Tampon on Trail

| April 13, 2012 | 38 Comments

While hiking a popular close-to-town route with a guy friend, I saw this: a deliberately abandoned tampon in the middle of the trail, with a rock thrown atop it.


Ladies, really?

To the woman who used and disposed of that tampon in the woods: What compelled you to leave your used tampon cartridge, packaging and all, in the middle of a trail? Any trail? What makes you think it is okay to leave plastic in the wilderness? How did you suppose that rock on top of it would help?

I’m confused, shocked, and embarrassed about this. Please, gals, weigh in. And—for the sake of the offender and others like her—go ahead and offer some suggestions for properly handling menstruation (and the products that go with) in the woods.

Category: Health

About the Author ()

Also called "Editor Jenn" at Women’s Adventure, Jennifer Olson learns as much from you as she hopes you learn from the magazine and this website. Playing with magnetic poetry on her refrigerator helped Jennifer develop a philosophy by which she still lives: “If you publish a cliché, go explore real inspiration." Visit me on Google+

Comments (38)

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  1. Paige says:

    Hmmm. I don’t think this person intentionally ignored leave no trace principles. I think they had no idea they exist, period (pun unintended). I was in a similar situation when I was a lot younger and I sort of panicked – my response wasn’t ideal either. Now of course I’d pack it out one way or another even if that meant tucking it into a pocket, sock, or boot.

    Curious to know: what did you do with it? Dealing with your own “equipment” is one thing but dealing with someone else’s is not something a lot of people can hack.

  2. Heidi says:

    I always carry at least 1 plastic baggie for my own personal hygene items (including TP) to pack out. Picking up someone elses? EUW!

  3. Amy says:

    I agree that it usually happens due to inexperience and lack of forethought. It’s good to discuss it. Applicatorless tampons (ob) is the way to go in the wilderness. There is still waste that has to be packed out, but not as much. I have friends that have done a lot of alpine expeditions where poo can’t be buried so they would pack pvc pipe that could be capped at the ends and they would pack it out that way.

  4. Kathy Waters says:

    I always carry a couple of zip-lock type baggies and TP on the trail, so wrapping up any such personal items is a no-brainer. To be charitable, maybe the rock was a “marker” for retrieval on a return trip – maybe?

  5. Olita says:

    I think this one needs to get chalked up to inexperience. The hiker was prepared enough to bring supplies along, but not prepared enough to pack out waste. On the plus side, there didn’t seem to be evidence of used “equipment,” right?

  6. Use the Mooncup and tell everyone to do the same. No waste, no litter, no tampons to carry — and it saves money!


  7. Sarah says:

    Like the other responses, I always carry a ziplock bag, but I put a paper bag inside it to cut down on the ewww factor (especially if I’m with others). Applicator tampons are uncommon in Australia generally, and the applicator issue is non existent here, so I have to second the person who suggested applicator-less (for all use…think of all the excess waste)

  8. Donna says:

    This is such a lame thing to do. But the best we can do is educate. All of the above suggestions are great, and I’ll raise you one more! I’m a huge fan of the Sea Pearl sponges and have been using them for tampons for 4 years now. They last for 6 months or more, are safe, and reusable. They are easy to pack and maintain, too! With so many options, we should start finding less and less trash.

  9. Erin says:

    Brace yourselves, ladies, but I have been known to pack out the used “equipment” of others. If I don’t, who will? And I would hate for other inexperienced hikers to see it and think that’s what they should do, too. To be honest, I don’t find it so gross. Nothing some hand sanitizer and a rinse with fresh mountain water can’t fix.

  10. savannah says:

    Disgusting. Probably some self-centered freak who also didn’t clean her hands after she took it out. She likely lives in a pig pen too (no offense to animal pigs).

  11. Sharon says:

    I spent several days on a survival course and had my cycle. I packed everything out. I took extra zip lock bags, lavander soap chips and put up with it so if I found that kind of yuk! it spoils the experaince of being out in the wild. I agree with the other posts, pack it out.

  12. telelikeitis says:

    Just went running today and where we parked our car was a pink applicator tip in the dirt parking lot next to the trailhead. I am guilty! I didn’t pick it up. That was the first for me. What grosses me out more though, and I see this quite often, is a nice pile of “pooh” with tp left with it. Now that is gross! I refuse to pick up someone else’s used toilet paper in the middle of the woods. Plus, its sore to the eye. So, we could on and on about this. But back to the subject here. For years, I have used OB when out in the wilderness. Just throw it in a baggy like everyone else says. Its easy to carry new or used. Unfortunately, I’m finding it harder and harder to find OB tampons in the store.

  13. marni says:

    I was trained as a child growing up in the wilds of northern NM where we spent a lot of time with the cattle in the mountains on summer grange.

    There were three major rules.
    1. The cows belong here, you don’t leave no trace.

    2. you brought it in, you take it out.

    3. as a final and least desirable solution bash, burn and bury deep.

    bike foot or horseback, I still follow those rules.

  14. Wendy says:

    I also believe it is inexperience and we ladies just need to share our information with others. I give a little lecture on Personal Hygiene in the Wilderness to new hikers and backpackers and I share the following little tips:
    Pack it in-Pack it out, if you are afraid your baggy will break then reinforce it with duck tape. Carry everything you need in one little sack: tampons, pads, toilet paper, aluminum foil, baking soda, waste bag, handy wipes and hand sanitizer . What do you do with all of that? Take your used product, place it in a piece of aluminum foil, put baking soda (or a crushed aspirin to deodorizer any smell) over your product and wrap it up, put it in the waste bag, place a new product in, put all the other waste in the waste bag, clean your hands with a handy wipe, put it in the bag and once everything is all packed away and tidy, you can use the hand sanitizer if you like.

  15. Ruth says:

    Because it is still in the applicator and therefore unused, I think it is more likely a case of it beng accidentally dropped rather than deliberately discarded. Maybe this woman had it in her pocket or daypack and it fell out when she was pulling out her lip balm or snack?

    Diva cups rock!

  16. This is just gross. Animals do a better job of cleaning up after themselves. To avoid future tampon encounters such as this, try using some called a Diva Cup http://www.divacup.com/ or Moon Cup. These are re-useable, eco-friendly option to pads and tampons (tough to find on the road and just messy). Here’s a link to a list I’ve made of things to pack for long-term travel with a list especially for women. http://the-people-square.com/2012/03/30/how-to-pack-for-long-term-travel/.

  17. Laura Beck says:

    I always bring a small plastic bag with me for my trash but also to help mother nature out when other hikers are less conscientious. Yes, it would be disgusting to pack out that used tampon applicator especially if it is not yours but turn the bag inside out and pick it up with the bag turning it right side out you won’t have to touch it!!

  18. Rebecca says:

    From many of your comments it sounds like many of you are using tampons with plastic applicators.

    Use your finger and help rid the planet of plastic waste.
    Do a google search on “plastic tampon applicators environment” and read til you weep.

    You make the decision, I trust your intelligence.

    • Melie Guzek says:

      I agree – I got a free sample of O.B. applicator-less tampons one time 6 years ago and have used nothing else since! Why would you?! Its just more plastic on the planet and for those people who say “ewwww that’s gross” (as I have been told when giving away tampons in times of need) I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the vast majority of women have had a finger there for one reason or another anyways! Put the plastic down!

  19. jamfhall1 says:

    Where the heck did she wash her hands when she was finished? Did she have to tell the other party(ies) to turn around? Was she on a marathon hike and couldn’t wait till she found a bathroom or outhouse? Was she bleeding that badly that she had to change then? Next time just stay at home!

  20. Karen says:

    I agree with Steph, who said to use a mooncup. There are also washable pads, for those who don’t want to insert a product. Just wrap them up (they fold and snap together), put them in a ziploc bag or other baggie, and close the bag. If you use a gallon-sized ziploc, you can get a whole day’s worth of used pads in one.

  21. Good one, Karen.

    Also, that’s a plastic cartridge, doesn’t biodegrade. If you have to use one, use a cardboard one!
    Even if we dispose of the cartridge properly, it ends up in landfill or the ocean. Steer clear of plastic, please.

  22. ConnieD says:

    Don’t go out with tampons or other items like that. Don’t go hiking on your period.
    If it is “bear country” especially so. Bears and other large animals that can hurt you are territorial.
    The scent of menstruation is strong, tampon or not, animals have a keener sense of smell.
    Their territorial response activated, they can attack you or the males with you. It is a violent response.
    They don’t want you. They are only protecting their territory, their trail, their habitat.
    The fact is, all trails, improved or not, are animal trails. If your are hiking, you are in their environment.
    As for waste, I take OPSak’s: one clean for food, one for garbage. OPSaks are odorproof.

  23. Erin says:

    I am so surprised by the fear mongering and anti-feminist remarks posted! i thought this magazine and its readership was all for girl power. There is no evidence that bears are attracted to menstruating women — google it. Backpacker, Yellowstone NP, and others agree. “Just stay home” and off the trail when you have your period?! Are you kidding me? And i don’t know about you, but where i hike, there aren’t bathrooms around every corner. When you gotta go, you gotta go! And when you’re in the woods for days at a time, or on a “marathon” hike to a summit, you can’t just “wait” for the next bathroom! Just be smart and respect your surroundings. I’ve been on numerous weekend and weeklong backpacking trips and have never, and WILL never, let me period determine whether i should or should not go!

  24. Jo says:

    Thank you Erin! I agree with you about not letting your period stop you from enjoying the outdoors. We should not let pop culture over ride our own common sense (Anchor Man – “The bears can smell the menstruation!”) Whether its using ob tampons or mooncups, find something that works for you and is environmentally friendly. And when dealing with others who don’t share the same outdoor ethics or knowledge, be kind. Many others have said they made similar mistakes and being in an unfamiliar environment and having to be more “hands-on” with your period can be completely foreign to some. I found these bags http://www.reuseit.com/store/gecko-traders-plastic-baggie-replacement-recycled-p-756.html and l love them. I keep all my essentials in the biggest one and throw it in my purse or backpack. A couple of plastic baggies (one with baking soda inside for odor control), extra tampons, hand sanitizer and some wipes, and I’m good to go anywhere! Plus I always have extra gloves and baggies in my first aid kit just in case, and as gross as it is to pick up someone elses waste, how gross is it to leave it there? Part of Leave no Trace ethics is leaving the area better than you found it, and that includes picking up trash others have left behind.

  25. Cathy says:

    I always bring biodegradable bags, biodegradable toilet papers, tampons, Ziploc bags and biodegradable body wipes. This way, I can disregard the toilet papers and body wipes inside the biodegradable bags while I threw away used tampons inside the Ziploc bags and kept it inside my backpack, completely wrapped inside the mini-sack bags so there won’t be any smell. As soon as I get home, I’d throw the trash away. Thanks for the alternative methods mentioned in the comments, it certainly helps! 🙂

  26. Patti says:

    I’ve been making a conscious effort to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I’ll just say I’m hoping this person didn’t realize that this fell out of their backpack or pocket or whether they stashed it in order to take it to a trash receptacle off the trail.

  27. Mae says:

    eww, just eww. But from tampons to Doritos bags, from wilderness to the sidewalk you packed it there, pack it out. What is it that suddenly becomes heavy with any of these used items? Sadly I’ve learned to carry a spare bag with for instance when jogging with the dog. Once on a day hike in the East Bay Regional parks within yards of the trail start I picked up some litter. By the end of the day we’d packed so much it became hard to fit it in the pack.

    Reduce, reuse, recycle and pack your stuff out.

  28. NBC says:

    EWW that is just grose … I think everyone that uses the back country or front country should know about LNT ….. this is very important !!!!

    One thing that will help women is to make sure to take a ziplock baggy and hand wipes with them in there day pack to pack that kind of stuff out … or use the Diva Cup , you can hike all day long with out a worry of changing out tampons or pads while you hike…

  29. pinkgiwaffe says:

    yikes! hmmmm … I would try to avoid hiking during the time of the month if I can. Especially during the first 3 days. I live in a tropical country and trails are commonly leech infested. I just wonder whether the leeches will be attracted to the smell. Ewww .. although I know there are some women hikers here who do go for hiking and camping trips in a leech-infested jungle during that time of the month.

  30. Ann says:

    I am so ashamed and appalled that, that could happen.

    What ever happened to looking after mother nature?

    I have a secret weapon that could help this never happen again. They are called Scensibles Bags–delightfully discrete disposable bags for feminine care products.

    You can use them on a hike, in a toilet, trash bags in your car. The possibilities are endless!!!

    Check it out–www.scensiblesbags.com

    Let’s work together to ensure that this never happens again.

  31. angelica says:

    Hey! so I’ve never gone hiking and I really want to go but the whole period factor is kinda drawing me back…I’ve tried to use a cup and it didn’t work for me at all, so i wear pads and tampons but I’m worried I won’t have a place to change them. tampons are easier for me but i’m super worried about getting toxic shock syndrome so I always make sure to change it in about 4 hours so where would i be able to change it in the wild?? Please help I don’t know what to do!!

    • Daphne says:

      You could definitely still do day hikes, & you only have to change tampons every 6-8 hours. Day hikes are all I do and they’re a great experience!! We love driving through national parks and pulling off for hikes.

  32. Grace Catranis says:

    I use doggie poop bags to pack it out! They are small and already conceal some odors. And they don’t leak.

  33. heather says:

    Moon cup, every time ! Use it at home too and do your bit for the environment !! And if you need something else buy biodegradable incase you have to bury it deep. but mostly pack it out ! Can’t say how much I hate going out into the wilderness only to find this sort of thing or a pile of poop, and so often right on the trail !! If you’ve made the effort to get out there it takes no more effort to carry a little trowel or a couple of bags !

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