Maintaining good personal hygiene while on the trail can be a bit tough at times due to a lack of running hot water and the luxury of a private area. Here are some overall useful tips for keeping up with hygiene and making sure your body is in top notch condition while spending extended time in the backcountry whether it be for a weekend camping trip, multi-week backpacking adventure, or long trail thru-hike.
- Change your drawers – Ideally, you want to carry two pairs of underwear that you can switch between. This means you can wash one of the pairs, let them dry, and switch over to the clean pair the next day. Make sure you are switching your underwear routinely. If you need to, you can flip your underwear inside out and wear them for a second day; don’t make this a habit, though.
- Carry hand sanitizer – Hand sanitizer is a compact and lightweight way to keep your hands clean when on the trail. Sanitizer can be used to disinfect eating utensils as well. Hikers should use sanitizer after going to the bathroom and before cooking or eating meals. Carry a small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and keep it easily accessible throughout the day.
- Ditch the deodorant – Hikers smell. It’s a fact. Leave the flower-scented deodorant at home. The reason why deodorant is a bad idea to bring in the woods, is because the sweet scent attracts bugs and other wildlife, including bears. Embrace your stink. If you want to prevent too much stink, be sure to wash your armpits groin area with soap and water as much as you possibly can.
- Use biodegradable products only – When in the woods, the phosphates in soap can promote algae blooms in lakes and streams, making them a dangerous option to choose when washing your hands on a backpacking or hiking trip. Invest in a bottle of biodegradable soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s and Campsuds to be sure that you aren’t harming the environment. As always, be sure that you wash your hands and body at least 200 feet from any water source at all times.
- Take proper care of your feet – Your feet are the most important part of any hike you go on, so you want to keep them clean as possible so that you don’t catch something itchy or fungus-y. Be sure that you change your socks frequently, wash your feet everyday, and remove your socks and shoes throughout the day to let them air out and breathe.
Personal Hygiene Checklist
- Unscented, alcohol-based gel hand sanitizer
- Biodegradable soap
- Bandana or washcloth
- Unscented moist towelettes or baby wipes
- Quick-dry microfiber pack towel
- Toilet paper in a plastic bag
- A large plastic bag for doing laundry
DO NOT bring
- Regular shampoo
- Non-biodegradable products
- “Disposable” products that you’ll have to carry out
How To Do Your Laundry While Backpacking
- Fill the bag half way with lukewarm water.
- Add your clothing items and detergent, making sure that you leave enough room for the contents to move around. *This step is very important in order to clean your clothes thoroughly as possible*
- Shake the bag vigorously, making sure that the contents are moving around. Do this step for about 5 to 10 minutes total.
- Dispose of your used water at least 200 feet away from any water source.
- Refill the bag with clean water and shake it more.
- Wring the clothing items out thoroughly and hang them somewhere to dry. If you plan on hiking out, you can hang the wet clothing from the outside of your pack so that they dry while you hike.
How To Bathe While Backpacking
“Bathing” on trail really just means taking a water-less shower to get the dirt off your body as much as possible. There are four legitimate options for taking a shower while on trail.
- River/Lake bathing – If it’s hot out, taking a river or lake bath is an excellent option to cool off and clean up after a day of hiking. Be sure that you are far enough from where other hikers collect water, camp, or fish, and never use any soap.
- Trail showers – Another option to get clean is by taking what’s referred to as a “trail shower”. Start by stripping down and washing your body with biodegradable soap, a bandana or washcloth, and a few liters of water. Be sure that you take your “shower” at least 200 feet from any lakes and streams.
- Sponge Bathing – If it’s too cold or unnecessary to take a full on “trail shower, try sponge bathing instead. Take off your clothes (far enough away from other hikers, of course) and squirt a tiny amount of biodegradable soap on a bandana or camp towel, with a splash of water. Next, rub the cloth all over your body, getting to the important places that need extra care. Unscented moist towelettes or baby wipes also work well.
- Portable Shower – taking a portable shower system like a pocket shower. This is not a normal backpacking tool, however, they make small pocket showers that can be filled with nearby water, hung, and a legitimate shower can be taken on a backpacking trip.
How To Deal With Your Period While Backpacking (For The Girls)
If you have your period while on trail, there are a few options to choose from. The most eco-friendly option for dealing with periods on the trail is to use a menstrual cup, preferably the washable, silicone kind. These cups must be emptied out properly and regularly. Another option is to carry disposable products, such as pads and tampons. The downside to this is that you will need to pack out the used ones when you’re done.
Andrea is a writer, hiker, and adventurer from New England. She enjoys snowboarding, sunrise hikes, winter, night hiking, traveling, and photography.