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Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Clean While Backpacking

How to stay clean while hiking

When you show up to a first date, the classroom, or the office Monday morning - you’re expected to look and smell clean.

Cleanliness is a common courtesy and sign of respect to both yourself and those around you.

Yet, the wilderness is a different story.

If we hike many miles through the mountains, naturally, we’re going to smell.

So, of course, expectations are different--not different entirely--but different.

When you can’t find a lake, river, or another body of water to clean up while enjoying the outdoors, below, we have some alternative ways for you stay clean while on the move.

The 'Keeping Clean' Essentials

staying clean while backpacking

The 'must-haves' of keeping yourself hygienic.

Baby Wipes/Wet Wipes

Baby wipes are the best multi-use hygienic tool you can bring on any hike.

Take a baby wipe shower and rub off that dried sweat, salt, and dirt that are bound to be caked on your body after a hike.

Groin, armpits, and the face are a must to clean - everything else is optional.

Hand Sanitizer

For health reasons, hand-washing is equally, if not more important, than a baby wipe shower.

A small bottle of hand sanitizer is light, cheap, and ridiculously convenient when out on the trail.

Keep in mind - if your hands are greasy, bloody, or are otherwise visibly dirty, give them a rinse first prior to applying the hand sanitizer for maximum effectiveness.

Wash Cloth, Rag, and/or Pack Towel

All of these make fine light rags to clean, scrub, or dry surfaces - or even your body.

If you’re serious about backpacking, regular full size towels are far too bulky and heavy.

Microfiber cloths handle the post lake swim, spilled camp chili, and everything else the trail throws your way at a fraction of the size.

Toothbrush and Toothpaste

Our forgiveness for stink is a little more generous on the trail - but brushing your teeth is something you shouldn't have to sacrifice.

A toothbrush and toothpaste are both packable, lightweight, and keep your mouth feeling good.

Don't forget them!

Ziploc Bags -- or any 'Ziploc-like' Bags

Love those gallon size Ziploc bags for dirty socks, used toilet paper/wet wipes, or anything else that is dirty or smelly.

They'll be your best friend out on the trail and you'll be pleased to have them on hand in order to keep your dirty and used items separate from your clean belongings.

Moreover, you can have your used supplies easily stored away until you have a chance to dispose of them properly and abide to pack in and pack out rules.

Extra Pair(s) of Socks

Clean (or at least fresh) socks are a must-bring, as wearing the same socks for too long creates a closed, hot, and humid environment for your feet.

If your feet sit around in this type of environment for too long you can end up with nasty infections such as athlete's foot or toenail fungus.

Implement this, 'best-practice,' and change your socks halfway through the day, and, likewise, be sure to give your feet some fresh air at the end of your journey to recuperate.

The 'Keeping Clean' Nice-to-Haves

Biodegradable Soaps

I’ve found that rinsing off in a body of water or wiping myself with wet wipes is good enough for me (in regards to smell and feel).

If you’re looking to get a deeper cleaning or to wash clothes, you may need soap of some sort.

Choose the biodegradable option.

Sadly, they still cause a bit of pollution, but are a far superior choice to non-biodegradable options.

Toilet Paper

Toilet paper backpacking essentials

This one is probably an essential, but if you already have baby wipes, toilet paper becomes a 'nice-to-have.'

Whatever your personal preference, have at least one person in the group bring some just in case.

You never know when it may come in handy.

Napkins or Paper Towels

As with Toilet Paper, if you already have wash cloths or rags of some kind, these lose their 'essential' status and move down to the 'nice-to-haves' tier.

Again, make sure you are abiding by pack in pack out principles if you choose to bring items like this..

Trowel

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a trowel is a compact and lightweight shovel backpackers use to dig holes when they go number two.

However, while burying your human waste IS essential, you can easily create the same hole with a stick, rock, or other random utensil.

I like trowels and take one on every trip myself, but I also know a lot of people who get by perfectly fine without one.

In the same way, if you'd like to take something with a bit more functionality, I'd recommend taking a look at our Tactical Multi-Tool Survival Shovel.

Either way, ensure that you’re burying your waste and toilet paper at least six inches deep and 100 M (a football field) away from any body of water.

Unnecessary Items

Shampoo and Other Non-Biodegradable Soaps

Unfortunately, these products do not mesh well with the environment, and should be avoided.

If you want to bring shampoo or soap at all, do yourself a favor and spend the extra dollar for the biodegradable versions.

Even then, you'll probably be better off without the added pack weight.

Deodorant

Your gut will tell you to bring in order to cover up any stenches - but the truth is, the scent of deodorant often attracts critters, bugs (including mosquitos!), and worst case; bears.

Leave it at home.

Razors for Shaving

Let the hairs grow out for a day or two, nobody minds.

Anything Else?

Let us know in the comments if you think we put something on the wrong list or missed something completely.

And remember...

However you choose to stay clean, and no matter what you bring, make sure you abide by pack-in-pack-out principles to keep the great outdoors... well... great!

Thanks, and happy hiking!

Erian Gutierrez

P.S.

If you're gearing up for your next adventure or prepping for potential disasters, take a peek at our catalog and see if there is anything you need to complete your kit or stow away for the future. 

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