Smelly campers are a stereotype everyone is familiar with. And that’s because it’s based on a rather unpleasant reality. When you’re on the trail, sweat, mud and lack of regular access to bathrooms combine to make staying fresh rather a mission.
It’s easy to get a bit stinky – but that doesn’t make it inevitable. And it’s not just a question of keeping your fellow hikers happy. It’s important to maintain good hygiene in order to keep bugs, viruses and bacteria at bay. Campers are often alert to the dangers of drinking dodgy water but clean hands should be just as high a priority.
Keeping yourself clean requires a bit more planning and forethought when you also need to consider how to simultaneously keep your environment clean. There’s no points to be won for being well-groomed and smelling great if you leave behind a trail of wet-wipes, toilet paper in the bushes, and a river contaminated with shampoo.
So, we’ve compiled a list to help you keep the grime and any gross smells away. Consider this the funk-removal manual.
Firstly, you should pack:
- Two outfits – so you can alternate, and wash one while wearing the other. Synthetic clothing is a good choice as it wicks away moisture. Bacteria thrives in moist conditions so you want to avoid getting too sweaty. This also stops chafing – plus, synthetics dry faster,
- Underwear. Ideally, you should have two pairs of pants so that you can wash one pair while wearing the other. You can also turn them inside out – if it comes to that.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste and especially floss, which also doubles as string.
- Ankle gaiters are a good investment to stop legs and ankles getting dirty.
- Biodegradable soap – normal soap contaminates water sources, causing things like algae blooms.
- Invest in eco-friendly wet-wipes, such as Yes To wipes, or Ecocare wipes. If you can’t afford them, don’t buy normal wipes. They take up to 100 years to disintegrate and are responsible for a huge amount of waste pollution.
- A micro-fibre towel – compact and quick-drying.
- Hand sanitizer to wash your hands with before cooking, eating and after going to the toilet. You can also use it to disinfect eating utensils. Just make sure its unscented as any scented products could attract wildlife, including bears.
- Dry shampoo or baby powder for dealing with greasy hair. Shampoo is bad for the environment, so it’s this, or wear a hat,
- Bandanas are great for giving yourself a quick wipe down.A collapsible bucket is extremely useful for washing – although another good option is a small spray bottle that you can fill and use to spray your face and body without wasting too much water.
- A little extra water for washing, if you won’t have access to any on the trail.
- A trowel for toilet purposes.
- Avoid bringing anything that is one-time use only. You will need to bring all your rubbish off the trail with you so don’t create any pointless weight in your rucksack.
- Don’t bring perfume or deodorant – the scent will attract unwanted guests of the animal kind.
- Cut your nails short before you leave in order to minimise dirt.
Those are some things worth investing in before you set off on your hike. But while on the trail:
- Take a bath in lakes and streams when you pass them. It’s best if the water is flowing as it is less likely to harbor dangerous bacteria, and it’s even better if it’s salt water, which kills a lot of germs.
- Washing with a bucket is a great option, if possible. Just make sure that you are 200 feet from any body of water so you don’t risk polluting it. To minimise the amount of water you need, consider using a sponge.
- Leaves are better than toilet paper as they degrade faster. You can also clean your private parts quickly and easily with a squeezable water bottle. But remember to let it air dry to minimise chafing
- It is vital to keep your feet clean to avoid any fungus growth. Don’t let them get wet as this can cause athlete’s foot, blisters, and maybe even trench foot. Let your shoes and socks air out whenever you can. Even better if you can dip them in a stream to let them cool off now and then and stop blisters forming on hot spots. Change your socks daily and definitely don’t fall asleep in them. You can put unscented moisturiser on your feet at night after cleaning them to keep them from getting sore
- Always try to change your clothes when you go to sleep to minimise the chance of rashes and other skin problems.
- Brush your teeth with bottled water and do so away from your tent as the scent of toothpaste can attract animals.
- Tie your hair up and try not to touch it – it will get less greasy.
- To wash your clothes on the trail, you’ll need a gallon bag and some biodegradable detergent. Fill your bag part of the way with warm water (you could just let it warm up in the sun). Add your clothes and detergent but don’t pack it too full as they need to be able to move around. Shake the bag enthusiastically for five to ten minutes. Dispose of the water away from any water source. Then repeat but with clean water for a rinse. Wring the clothes out and hang them up to dry.
- When nature calls, dig a hole 4-6 inches deep with your trowel, squat, do what you need to do, then cover it – and any toilet paper – with soil. Place a rock on top so no one steps on it and animals don’t dig it up. Also, only leave the toilet paper if allowed. In dry areas, it can be a risk so use sealable bags if you need to or burn it later. Wipe your trowel on grass or sand – or wash it off.
Perhaps all this sounds like it might detract from the simple and wild fun of trekking. But there’s nothing fun about fungus feet or chafing in your nether-regions. Mud and sweat can lead to serious tears if you’re not careful. So rather than sneering at these tips for being at-odds with carefree, outdoor living, embrace this possibility to stay fresh! It will make it more enjoyable for you and everyone else. Caring about cleanliness doesn’t make you any less rugged or adventurous.
Of course, keeping clean is doubly important if you sustain any cuts or other open wounds. These can very easily become infected if you aren’t careful. If you do hurt yourself, immediately wash the wound thoroughly with clean water and mild soap. Then apply an antiseptic cream. If you burn yourself, run cool water over the area or apply a damp cloth. If blisters form, don’t pop or drain them – this will only inflame the area more. Once you’ve dressed the wound, avoid touching your injuries, unless your hands are extremely clean, and only to change dressings. This will speed up the healing process.