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Your Guide to Personal Hygiene When Camping and Hiking
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Your Guide to Personal Hygiene When Camping and Hiking

Here's how to take care of all the gross stuff on the trail.

When we first enter the world of hiking and camping. we're kind of like giant babies. We need to relearn pretty much everything we know about keeping clean. But as grown humans. we work hard to hide our true identity as someone who poops. If you're like me, you"d probably rather chew glass than ask another hiker for personal hygiene tips.

However. it's important to know how to take care of business out on the trail. While it's no big deal to stink. it's another thing to end up with a nasty stomach bug in the middle of nowhere because you didn't know any better.

So, l"m going to do you a solid (pun intended). Let's run through all the personal hygiene situations you'll need to troubleshoot on the trail.

BE PREPARED TO LEAVE NO TRACE.

When you're out in the wild, it's easy to not think about what happens to your waste But we need to remember the lasting impact we can have on the natural environment.

As a hiker and all-round-nice-person. it's your responsibility to leave trails and campgrounds exactly as you found them by following the seven rules of Leave No Trace:

1. Plan ahead and prepare

2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces 

3. Dispose of waste properly 

4. Leave what you find 

5. Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire) 

6. Respect wildfire 

7. Be considerate of traditional landowners and other visitors

The best way to stay hygienic is to follow the golden rule of responsible backpacking: Always be prepared with the right supplies that Leave No Trace.

By following the Leave No Trace philosophy, you're doing your bit to protect the wilderness so future hikers can also soak up the same pristine beauty you got to enjoy.

how to keep clean and leave no trace

Hygiene is one of the more challenging aspects of Leave No Trace camping and backpacking. Keeping clean involves chemicals and waste. In towns and cities. we've got facilities like sewerage treatment plants, recycle centers and trash tips to manage these things. Out in the wilderness? Not so much.

That's why you need to educate yourself about the kinds of personal care products you bring with you into the wilderness. as well as the way you use them.

I remember on my first ever backpacking trip, I'd just finished brushing my teeth. I didn't know where to spit the toothpaste so I panicked and just spat it on the ground. I knew I'd done the wrong thing but l had no idea what else I was supposed to do. These days. I spit it into my rubbish bag and hold onto it until I can put it in the bin. 

Many people make mistakes when they first start hiking. as I did. But the more you educate yourself and ask dumb questions, the faster you'll learn and the less impact you'll have on the hiking trail. 

Okay, you filthy animals. Let's jump into everything you need to stay clean on the trail while leaving no trace.

poop, wee and tp

When you need to pee, find a spot at least 70 adult steps (200 feet) from any water source and let it flow. 

Poop is more complicated. When nature calls, you’ll need to dig a 8 inch-deep hole (the same depth of a pocket trowel) at least 70 steps from your camp, the trail, and any waterways. The best site is somewhere sunny with loose soil because these conditions will make the waste decompose a lot faster.

There’s nothing worse than trying to dig a cathole with a stick, especially when trying to break through frozen or hard ground. Get yourself a lightweight alloy pocket trowel and you’ll have a 5-star loo in no time. 

More hardened folk can get by with leaves but I’m just not ready to give up my TP. It’s a good idea to store it in a waterproof bag or a specially made waterproof toilet roll holder like the Ultra-Sil Outhouse. The Ultra-Sil Outhouse can be hung on a tree branch near your freshly dug hole and its bright color signals for other campers to give you a wide berth. 

Make sure your fill in all your toilet holes properly. I beg you. Depending on where you are, it might be okay to bury or burn biodegradable toilet paper but the best practice is to carry it out with you in a tightly sealed bag.

OUT FOR A DAY HIKE?

Do one better than a cat hole and pack-out your poop in a WAG bag.

washing outdoors

Be mindful of the kind of soaps and toiletries you’re using. Most regular soaps contain phosphates, which can promote algae blooms in waterways. Look for Leave-No-Trace-friendly products like our biodegradable and phosphate-free Trek & Travel soaps.

Empty out any soapy water on the ground about 70 steps away (200 feet) from any waterways. Scattering the water as broadly as possible.

WASHING HANDS

You’re more likely to pick up a stomach bug on a camping trip than you are when you’re at home. Don’t forget to wash your hands after using the toilet and when you’re handling food. 

When you’ve got good access to water, set up a small handwashing station with a Pack Tap and the Trek & Travel Pocket Hand Wash rationable soap leaves. 

If you don’t have much water to spare, carry a Trek & Travel Hand Cleaning Gel in your pocket.

BATHING

While you might have to forgo a few luxuries on a camping trip or hike, a shower doesn’t need to be one of them. If you’ve got access to a fair bit of water, you can take a refreshing shower with the Pocket Shower and scrub up with the Trek & Travel Liquid Body Wash or Trek & Travel Body Wash Soap Leaves

Just like the handwashing soap, it’s fine to let this soap touch the ground—just don’t let it near any lakes or streams. That also means you shouldn’t take a bath in a lake with any soap.

If a camp shower isn’t on the cards or it’s too cold to strip off, opt for a ‘trail shower’ and just clean your body with some compostable Wilderness Wipes.  

WASHING YOUR HAIR

Greasy hair won’t kill you but it can make you feel a little grimy. Bring along one of the pocket-sized Trek & Travel Liquid Conditioning Shampoos to use during your camp shower. If you’re trying to keep your base weight down, the Trek & Travel Conditioning Shampoo soap leaves are a lighter option. 

DRYING OFF

When you’re moving from place to place, you don’t want a towel that takes forever and a day to dry. If you put a damp towel in your pack, it will make everything stink. If you’re packing for a backpacking trip, make sure you bring a quick-drying towel like the Pocket Towel or the almost weightless Airlite Towel. Remember, a light backpack is a luxury!

BRUSHING YOUR TEETH

Brush your teeth as you would at home but spit it out into your rubbish bag and take that old toothpaste home with you. Of course, plenty of hikers choose to just spray the toothpaste out over as wide an area as possible. The goal is to make sure you don’t spit out a big blob of toothpaste.

shaving outdoors

Feel like you might be mistaken for a Yeti? Bring your razor and set yourself up with a little bucket of water and either the Trek & Travel Liquid Shaving Cream or easy-to-ration Trek & Travel Shaving Soap

dealing with your period

I feel like every time I go camping, my period makes an unwelcome surprise visit.

Before you head out into the wilderness, pick up a menstrual cup (and maybe some absorbent period underwear). You only need to empty the cup out twice a day and you can clean it with water. Empty it out into a cathole, clean the cup with soapy water and dump that water into the cathole too. As always, fill in your cathole before moving on. 

If menstrual cups don’t work for you, remember to pack out any sanitary products you use.

WASHING AND DRYING YOUR CLOTHES

If you’re only going on a trek for a few days, you probably won’t need to do any laundry. However, if you’re on a backpacking trip for a week or more, the stink can become unbearable.

To wash your clothes in the wilderness, use a dry bag, water and some Trek & Travel Liquid Laundry Wash. If you’re in a place with a lot of mosquitoes, consider using our Citronella Wilderness Wash to repel mosquitoes naturally. Wash your clothes in the sink or bag with the soap, empty the dirty water out and rinse with clean water.  

When you’re done, wring them out thoroughly and hang them out to dry on our nifty 3.5m, peg-free Clothesline (it weighs just 25g and rolls up into the tiniest pouch imaginable). This one is high visibility—so you won’t literally clothesline yourself on your way to the toilet at night.  

Don’t wash your clothes directly in streams or lakes. The microplastics in synthetic materials—and even phosphate-free, biodegradable soaps—can affect the health of the organisms in the water. 

keeping your sleep system clean

Keep your sleeping bag clean if you want it to last a long time and maintain its thermal performance. A machine washable sleeping liner will go a long way to keeping dirt and grime out of your sleeping bag’s insulation.

I particularly love using these when I need to borrow or hire a sleeping bag. People sweat a lot when they sleep and there are no guarantees they’ve ever washed their bag. No one wants to sleep in a bag of someone else’s sweat.

washing your dishes

Keep your handwashing station separate from where you wash your dishes. Don’t use the same water for both as it could lead to cross-contamination.

Pair the multipurpose Wilderness Wash with an Ultra-Sil Kitchen Sink or two for all your dish washing needs. For drying up, pack a microfiber towel like the Airlite Towel.

trash disposal

Carry out any waste that won’t break down in the soil with the durable Trash Dry Sack. This leakproof dry bag won’t spill in your pack or all over the campsite. Line it with a biodegradable plastic bag and attach it to the outside of your pack. Keep the bag sealed and away from your food supply to avoid cross-contamination and attracting wildlife.

what not to bring

bulky toiletries and cleaning products

When you’re packing for a hiking trip, you want to keep that backpack as light and space efficient as possible. Don’t bring big bottles of soap or toiletries. Look for high-concentration alternatives in small, pocket-sized bottles instead.

deodorants

This might be a hard one to hear (or smell) but it’s best to leave the deodorant at home. The smell can attract animals to your camp who’ll do just about anything for a free lunch.

SOAP WITH PHOSPHATES OR NON-BIODEGRADABLE INGREDIENTS

Soap with phosphates and synthetic materials can wreak havoc on the biological balance of delicate wilderness ecosystems. Even if you tip soapy water well away from waterways, chances are it’ll eventually end up in the water one way or another. It’s best to bring environmentally friendly alternatives.


Whether you’re on your first or fiftieth hiking trip, we can all learn more about being more hygienic and responsible outdoors. Carry around the right products and don’t be afraid to ask more experienced hikers and campers dumb questions about poop.

2 thoughts on “Your Guide to Personal Hygiene When Camping and Hiking

  1. avatar Baz says:

    G’Day John,

    Great suggestion; WAG bags are definitely the way to go in environmentally fragile areas or on trails which see a lot of overnight backpackers. There are many good WAG bags already on the market, and we would recommend that backcountry users make use of these.

    Cheers,
    The Sea to Summit team

  2. avatar John Kelly says:

    Burying our poop makes sense for a multi-day hike in more remote areas. But for day hikes or even short trips where we know that we are going to be home or are hiking in a park with garbage facilities I suggest we take it to the next level. Carry either a WAG bag or even a doggie bag. Pick it up including the TP and pack it out. Certainly responsible dog owners are used to picking up doggie doo. Human waste is no different. Pick it up. Pack it out.

    To Sea to Summit. Add WAG Bags to your product line. And maybe special People Poop Bags.

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