Article Types Article Taboo busting: periods and the outdoors

Taboo busting: periods and the outdoors


"Constructing a makeshift hot water bottle out of a plastic bottle, a jumper and almost-boiled water could also work if you suffer from pain at night — making sure you still get that much-needed rest."

Christine Cornock

Christine Cornock shares how she managed her period along the South West Coastal Path multi-day hike

Reading The Salt Path on a whim after pinching it from my mum’s book collection, I didn’t expect to be stepping onto the South West Coast Path just a few months later. I’d never done a multi-day backpack before, only day hikes, but Raynor Winn described trail life in such a way that I couldn’t wait to walk, eat and sleep with the sea in view and nothing to think about but the journey itself.

After a hopeful message to my group chat, my friend Ari agreed to come with me. With multiple trips under her backpacking belt (including a different section of the coast path), Ari guided me on what to expect and how best to approach it. Although I was reluctant to take on board her minimalist packing style (I learnt the hard way that glass toiletry bottles are non-essential), her advice to be flexible with our daily distances and to listen to our bodies struck a chord. It helped me approach the walk as a mindful experience rather than a physical challenge, which was a big one given we were both due to come on our periods.

We’re firm believers that being on your period should never be an obstacle to being in the outdoors, but we were both a little apprehensive about how it could affect our trip. Practical challenges like where to change sanitary products, how to manage pain and the mental effects of PMS were things to consider. We spoke about it openly, laughing about whether we would be mardy with each other on our PMS days and what products were best to take. There are lots of great articles out there about how to manage these things, covering topics like how to clean your menstrual cup and how to dispose of sanitary waste without a trace. I found that period pants were a game changer as they’re longer lasting than tampons or pads, can be rinsed and reused to reduce pack weight and are eco-friendly — a big bonus!

Lethargy, cramps and general achiness were all PMS symptoms that cropped up for us, and this is where Ari’s advice to listen to our bodies was invaluable. At first, I found it difficult to swallow that we might not hit the full distance we’d planned. But slowing down ultimately meant we didn’t exhaust ourselves before the week was up. Plenty of stops for food and water gave us time to chat with others on the path, but most importantly, it gave us time to admire the views. A well-stocked first aid kit full of ibuprofen was enough for us, but constructing a makeshift hot water bottle out of a plastic bottle, a jumper and almost-boiled water could also work if you suffer from pain at night — making sure you still get that much-needed rest.

While managing the physical symptoms of PMS was tricky at points, the harder battle was often with the mental side of things. I felt feelings of self-doubt creep in when faced with tasks like scaling a cliff first thing in the morning, topped off with guilt for having Ari along for the ride. As someone who meditates, I knew that acceptance was the best way to deal with these negative emotions, so I let the sea and cliffs become my focal point and practised letting negative thoughts ebb and flow without fixating on them. I realised that I couldn’t solve how Ari was feeling, just like she couldn’t solve how I was feeling, and simply focusing on nature in those moments was enough.

Our first taste of Cornish ice cream in Boscastle, reading poetry in Ronald Duncan’s writing hut and a gorgeously hot campsite shower after a very rainy day were just a few moments that made all the difficult ones worth it. Walking together gave Ari and me time to talk openly about how we were feeling and put the world to rights on how paths like this could be made more accessible (hand soap and running water in all public toilets, please!). With studies showing that 64% of school-age girls will stop playing sports by their mid-teens because of period pain and shame, it’s as important as ever to keep this conversation going. Changing your tampon while crouched behind a rock can happen (trust me), but it doesn’t have to be an inconvenience or something to be ashamed of. Educating everyone on practical, helpful ways to handle periods means it becomes less of a barrier, so more and more people can enjoy the outdoors.