The ultimate backcountry hygiene guide

The first time I traveled to a national park, I was surprised to learn that there were no showers anywhere in the park. I was traveling with a friend, and I was afraid this fact was going to discourage her from going. But it didn’t, and we went and had a blast. That was the first time I went a week without a shower. Backcountry hygiene is actually easier than it sounds.

Although we did not backcountry hike on that first national park trip (we went to Smoky Mountain National Park), the principles for backcountry hygiene applied there as well. And they still do as I travel to national parks and places without showers.

When you are car camping, backcountry hygiene is a little easier because you do not have to worry about carrying extra weight.

Depending on your preference, you can cut some of the hygiene essentials out. If you really want to go ultra lightweight, you can cut most of them out and embrace being dirty. But if you are, say, backpacking with your boyfriend for the first time and not quite sure you want him to experience the five-days-no-shower-you or just can’t stand being grimy, the following are my tips on how to be as fresh as possible without much weight.

Cut your fingernails

I tend to not mess with my nails. I just let them do their thing, and because I do, they get long. But the longer your nails, the more dirt can get underneath them. Also when I tend to go into the backcountry with longer fingernails, they get torn or broken. I don’t carry a fingernail file with me, so then I have sharp and jagged nails to deal with. It’s just best to cut them short.

Face wipes

Many brands make a wipe to take makeup off at the end of the day. These are great for backcountry hygiene. They not only take the dirt and grime off your face at the end of the day, they also help you keep your oily skin in check. Confession: I have used them in my ear before and they work great for keeping your ears clean too.

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I use the kind that are pre-moistened, and I only take as many as I need. I seal them in a Ziplock bag too keep them from drying out.

Body wipes

Like face wipes, body wipes keep you skin from feeling too dirty, grimy, and stinky. I love wiping my legs off and getting all the caked-on dirt from the trail off my skin before I get in my sleeping bag. And like the face wipes, I only take how many I need and keep them sealed in a Ziplock bag. Just be sure to label them, so you are not wiping your face with the wrong wipes.

Panty liners

Even though you change your undies every day, panty liners can still help you feel cleaner by pulling moisture away from you body.

Small toothbrushes, tooth pastes

One thing essential for me to my backcountry hygiene routine is keeping my teeth clean.
Every time I go to the dentist, I get a mini tube of toothpaste. I keep these with my backpacking gear. They are the perfect size to take into the backcountry.

I also have several half-used tubes with my gear. They are great to cut down the weight for shorter trips when you don’t need a whole tube.

You can also buy travel toothpaste and a smaller travel toothbrush that will help you cut down on your weight too.

Bandanna, hat, or Buff

I once read that if you keep your hair short, you have less to mess with in the backcountry. And while that is true, one reason I keep my hair long is so I can pull it up and out of the way while hiking.

I also use a bandanna, hat, or Buff to keep it completely off my face and neck. Usually at the beginning of the week, my hair is still down but covered in a bandanna or Buff. By the end of the week, its tied up tightly and under a hat.

The dirtier my hair gets, the more it gets on my nerves. I like it out of the way.

Travel deodorant

Some people say to leave the deodorant behind because it really doesn’t do any good anyway. But I like to use a body wipe under my arms at the end of the day. I put deodorant on after that, and then on again in the morning. Am I using too much? Probably.

To cut down on weight, take a small travel sized deodorant. They fit easily into your pack and are much less weight.

Dried soap clothes

If you really just want good old soap and water to clean yourself with, you can take a paper towel, soak it in hot soapy water. Then lay it out to dry flat on a cookie sheet, or other flat surface. Once dry store them in Ziplock bags.

In the backcountry you can simply wet the cloth, rub it against itself for lather, and you have soapy water.

Just embrace the dirt

The best advice though is to simply just embrace the dirt. You are going to get dirty in the backcountry. Just remember dirt from the ground is not nearly as nasty as dirt from public places like restaurant menus and public bathrooms.

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