feminine hygiene

Firsts / Lisa's first backpacking trip as an adult!

I got a chance to reconnect with an old colleague during my last visit to the Bay Area. Meet Lisa. She is the Partnerships and Communications Assistant at HopeLab (my last workplace), she has two teenage kids, and holds a curiosity and vitality about life I find irresistible!

Lisa was buzzing with energy while telling me about her upcoming backpacking trip with her friend Liz (not me, another Liz). This would be her first one since she was just a young lass. Lisa showed me the new hiking shoes she was considering (in her favorite color, purple, of course) and gear she was borrowing, and we gabbed on and on about what she was hoping for during this trip.

Well she went on her first backpacking trip recently and told me all about it! I laughed out loud, squealed, and related to her stories and pictures. I hope her story inspires you to go on your first backpacking trip. (P.S. Look at how adorable she is in her dress + hiking shoes!)


Snowqueen & Scout: Tell us briefly about your background in backpacking.
Lisa: The last time I backpacked was about 28 years ago when I was 20! My very first trip was with the community center when I was in 3rd grade and I went a few times with my family while growing up too. 


For this most recent trip, where did you go, how many days were you gone, how many miles did you hike, and what did you see? 
We went to Emigrant Wilderness, north of Yosemite. We arrived late Thursday night and threw up the tent in a random spot near a fire road. We started hiking on Friday and finished around 6pm on Sunday. In three days, we hiked roughly 24 miles total (including the "Oh Shit" four-mile detour which I'll talk about later). 


You mentioned your hiking partner Liz when we chatted in a previous conversation. Tell us about how she was a partner to you both pre-trip and during your trip. 
After a group conversation about the movie “Wild,” Liz totally made our trip happen. I often say something sounds like a great idea, but don’t follow through with it. This would have absolutely been one of those things without Liz’s enthusiastic planning and follow up. She got input from one of our colleagues on the best places to go backpacking, researched it, got a map, determined our route, and called the ranger station to learn about permits and restrictions. The week of the trip she called the ranger station and made arrangements for our free permit to be left at a pick up spot since we would arrive after they closed.

During our planning phase she would check in with me and let me know what she was doing in terms of training and getting equipment together. That really motivated me to keep up and keep my own prep going!

During the trip she was a great partner because we kept a similar pace, had similar endurance and were on the same page about when to call it a day. We really had to work together to pick up the trail at certain points and to negotiate some of the stream crossings. She also had a lot of great ideas about food, equipment & hygiene that she shared. Liz created what I called the “Bidet Bottle.” I will totally try it on my next trip. It's a water bottle with a squirt top for cleansing yourself during bathroom stops. I thought it was brilliant!

Did you have any "OH SHIT" moments? What happened? 
We were fortunate that we didn’t have many of these at all. There are two that stand out. The first OH SHIT moment was after we left camp the first night. We missed the trailhead to Gem Lake and continued on a trail going to Wood Lake. Liz and I didn’t realized we were not on the right trail until we came to a river crossing and could not figure out where to go from there.

Up until then, there had been small stream crossings, but this was much bigger. We definitely did not want to cross it without knowing where to go on the other side. We didn't want to risk having to cross back if we couldn't pick up the trail, so we decided to backtrack. We finally ended up back at a familiar stream crossing. It was challenging for Liz to cross the first time so she wasn’t thrilled to go back across. But once we crossed the stream, we very quickly saw the trail marker we had missed. Not sure exactly how far that detour was, but it potentially added up to four miles to our total!

The second OH SHIT moment was when I stumbled and fell forward onto my knees. That wasn’t so bad, but the weight of my pack pushed me forward and I had to land on my right hand. I felt really powerless to stop the momentum and that was pretty scary. I was super lucky that I really didn’t scrape my knees or tear my pants. I came out of that fall with only a light scrape on my hand. 

What are two highlights and two lowlights you'd share with your closest friend? 
Highlights: I loved skinny dipping for the first time! I loved being naked outside in general!
Lowlights: My lady parts did not smell good by day two and I need to learn to dig a deeper hole for shitting in the woods. Also although Liz is not my closest friend, it was still fun talking about all of these things on our trip!

First breakfast on the trail. This picture doesn't do any justice.

First breakfast on the trail. This picture doesn't do any justice.

What would do differently next time? 
I would like to plan more time to stop and appreciate beautiful places and I would stop more frequently for small meal breaks. I would maybe play in the water more! And I definitely need to come up with a better hygiene plan as well. 

Was there anything you took that you'd definitely not take again? And conversely, is there anything you didn't take that you wish you had? 
I got such great advice on what to bring from Snowqueen & Scout and from a colleague who is crazy about backpacking so I don’t feel like I had anything that I didn’t need. The things I didn’t use are things that I think I couldn’t avoid bringing anyway (i.e. gloves, stuff to start a fire, a compass, most of my first aid stuff). I also brought sunglasses, two bobby pins and ear plugs I didn't use, but I would probably bring those again next time. I did have a small drinking cup that I left behind because it seemed unnecessary, but I'll take it next time. And did I already mention that I really want to try Liz’s idea of rinsing with water at potty breaks next time?! 

Describe those last steps out to the trailhead on Sunday night. What were you feeling? 
The last few miles Liz and I were both feeling sad that it was coming to an end. But by the time we were close to the trailhead, I started feeling better about the trip ending! When I saw the car, I knew there would be clean clothes and shower wipes available, and we would be on our way to a fast food meal! I was pretty excited about those things. 

But as we drove away from the trailhead, I felt a little sad again to be leaving the amazing quiet, peace and beauty. We drove with our windows down because we were already missing all the mountain fresh air. And although it was great to have no cell service on the trail, it was nice to be able to check in with our significant others after we finished.


Would you go backpacking again? If so, what about it draws you back? If not, why not? 
I will absolutely go again! I loved the beauty and serenity. I loved experiencing all kinds of conditions and environments and I loved pushing myself when I was tired or hot. I loved getting to a new beautiful location or seeing some new spectacular sight or view. I loved the simplicity of not really cooking or washing dishes, not having to choose what to wear each day, not having to wear makeup or worrying about my hair. I loved the freedom of not having too many choices and decisions to make, not being tied to my phone, and being totally self-sufficient.

We were just in our bodies, feeling them work and really only had to worry about basic needs – food, water and finding somewhere to sleep. It was exquisitely awesome!

In what ways are you a different Lisa now, than the Lisa before you went on your first backpacking trip?
I’m different in that I love backpacking and can’t wait to go again! I would even go on a short trip by myself. I NEVER thought I would have any interest in that. I had never been backpacking without a man in the group. Being single after a 22 year marriage, it feels good to have the confidence that I don’t “need a man” to do things with me, particularly something like go out into the wilderness. In the past when we'd car camp, I was always afraid of animals like mountain lions and bears. I liked knowing my husband would be there to help or protect me.

It turns out that I’m totally ok on my own! I wasn’t afraid and I didn’t spend any time worrying about it. There wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle on our own. Feeling confident, self-sufficient and empowered is a great thing.

Anything else you'd like to share? 
Thank you, Liz, for all the great info and inspiration on your blog and in person!

Aww, you're so welcome Lisa! Thanks for sharing your story with all the ladies out there who are new to backpacking. I so appreciate your candor and reflections and I can't wait to hear more stories of future backpacking trips! #GoLisaGo

Lighten Your Load / Towels: It's not really about towels

I've gotten a few questions recently about what kind of towel to take on a backpacking trip, so I want to share my take on towels in the backcountry. But the towel question isn't really about towels, it's about getting clean. So here's my take on "what towel you should take." ;-)

First, we need to redefine showers 
When you're going backpacking, you'll need to let go of your notion of a shower. You will not have a clean shower with warm flowing water, suds all over your head and body, a plush bath mat to step onto and a large cotton towel to wrap yourself in afterward. This is okay though, because nature's showers are way simpler, more exhilarating and saves water!

Everyone has different standards of cleanliness in life, and this is definitely true in the backcountry. For me, I can tolerate getting dirty, sweating, and all that, but it's important for me to get that feeling of clean at the end of the day. It helps me wind down, relax, and sleep better.

My "showers" are typically standing under a waterfall, jumping into an ice cold alpine lake, splashing around in a river or trying to dunk my head in a small creek to just get a refreshing feeling on my scalp. If it's a few days on the trail, I don't use soap because it's slightly more complicated. (And I'm all about SIMPLICITY on the trail.) Simply rinsing myself off in a body of water makes me feel clean and refreshed - especially if the water is ice cold!

What I use
Tiny REI towel (15.5"x15.5")
Water source (river, lake, creek, whatever!)

A tiny towel? But how will I cover my valuables?
Since I'm not getting completely naked, there's nothing really to cover up. I used to have a larger lightweight towel because I thought I needed it, but I've gotten along fine with the tiny towel. Notice the size and weight difference.


How I use my towel
I drench my tiny towel and rinse off my arms, legs, pits, neck, face, etc. (I'm usually down to my sports bra and underwear at this point.) I'm not using any soap in this process because I'm typically standing in or near a small creek or river and using soap in a water source is a HUGE NO-NO. After I'm done wiping down all those sticky/dried sweaty areas, I'll wring out the water from my towel and dry myself using the same towel. Even if I'm just rinsing my feet, I feel a thousand times better washing my feet, drying them, and putting my dry & clean sleep socks on. [Ahhhhh....] This is obviously nothing like drying yourself off with a plush towel after stepping out of a steamy warm shower, but it works! You get dry and that's the point. 

Getting clean (even if it's just washing my feet and face) at the end of the day helps me sleep better. If I'm sticky or dusty, I tend to wake up at night feeling uncomfortable. Good sleep means a refreshing new day and a matching good attitude. 

A couple notes worth mentioning

  • I don't use moist wipes/towelettes because it's more trash to pack out. I've replaced those with this reusable micro towel.
  • If you need to wash your vjayjay, I wrote a quick how-to here. Personally, I don't rinse my vagina in non-potable water because I'm weary of the risks. If I don't drink non-potable water, I definitely don't want it near anything so private. Ever since I got giardia, I'm extra cautious about channels for those little critters to get inside me! 
  • If I do need soap, I use Dr. Bronner's castille soap (repackaged into a tiny container) and will only use a tiny amount, away from the water source. "Biodegradable all-natural" soaps used directly in water is actually harmful to the environment. It was meant to be absorbed directly into the dirt, at least 200 feet away from water sources. 

In conclusion...
Get a highly absorbent micro towel that functions as a cleaning rag AND your drying towel. Because when you can get clean after a hard day's effort, you'll feel better, rest better and therefore your life will be awesome. Haha, something like that.

Oh and hey, some the links above are affiliate links. This means I earn a tiny bit of change if you end up buying something using that link. #MakinSomeChange

Internal Hygiene: Periods and Vjayjays

Yeah, seriously. I'm going there.

When I first started backpacking, I wondered what women did to keep things fresh downstairs. Well, no need to wonder anymore. I'll share how I do it and hopefully more women will chime in and share their tips and tricks. 


MENSTRATION: No need to change your plans because of your period. Period.

  • Diva cup or the keeper are environmentally friendly waste-free options. If you use this method, Leave No Trace (LNT) recommends packing out the blood if possible, but burying it in a cat hole 6-8" deep and at least 200ft from a water source is okay too.
    • What you'll need: Menstral cup, drinkable water
    • How to: Since pulling out the cup can be messy, I recommend having your water readily available. First, hover over your cat hole, pull out the cup, and pour out the contents in the hole. Then use the water to rinse the cup and then insert it back in. The cup won't be 100% clean, but that's okay. (While I'm at it, I'll rinse my vjayjay a bit.) Now use some more water to clean your hands and voila! Hand sanitizer could come it handy here too. (I'll note here that you could use hand wipes, but that just means more to pack in and pack out.)
    • A must: I've said it already, but I only use potable (drinkable) water for anything related to my vagina. I do not want to risk getting some water-born parasite like giardia. (I've had it before and it's horrible.)
  • In the past, I've used O.B. tampons. It's nice because there's no applicator = less waste to pack out, but it means you need to be comfortable inserting a tampon without an applicator. (If you haven't tried one, I'd say give it a try at home. It's easy peasy.) The used tampon will need to get packed out with your waste. I know, ew right? It may seem gross, but it's not okay to bury it in the same way you need to pack out your soiled toilet paper. This is best for the environment and most aligned with LNT policies. 
    • What you'll need: Small hand sanitizer, O.B. tampon, resealable waste bag.
    • Tip: Take a durable/resealable bag for your tampons and toilet paper waste and put a little kitty litter or baking soda in it to absorb odor. Don't put it too much, you don't want to carry too much extra weight.

YOUR VJAYJAY: After hiking all day, honestly...things can get tired and hot downstairs, and I'm not talking about my feet. Also, since I use the "wiggle-dry" method after I pee, I am ready to clean up my vagina at the end of the day. You get me?

  • During my clean-up routine at the end of the day, I will use my washcloth and drinkable water to wash my privates, and then get into clean underwear. This happens while hiding behind some tree or bush.  ; ) 
  • I also wash the underwear I wore that day and let it hang dry as soon as possible. This allows me to have a clean and dry pair ready for the next day. I swap between two pairs of underwear so there's no need to carry more than that. 

What do you do to keep your vjayjay clean and protected on a backpacking trip?