Women and backpacking: Do bears care if you’re on your period?

Pam LeBlanc got her period recently while backpacking the John Muir Trail. Did the bears care? Chris LeBlanc/Special to the Statesman

Pam LeBlanc got her period recently while backpacking the John Muir Trail. Did the bears care? Chris LeBlanc/Special to the Statesman

I got my period. While backpacking. In bear country.

No kidding.

Looking back, it’s pretty hilarious, considering I’d chuckled about the potential horrors of such an occurrence with my backpacking partners – both very tolerant guys.

Timing looked good, and I figured I wouldn’t start until I reached civilization after 15 days of hiking on the John Muir Trail.

But it did.

Luckily, I’d shoved a small supply of feminine products into my pack “just in case.” Unfortunately, I didn’t bring quite enough, and found myself asking passing hikers for handouts. (Which I got. Yay!)

As you might expect, my first thoughts revolved about bears. What would they think?

When I got back (safely, I might add), I looked it up.

Bears apparently don't care if women are menstruating. That was a good thing for Pam LeBlanc. Chris LeBlanc/Special to the Statesman

Bears apparently don’t care if women are menstruating. That was a good thing for Pam LeBlanc. Chris LeBlanc/Special to the Statesman

According to everything I’ve read, black bears are much more interested in freeze-dried spaghetti, Snickers wrappers, scented lip balm and trash than they are menstruating women.

A study by Lynn Rogers, Gregory Wilker and Sally Scott, published in a 1991 edition of the Journal of Wildlife Management, tallied the reactions of bears to female hikers in various stages of menstruation. It even involved a pack of frozen tampons offered up to a couple of furry beasts.

The study found that free-ranging black bears ignored menstrual odors. Interested? Read more at http://www.bearstudy.org/website/images/stories/Publications/Reactions_of_Black_Bears_to_Human_Menstrual_Odors.pdf)

A different study by Stephen Herrero, published in 1985, reached the same bears-don’t-care conclusion.

That settled, what do you do if you get your period in the back country?

One, don’t just discard or bury the plastic applicators or used tampons or pads themselves. Pack it all out – I know, yuck! – with the rest of your trash. I used an opaque bag from a freeze-dried meal, which I packed into my BV500 bear canister. Adding dry tea bags or crumbled aspirin to the bag can help control odor.

Regulations require backpackers to store their food and trash in a bear vault. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Regulations require backpackers to store their food and trash in a bear vault. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

I haven’t tried it, but you can also buy a reusable flexible cup made of silicone or rubber. Austin REI stores carry them, or you can purchase the Diva Cup online at Target.com. Then you just empty the cup into a cathole when you’re taking care of other business.

And save your bear worries for other things – like the huckleberry necklace around your neck or the trout-scented lotion on your legs.

Read more about why bears do sometimes attack at https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3872900.pdf?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.


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