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Girl Talk: Practical and eco-friendly female hygiene tips when heading outdoors

A few of the common questions we get from our female clients who have finally decided to go hiking or camping are “If there are no toilets available on the trail, where can we pee/ take a dump?”, or “I have my period, how do I change/clean myself?”. As a female outdoorsperson myself, I faced the same dilemma when I started venturing to the mountains. The fact that I was traveling with mostly male hikers didn’t actually make the experience any comfortable. But with more experience, increased environmental consciousness, and product advancements I can say that all you lady hikers can now head outdoors without having to sacrifice your hygiene and privacy. Below are a few of my mountain hygiene tricks to ensure that the trace that you leave on the mountain is merely your footsteps and nothing else.

• Bathing - bring a pocket-size travel towel, hanky or scarf. Most of us already have some of these at home so you will most likely don't have to buy a new one. Personally, I bring an old face towel and it has replaced my usual pack of Wet Wipes (which by the way are non-biodegradable as it is 75% made of plastic). It is most useful to wipe my sweaty face, muddy hands or when I'm at places where having a shower is not an option but there is just enough water to wet the cloth and "spot clean" the important body parts. If using only one piece of cloth, always wipe from the cleanest to the dirtiest (e.g. wipe face first then armpit then your feet). They're not really heavy so having two-three of these light-weight cloths won't put a strain on your back. I normally just clip the wet cloth on the outside backpack while hiking so it dries under the sun. Easy breezy.

• Hair, there and everywhere - yes, we Pinays love our hair. Our mane is the main game, the crowning glory. Just a quick aisle check on the toiletry section will prove how obsessed we are with clean and fresh-smelling hair. I have few girlfriends who refused to go on a weekend hike with me when they found out that they can't wash their hair (the horror!). Here's a news flash for you: you don't need to shampoo your hair everyday as what this does is strip off the natural oils on our hair that is essential to keep it looking beautiful. I have done several mountain expeditions that lasted a month and I had only two proper(ish) icy-cold showers. My hair survived just fine, thank you very much. What you want is to avoid your hair from getting all tangled. You can do this by braiding or having a pony tail. This is also helpful when it's too windy as it stops you from having hair in your eyes or, even worse, in your mouth. I also wear trucker hat if it's hot or the trail is exposed as no one wants their hair to bake.

• Oral done better - I have long switched to using bamboo toothbrushes not just because they're more environmentally friendly but also because they're so much lighter. They're also cheap and most of the local suppliers here in the Philippines support community projects.

• Peeing - for men this is an easy thing, they can literally pee anywhere. For us women, it can get tricky due to some, er, anatomical differences. You have to go but: it's raining cats and dogs outside your tent or you're in a place where there are suspicious looking plants that may or may not be poison ivy and squatting means having these leaves brush your bum or you're wearing a harness and clipped in. Thankfully, there are portable urination devices now. Lovingly called a pee funnel, this simple and practical tube has saved a lot of women from urinary tract infection because they had to hold their pee or unwittingly exposing their butts to the world or having to use a dirty toilet (yuck!). There are so many brands that are available now in the market. The popular ones are P-style, SheWee and GoGirl. No matter which one you choose, I strongly suggest that you practice first in a controlled environment, like in your shower. I have seen a lot of pee funnel tragedies where the user ends up peeing on herself. Also when using this on the mountain, please make sure you are about 200 feet (60 meters) away from a body of water and not on the trail. If I'm camping and I can't go outside of my tent (e.g. hard rain) then I use a pee bottle. It can be any wide-mouthed bottle that is big enough to handle your usual nocturnal trips to the loo. Personally, I use an old collapsible water container that I clearly marked so I don't confuse it with my drinking water bottle.

• Doing the deed (aka #2) - hopefully there is at least a point-and-shoot toilet but if even that is not available, make sure that you do your business at least 200 feet (around 70 steps) away from any water source, away from any campsites and most definitely not on the trail. Find a spot where you can have some form of privacy but make sure you can find your way back. Dig a cat-hole on the ground that is about 4 inches wide and 6-8 inches deep. A tiny shovel/trowel is best but a small branch/stick will also do the job. Drop your "contribution" into the hole then cover it back up with the original dirt. Wipe yourself and pack your used toilet paper, don't leave it behind --- we don't want to know what you had for lunch. You can have a dedicated re-sealable and reusable container for all your soiled toilet paper to manage odor. Mine is an old Ziploc that I have reinforced with duct tape on the seams. Keeps the pack discreet and also ensures that there will be no emergency situations. Empty contents when you're back in a place where garbage can be properly sorted out. Always wash your hands after visiting the toilet.

• Monthly miracles - I used to plan my hikes around my period but since I used to have an irregular cycle, this got very complicated when I started to do very long though-hikes or expeditions. Like most women, I used to carry a stash of pads before I switched to tampons. After realizing the harmful impact of both to the environment and also my body, I finally crossed-over to using menstrual cups. I can't sing enough praises to these beauties. They are worth their weight and space in my backpack. A menstrual cup is a reusable silicone cup that you insert into your vagina to capture your flow and later remove it to empty. I can use mine for 10 hours straight without having to worry for any leaks which is critical for rainy walks, or when I'm roped up. Just like the pee funnel, I encourage you to practice first for at least three cycles before you take use this outdoors. Essential to practice is how to insert, dump contents into a cat hole and clean the cup. It can get intimidating at first but as with most things in life, practice makes perfect.

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