Menstrual Cups for Travel and Backpacking: Honest Answers From An Adventurous Lady

If you hang around with ladies who love to travel, hike, backpack, or camp, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll hear about menstrual cups.

I first heard of the mysterious-sounding Diva Cup from a woman on the John Muir Trail, a more experienced backpacker sharing words of wisdom with a newbie. It came up again talking with a woman who’d used one at Burning Man, the multifaceted week-long leave-no-trace festival in the desert.

Eventually I got the message: menstrual cups are the period management tool of choice for many adventurous outdoorsy ladies who don’t want to haul weeks worth of feminine hygiene products into – and worse, out of – the places they adventure.

So, in my neverending quest to be an adventurous outdoorsy lady, naturally I had to try one. How did it go, you ask? That’s a personal question, but I’ll answer it anyway: My biggest period-related problem since buying my Diva Cup is that I have boxes of tampons in my bathroom that I don’t know what to do with. Poor me!

Of course everyone is different, and the only way to know if you’ll like a menstrual cup is to try one yourself. I met a woman bicycling in Patagonia who had ridden there from Canada – totally badass – who had tried one and didn’t like it. But honestly, she is the only one. Everyone else I’ve talked to is a huge fan, and I am too.

In this post I’ll explain why I love my Diva Cup, and give you all my best (and kinda personal) tips on how to use it. Whether you want to use a menstrual cup for travel, hiking, camping, swimming, biking, or sitting at home watching Netflix, it can really be a game changer for that time of the month.

Diva cup and bag

Why use a menstrual cup?

Pros

  • Smaller and easier to pack than a large supply of disposable tampons and pads, for example if you’re on a long thru-hike or traveling in countries where the feminine hygiene products are hard to find
  • Cheaper than disposable products if used long-term
  • No waste to dispose of or pack out
  • More environmentally friendly than disposable products
  • Can be worn for longer than tampons
  • Very leak-proof if used correctly, even during active sports
  • Feels very clean while you’re wearing it; all the liquid stays inside you until you empty the cup
  • Easier to see how much liquid you’re dealing with, which is useful if you’re trying to get a sense of your monthly flow for any reason (I find that a sudden change in the volume or length of my period is a sign my body is stressed).
  • Can comfortably be worn even at very beginning and end of your period, when there is little or no flow.

Cons

  • A bit more invasive to put in and take out; you’ll need to be comfortable getting your fingers all up in there.
  • Therefore, you’ll need a way to clean your hands both before and after putting it in or taking it out.
  • You’ll need water to clean it (though this is not as hard as I first imagined, more on this below).
  • Potentially easy to drop into the toilet while inserting/removing if you’re not careful. No, this hasn’t happened to me yet, but I live in constant fear. Especially when using outhouses and pit toilets.

Based on those pros and cons, if you’re comfortable with your body and can handle some basic cleaning, there’s really no reason not to try a menstrual cup.

If you’re a thru hiker, cross-continental cyclist, big wall climber etc., well, you probably already use one. For the rest of us, those who have desk jobs and permanent addresses, read on for the nitty gritty details of how to use a menstrual cup in general and why I prefer the Diva Cup.

Guys, I don’t know why you’re even here but this one’s for the ladies. Consider yourself warned.

Which menstrual cup is best?

There are a lot of options out there: Diva, Dutchess, Lunette, Pixie, Lena

I think which one works best is largely an individual preference; we’re all a bit different down there. I started with a Diva Cup and have stayed with it because it doesn’t leak for me.

I tried a Dutchess cup briefly, when I wanted a backup for a long trip. I found that it was slightly lighter and more flexible, which was nice, but for me it leaked too much and I never figured out how to stop it. I went back to the Diva Cup and have stuck with it ever since. I haven’t tried the other brands, but obviously they work for some women or they wouldn’t be so popular.

Keep in mind that many brands come in multiple sizes. Diva Cup comes in two sizes:

  • Diva Cup Model 1 for women “under 30 who have never delivered vaginally or by caesarean section”
  • Diva Cup Model 2 for women “age 30 and over and/or those who have delivered vaginally or by caesarean section regardless of age”

These are obviously just guidelines and everyone is different. It’s not like my model 1 spontaneously stopped working the day I turned 30. It’s been a few years and maybe I should update to a model 2, but well, I guess it makes me feel young.

Most important tips for menstrual cup success

  • Learn to put it in properly (see below).
  • Give yourself a month or two to get used to it.
  • Trim the stem if it’s uncomfortable.
  • Do your best to keep everything clean, but don’t stress if you can’t clean it with soap and running water every time.

Common questions

Ok, here’s where it gets personal.

How do I make the switch?

Switching to a Diva Cup isn’t too hard. Just buy one and next time your period comes around, try putting it in. Until you know you’re using it right, I’d suggest wearing it in combination with a pad or light pantyliner.

If you’re switching in preparation for a big trip, buy your menstrual cup early and start using it a few months in advance. It’s super easy to use once you get used to it, but it does take a few tries to get it right at first (at least it did for me).

Is a Diva Cup hard to put in and take out?

Your menstrual cup will come with good instructions for this part, and generally no, it’s not too hard.

The basic procedure is to find a comfy relaxed position (probably sitting on the toilet at first, but once you get good at it standing works fine), fold part of the cup’s rim inward to make it smaller, and then, well, shove it up in there.

After that it’s important to twist it a bit to make sure the folded rim pops open and forms a leak-proof seal. It will sit lower than a tampon, close to your vaginal opening, which might take getting used to but is totally normal.

Taking it out is similar, you basically just reach inside and grab the stem or bottom of the cup and remove with a gentle pulling and twisting motion, using one finger to push the rim in to make things more comfortable.

I’d encourage you to not worry too much about this part. Once you have the cup and instructions in hand, it will be much clearer.

Can a Diva Cup get stuck?

I understand the worry, but after using one I feel strongly that this would be really, really unlikely. Probably impossible. It sits low and is not going to fit through your cervix and “get lost.”

Occasionally in the morning I find that it has moved a bit higher overnight and I can’t feel the stem where it normally is. In this case clenching my muscles, as if I am trying to push outward (think trying to go number 2), will usually bring the stem down to where it’s easy to grab. If not, it’s really just a short distance up inside, no big deal.

Is a menstrual cup comfortable?

In general, yes, it’s as comfortable as a tampon, possibly more so.

Some women find the stem a bit irritating. I’ve experienced this only during long days of bicycle touring, and it’s not fun. On a Diva Cup and probably some other brands, the stem is meant to be trimmed if it’s too long for you. Be sure to try this before deciding your menstrual cup isn’t comfortable enough.

How do I keep my Diva Cup clean?

This was my biggest concern, given that I planned to use it often in places without running water, but it turned out to be easier than I expected.

First, the recommended method: Wash your hands with soap and warm water. Remove the cup, empty it into the toilet, wash it out with soap and clean water, and reinsert it. Wash hands with soap and warm water again.

Now, what about all the real-life situations where you have no running water, no soap, and possibly even no toilet? Or you’re in a public restroom and the sinks are outside the stalls?

Now, I do not recommend ignoring manufacturer recommendations. Cleanliness is important; no one likes infections. But let me be real with you about my personal experience:

  • You do need clean hands, but hand sanitizer works if you don’t have access to water and soap.
  • You don’t need warm running water. A couple squirts with a water bottle (these nifty collapsible ones take up almost no space when empty), and/or wiping out with toilet paper, will work in a pinch. Worst-case scenario, just empty and reinsert if you don’t have any other options.
  • That said, to minimize risk of infection you should give it a good clean as often as possible, at least every few days.
  • If you’re in the backcountry with no toilet, dig a hole to empty your cup into, just like you do with solid waste (and pack out any toilet paper!).

After returning from a trip or at the end of my period, I drop my Diva Cup in a pot of boiling water for a couple minutes to make sure it’s good and clean. Just make sure there’s plenty of water in the pot or you can damage the silicone if the water boils away and leaves the cup sitting directly against the hot metal.

Do I need to wear a pad with a menstrual cup?

Once you get good at inserting it, you can probably just wear the Diva Cup alone. If you have occasional problems with leaks or just want the extra peace of mind, a pad can still be helpful.

I often wear a thin pantyliner on the first day or two of my period, to make sure I’ve got my Diva Cup inserted correctly and also to catch anything that was already on its way out when I first inserted the cup. After that, I go without. And if I’m on the road/trail I’ll often take my chances and skip this part.

How long can I wear a Diva Cup for?

The Diva Cup instructions recommend no longer than 12 hours. This is already a nice increase over tampons, and unlike pads it doesn’t get progressively grosser the longer you wait.

Here is some personal experience: I have worn mine for 24 hours with no issues. Am I recommending this? Definitely not. I assume Diva Cup has a reason for recommending 12 hours and I can’t tell you it’s safe to ignore that.

However, there have been times when I’m freezing cold, my hands are numb, and I just need to crawl into my sleeping bag and deal with my Diva Cup in the morning. So far so good.

Do I need the accessories?

There are plenty of accessories to go along with menstrual cups. There’s Diva Wash, nifty collapsible cleaning cups, and even these sterilizer thingies.

I know many women appreciate these, but personally I don’t use any. I wash my cup with a mild soap and warm water whenever possible, though I don’t stress if that’s not possible for a day or two. After a long trip or at the end of my period I sterilize it in boiling water for a few minutes.

How often do I need to buy a new one?

Not very often! The clear silicone of the Diva Cup becomes stained after awhile, but that doesn’t make it any less functional. I have yet to wear one out.

I am, however, terribly afraid that I will accidentally drop it into a toilet while trying to remove it. This seems especially likely while squatting over a pit toilet in the dark, on tired legs, while swatting away malarial mosquitoes. For this reason, I own a backup and sometimes bring it on long trips.

Where do I buy a Diva Cup?

Like nearly everything these days, I got mine on Amazon. They have a huge selection of different brands, sizes, accessories, buyer reviews, and usually the best prices. If you’re feeling ready to give it a try, here are easy links to the Amazon Diva Cup pages:

More Resources for Adventurous Women

Since you seem to be into travel and/or outdoor adventure, you might also like these:

Hikers: Free Packing Checklist

Pin For Later

Related Articles

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking, cycling, skiing, climbing, and traveling in some of the world’s most gorgeous places. I love using what I’ve learned to help others enjoy these places with skill, care, and curiosity. Learn more or say hi.

Outdoor travel resources in your inbox?

There’s more where this came from! If you love outdoor adventures in beautiful places, sign up here for occasional emails with my best tips and inspiration.

Share the Adventure

Was this helpful? If so, please consider sharing so it can help other explorers too:

6 thoughts on “Menstrual Cups for Travel and Backpacking: Honest Answers From An Adventurous Lady”

  1. thank you for being so open and sharing. i was really curious about the diva cup but no one i know has ever tried one. I am going to and think all women should start using them, feminine hygiene products have to be high on the pollution list, no one is telling us that but seriously – common sense… And what did women use before pads and tampons (or rags- had to be very gross, messy) or women in 3rd world countries?
    anyways thanks again.
    Laura

    Reply
  2. Hi,
    Loved reading your article, I think the cup is amazing!
    Just left with one question. I’ve been using a menstrual cup for a while already at home but at the moment I’m backpacking for several months, Before using the cup you need to boil it, but I’m only staying at hostels without a kitchen I can use. How do I prepare it for first use, when I don’t have a place to boil it? Because right now I’m stuck with using tampons……

    Reply
    • Unscented soap and warm water is generally fine. Some brands are also OK with you using rubbing alcohol to disinfect the first time. I honestly only boil my cup once in a while, otherwise water is fine for my sensibilities. Think about the other things we put inside vaginas all the time (penises and fingers) that are certainly not boiled or sanitized first.

      Reply
  3. I’ve had my Diva Cup for almost a decade now! I only rinse mine throughout my period days (maybe I read somewhere that soap can degrade silicon?) and always wash/sanitize my hands before taking it out. When my cycle is finished I soak the cup in hydrogen peroxide overnight— helps with odor and staining and I’ve never had any health issues. On a multi-cycle hike I’d opt for a minimal amount of washing with castille soap and sun-drying whenever possible.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

495 Shares
Pin
Share
Tweet