Staying clean and hygienic while backpacking doesn’t have to be an impossible task.
In fact, it’s more than possible to enjoy a trip into the mountains without feeling like you’re excessively dirty. However, staying hygienic while outside isn’t always as straightforward as it is at home, so it’s essential that you have some tricks up your sleeve before you hit the trail.
To help you enjoy your time outdoors while staying clean, here are some of our top camping hygiene tips and tricks to try out on your next backpacking adventure.
1. Bring soap and hand sanitizer
Whether you’re backpacking in Grand Canyon National Park or thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, hand sanitizer is almost certainly on your gear list.
While hand sanitizer certainly has its uses, however, it shouldn’t be your first line of defense against germs. According to the CDC, washing your hands with soap and water is the better option when it comes to minimizing your risk of stopping the spread of dangerous diseases.
If you don’t have access to water, have no fear – hand sanitizer will do in a pinch. But, for good hygiene, you’ll want to pack a small bottle of biodegradable soap on your backpacking trips for washing up before you eat and after you go to the toilet.
2. Focus on dental hygiene
Your teeth are by and large the easiest thing to keep clean while backpacking. Think about it: All you need is a small tube of toothpaste and a travel-sized toothbrush and you’re good to go.
However, if backpackers are going to slack off on one aspect of their hygiene, it’s almost always going to be dental hygiene.
The key to keeping up with your oral health while outside is to create a system so that teeth brushing is as convenient as possible. Plan to brush your teeth right after your meals every single day so that you can put your toothbrush and toothpaste into your bear canister or hiking backpack before going to bed or hitting the trail.
Oh, and don’t forget to floss! Your dentist will be happy that you did.
3. Pack extra sleeping clothes
Your hiking clothes get wet and dirty while on the trail, especially in a place with variable weather like Rocky Mountain National Park, so having a separate set of clothes for sleeping is always a sure bet when it comes to backpacking cleanliness. That way, you’ll always have clean clothes to sleep in at the end of the day.
You don’t need to go overboard with the sleeping clothes, though. Keep things simple by packing a set of long underwear tops and bottoms and a pair of dedicated sleep socks that always stay in your tent or in your pack.
Read More : How to Layer Effectively for Camping in Cold Weather
4. Bring a sleeping bag liner
An often overlooked method for staying clean while backpacking is using a sleeping bag liner. As the name suggests, sleeping bag liners line the inside of your sleeping bag, keeping you warm at night and keeping your sleeping bag as clean as possible.
The hygiene benefits of sleeping bag liners are twofold. First, sleeping bag liners keep your sleeping bag cleaner, which means less washing up at the end of your trip.
Additionally, if you’re on a long backpacking trip or thru-hike, you could actually hand wash your sleeping bag liner and set it out to dry on a sunny day for extra cleanliness on the trail.
Read More : 10 Thru-Hiking Tips and Tricks for Beginners
5. Consider the backcountry bidet
Many folks head out into the backcountry with a shovel and toilet paper in hand for when nature calls. While you should certainly dig a hole to dispose of your waste properly, however, it is actually much more hygienic to go number 2 in the woods without your trusty toilet paper.
The secret? The backcountry bidet.
Instead of wiping with toilet paper, you can clean your rear end with water just by pouring water into your hand from your water bottle or hydration system (don’t forget to wash up after!).
Doing so allows you to keep your backside as clean as can be and it reduces the amount of trash that you have to pack out at the end of your trip.
6. Go for a swim
If you happen to be camping by a lake or a slow-moving stream, going for a swim every few days can be one of the easiest ways to bathe while backpacking.
Keep in mind, however, that it’s best not to use soap, shampoo, or any other cleaning products when swimming in natural bodies of water. That’s because even biodegradable products can upset the delicate ecosystems that live in alpine lakes and streams.
As a result, backcountry swimming is best for doing a quick rinse, rather than for full-on bathing, but it’s still a good way to keep up with your hygiene while backpacking.
7. Take a solar shower
For longer backpacking trips or anytime you feel like you’re particularly covered in dirt, a solar shower is an excellent option for lathering up with soap and water.
Since we want to avoid using soap and water in lakes and rivers, a solar shower kit that you can set up under a tree or boulder is your next best bet.
How to shower while backpacking?
Simply fill up the shower with water, place it in the sun for a few hours to warm up, then hang the shower up so you can get squeaky clean. It’s as simple as that!
8. Do a little bit of laundry every day
Although most of us rely on a washing machine to clean our clothes, people did wash their shirts and pants long before the advent of electricity.
In fact, you can fairly easily hand wash your clothes while camping, just by placing your clothes, some water, and some soap inside a clean plastic bag. All you need to do is scrub your clothes, rinse, and dry to get fresh, clean clothing in no time flat.
Since doing large loads of laundry in the backcountry is out of the question, try to wash one shirt or one pair of underwear each day to stay on top of your backpacking hygiene.
9. Clean your pots and pans
Good backpacking hygiene extends into the kitchen and one of the most important things you can do to keep things clean in the backcountry is to wash your pots and pans after each camping meal.
You don’t need to use soap, but you should give your cookware and grills a good scrub after you cook. For sanitation, try boiling water in your pots and pans after a meal to kill off any potential germs.
10. Avoid sharing food with others
While we’re on the topic of good hygiene in the camp kitchen, if you want to stay generally illness-free while backpacking, avoid sharing food with other campers, unless you’re very close to them.
A general lack of hand hygiene can cause gastrointestinal diseases like norovirus to run rampant through a group of campers, so it’s best to avoid eating someone else’s leftovers.
If you’re sharing hiking snacks from a bag, pour the trail mix or whatever you’re eating into your hands or a bowl instead of reaching inside the bag each time.
11. Don’t forget about your feet
Finally, don’t forget about keeping your feet clean while you’re in the mountains. It’s easy to ignore your feet because they’re always wrapped up in boots or shoes, but be sure to take some time each day to inspect and clean your feet.
When you get settled in at camp, sit down, pull off your hiking socks, take a look at your feet and inspect for any blisters or hot spots that you can treat with your first aid kit. Then, give your feet a quick wash with soap and water to prevent athlete’s foot or any other issues down the line.
Gaby is a professional mountain guide with a master’s degree in outdoor education. She works primarily in the polar regions as an expedition guide, though she can be found hiking, climbing, skiing, sailing, or paddling in some of the world’s most amazing places when not at work.