be helping keep our environment beautiful, water clean, and wildlife and others safe. Here is a breakdown of what this principle implies.
DISPOSE OF WASTE PROPERLY
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in cat-holes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cat-hole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
I can't stress enough the part of burying your waste. One thing I hate seeing is trash left behind, toilet paper on the side of the trails, or even worse... the smell of someone else's feces cause they didn't go 200 feet away from the trail and bury it. Remember to be courteous of others and clean up after yourself.
KEEPING OUR WATERWAYS CLEAN
Another guideline that is very important is making sure your waste is 200 feet away from waterways! This is very crucial. It may seem so small but always remember that when it rains, the water goes to the streams, rivers, creeks, and other waterways in the area. This gives enough time for the water to purify itself through the roots of the trees, the ground, etc. before reaching our waterways. Believe it or not, the stones, roots, and dirt on the ground help clean the water as much as possible. Our world works in amazing ways, it is up to us to help keep it clean and work hand in hand with our environment. Remember that that may be the water that you use to filter for drinking water.
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WHAT TO BRING
This list can be beneficial for on the trail, camping, backpacking, day hikes, you name it. Any outdoor adventure and I am sure you will be taking at least two of these female hygiene items with you depending on the type of trip you will be doing.
Deodorant is a must have when outdoors or even on a daily basis. Some people perspire more than others but we all sweat and it is completely normal. The product you choose to use can be either beneficial for your health or have a negative impact on your health. Majority of the deodorants now a days have aluminum in them which has been linked to be one of the factors leading to breast cancer and even Alzheimer's. One of my favorite companies has actually wrote an article about the dangers of aluminum in your deodorant along with other toxic chemicals. Now not everyone perspires the same so what I use may work for me but not for you.
Below is a list of some well known aluminum free deodorants that you can try. If you know of any that work for you let me know in the comments below. I am always open to trying new things.
- Bend Soap Company - Currently trying this one. I'll update with how I like it after I give it a good trial period. So far I like it.
- Primal Pit Paste
- Crystal Active - I've used this one before and I like it. Really works good for me.
- Tom's Of Maine - They also have a crystal one here.
2. ORAL HYGIENE
I believe that a good oral hygiene is very beneficial for your over all health. If you don't keep your teeth and mouth clean by brushing at least twice a day you are raising your chances of cavities, tooth decay, bad breath, gum disease, and other health issues. Remember that when you eat or drink you are also swallowing all of those nasty bacteria that you have neglected to clean out of your mouth into your gut filtering through your kidneys and traveling through your body. This is why it is important to keep a good oral hygiene on the trail. Lucky for you, this is something very lightweight to carry.
- Toothpaste - I like to use Hello or Tom's of Maine.
- Floss - I recommend using Coco Floss. I love their coconut fibers which cleans better in between your teeth versus the typical plastic nylon that most people buy. It is also biodegradable.
- Bamboo Toothbrush
3. HAIR CARE
Now I feel that doing minimal hair upkeep is good. Regularly brushing your hair to avoid knots and tangles and putting your hair up. Washing your hair is optional depending on the type of trip that you will be doing. Taking care of your hair is definitely an important part of your female hygiene routine though.
BRUSHING AND BRAIDING
I highly recommend brushing your hair. I have curly to wavy thick hair that tangles quickly when moving so brushing regularly is a must for me. Braiding my hair is another thing that I do to help it stay cleaner longer, avoid tangles and helps not get ticks or debris in my scalp. This helps maintain my hair and keep it manageable.
Some of the braids I like to do are: French braids, fish braid, double braid, a twist side braid (it's where I twist braid my bangs and then unite it with a side or French braid [pictured below]).
Here is some of the items that I would bring for hair care.
CLEANING YOUR HAIR ON THE TRAIL
Now washing is completely optional in my opinion. This all depends how long you will be out in the woods, will there be moments in your trip where you will resupply and clean up, and how much do you want to carry. At the very most I can only go 3 or 4 days with my hair not being washed but if I know I am going to be doing something much longer than that then a dry shampoo may be a good option for on the trail for in between deep washes. I usually wash my hair the day before heading out so it can remain clean longer. My trips are at the most a week long so I make sure to plan accordingly.
Here are some shampoos that have been recommended to me that are sustainable both dry shampoo and for a full wash.
- Love Beauty and Planet Dry Shampoo - I absolutely love their products.
- SunBum Beach Formula Revitalizing Dry Shampoo
- Ethique (not a dry shampoo but it is bottle-less making it easier to carry in your pack)
- Dr. Bronners peppermint soap
If you are doing a thru hike then you have to wash your hair eventually. Dr. Bronner and Bend Soap are two really good products that you can use for on the trail. Check out Avery Hayden's words of wisdom towards the end of this article to see how she keeps her hair clean on the Appalachian Trail.
When I go on a backpacking trip I usually don't do a full bathing until I reach a location with a shower. It is a little more difficult to do your female hygiene routine when water and resources are very limited. On the trail I do like to do spot cleaning. I would use a soap or wipes to clean my arm pits, private areas, face, hand and feet. I always use an organic and earth friendly soap. Make sure to not use an antibacterial soap when washing your vaginal area. Us females do have friendly bacteria that we need so it is important to leave them there. Dr. Bronner's and Bend Soap Company are the two soap brands that I highly recommend using.
Another brand that I recently came across is Epic Wipes. They have huge towel sized wipes that are good to give you a full body cleaning when on the trail. This is perfect for those rainy days that you get all muddy and have no where to shower at. I absolutely love these and best of all they are biodegradable, organic, and veteran owned. See how it works here.
If you have sensitive skin or a skin condition such as eczema than I highly recommend using Bend Soap Company's Oatmeal Soap. It helps keep my skin hydrated, my eczema cleared, and myself clean. I use this one the most when doing a good wash. Note: This soap is good for any skin condition, not just eczema and it really hydrates and nourishes your skin.
5. USING THE BATHROOM
Let's face it! We all have to do the deed right!? Peeing is much easier for men than what it is for us women but there's alternatives and ways to ease the struggle for us ladies and still practice good female hygiene.
First but not least, a urination device. I remember the first time I saw a SheWee. I saw the video on Facebook and laughed. Like what in the world did I just see. Then it hit me one day when I was on the trail trying to figure out where to pee, how to squat, and what is that plant next to me. Poison Ivy? I then realized that the SheWee was a genius idea. Overtime new urination devices have been created and you can even find them now in the camping section of some stores. Depending how you use it, you can wipe as you pull it away. I still like to wipe regardless but that's just me.
Anastasia from Kula Cloth has came up with a brilliant way to avoid using toilet paper or even a bandana. If you haven't heard of this amazing product than you are missing out. This fabric has a beautiful galaxy print on one side and a black indented fabric on the other side. What makes this fabric amazing is that it is silver-infused and antimicrobial. It also has a clip so you can hang it on your pack, clip it by folding it in half, and let the fabric do it's job. FYI the sun also helps eliminate any bacteria that may be on the Kula Cloth or your bandanna. You can read Kieara's words of wisdom on this topic towards the end of this post.
Other items that you can use to wipe after urinating is a rock, leaves (make sure to not pick any poisonous ones), or even a thick stick.
RELATED ARTICLE: Kula Cloth - A Pee Cloth For The Outdoors
Leave No Trace says to bury waste 6-8 inches in the ground. Let's face it! Sometimes you have to go and you just don't have the time to dig a hole. That is fine too. Choose an area 200 feet away from water, camp, and trails and after you are done, dig the hole and bury your waste. It is crucial to hide that. No one wants to see your poops, less smell it. Make sure to bag any non-biodegradable items in a bag to throw away later. I recommend using doggy poop bags for this. Less to carry and they come in a small roll making it easier to pack.
What to Bring!
Here are the items that I personally recommend on taking. There is no need to take a heavy shovel, the one linked is very lightweight but you can also use a stick or a rock to dig your hole if you don't want to carry one.
- Urination Devices: SheWee, GoGirl, Outdoor Life Adventures, Tinkle Belle, Venus To Mars, pStyle
- Kula Cloth or Toilet Paper
- Biodegradable Wipes
- Shovel (optional) You can also use a stake, rock... to dig your hole.
- Biodegradable Poop Trashbags
- Hand Sanitizer - Keeping clean hands is a must in my books.
6. MENSTRUAL CYCLE
This is a very tricky thing for us ladies. I always feel gross and disgusting during this time of the month. I'm sure I'm not the only one too. The pain, the mess, the changing, and dealing with it outdoors is ever worse. Here's a few tips on how to deal with your monthly visitor while practice safe female hygiene and avoiding infections.
If you are on birth control pills you can skip the pills for that last week (menstrual time) and start your new pack. This way you just skip your period all together. This may not work for everyone though so I would try it before attempting it on the trail.
Plan your trips around your expected time of month. I use the Flo app on my phone and it has been almost accurate every time. Maybe one or two days off at the most. It has really helped me on trip planning.
Pack prepared. Not everyone is regular. I used to not be regular and never knew when my period was actually going to come. I only had two weeks of freedom at the most but after having my little ones and being on birth control it regulated. Better to play it safe than sorry though. If you are going to be on your time of month then here's a few things you could do.
ON THE TRAIL
- Use a menstrual cup. This has been by far the easiest way and waste-free way to deal with my period on the trail and practice the best female hygiene possible. Just make sure to learn how to insert it at home before taking it on the trail. It can be tricky at first. One menstrual cup can last you up to 10 years. Just insert, wear for 8 to 10 hours, take it out, dump in a cat-hole, rinse (or wash), and reinsert. No need to carry out tampons and pads, wiping down, and having that in your pack. You can read all about my Dot Cup review here. I absolutely love this menstrual cup and love the fact that they give back to women in need.
- If you prefer pads and tampons make sure to pack enough. The downside of this is that you will have to carry the extra weight as well as pack it back out. You can't leave these items out on the trail. Make sure to have one ziploc bag to put the clean ones in and one to put the dirty ones in. For the dirty one I would make sure to double or even triple bag it. Also this is not a very eco-friendly option but this is a personal topic so I don't judge. Just keep in mind that a tampon and a pad can take up to 500 years to decompose. The pads I linked below are organic and all cotton which is a more eco-friendly option for you versus the cheaper and more popular brands. Also keep in mind that they will weigh more in your pack as they will be heavy due to your menstrual flow.
Now not everyone needs to constantly moisturize their skin so this is completely optional. Me on the other hand, I need my lotion, especially in the winter months. My skin will get very dry to the point that it cracks and bleeds and can be very painful. To prevent this and also prevent my eczema from flaring up, I use Bend Soap lip butters, lotions, and soaps. The goat milk and oatmeal has healing and beneficial properties that help heal my skin and keep it moisturized. This is all depending on your skin type and if you have any skin issues. If you don't need lotion then maybe staying hydrated on the trail will be good enough to keep your skin from drying or flaring up. You can take a small bottle of your favorite lotion or use the ones I love linked below. Use coupon code TWM10 at checkout at Bend Soap Company to get 10% off your purchase.
RELATED ARTICLE: Keeping Your Skin Hydrated Outdoors
8. SUN PROTECTION
This is another important one but it all depends on the trail, location, and season. Some trails will be open leaving you exposed to the sun for long periods of time which can lead to sunburns. Sunburns are no fun especially when you are on the trail. Make sure to do some research on the trail you will be on and prepare accordingly. Head gear is also a good choice to keep your face protected from the beating sun.
I linked below a few reef safe sun blocks that I recommend. I love the Raw Elements and have been using it for years. Not only are these good for your skin but they are also good for the water you touch and even the environment.
- Raw Elements: Face and Body Sunscreen, Face Stick, & Lip Rescue Sunscreen.
- Bare Republic
RELATED ARTICLE: Why You Should Wear Reef Safe Sunscreen
A FEW WORDS OF WISDOM FROM WOMEN ON THE TRAIL
For this particular post I decided to get some words of wisdom from two incredible ladies.
ABOUT AVERY HAYDEN
Avery is currently thru-hiking southbound on the Appalachian Trail Georgia where she's documenting her journey through Instagram and blog Go Averywhere. With the remaining of her thru-hike she's raising money for Hike For Mental Health. She is a Staff Writer for Wander North Georgia and also an ambassador for Mountain Chicks where she leads women on outdoor hikes and adventures.
WORDS OF WISDOM FROM AVERY HAYDEN
As a person who has been living outdoors for over four months, hiking can be dirty. Showers are infrequent and laundry even more so. Staying clean is hard and staying smell free is even harder. I've accepted the fact that my clothes will never have that fresh laundry scent anymore but as long as I keep my body as clean as possible, I'm a happy camper.
Staying clean seemed harder in the summer months when I was breaking a sweat just filtering my water. Thankfully, Maine has plenty of cool streams and large lake-size ponds to swim in. Quickly, I got into a routine of 'rinsing off' before dinner when I got to camp in the nearby stream. Even when the water was painfully cold and it was drizzling, I managed to talk myself into a splash bath in the stream. Staying clean and fresh is a moral booster and Dr. Bronner's has been my best friend since day one on this thru-hiking journey. It can be used for virtually anything and is biodegradable which is the most important thing being that I use it in the outdoors. I wanted to make sure the product I chose to use was kosher to be recycled back into the Earth without harming Mother Earth.
Dr. Bronner's Peppermint
Dr. Bronner's Peppermint became my every day. I use it to wash my body off, shampoo my hair, wash my clothes, wash my cook pot and even brush my teeth. That's right, I don't carry toothpaste. Two to three drops of Dr. Bronner's on a toothbrush and you wouldn't even know you're brushing with soap. The peppermint flavor is crucial to the experience. It leaves my teeth feeling squeaky clean but I will be honest and say the after taste takes some time getting used to. My teeth are whiter and I don't have to fuss with getting chunks of toothpaste stuck in the bristles of my toothbrush.
One of my favorite feelings is washing my face with the peppermint soap. I call it a back-country facial because the tingly peppermint sensation on my eyelids leaves me wide-eyed and my face feeling tighter and rejuvenated. I love that I can use Dr. Bronner's for virtually every hygiene scenario while out on the trail and living in the woods.
Aunt Flo is another tricky situation when in the wilderness. I switched fully to a menstrual cup when I was hiking the Long Trail in 2017. I got my period on the trail and I didn't know what to do. When at a hotel I asked other hikers and they told me to go to Wal-Mart and get a Diva Cup. I haven't used a tampon since. I have switched brands though based off of an online quiz to determine which one was the best fit for me. It is easy to use, I empty it 2-3 times a day in a cat hole and rinse it with filtered water. If you are using tampons, just make sure to pack them out! I choose not to because they are heavy and a blood soaked tampon is even heavier. The menstrual cup is extremely eco-friendly and cuts down on waste in general.
About Kieara Lonning
Kieara is an outdoor addict and amateur photographer. As a mom and a lifelong love of the outdoors, she is passionate about getting families unplugged and outside, while raising awareness for our wild places. She believes that all problems can be fixed with two trees and a hammock. You can find her photos, gear reviews and adventures on The Hammock Momma blog and Instagram.
Words of Wisdom from Kieara Lonning
The most revolutionary, female hygiene specific, outdoor product I've purchased is the Kula Cloth. I honestly never thought I would say that about a pee rag, but it's the truth. The Kula Cloth is made of absorbent, silver-infused, antimicrobial fabric on one side, and waterproof fabric on the other. It's more than just a pee rag. It's a game changer.
As a lifelong lover of the outdoors, I'm intimately familiar with having to "go" outside. My options as a kid were to squat and TP, or squat and drip dry. One is a nuisance because you have to pack it out, the other leaves you uncomfortably moist for the rest of the day. As an adult I decided to try the female urinary devices... which meant most days I also needed an extra change of clothes because it was inevitable that I would pee all over myself. So I was back to packing out TP, drip drying, or using the scrap of bandana carabinered to my pack. Then I saw the Kula Cloth on Instagram. My first though was "What's the difference between this and my scrap of bandana?" But after researching it and chatting with it's creator, Anastasia Allison, I decided to try it. Worse case scenario, at least it was prettier than that black scrap of banadana. But after using it, there's obviously no "worst case scenario." I really can't even imagine "going" outdoors without it now. I'm so thankful Anastasia had the dream to make this piece of gear that has quickly become one of my "essentials!"
Not every trip outdoor is the same. It is good to pack your female hygiene products according to the trip you do. Remember that you won't pack the same for a day hike as you would for a short backpacking trip or a through hike. Also the terrain, weather, season, and length of your trip play a huge part on what you should take with you for female hygiene.
Now I know I just threw a bunch of female hygiene information out there for you along with some amazing words of wisdom. Not everything that works for us may work for you which is why I wanted to give you a broad range of options for each scenario. My goal with this post was to educate, show you options, and maybe a better way for you to have a good female hygiene on the trail. Whatever the case may be, remember to pack accordingly, do your research on the trails, stay hydrated, and follow LNT guidelines. I hope this female hygiene guide can help you get prepared for your next outdoor adventure.
HERE ARE A FEW MORE ARTICLE COVERING THIS TOPIC AS WELL FROM OTHER ADVENTURERS
- Backcountry Hygiene: How to Pee, Poop, and Period like a Pro
- Tips for Peeing, Pooping, & Periods in the Outdoors
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