The Philmont Advisor’s Guide had an excellent chapter for women who are backpacking at Philmont. The guide was retired after the 2019 Philmont season which makes that chapter unavailable. With the kind permission of Mimi Hatch, editor for the Philmont Advisor’s Guide, here is that chapter.
The Philmont Advisor’s Guide was published for over 25 years, written and edited by Wally Feurtado, Mimi Hatch, and Cooper Wright with many contributions from other Philmont trekkers. It was sponsored by the Baltimore Area Council Philmont Committee and National Capital Area Council’s High Adventure Committee.
Photo from Liz Fallin, from Becoming Hikers blog post, used by permission.
Women at Philmont
Every year more and more women come to Philmont, usually as part of a co-ed crew or a Rayado Crew. This trend is reflected in the large number of female Rangers that prepare crews for the backcountry. Even though you may not be a co-ed crew, you could be assigned a female Ranger. Women clearly have established that they are as capable of handling the same strenuous Philmont conditions as their male counterparts.
Sexual harassment or sexually explicit remarks of any type will not be tolerated toward female campers or staff, and can result in the loss of the Arrowhead Award. Advisors should lead by example and also tell crewmembers that they are expected to live by the Scout Oath and Law while on the trail. That means all people, regardless of sex, race or religion should be treated with the same level of respect and dignity, whether in base camp or on the trail.
If you are an advisor to a co-ed crew, you need to be comfortable discussing women’s issues. Some advisors may feel that it is just not their place to discuss topics such as menstruation with both male and female crewmembers. This is simply not the case. Right from the very start, advisors need to be frank and honest with their crewmembers and provide any information that will make the trek more successful. Open communication with the entire crew will help to encourage better understanding and cooperation among its members.
Gary Boyd found it advantageous to have a meeting with the mothers of his female crewmembers. He had a past female advisor present along with the female advisor going out with his crew to discuss women’s issues. In this way the female crewmembers’ mothers could go over the issues with their daughters first. Additionally they knew that they could always approach the female crew advisor or Gary if need be.
The stress of hiking in the backcountry may induce or delay a woman’s menstrual cycle or it may have no effect at all. Therefore it is important to know how to deal with it under wilderness conditions. Each female crewmember, despite the timing of her last period, should carry a supply of sanitary products in a waterproof container inside of her pack. Both tampons and sanitary pads are approved for use at Philmont. A smaller container, such as a Ziploc bag, can be used for daily needs and should be kept handy in a pack’s outside pocket. When the crew arrives at its camp for the night, the daily container can be resupplied and the used products can be removed and stored in the waterproof container. Sanitary products (both used and unused) are considered as “smellables” and must be placed in the bear bag at night. Products needed during the night should be placed in a hiking boot, wrapped in a dirty sock, to mask the smell.
In the NOLS Wilderness Guide, it is recommended that women bring along small Ziploc bags for the storage of used tampons and pads. They have also found that placing several crushed aspirins in the Ziploc bag can help eliminate the problem of odor. Outward Bound recommends storing used sanitary products in a Ziploc bag with dry tea bags to absorb the odor. Used sanitary products and toilet paper used by menstruating women must never be placed in latrines or buried in the backcountry. They should be packed out and discarded – double bagged – at a staffed camp or commissary. Some staffed camps in the backcountry maintain an emergency supply of sanitary products. Women may want to consider discussing temporary oral contraceptive use with their doctor to prevent the start of their menstrual cycle while on the trail. This method is NOT 100% effective and sanitary products still need to be readily available.
Hiking at Philmont is tough but it can be made even more difficult with cramping. Advisors need to be aware that women can experience cramping between menstrual periods. The pain can occur on either side of the abdomen or lower back. Women who regularly experience cramping are familiar with its symptoms and are better able to cope with the associated pain. Cramping usually goes away within 36 hours. Sometimes when cramping occurs on the right side it can be mistaken for appendicitis. However, with appendicitis, other symptoms including low-grade fever, diarrhea, and vomiting are present. Cramping has none of these symptoms.
If a female crewmember experiences severe cramping, it may be necessary to hike at a slower pace or even off load some crew and personal gear. While this situation did not come up with Wally’s five co-ed crews or Coop’s one crew co-ed crew, they both had discussed the situation ahead of time with their entire crews. While the some of the guys were not happy with the idea of increasing their personal loads to assist a female crewmember, they at least understood the reasons why.
Cotton hiking shorts and underwear promote an environment that can cause several unpleasant and debilitating medical conditions for female hikers, such as candidiasis and urinary tract infection (UTI). Because of this, some women may prefer to hike in nylon blend hiking shorts with a built-in nylon brief, as discussed earlier in this guide. Many women, particularly those in co-ed crews, may prefer the comfort and discretion provided by independent briefs. Additionally, independent briefs provide more flexibility for the use of sanitary products during the menstrual cycle. Many female campers also prefer independent briefs so that they can wear disposable panty liners since it’s not possible to wash clothes or underwear each day.
Both Cathie Cummins and Mimi have used CoolMax briefs on previous treks and have been pleased with their durability, moisture wicking and drying attributes, and ease of laundering. REI, ExOfficio, and Patagonia are some of the companies that make trail-worthy synthetic briefs. They come in a variety of color and sizes, and dry almost instantly when laundered on the trail. Others prefer lightweight nylon briefs, with little or no decoration.
The combination of climate, physical exertion, and sanitary conditions at Philmont, provides an increased possibility of candidiasis, or yeast infection, in women. The first-aid kit for co-ed crews should contain a non-prescription anti-fungal medication, such as Monistat 7. Most adult women know whether they need to carry this item for themselves, but teenage girls might be surprised by the infection, so travel prepared. Choose a one time or three time treatment option–it’s more expensive, but it works faster. Like all medications, be sure it’s not expired.
Philmont is known for its wide open spaces and does not afford very much privacy. This was not a big problem when Boy Scouts alone hiked the trails alone. With the influx of women on the trail, there has been a change in the backcountry. Most youth who attend Philmont are mature enough to handle the change. As an advisor to five co-ed crews at Philmont, Wally was particularly impressed by how other crews camping nearby went out of their way to respect of the privacy of the female members of his crew.
Latrines have also had to change at Philmont. Although Philmont is slowly replacing backcountry latrines, and building newer versions with separate, closed-door stalls, there are still many open air latrines at trail campsites. These rustic latrines come in two varieties; the pilot to bombardier (two holer, back to back) and pilot to copilot (two holer, side to side) and are the source of some great campfire skits. In fact, some these latrines are so close to the trails that one can watch a crew walk by while doing his daily constitutional. The good news is, Philmont has replaced all wooden seats with fiberglass toilet seats.
Unless latrines at a camp are enclosed, many female crewmembers may prefer to use nature instead. The crew leader of a co-ed crew should keep privacy needs in mind when selecting a campsite, preferably choosing a site that is unpopulated on at least one side. If such a site is not available, crewmembers of a co-ed crew should be a little more aware of who is using the latrine before just walking up. Crewmembers may want to go to these rustic latrines in pairs, with one as the lookout who stands between the latrine and the campsite.
Washing up can also present a problem for a co-ed crew. Philmont requires hikers to wash up at the sump so that odors can be concentrated. However, the sump is usually out in an open area with absolutely no privacy. Wally’s and Coop’s co-ed crews simply washed in shifts using a large opaque ground sheet that was set up around the sump to provide for some privacy.
Lack of privacy also makes it difficult for women to urinate on the trail. For a male crewmember, it is no big thing. He can relieve himself while leaning nonchalantly against a tree, taking in the great views of the mountains and not even taking off his pack! For female crewmembers, it can be a little more of an effort. As a result, some female crewmembers may not drink enough water, just to keep from urinating on the trail. Insufficient water intake can result in dehydration and increases the risk of urinary tract infection (UTI), which must be treated with antibiotics, and would undoubtedly result in that female crewmember coming off the trail.
There are several small plastic funnel-type devices available such as the “GoGirl,” “Lady J” or the “Freshette” that will allow a woman to urinate while standing, with a minimum of exposure. The GoGirl is made of medical grade silicone, which has an advantage to the hard plastic of the other devices, allowing it to conform to the body. Mimi says that she is seeing a growing legion of female “believers” in the female urination devices (FUD) on the trail.
Since urination for a woman generally involves a state of partial undress, female crewmembers need to be out of sight of the crew. This usually means heading up around the bend in the trail. In Coop’s co-ed crew, during short packs off breaks or called pee breaks, the rule was guys head down the trail and women head up the trail. Female crewmembers usually headed out in groups, providing another set of eyes and ears for other crews that might be approaching on the trail.
You want all of your crewmembers to have urine output that is “clear and copious.” If a crewmember needs to stop, have the remainder of the crew hike ahead while another crewmember stands lookout for any crews coming from behind. Let your crew know that becoming dehydrated can cause severe problems and will slow the crew down even more than stopping to take an occasional leak on the trail.
A quick note on latrine use for both sexes: Urine is basically a sterile product and does not contain the pathogens found in feces. However, it does contain salts that do attract animals. If you are on the trail and need to urinate, the best way is to pee on a rock off the trail. In the old days, we used to tell a camper to just “find a tree.” However, urinating on a tree puts salt on the bark that will attract animals that will ultimately eat the bark and destroy the tree. So find a nice rock that won’t splash back!
If a crewmember needs to defecate on the trail, he or she needs to take the shovel, toilet paper and a small stick, and find a spot at least 200 feet from a water source or the trail. Use the shovel and remove the top cap of soil that contains the microorganisms that will ultimately reduce the feces. Dig the hole approximately 6 inches deep. After defecating and cleaning with the paper, add dirt to the hole and mix it in with the feces using the stick. The crew shovel should never come in contact with feces! To the uninitiated, this might sound like a disgusting task, but adding the soil will immediately eliminate any odors. Mixing the soil, feces and paper together into a “poop soup” will facilitate the decomposition of the feces and the paper. Once you have used up all of the soil, replace the top cap.
NEVER urinate in Philmont’s backcountry latrines. The salt in the urine will act as a preservative, increasing the decomposition time for the feces and the acids will kill the bacteria decomposing the feces. Any urine that gets on the latrine’s wood will attract animals. In many latrines, you can actually see where porcupines and other animals have chewed the seat area.
As we discussed in the Personal Hygiene section of this guide, it is extremely important to wash off the salt and grime that accumulates each day to prevent “hiker’s rash.” Cathie and Mimi recommend that female crewmembers bring bras to Philmont that can be washed and dry quickly. There are an increasing variety of sport bras available. Mimi is a big fan of Patagonia’s Barely Wireless Bra. Regardless of the brand, there are many options which offer choices with the look of a lingerie bra and the features of a sports bra.
Check the fabric content in each style. Look for Lycra for support and CoolMax for breathability, rather than cotton, as both dry quickly. Cathie and Mimi suggest bringing two bras; one as a “hiking” bra and the other as an “in-camp” bra. The hiking bra should be rinsed out each day. Although it may wet first thing in the morning, it will not matter because it will either dry quickly or just get wetter when you begin sweating.
When choosing long pants, female crewmembers may want to consider pants with ankle zippers, which allow the flexibility to change on the trail without removing shorts and boots in areas where privacy is hindered. Convertible pants are popular for the same reason. When in the Philmont campsite, changing is done inside personal tents, and clothing stored inside packs, per the Philmont bear protocols.