How to Stay Clean on a Backpacking Trip
While the popular media bombards us with tales of stinky long distance thru-hikers, you don’t have let go of your personal hygiene on a backpacking trip. The fact is, you’ll stay a lot more comfortable and avoid a lot of health issues by washing up daily and staying clean.
Here are a few items of gear and best practices to keep you healthy and odor-neutral on hiking adventures.
Wash Your Hands with Soap
Wash your hands with soap and water after taking a poo and before eating a meal. When packing, grab a few slivers of soap from your bathroom soap tray and throw them into your food bag since they’re smellables (What to Put in a Bear Bag). Wet your hands and rinse them with water from a water bottle or collapsible wash bucket (1 oz) instead of a stream or lake to leave no trace and keep soap out of the water supply. While you can also bring a hand cleanser like Purell, soap and water can be much gentler on your hands and remove dirt and grime more effectively.
Wipe Yourself Clean
It should go without saying, but polish your butt crack clean after doing a number two. A dirty crack often leads to chafing and monkey butt, an extremely painful condition that will make you feel like you have the ass of a Baboon. It doesn’t matter if you bring toilet paper, paper towels, or use natural materials like sticks and rocks, bury everything using a leave no trace trowel or carry it out, if regulations require. If you do experience monkey butt, calm down the inflammation with zinc oxide cream or Boudreaux’s Butt Paste. “Butt” prevention is really the best medicine.
Rinse Out Your Hiking Clothes
Hiking clothes get smelly and can irritate or chafe your skin when they soak of a lot of perspiration. Perspiration is mainly salt and dissolves easily when rinsed out with water without the need for laundry detergent. Soak your clothes with water from a bottle, in a plastic bag, or a collapsible bucket, and ring them dry away from water sources to leave no trace. Hiking shirts and pants made with synthetic fabrics dry very quickly when worn or hung up to dry. Bring a locking safety-pin (so it won’t come undone) so you can pin damp socks to your pack while hiking, if they take longer to dry.
Sponge Off Before Sleeping
Wet a bandana or buff with water from a bottle and rinse the salt off your head, face, body, and feet before you go to sleep. You don’t need soap because it’s just salt and will dissolve easily with water. Do this away from water sources so people don’t have drink your funk (because it won’t be filtered out by a water filter). You can also bring a simple shower attachment that screws onto a plastic water bottle or platypus soft bottle, which can make the process easier.
Bring a Separate Set of Sleeping Clothes
Pack a separate top and bottom that you only use for sleeping. I typically pack a long sleeve top and bottom that I can use as a warm baselayer if it turns cold. Sleeping in cleaner clothes will also keep the inside of your sleeping bag/quilt cleaner and oil-free, so you don’t have to wash it as often to get the funk and smell out. You don’t have to rinse these out daily because you’re not sweating in them all day. Wool baselayers can also be more pleasant on longer trips because they mask smells longer.
Brush Your Teeth
You’ll feel better if you brush your teeth at least once a day. Also, bad breath and tooth decay don’t stop just because you’re backpacking.
Don’t Eat Out of Snack Bags Shared with other People
If someone offers you a snack from a bag of goodies that’s been shared with other people, politely decline. Germs can easily spread if the people reaching into a food bag have contaminated hands.
Wash out Your Cook Pot
If you cook your meals in a cook pot, take the time to wash it out before putting it away at night to remove any lingering food particles. Soap’s not necessary. You can easily throw in some sand or river pebbles and get the same effect as rubbing steel wool. Drain the dregs into a hole dug with your trowel, away from the water source, so animals don’t dig it up and micro-organisms can break it down quickly.
Backcountry Hygiene Gear / Supplies List
The gear it takes to stay clean in the backcountry doesn’t have to weigh a lot. But it will have a big impact on your comfort level. Here’s a quick summary of the items I recommend you carry.
- Leave no trace trowel
- Buff, bandana, or very small camp towel
- 1/2 gallon size plastic bag for clothes rinsing/agitation
- Slivers of soap
- Locking safety pins
- Toothbrush / small tube of toothpaste
- Toilet paper and/or pee rag for ladies (separate from wash towel)
- Small repacked tub of zinc oxide or small container of white Dermatone
- The Toob Backpacking Toothbrush
- How to Dig a Cathole
- Zinc Oxide: A First Aid Essential
- Best Leave No Trace Trowels
- Biodegradable Soap in the Backcountry: The Campsuds Myth
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