During a camping backpack trip, part of the allure is the whole wilderness, back-to-basics survival encounter. It’s refreshing to not worry about showering and shampooing, but not so refreshing in the way of body odors and general perspiration left on your skin.
Your hygiene preparedness has a lot to do with the length of your trip. Let’s examine four helpful points that may not make you fresh as daisy, but will be a healthier alternative to keeping your hike minimal in task while not neglecting the important parts.
Let’s say you are going on a 5 day hike and camping in the wild. You don’t have to load your hiking backpack with every toiletry item you use at home. Take travel size deodorant, toothpaste, unscented hand sanitizer. Ladies, bring your feminine products and small zip-loc bags for disposal and burial of used items.
Bring a roll of toilet paper. Use only non-scented items clean yourself without attracting wildlife. You’ll need a package of unscented wet wipes to refresh your crotch after a BM or heavy sweating in that area.
If you’ll be camping near a river, lake or stream, it’s advisable to wash off the sweat that has dried on your skin during your hike to prevent rashes. Campers and backpackers use a soap, such as Dr. Bronners Pure Castile Soap for body and hair. It's best if you choose an eco-friendly product. Dry yourself thoroughly afterwards. You can rinse your sweaty clothes out and dry them overnight for cleaner duds.
Being natural in a nature environment is more relaxing. If you don’t want to shave for a week, let the beard and the legs go and don’t carry the razor and shave cream. Forget shampoos, since they are bad for the environment. You shouldn't walk through the trail smelling like fresh berries or coconut hair conditioner, since bears have a highly keen sense of smell for miles!
On the other hand, a strong body odor may work as a pheromone to wild animals, so eliminating odors is not only about smelling better, but more geared toward being safer. Don’t add weight to your backpack with full size bottles of anything, even aspirin or hand sanitizer.
Camping backpack trips may be in an area where there are no readily available rivers, lakes or ponds. Hikers often need to improvise, but how? You should always carry a washcloth, sponge, bandana and squirt bottle in your pack. You may have to tap into your drinking water supply to clean yourself. Only do this if you know for sure, that during the following day, you can refill your drink bladder or bottle from a water source. Use an 4-8 ounce squirt bottle.
Put 2 oz on your washcloth with biodegradable soap and hit the important parts. In particular, wash between your legs (inner thighs) to avoid chafing, your man parts or lady parts, anus, armpits and feet. Rinse off with the remaining 6 oz. of water. Refill this bottle the following day also for your next bathing. This is not done to simply smell better, it’s about skin integrity to avoid painful skin bacteria or fungus that will cause a rash.
Ladies, dealing with your period on the trail doesn’t have to be complicated. You can use a menstrual cup. If you’ve never heard of this, check it out here; https://www.techtimes.com/articles/244574/20190717/menstrual-cups-are-as-safe-and-effective-as-other-sanitary-products-study-reveals.htm
Whether you empty the menstrual cup, or you use pads and tampons, you’ll have to dispose of them in a cathole, similar to the hole you dig for a BM in the wild. Another option is to plastic bag them and carry them out. Rest assured, bears are not attracted to menstrual blood odors, they are more attracted to food odors.
Camping backpack hikers can either carry enough clean clothes for the 5 days, or there are a couple other options for cleaning your clothes at camp. If you know from your map that there is a lake or pond on your trail, bring along a gallon sized plastic sealable bag in your hiking pack and some dry laundry soap in a small container. Fill the bag from your water source add the powdered soap and socks, undies and a shirt. Seal the bag and shake it to resemble a wash cycle.
Make sure you do this 200 ft. from the water source. Squeeze the soapy water out of the clothing pieces and grab a second plastic bag with more fresh water for “rinsing.” Seal that bag after adding the clean clothes and shake to rinse. Wring out rinsed clothing articles and hang overnight to dry.
A simpler version is to jump in the lake with your clothes on for a rinse. Never use laundry soap in fresh water since it can affect water-living organisms and affect other hikers collecting fresh drinking water. Disrobe when you get out of the water and hang your clothes to dry for the following day. Your clothing won’t be as clean as when you use detergent, but they will be fine to continue your trip.
A camping backpack excursion can get tricky when nature calls. How many times have ladies wished they could pee standing up? It would eliminate such issues as removing clothing and squatting with a bare butt just to whiz. Well ladies, now you can.
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Make sure you pack out used wipes or toilet paper. Be considerate and pee way off the trail (at least 100 feet) to assure privacy and keep any odors away from hikers. Another option is to use a dedicated microfiber pee rag. It cab be used over and over. After wiping with the rag, simply place it in a plastic bag and dry it when you camp. By leaving it in the sun, you will literally bake out any bacteria. You can then rinse it and reuse it.
Camping backpack hikers are usually pretty tired by the time they camp. There’s nothing worse than having to pee in the middle of the night. Consider carrying a lightweight indestructible bottle such as a Nalgene wide- mouth bottle to pee in for disposal in the morning. Don't forget to use a permanent marker to label it as your dedicated pee bottle instead of a drinking bottle.
This method helps avoid worrying about how to squat and pee without peeing on yourself in the dark, while of mosquitoes bite you. You’ll have the luxury of privacy, no cold, wet, or dirty feet, with no zipping, unzipping of layered clothing.
Trekkers, don’t forget to carry a lightweight trowel for digging a shallow hole (6”-8”) for solid waste. Then, use the trowel to cover your poop with the dirt you dug from the hole you made. Odors from solid waste will attract wild animals that could be harmful to hikers. Plus, it’s just nasty to just do it on the ground for some unsuspecting hiker to trek through. If you don’t want to carry a trowel, you better plans a few minutes to find a heavy stick to dig with.
Backpack hikers should always pack toilet paper, wet wipes and hand sanitizer. Make sure you wipe well to eliminate residual odors in your clothing or irritants on your skin afterwards. Bring an extra sealed plastic bag to carry out used toilet paper which shouldn’t be buried with your feces. Cover up your filled poop hole with some leaves or grass. Leave no trace behind and teach the children that lesson as well.
Camping backpack mountain hikes can be tricky. Pitching your bagged stool into deep mountain crevices can cause the built-up waste to reappear in remote spots during Spring thaws. Not only is it gross for hikers who are subjected to the sights and smells of thawing poop, what about the hikers who rely on melted snow for drinking water? There is a likelihood that others could ingest contaminated water with dangerous bacteria and parasites.
Hikers should dispose of fecal material and used toilet paper at ranger stations or in a region where disposal is allowed. Some mountain areas are deep enough for waste disposal, but check the written rules of the area where you'll be hiking.
Camping backpack trekkers should strive to be clean and dry, which leads to fewer rashes, odors and bacterial skin problems. The purpose of a great hiking excursion while camping for several days is to enjoy nature without carrying all of your typical toiletry items in your backpack. You can pack minimal lightweight items and still tend to the icky parts of lots of sweating and backwoods nature calls.
Don’t fret about being squeaky clean, just clean enough to protect yourself. The readers love to learn of experienced hikers tips for hygiene on a hike, so please feel free to comment below. Fellow hikers at Nature Trail Backpacks wish you happy hiking!