Expedition Information For People Who Have Periods

For people who have periods, it can sometimes be hard to find the knowledge you need to feel comfortable going on adventure education experiences.

Leaders are a logical person to ask for more information but we might not have the lived experience or might struggle to find good information on the subject ourselves. It's also very possible that people, particularly young people, might not feel able to ask a leader who presents as a male about periods.

With an awful lot of help from an awful lot of sources and some very kind fact checkers, The Outdoors People have put together this information sheet which we hope will help people fill in the blanks.

Notes for leaders

  • This text is designed to be given to participants in the form of a printed or digital handout but this might not always be practical, possible or the best approach, making sure you have read and absorbed the information will allow you to be adaptable.
  • Some enormously experienced expedition leaders and outdoors people who experience periods helped put this information together. All of them said that there was information they wished they knew when they started out.
  • Consider giving out this information regardless of the apparent gender breakdown of your team. Remember: not everyone who has periods presents as female and this is information that's good for people to know even if they don't personally have periods anyway!
  • It is mentioned in the main body of the text that sanitary products shouldn't be buried due to the length of time it takes them to biodegrade. It is true that there is also an issue with wild animals and dogs scenting them and digging them up but several of our test readers noted that when they were first told about this at a young age, the idea really upset them so we haven't included it in the information sheet.

Copyright

We wrote this information because we want it to be used. While The Outdoors People retain the copyright we encourage any individual, organisation, or commercial company to make use of this information in any way they like, including replacing our branding with their own, so long as they provide a link back to us on their website. 

We do ask that if you're modifying the text you leave it gender neutral, not everyone who has periods identifies as a woman.

Downloading and printing

The full text is below and can be copied and pasted from there.

A version formated for professional printing can be downloaded here.

A version formated for home and office printers can be downloaded here.

If you find you're using this information, please add a link back to The Outdoors People on your website.

Comments

We encourage discussion of this subject in general and also very much welcome comments or input on the information we've put together here. If we get a lot of useful feedback we will make sure to update this post and the downloads.

Common comments so far and our response:

  • What about breakthrough bleeding while using hormonal contraception? Great point, we've updated the information sheet!
  • I would like to see some more specific information about a particular form of contraception or painkiller? We did consider getting more specific about these two subjects but even if we got advice on the subject from our resident medical professional it would be hard to give useful advice of a reasonable length that wasn't really complex. Especially as everyone is different. In the end we decided it was better to leave it basic and advise people to talk to someone who knows more.
  • What about using sugary drinks and food, and foods that are high in iron as a way to help manage pain and side effects? This is a another good point, we're going to look at a good way of fitting this into the appropriate section.
  • What about forms of reusable product other than moon cups (period pants, etc.)? While doing our research, this seemed to be a less popular option and none of the people who have periods that helped write this had much to say about them. If you've got something great to add on this subject then please get in touch and we'll give you a guest post and try and fit a small section into the information sheet - we are worried about it getting too crowded though.

Thanks for all the discussion and engagement so far - keep it coming!


Expedition Information for People Who Have Periods

©The Outdoors People 2017

Creative Commons Licence Type 4.0

You can copy and redistribute this material in any medium or format.

You can adapt, remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.

You must give appropriate attribution and credit, provide a link to the license and the original material, and indicate if any changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

Introduction

Sometimes people who have periods can feel pressured into not discussing them, particularly with people who don’t have them. However, periods are a perfectly normal thing for a huge percentage of the population, and something that people who don’t have them should be supportive about.

If you need support getting information, or getting hold of the products you need, then please talk to your expedition leader who will be happy to help regardless of if it is something they have personal experience of. Many expedition leaders of all genders keep supplies of pads or tampons in their first aid kits for if you run out and can offer you advice on managing your periods while on an expedition, so they needn’t prevent you from doing any activities.

All the products described below will come with information on how to use them which can be very helpful if trying a new method.

Video information

youtu.be/jjFZ1nzijrI

A lot of the information in this leaflet can also be found in this video by The Brain Scoop. It’s aimed at people doing scientific fieldwork but is very relevant to anyone spending time in the outdoors (even if they don’t have periods themselves). 

Tampons

Tampons go inside the body and come in a wide range to manage different levels of flow. Tampons are a popular choice on expeditions because they are much smaller and lighter than pads.

  • During physical activity, many people find them more comfortable than pads.
  • Ensure you’re changing your tampon or pad every few hours to prevent infection, even if your flow is light.
  • Non-applicator, or digital, tampons, where you use a clean finger to put them in, are much smaller to pack than applicator tampons. If you haven’t used them before then you should try them before your expedition to make sure you’re comfortable using them as not everyone is.
  • It’s important to make sure that your hands are clean when using tampons, particularly non-applicator/digital tampons.

Pads

Sanitary pads are an absorbent adhesive pad that sits inside underwear. They are a less popular choice for expeditions but if they are what works best for you, or if you are going somewhere where cleaning your hands might be difficult, then they can be a good option.

  • Pads are bulkier to pack and transport than tampons.
  • Some people find pads uncomfortable when walking or doing physical activity, and they can absorb sweat.
  • Winged pads can cause chafing but tend to stay in place.
  • None winged pads can be more comfortable for some people but sometimes move around.
  • As with tampons, it’s important to change your pad every few hours to prevent infection, even if your flow is light.

Disposal

If you’re using managed campsites in the UK then they will either have paper hygiene bins available in the toilets, or your used products can be put in the normal waste bins; just like you would at home or while in a hotel.

If you are in a more remote area then it may be necessary to transport your used products. Large resealable sandwich bags are perfect for this. A non-see-through plastic carrier bag can be used over the top if you don’t want people to see what you are carrying.

Unfortunately, hand dug “cat holes” for disposing of poo are not suitable for tampons and pads as these products can take many years to rot away and will often be brought back to the surface by the weather before that happens.

Moon cups

Silicone “moon cups” are a popular choice for people who know they’re going to be away on long expeditions and are particularly useful in remote locations and countries where other products may be hard to find. They are reusable and very hygienic, and though expensive will last a long time if properly washed between uses. 

  • If this is something you want to make use of then you should buy one well in advance of your expedition to make sure they work for you and that you are familiar with using them. 
  • It is important that you know you will be in a location where you can get your hands clean, and be able to clean the cup.
  • You can sterilse your moon cup by putting it in a small metal mug of water and bringing it to the boil on your stove.

Hygiene

  • At most campsites in the UK then there will be plenty of clean water to use for washing hands and genitals.
  • Unscented wet wipes can make life a lot easier, though create more stuff to carry and dispose of. Scented wet wipes must be avoided if you’re going to use them anywhere other than your hands.
  • Evaporating “hand sanitiser” gel should never be used on your genitals; it can cause some immediate mild pain due to the alcohol, dry the skin badly, and can cause thrush (yeast infections).
  • If you’re not sure what the toilets will be like at your campsites, or if there will be clean water for washing then ask your expedition leader. This is a very common question!
  • A lot of people find it useful to have quick drying sports underwear that can be easily washed and reused on an expedition. Unfortunately, these can be more expensive than cotton underwear.

Birth control

Some people choose to use hormonal birth control to change when their period happens or to make it less severe. This is very much a matter of personal choice and is something you should talk to a doctor well in advance about to find out if this is the right choice for you. You may find that hormonal birth control does not completely stop your period, experiment before your trip and make sure you bring some products to use if it doesn't work out.

Period Delay Pills

Some people choose to talk to their doctor about a period delay pill such as Norethisterone. This medication contains the hormone progesterone and can be used to delay a period for up to 20 days

Pain management

Cramps can be a very fast way to spoil an otherwise amazing outdoors experience. Many people use painkillers and heat to help with this. 

  • If using painkillers, ibuprofen is a popular choice, but this is something you should talk to a pharmacist or doctor about.
  • Single use, stick on, “muscle relaxant” heat-pads are available at most pharmacies and many sports shops. They are great for use while walking and moving around at camp. Make sure you read the instructions as some types shouldn’t be applied directly to the skin.

You can also fill your drinking-water bottle with hot water and use it as a hot water bottle.

  • Be careful to check that the bottle you’re using is made of a plastic that can be heated (throw away “pop-bottles” usually can’t).
  • The lid needs to be on properly.
  • Make sure the bottle isn’t so hot that it can burn you; let it stand for a few minutes and then check it’s temperature with your hand.
  • If using a non-flexible bottle you might find it very hard to get the lid off once the water has cooled, remove the lid every few minutes as the water cools to make this easier.
  • Don’t use boiling water!

©The Outdoors People 2017

www.theoutdoorspeople.com


Cold Water Immersion and Chest Binding

Many people find that they wish to reduce the apparent size of their breasts. This could be for costuming or aesthetic reasons or might be because they are transmasculine or gender-non-binary. Binding the chest in a variety of ways is a common, none-permanent, way of achieving this and is an important part of many people's daily routine and psychological well-being.

Chest binding can take a variety of forms, from a purpose made binder, to layering sports bra’s, to actively binding the chest with compression, or ACE, bandages. Binding with bandages is associated with a number of risks and damaging health outcomes, but is still very common, particularly for young trans people as the required materials are very cheap and easy to obtain.

Due to the pronounced rise in people, particularly young people, openly identifying as trans, The Outdoors People and Simpson Training are currently working together to study and promote awareness of trans people in adventure education and one of the topics we wanted to examine was the effect of chest binding during cold water immersion.

 

Experimenting

The experiment took place in the River Ouse in York in February. In order to for them to make useful comparisons and keep everyone safe, it was important to us that the people going into the water should be experienced water-sports coaches which significantly limited our available volunteers for jumping in a river in a t-shirt in February!

In the end, the only person we could pin down was the author of this blog post, a 33-year-old cis male.  This is obviously less than ideal and as a result, we can only extrapolate so far as to what this experience would be like for someone with breasts that doesn’t normally bind, or for someone who is more familiar with binding but less familiar with cold water immersion. However, we think the results of this first experiment are important enough that they are worth sharing and hope to engage in more detailed experimentation with more participants next winter.

 
brrrrrrrrr
 

Methodology

The participant

  • 33 years old
  • Cis male
  • In good health
  • Very practised and experienced at cold water immersion

The Test

While it is not the recommended method of doing chest binding, as it is restrictive and can cause health problems, we deliberately used compression bandages for our experiment in order to examine a "worst-case" scenario and one that is still reasonably likely to be encountered, particularly amongst younger participants.

The participant wore lycra leggings and a cotton t-shirt as representative or what a young person on an adventure education course or paddling taster session might wear.  They also wore a simple buoyancy aid and helmet and were secured to the bank using a throw-line.

Bank safety was provided by someone able to lift the participant out of the water who had a river knife and tough-cut scissors to hand.

Air temperature was around 7-9 degrees c with 20 mile an hour winds and water temperature was 2 to 4 degrees c

The participant “back fell” into the water so that he fully-submerged immediately and then spent a further 60 seconds up to his neck in the water.


Results

After entering the water Craig immediately noticed that his ability to breathe was massively restricted compared to what he would expect under normal circumstances.  While breathing is always limited at first during cold-water immersion, the effect was very pronounced and did not reduce over time the way it would normally.  Even for an experienced water sports coach it was a very alarming experience and could easily induce extreme panic in a less seasoned participant. The effect only lessened slightly upon leaving the water. The wet bandages had to be cut free by another person.

Several hours after the experiment, Craig was still very conscious of pain and muscle fatigue in his chest.


Recommendations

Physical risks to participants

While this is only one test involving only one person, the results were quite dramatic. We don’t think that it is safe for inexperienced participants to take part in cold water immersion activities while wearing this form of binding and tests on safer forms of binding should take place as soon as possible. There is always a chance of people panicking when they enter the water and chest binding appears to make that worse.

People who’ve undergone cold water immersion with a chest binder on may be more prone to subsequent fatigue and tiredness than other group members and the additional wet material around their core may increase the risk of hypothermia.

 

Emotional risks to participants

Please note that these are the observations of a cis male, while they have been read over by trans people and others with greater lived experience and knowledge, they are only of so much value in this context.

Alongside all the usual emotional risks involved in challenging adventure activities, we feel there are several others that should be considered in this context.

Even for an experienced watersports instructor the feeling of having their breathing restricted in that way was alarming and it was a significant emotional challenge for them to remain in the water for the full minute of the experiment.

Many people may not feel comfortable disclosing to a leader beforehand that they are wearing a binder

Craig needed to be cut out of the bandages after the test and this would likely be extremely upsetting for a trans participant, particularly if it was done by an instructor who they may not know well but might be the only person qualified and equipped to help. One trans test reader described this as a “nightmare scenario”.

People may feel pronounced dysphoria or emotional upset if they are asked not wear their binder, or chose to of their own accord, and people who are living as male may not wish to be “outed” to their peers.

Transmasculine people are frequently, and wrongly, judged socially against an unusually high bar of "masculinity"; showing weakness by being more at risk of panic during cold water immersion could leave them at risk of peer-to-peer criticism or even criticism, perceived or actual, from leaders.

 

Further study

In particular, we recommend that further testing takes place involving more suitable participants, but want to emphasise that from Craig’s experience we don’t think people who aren’t already very familiar with cold water immersion should deliberately do this test.

We would also like to see further testing done using other means of binding as these are already known to be safer than compression bandages under normal use.

We are seeking comment from trans people about their experiences of wearing a buoyancy aid and if they would have felt safe and comfortable using one without any additional binding. If you have experience of this then please get in touch.

 

 

If you would like more information on this and many other related topics specific to adventure education, The Outdoors People and Simpson Training co-offer an industry recognised Continuing Professional Development course on Gender Identity and Sexuality Awareness for Adventure Education.