Bikepacking & Period – Cycling with a Menstrual Cup
How cycling with a menstrual cup changed my life.
We love to be outdoors, go bikepacking and ride our bikes for longer distances. But some days of the month, menstruating people don’t necessarily have it easy. Who hasn’t experienced this? Your period has already started, or even worse, it starts unexpectedly and something is missing in your equipment! Exactly: menstrual products.
In this article, Sandra looks at the different ways to be outdoors during your period and tells you why she thinks the menstrual cup is the best period product for bikepacking and cycling in general.
The topic of menstruation brings up two questions or problems in particular, especially when it comes to outdoor sports:
- Where do you put used pads or tampons if there is no rubbish bin nearby?
- Where do you find period products in the middle of the forest, on dirt roads or at the side of the road?
Initial situation: Where to put the tampons?
From my first period onwards, I used tampons as a menstrual product; I found the feeling of pads unpleasant. My menstruation used to annoy me especially when I was out somewhere where I had no way to dispose of used tampons. Peeing outside, okay. But throwing away tampons outside? No way! Better to bite the bullet, have a sealable container with you and dispose of the contents in a rubbish bin later. This worked for climbing trips where the climbs to the rocks were rather short and the luggage was already heavy due to the climbing equipment, so an extra container didn’t make much difference.
But stuffing or hanging a jar or bag of used tampons in the bikepacking bags doesn’t sound so practical in my mind. Imagine a zip bag with bloody tampons dangling from the handlebars – that would actually be a brilliant statement!
Assuming this statement is implemented, the second problem still exists: where can I get menstrual products somewhere in the middle of nowhere if I haven’t packed any? Cycling to the nearest petrol station is one option. But depending on the tour and the terrain, that can take several hours.
I also find the retractable tape on tampons quite uncomfortable to painful, especially when cycling.
Decision for a menstrual cup
So I looked for alternatives to the most commonly used menstrual products, tampons or pads. That’s when I came across menstrual cups. I liked the idea of using one product for years and thus producing less waste. So I watched about 1000 YouTube videos about different menstrual cups and read a lot about choosing the right cup. For me, a small cup seemed to fit the bill. Choosing the right cup size, cup shape, softness and style can take some time and with so much to choose from, it’s not easy to make a decision.
I didn’t want to try out different cups until I found the right one for me. Nevertheless, I first bought one that I unfortunately didn’t get on with very well. It was soft and didn’t plop into the desired shape, so insertion was difficult for me. Nevertheless, I found the feeling better than with a tampon.
At some point, I invested in another cup, this time a Ruby Cup, which I hoped would do better. I chose this brand because for every menstrual cup sold, the company donates one cup to a girl or woman who doesn’t have access to menstrual products. I’ve had this cup for a few years now and it works great. I only shortened the “stem” at the bottom of the cup with scissors because I felt it uncomfortable in some positions.
Use/application of a menstrual cup
At first the application sounds complicated, but with a little practice it is easy to do: fold the cup – there are different techniques for this – and then insert it in a similar way to a tampon. In the vagina, the cup unfolds to its actual shape, closes around the cervix and stays in place due to a vacuum.
To empty the cup, the lower end is squeezed a little to release the vacuum and pull the cup out easily. The lower end, i.e. the style of the cup, acts like a tampon retrieval strap, but it should not be used for this purpose, as removing it without releasing the vacuum can be painful and difficult.
Normally, I empty my cup once in the morning after getting up and once in the evening before going to bed, so twice a day – I had to change tampons more often. I also wash them out with water each time. But it is also possible to simply wipe out the cup with toilet paper or something else when there is no water, for example, on a bikepacking tour – more on that in a moment.
After my period, I boil the cup in normal tap water for a few minutes. There is also the option of sterilising it in the microwave.
Bikepacking and menstrual cup
Back to cycling with a menstrual cup and bikepacking tours: Ideally, I look for a toilet in the evening to empty the cup and visit a café somewhere the next morning to use the toilet there for this. Of course, that doesn’t always work. In this case, I clean my hands with what I have with me: Water, water and soap or disinfectant. Armed with clean hands, a bottle and a cloth, I go to an undisturbed place, drop my trousers, release the vacuum of the cup with my fingers (e.g. by gently squeezing the bottom of the cup) and take the cup out.
Now it can be emptied, it is best to bury the blood a few centimetres deep. Especially in highly frequented places. Next, I use the water from the bottle: I rinse the cup with it. I also wet a hand or a cloth that can be used as a flannel with water to wash my bottom. Then I reinsert the menstrual cup. Now I just dry off, pull up my trousers and head back to camp. I rinse out the cloth at the next opportunity or straight away. Or, if it’s a disposable cloth or toilet paper, I take it with me to throw in a bin somewhere.
On long day trips, I don’t have to worry at all about when, how and where I empty the cup, because even on day 1 I can easily carry it from morning to night.
Cycling with a menstrual cup on long bike trips
But what about cycling with a menstrual cup on longer tours that may start at dawn and go into the night? The cup should be emptied after 12 hours at the latest, even on light days, because otherwise, as with tampons, there is a risk of infection from the old blood (toxic shock syndrome). So far, I have only had to empty the cup in between on one tour: In the Orbit360 #rideFAR challenge, I rode 360 km and had my period (day 1). I stopped at a petrol station about halfway through and went to the toilet there to empty my cup. That was the easiest and quickest. If there hadn’t been a petrol station, I would have hunkered down in a bush somewhere on the side of the road.
If you want to know more about the use of menstrual cups: “Auf Klo” have summarised this briefly and concisely in a video.
Advantages of a menstrual cup
For me, I can’t imagine life without my menstrual cup.
- The menstrual cup is small and always fits in your luggage.
- It can get wet and still work.
- I only have to empty the cup twice a day, less often than I have to change tampons (depending on the intensity of the bleeding and the cup size, of course).
- With a little practice, it’s easy to use.
- I have a cleaner/drier feeling as opposed to tampons.
- The retractable band often bothered me, especially when cycling it could press uncomfortably, even if it is so thin.
- No drying out in the vaginal area like with tampons.
- Invest once and don’t think about it again for years.
Where there are advantages, there are of course also disadvantages.
- The application, both insertion and removal, requires some practice.
- The first cup may not be the right one and you may have to try different ones.
- Some people do not get on with menstrual cups at all.
If you are using an IUD or similar contraceptive, you should check whether the combination is OK (this can vary from person to person; Ruby Cup has information on this topic).
Sustainability of menstrual cups
First of all, it sounds great: buy a cup and use it for years. Tampons or pads produce a lot of waste every month. Nevertheless, the topic of sustainability of menstrual cups is controversial. I would like to briefly discuss this here.
- Less waste production in daily use, but…
- How much waste is produced during manufacture?
- What does the waste processing look like?
- Resources (water and also electricity) are needed to clean the cup.
Related tip: Cycle tracking
Besides using apps or special calendars, I have another tip to help me better estimate when my period is coming. My cycle is somewhat irregular, ranging from 25 to 31 days. If no other signs indicate the start of your period, it may be worth trying to take your temperature regularly. I take my basal body temperature every morning (with a digital thermometer 3 minutes under my tongue) and record the values in an app. After ovulation, the temperature rises by about 0.3 °C and stays up until day 1 of the next cycle. So I recognise day 1 already in the morning by the basal body temperature dropping again. This means that no matter when my period will start that day, I already know about it in the morning and can pack my menstrual cup or insert it as a precaution if I’m going to be out all day.
I really like my menstrual cup. With a little practice, it’s easy to use and I no longer have a problem disposing of a tampon or having to get one somewhere. I especially like the fact that I rarely have to empty the cup. When cycling with a menstrual cup, e.g. on a day tour, I don’t have to worry about it at all.
Especially on long day trips and bikepacking tours, I find it relieving to have to worry less about when, how and where I can change my tampon or where I might get a new one. And if I do use a tampon for some reason, I find the feeling quite messy and uncomfortable by now.
As another low-waste option, free bleeding sounds exciting to me, but I don’t think it works for me, especially when cycling, because I would have to stop too often.
Photo Credits: Photo by Vulvani – www.vulvani.com