As any well-traveled adventure woman will tell you, a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) on the trail is one of the worst experiences you can have. It’s painful, hard to manage, and you have to deal with it until you can either hike or bike out (the latter being the most uncomfortable).
The good news is that there are ways to prevent a UTI if you manage your hygiene right. It can take some trial and error to find a hygiene routine that works for you, but once you get a good one down, you’ll never go back.
Our 7 Tips on How to Prevent Getting a UTI During a Backpacking or Bikepacking Trip Include:
- Stay Clean & Dry
- Wear Moisture-Wicking Fabrics
- Change Your Underwear Daily
- Stay Hydrated
- Wear Loose Fitting Pants or Shorts
- Take Your Period Seriously
- Pack Some Supplements
You will likely find a thing or two to add to this list, but these are the tried and true basics for any lady looking to head out on an extended adventure trip. Whether you’re packing solo, with a partner, or maybe you’ve booked a guided trip, these 7 tips to prevent a UTI will make sure you stay happy, healthy, and able to enjoy the outdoor experience fully.
Tip #1: Stay Clean & Dry
If we had to pick one way to prevent a UTI on the trail, it would be to pack a pee rag and some wipes. Keep in mind that you should follow Leave No Trace guidelines if you bring wipes to use after going to the bathroom or even just cleaning up after a sweaty hike or bike ride each night. The easiest thing is to pack a resealable bag to store used wipes until you can properly dispose of them.
A pee rag should not replace a wet wipe, but it can be used each time you pee. The most common cause of smelly underwear and shorts is drip drying. You’re never going to get all of the pee to dry after you go, even with some shaking. So, a pee rag will keep you dry. Just be sure that you wipe front to back to prevent the spread of bacteria.
A pee rag can be as simple as a bandana or as fancy as an Animosa P Off Cloth. You may be thinking, “that’s not sanitary to use multiple times!” The key is to hang it outside of your pack to dry after you use it. Not only will this dry it, but the sun will kill some of the bacteria for you. Then, when you get to camp, you can wash it each night with some biodegradable soap and water.
In most cases, the pee rag works. To cut down on pack weight and the amount of trash you have to carry, try to use a wet wipe just one per day. Most women prefer to do this at night when they’re settling in to go to bed. However, if you are on your period, don’t feel bad using a wipe each time you go.
Tip #2: Wear Moisture-Wicking Fabrics
Before we get to the importance of changing your underwear on the trail, we need to talk about the material your underwear is made from. The biggest takeaway from this section is that you should always be wearing moisture-wicking underwear, like the range from ExOfficio. Cotton is a no go here.
The reason being is that cotton absorbs moisture. You don’t want any of your outdoor clothing to be cotton! If the first rule of female outdoor hygiene is to stay clean and dry, cotton underwear will not cut it. Not only is cotton a nightmare when it comes to UTI’s but cotton materials are a breeding ground for yeast infections too.
Tip #3: Change Your Underwear Daily
With that in mind and to prevent a UTI, pack at least enough underwear for each day if you are on a weekend trip. If you are on a longer trek, pack as many as you feel is reasonable for you to carry (6-10 is fine) and then plan to wash some while you’re on the trail. This can easily be done at least 200 ft away from a water source with biodegradable soap, and then they can be hung in camp to dry.
If you don’t have enough time to let your undies dry in camp after you wash them, hang them on the outside of your pack (like your pee rag) to air dry as you hike.
Tip #4: Stay Hydrated
We all know that we should stay hydrated, especially when we are hiking and biking. Still, it can be a pain to stop and pee when you’re carrying a heavy pack or when you’re biking, find a place to pull over without being seen.
Although holding your pee may not seem like a big deal, if you do it often enough, it can cause significant issues. To prevent a UTI, always remember to drink enough water throughout the day. Also, always go to the bathroom as often as you need to. If it means stopping and going every 30-60 minutes, so be it. Plan those breaks into your day so you can accurately calculate your mileage for the day.
Tip #5: Wear Loose Shorts or Pants
This one can be tricky for bikers, as it is usually more comfortable to wear tight-fitting shorts when riding. However, when possible, wear loose-fitting pants or shorts. If you’re biking, try wearing loose shorts when you are in camp, are asleep, or on the days you aren’t biking.
Wearing loose-fitting pants or shorts is much easier for hikers to do. While it may be comfortable to wear yoga pants and shorts on a day hike, don’t plan to wear these on a week-long trek. Our first rule to prevent a UTI is to stay clean and dry. To stay dry, we need some airflow, and loose-fitting shorts or pants allow for more airflow.
You also don’t want any underwear, pants, or shorts that rub while you walk. If your shorts don’t fit you properly and are too tight, it could cause added irritation while you sweat and hike.
Tip #6: Take Your Period Seriously
Period care on any outdoor trip can be a huge learning curve for many women. In some cases, ladies will avoid going on outdoor treks during that time of the month. It is manageable, and it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. It just takes a little planning.
While the most traditional thing to do is to use a disposable tampon or pad, a reusable diva cup is a far better option. First, you have to pack your used pads and tampons out, just like you do your wipes. Second, pads and tampons can become uncomfortable to hike or bike with and can’t be worn for as long.
A diva cup (or any reusable menstrual cup) can be worn for up to 12 hours, depending on your flow. They are reusable and easy to clean. Plus, you only need to bring one, which cuts down on the pack weight of carrying extra pads or tampons both before and after use.
As previously mentioned before, you may need to plan to bring some extra wipes if you are on your period. A pee rag may not cut it here. Don’t feel guilty for wiping each time you go pee. It is better to be safe and clean than in pain a few days down the line with a UTI.
The last thing to mention about backpacking or bikepacking and using a menstrual cup is that if you’ve never used one before, try it out before you leave. This means practicing using it a few months before you go. Wear it during your period when you have access to a bathroom so you can learn how to clean it properly and how often you need to change it to prevent leaks.
Tip #7: Pack Some Supplements
The final tip we have to prevent a UTI when you’re backpacking and bike-packing is to pack a few supplements. These may not be necessary for all ladies on the trail, but they are worth trying to see if they work for you.
The two supplements most recommended to prevent a UTI are cranberry pills and probiotics.
Cranberry juice is a well-known remedy for UTIs. Think of taking a daily cranberry pill while hiking as a boost for your urinary tract before you even get one. To get a UTI, the bacteria first invades and adheres to the bladder walls. The reason cranberries work to prevent and heal a UTI is because cranberries contain A-type Proanthocyanidins (PACs). These PACs make it nearly impossible for bacteria to adhere to the bladder walls.
Probiotics, on the other hand, promote both healthy immune digestion and urinary tract health. The key to finding a probiotic that you can take on the trail is looking for one that does not require refrigeration, and if possible, find one tailored to women’s health. Some probiotics made for women will include cranberry as part of the supplement, so you only have to bring one type of pill. We recommend checking out Hyperbiotics PRO-Women Probiotics Time-Release Tablets with Cranberry Extract.
We cannot control everything when it comes to adventuring in the great outdoors, but there are a few steps to keep us safe and happy. Getting a UTI while you're on a long hiking trip is one of the worst nightmares to have. However, apply the 7 tips we listed above to help prevent a UTI from becoming a possibility so you can focus on the beautiful sights of the trail and not on the pain.
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