When many people think about camping, they picture lots of mud, rain, and a general lack of hygiene.
However, going camping doesn’t mean that you have to be unhygienic – far from it. In fact, it’s more than possible to enjoy yourself in the great outdoors all while staying clean and comfortable in the process.
If the thought of spending a night or two in the outdoors makes you immediately want to run for the shower, worry not.
On this page, we’ll discuss some of our favorite camping hygiene tips to ensure that you know what you need to do to stay clean when sleeping under the stars.
Which hygiene essentials to bring?
Staying clean while camping is all about knowing what to bring with you when you head outside. Here are some key things you should always back when heading into the woods.
- Biodegradable soap. The CDC states that washing your hands with soap and water is a more effective way of reducing the spread of dangerous pathogens than hand sanitizer. Bring a small bottle of biodegradable soap while camping as this is better for you, and the environment.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste & floss. Your teeth are the easiest thing to keep clean while camping, so don’t slack on your dental hygiene. Bring a toothbrush, a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, and floss while camping so you can impress your dentist at your next visit.
- Hand sanitizer. Okay, we did just say that soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizer, but when you’re in a pinch, using a small bottle of hand sanitizer is better than nothing.
- Small towel. A small camp towel is a nifty piece of gear that you can take with you while outside. Towels make it way easier to rinse off after a quick dip in an alpine lake or after a shower.
How do I shower when camping?
Showering while camping might seem like an impossible task, but the good news is that it’s more than possible with a bit of ingenuity. These are some of your options.
- Use a solar shower. Even if you’re far from running water, you can still have a mostly warm shower by using a portable solar shower system. These showers are essentially large water-carrying bags that you leave in the sun for a few hours. Once your shower is warm (this happens pretty quickly in warm places, like Canyonlands National Park), you can hang it up in a tree, open up the valve and rinse off like you would at home.
- Take a sponge bath. If you don’t have a shower, you can always take a sponge bath while camping. Simply heat up some water to a comfortable temperature on your stove, take a small camp towel and some soap, and lather up at camp during a free afternoon.
How do I survive camping without a shower?
Wondering how you can get by without showering for days or weeks on end? Here’s what you need to know.
- Go for a swim. Instead of a shower, per se, you could always take a dip in a lake or stream when you’re in the backcountry of a beautiful park, like Sequoia and Kings Canyon, for a quick rinse. However, please don’t use soap or shampoo (regardless of if they’re biodegradable) while swimming as even eco-friendly products can harm wildlife.
- Try going au naturale. It might seem gross if you’re used to showering every day at home, but your body doesn’t need to be scrubbed down with soap every day. Sure, you’ll want to wash your hands, brush your teeth, and change your underwear regularly to prevent illness and infection, but otherwise, it’s okay to go a few days without a shower.
How do I go to the toilet when camping?
If you’ve never gone to the loo while outside, it can seem like a daunting task. Keep the following in mind when answering nature’s call in the backcountry.
- Going #1 is less of an issue. For the most part, you can urinate where you’d like in the backcountry with minimal issue. If possible, try to stay far from water sources while urinating. Peeing outside is generally easier for folks that can stand to pee, but if you need to sit down, you’ll just want to find a good place to squat without losing your balance, such as near a tree.
- Dig a hole. Unless local regulations require that you pack out your human waste, your best option is usually to dig a hole for your solid waste. You’ll need to walk at least 200’ from water and use your trusty camp shovel to dig a 6” hole in the ground. Then, squat over the hole, do your business, and don’t forget to wash your hands after covering up the hole with soil to bury your waste.
- Pack out your toilet paper. In general, it’s best to pack out used toilet paper in a garbage bag rather than leaving it in the hole with your waste. Toilet paper takes a while to biodegrade and it often attracts animals, which then leave it dispersed around campsites. Gross!
Read More : How to Poop in the Woods While Camping
How do I wash my hair while backpacking?
Many of us are accustomed to washing our hair on a regular basis while at home, but doing so in the backcountry might seem tricky. This is how to get the job done while backpacking.
- Use your camp shower. Since it’s best not to use soap and shampoo in a lake or steam, the best way to wash your hair is to use biodegradable soap with your camp shower. Set up the shower far from any nearby lakes or streams (at least 200’/60m), lather up, and get to work with washing your hair.
- Opt for dry shampoo. If you really want to keep things simple, you can try a dry shampoo instead. Dry shampoo is a nice short-term option especially if you’re camping in an area without a lot of water, like Bryce Canyon National Park. You just rub it into your hair and leave it in without rinsing so the shampoo can do its job.
How do I brush my teeth in the backcountry?
Dental hygiene is incredibly important, but it’s an often-overlooked part of any backpacking trip. Try these tips to keep your teeth squeaky clean while camping.
- Learn the spray method. You can still brush your teeth without running water, but you’ll need to learn the spray method. To use this method, you’ll brush your teeth just like normal, but have your water bottle nearby. When you’re done brushing, take a sip of water, swish it around your mouth, and then spit the water out by spraying it from your mouth in a forested area to disperse the toothpaste residue.
- Have a routine. Many people neglect to brush their teeth while backpacking because they’re tired and just want to go to sleep. Have a routine in place where you brush your teeth soon after eating dinner or breakfast to get it out of the way. It also helps to leave your tooth brushing supplies with your food as these scented objects should be stored in a bear hang, bear canister, or other similar animal-proof containers, particularly in known bear habitat, like Shenandoah National Park.
What types of clothing should I be bringing?
In addition to the warm clothing, rain jackets, and rain pants that you need to stay warm and dry, your hiking clothes should include the following items to help you stay hygienic while outside.
- Extra underwear and bras. You can normally pack one or two extra pairs of underwear and bras (in addition to what you’re wearing) and be just fine while camping. Create a washing rotation, where you wash one pair each day so you always have a clean set to wear.
- Sleeping clothes. It’s best to designate a set of long underwear and socks just for use while sleeping. That way, you can get out of your dirty hiking clothes before bed. Doing so will also help to keep your sleeping bag clean during your trip.
- One extra shirt. While you probably change your shirt every day at home, this isn’t the most practical choice during a camping trip. Limiting yourself to just one extra shirt is more than enough as you can wear it for a few days before changing into a fresh shirt and laundering the other.
How do I wash my clothes?
On longer camping trips, you may be interested in washing your clothes while outside. Here are some tips for doing just that.
- The wash in a bag method. If you have a mostly clean gallon-sized Ziploc bag, you can use it to do small amounts of laundry. Fill the bag up about 1/3 of the way with water and add a bit of soap. Then, put your dirty shirt, socks, or underwear inside, scrub for a few minutes, and then wring out the water before hanging up your clothes to dry.
- Bring a clothesline. Be sure to bring some extra paracord with you on your camping trip so that you can use it as a clothesline for your drying laundry. Alternatively, you can hang your wet clothes up on the guylines of your 2 person tent or camping tarp if you’re short on paracord.
What can I do if I'm having my period?
Having a period while camping can seem scary and nerve wracking, but with the right precautions, your menstrual cycle doesn’t have to put a damper on your fun.
This is how you should prepare.
- Bring more than you need. Whether you use tampons or pads or some other form of hygiene product, bring more than you need – at least two days worth of extras. You never know if you, or someone else in your group, might need some extra supplies. Alternatively, consider using a reusable menstrual cup for longer expeditions.
- Have a waste management plan. If you use a menstrual cup for your flow, you can actually dispose of its contents in a cathole, just as you would for human waste. Anyone using tampons, pads, or disposable products, however, should come prepared with garbage bags or Ziploc bags to pack out their trash.
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.