You may believe (based on what the popular media tells us) that all thru-hikers are a stinky bunch, as its hard to stay clean while on a long distance hike. However, nothing could be further from the truth, as there’s no need to let go of your hygiene just because you’re in the great outdoors. Fact is, you’ll avoid a lot of health issues and stay more comfortable by staying clean and washing up daily.
We’ve rounded up some of the best practices below along with a few key items of gear to keep you odor-free and healthy on your next thru-hiking adventure.
Use soap to wash your hands
Before eating a meal and going to the bathroom, wash your hands with soap and water. When packing your hand soap, be sure to place it in your food bag, since the scent of some soaps can attract bears to your campsite.
Make sure not to rinse your hands in a lake or stream so as to keep chemicals out of the water supply, and use a bottle or bucket instead. If there are no water sources around, you can always use an alcohol gel to remove dirt and germs from your hands, but soap and water will always be more effective and gentler on your skin.
Don’t forget your toothbrush
Brushing your teeth at least twice a day will make you and your mouth feel better. Also, tooth decay and bad breath don’t stop just because you’re on the trail.
Wipe off before going to bed
Wet a buff, sponge, or bandana with bottled water and rinse the salt off your feet, body, and face before hitting the sack. There’s no need to use soap as it will be mostly salt from your sweat, which readily dissolves with water. Always do this away from water sources so as not to contaminate the water.
Wash your hiking clothes
There’s no need to use detergent when washing your hiking clothes; a simple water rinse is enough as they will mostly be dirty from sweat, which is mainly salt. Dirty clothes can chafe or irritate your skin, so use water from a bottle to soak your clothes in a bucket or a plastic bag. Leave them for a while and then ring them dry, and hang them up. Synthetic materials dry very quickly, so they will be dry after a few hours, and if not, just put on some damp clothes, and they’ll be dry in no time.
Pack some sleeping clothes
Bring along a separate pair of sleeping clothes, and use them only when you’re going to sleep. A good idea is to pack a long sleeve top and thermal underwear, which you can use as base layers. Since you won’t be hiking in these clothes, they’ll remain clean, which means the inside of your sleeping bag will also stay clean and odor-free.
The gear you’ll need to stay clean is not very heavy, and will not weigh you down. Nonetheless, you’ll be happy you’ve added this extra weight to your bag at the end of the day when you’re feeling clean and fresh. Some of the items we recommend are:
- Bandana, buff, or sponge
- Large plastic bag for rinsing out clothes
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
Staying clean while out enjoying nature doesn’t have to be hard; just make sure you pack a few extra supplies and be mindful of the environment.