Backpacking Hygiene

It always amazes me, the first thing to go when people hit the trail is always hygiene. I’m a pretty clean guy, so I make sure to stay fresh on the trail. However; For many, staying clean on the trail is simply an inconvenience that wastes precious energy, or perhaps simply seems impossible. Here’s how to you can stay clean, and why.

Why worry about hygiene on the trail?

First, morale. This can’t be understated. If you’re 5 days in on a week long trek, you really start to feel it.  At this point it doesn’t take much to stump your enjoyment of the trip. You’re tired, probably sore, and losing steam. Keeping morale up keeps you motivated, and it keeps your enjoyment of the experience up. Something as simple as a refreshing clean feeling on the trail can be priceless, especially if the trail has been particularly tough or the conditions poor.

Secondly, you’re probably not the only one out there. Let’s be honest here, none of us are pumping out the freshness after a days hiking, and after two or three nights your tent partner is probably wanting to “accidentally” trip you into a river for a quick splash down. Keeping clean is a great way to keep interactions enjoyable, especially when bunched up in a tent.

Also, it keeps your sleeping bag smelling fresh. An easy way of ruining a good sleeping bag is by giving it the funk. Your smelly body will make that pricey sleeping bag smell too. Sure, you can try to wash it, but  often this reduces the loft, or can even destroy it in the case of particularly fragile down baffles. Sliding into bed clean at night is the best way to preserve your expensive bag.

Finally, you’re health is still on the line. Staying clean will help you fight off sickness and diseases which are still out there in the wild. Something as simple as keeping your hands clean can greatly reduce your chances of catching something that could end your trip. Keeping your body clean allows your body to concentrate it’s energy on keeping you moving down the trail. Of course, your teeth still need to be cleaned as well. Remember, your teeth never heal. Take care of them every chance you get. If you had one knife to last you your entire life, you’d keep it clean right? Same concept.

How:

Brushing your teeth is the easy part, and arguably the most important. Pick up a small travel sized brush, or simply cut down a full sized tooth brush. Find a trial size toothpaste and pack in it, and out, with you on the trail. When brushing, you don’t actually need any water. Get far away from camp, and add a pea sized drop to your brush. Brush as you normally would and use your own saliva as a natural rinse. Your body will get ride of the paste in your mouth, just keep spitting. Make sure to hang your toothpaste with your food though. Bears like the smell and rodents will chew through anything to get to it.

Cleaning your body  is actually pretty easy too. Pack in some baby wipes (scent free) or facial wipes that are made to be gentler on the skin. These are a great option for winter or dry environments. A quick wipe down morning and night will go surprisingly far. You can use them pretty much anywhere, and there’s no need to rinse. Top it off with a little fresh deodorant and you’re good to go.  Get the gentlest wipes you can find with the least additives. Pack them out. Hang these too.Backpacking Soap

Getting that deep clean. For those long trips when you really need a deep clean. You can buy small, cheap, organic, biodegradable soaps that can be used in the back country. Traditionally, soaps made for backpacking are expensive and don’t work that well either. Avoid these and head to your local “healthy” market or organic foods store. They often have better options for less. I use the soap pictured, and they also make a great shampoo that also naturally conditions  You’ll need to get far away from water sources such as rivers and lakes (at least 100 yards in my opinion) to keep from contaminating it, but if you have a dry bag or similar you can easily  make this work. Pack some water away from the source and gently splash yourself damp. Sud up, concentrating only on the critical points, including your hands and splash clean. A light weight camp towel should be enough to dry you off. You can even shampoo your hair if you have a helping had or are particularly clever with your water . Several companies produce “solar showers” that warm your water and offer up a back country shower.

Easy enough right? Do you guys have any tips of staying clean you’d like to share?

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8 thoughts on “Backpacking Hygiene

  1. Excellent advice. I have never backpacked more that one night, so I usually just wrote off hygiene for a day. But I can see the importance here especially if it’s for more than a single night.

  2. I know what you mean. Luckily, most of the ingredients are found in nature, and the occasional dabble is quickly diluted to a harmless level and even utilized by plants. As long as it’s away from water sources, there should be no impact at all. Especially after a rain. You could always pack in baking soda and use that, which is found everywhere in mineral water and rocks. That would be a friendlier method, although terribly bitter to brush with.

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