Outdoor Hygiene 101

No challenge worries beginner campers and backpackers more than how to stay clean, and there is no reason you should give up personal hygiene. This guide will teach you how to stay clean and fresh while spending time outdoors. Because you are outdoors, you should spend more time on hygiene than usual, not less! If you are staying in a campground, you may have access to showers and restrooms. If not, you still shouldn’t compromise personal hygiene.

 

Tools

  • HygieneToothbrush, toothpaste, floss: travel size
  • Biodegradable Soap (and shampoo): can be found at most outdoor stores.
  • Small washcloth
  • Camping Towel: lightweight, fast-drying.
  • Scent-free deodorant (optional): convenience stores sell travel-size deodorant for $1.
  • Baby wipes (recommended) or toilet paper
  • Foldable sink or bucket (sold at outdoor stores)

Remember, all hygiene items hung up or stored safely away from your campsite during night to avoid critters and bears. And for obvious reasons, skip deodorant and perfumes before going to bed at night.

 

Routines

Hygiene on the trail is all about routines. Shower at least once a day, brush teeth twice daily, wash hands frequently, and was your clothes daily if possible.

Follow same routines used at home. If kids usually bathe after dinner at home, take them for a swim or wash off with washcloth after dinner on the trail.

  • Wash hands often: after going to the bathroom and before cooking or eating meals. Carry a travel-size bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Shower: heat water over fire or stove, add small amount of biodegradable soap, and wash off with rag. Check body for ticks. Wet hair and use small amount of biodegradable soap or shampoo. Rinse with cold or hot water. Wastewater, “gray water”, should be deposited at least 200 feet from the campsite and water sources.
  • Brush teeth & floss: twice daily.
  • Laundry: wash hiking clothes daily after changing into camp/sleeping clothes. Usually no soap needed, as long as you rinse thoroughly. I have seen people boil clothes in water over fire. Wastewater, “gray water”, should be deposited at least 200 feet from the campsite and water sources. Be cautious if hanging clothes to dry over fire.
  • Where to “Go”: dispose of human waste in accordance with local guidelines. If latrines or restrooms are available, great! If not, find a secluded spot 200 feet from a trail, campsite or water source. Use a stick, rock, or a trowel to dig a 4-6 inches wide hole, 6 to 8 inches deep. Refill the hole to cover feces. I prefer using baby wipes instead of toilet paper. Remember to pack out your trash. Double-sealing Ziploc bags work great for storing trash until you find a trashcan.

 

Tips & Tricks

  • Wash HairBe an opportunist – rinse your hands, head, and bandana throughout the day whenever encountering water, stream crossings, etc. A quick swim on hot days will both cool you down and help you stay clean and fresh.
  • Bring a lightweight portable/foldable sink or bucket (sold at outdoors stores) for bathroom routines.
  • Hang wet towels and clothes on your backpack to dry while hiking.

 

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