Alyssa is the Founder of BushWoman Workshops. As an avid angler and outdoorswoman, Alyssa turned her passions into a career as a photojournalist, tourism strategist and now, as a mentor for women in the outdoors.
Whether you’re a backcountry guide doing multi-week canoe trips, running a hunting outfit, or a proud weekend warrior, your circumstances do not change the fact you have or have had, a menstrual cycle.
And yet, during additional research for this article, all I found was one piece that was remotely useful to women in the outdoors, and it only focused on one type of contraceptive.
Why contraception options for the women who enjoy the backwoods isn’t a more popular topic, I’ll never understand it. After all, sometimes it’s absolutely necessary and there are more uses for birth control than the on-the-nose-name for it. It can also help:
Regulate your cycle (which has many benefits of its own)
Even-out hormones and emotions
Clear acne prone skin
Reduce pain during your periods
It can even reduce your risk of uterine cancer or ovarian cysts
To find the right contraceptive for you, think about what your time in the outdoors looks like: Do you spend extended periods of time outside? A few weeks or more without civilization? Regular weekend trips? Or moderate exposure to the outdoors with small trips when you’re not too busy?
The birth control options I’ll list below will work for all of the above, but some are easier than others and require a lot less work or preparation before you hit the woods.
Here are a few unconventional contraceptives, no I did not include the pill because everything about it spells backcountry nightmare. Aside from general information, I have to add that each of these contraceptives affects women differently across the board. Just because a high percentage may experience no periods on IUD’s or clearer skin on Nuvaring does not mean this will be the case for you.
As long as you’re aware the results differ, you can begin your journey to find the contraceptive that works for you, and it may take a while, and that’s okay! Taking steps now will help you enjoy the outdoors more as your bright future continues.
We at BushWoman believe there’s no such thing as “too much information,” so in the spirit of TMI, this is my current form of birth control. I absolutely adore Nuvaring personally, it works for my schedule and my personality. In other words–– I cannot be trusted to take birth control pills daily, so the Nuvaring is my best pal.
The Nuvaring delivers a small percentage of estrogen, I believe it’s still less than the pill, so I find my moods aren’t drastic, and things just become more, consistent. My skin gets a bit clearer on the Nuvaring, but my favourite feature is its flexibility. If I have an important event or extended trip coming up, I can skip a period by inserting a new ring as soon as the old one has “timed out.”
In backcountry sense, this is great birth control because you don’t have to worry about it for weeks on end and you have the option to bypass periods. If you’ll be gone for say 6-8 weeks or more, you can bring this lightweight ring with you no problem. Depending on who you’re tripping with, you can even keep it in cool storage with your food as every ring should be kept at room temperature and any that are not being used within the next four months should be stored in the fridge. Call me paranoid: Mine stay in the fridge all the time.
Nuvaring without a health plan is expensive. Expensive enough I’ve had past partners cringe at the price and apologize that they couldn’t help with male contraceptives. (Yet)
Depending on your age and location, there may be outlets for you to take advantage of, Health Clinics, Planned Parenthood, Walk-in Clinics, and some pharmacies have benefits you may qualify for. It’s certainly worth looking into.
Alright, so studies on IUD’s are all over the place. One source I found said 1 in 5 women on IUD’s will not get a period at all, another said 50% of women with IUD’s stop getting their periods. Not getting a period is pretty well a dream scenario, however, don’t depend on that outcome. And these statistics change depending on what type of IUD you get as well.
There are hormonal IUD’s and copper IUD’s. I’ve interviewed multiple women with both IUD’s, and on average only 1 out of ten found a negative. For a relatively invasive form of birth control, I found that number to be minimal.
I didn’t intend on making this article a Planned Parenthood advertisement, but even I learnt something new about IUD’s in the above video. The copper IUD can be inserted as an emergency contraceptive to stop pregnancy 5 days after unprotected sex.
IUD’s can be inserted when you go in for your next pap, or you can do some research and book an appointment specifically to place one. Some obvious pros; chance of no periods, (can you say hallelujah outdoors-women?) little to no maintenance, nothing to pack on backcountry trips, and certainly nothing you have to remember, or in my case, forget.
It can cause cramping a couple days after it’s been inserted–– this was a complaint from pretty well 10 out of 10 women, so expect cramping as a high possibility
There are risks of expulsion or the IUD creeping into places it shouldn’t, for more on that I recommend chatting to a doctor. None of the ladies I spoke with experienced this, but that certainly doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Higher risk of bacterial vaginosis which can make your lady bits smell a bit funky, and it can be treated with antibiotics. This is not a disease, but an infection.
Birth Control Shot (Depo Provera):
I have not spoken to anyone with the shot. Try as I may, I could not conduct any first-hand interviews with women who’ve used or use the shot. (That being said, if you have please reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Like with all birth controls it’s important to speak with your doctor and see if it’s an option for you. Some obvious pros of the shot: Every three months you receive the shot, so in other words, only four times a year do you have to think “oh, I’m due for birth control.”
That’s a mighty big bonus in my mind. Because this is a hormonal method of birth control, there are risks of side effects, but the benefits are pretty good. Like an IUD, it can stop you from experiencing periods, and it has been known to make them lighter. It has a failure rate of less than 1%, which is better than IUD’s.
A common warning with Depo Provera is it can take up to ten months after your last injection to get pregnant from using the shot. Weight gain is also a side effect, like with most birth controls.
Additional Tips for Backcountry Periods:
Diva Cup: The idea of Diva Cups is great until you think about the mess you’re going to have to make in the camp kitchen to sterilize it every day. If you have access to a secondary location away from your dish-ware to rinse and clean yourself along with the cup, this may be a perfect alternative to pads and tampons. Tripping with all women? Even better.
Unscented Tampons: Always be bear savvy. Enough said.
ALWAYS pack out what you packed in. Knowing this will help you decide on a period and birth control contingency plan in the backcountry.