Camp hygiene is an important consideration when spending any length of time outdoors. While not washing for a few days won’t kill you, a general lack of hygiene will increase your risk of getting a stomach bug, making your time outdoors far less pleasurable.
Camping and travelling outdoors is not an excuse to forego all personal hygiene. It’s equally if not more important to maintain high standards of hygiene when travelling in a group as bugs can be easily transferred from one person to the next.
There are some practices you can follow to keep clean and hygienic whether you are out for a few of days, weeks or even months.
Wash your hands
At a minimum you should make sure to wash your hands after going to the toilet as well as before handling any food. If you are treating water then make sure to wash your hands before touching any filters or bottles.
A simple biodegradable soap or hand sanitizer gel will do. I always keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer with me on any trip, often in a trouser pocket. That way it’s easy to make a habit of using it when needed. If it’s tucked down at the bottom of your pack it’s less likely that you’ll use it as frequently so make sure it’s accessible.
You don’t have to carry much in order to stay clean outdoors, even for an extended period of time. I find that on longer trips I like to have a thorough wash or shower every few days. It can actually be quite a good morale boost after a long, hot day paddling or walking to feel clean and refreshed.
The contents of my wash kit. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of room.
Here are the items that I keep as part of my wash kit:
2. Toothpaste – some people use travel toothpaste but I find that they’re expensive for what they are. I have to use a sensitive version which makes it even harder to obtain. This photo shows a fairly full tube but usually I let these run down a little more so that I can roll the bottom so they take up less room.
3. Soap – I use a 100% biodegradable soap as it is kinder on the environment. The particular soap I use is called Oliva and can be bought from Holland & Barrett for those that live in the UK. It’s made entirely from olive oil (plus some water and salt) so is extremely eco friendly. They come in large bars so I either cut one down to fit the holder or wait for them to shrink as I use it at home. You can also use it to wash your hair.
4. Moisturiser – I find on longer trips my hands can get a bit dry especially if I’ve been using hand sanitizer so this helps stop my skin drying out.
5. Medicated shampoo – I only take this on longer trips and make do with soap for shorter ones. I take a medicated shampoo as it can deal with infestations as well.
6. Swiss Army Knife – a standard version which includes a nail file, scissors, small knife, tweezers and a toothpick. It can be useful for trimming nails and removing splinters.
7. Sun cream.
8. Mirror – a small mirror is useful if you are going to shave or generally for examining your face. It’s also an emergency item that can be used to signal for assistance.
9. Insect repellent.
10. Flannel – just a standard flannel, useful for having a quick wash. You can also use expandable wipes that if dropped in water will expand into a disposable flannel.
11. Travel towel – this is a small microfibre towel that’s very absorbent and quick drying.
12. Wash bag – I keep all these items (apart from the towel) inside a small Granite Gear zippered pouch.
There are a few other items you might want to bring as well. A comb or hairbrush can be useful but as my hair is generally very short I don’t bother with one. The same goes for shaving kit. If I am going to shave I bring a metal safety razor as it’s much more durable than a plastic one, plus a small bottle of shaving oil. Generally though I don’t bother with shaving on a trip.
A useful collapsible bowl and pocket shower for keeping cleaning outdoors.
As well as these general items, if I’m going on a longer trip I’ll usually take a small collapsible bowl which is very handy for collecting water for a wash. It’s also useful for washing clothes in as well. Simply boil up a little water and mix it with some cold water to get the desired temperature and enjoy a wilderness wash.
The other item is a folding travel shower. It’s basically a large drybag with a shower head at the bottom. Mine holds 10 litres and will give a reasonable flow of water for about 10 minutes. I throw a line of paracord over a tree and hoist it to the desired height. The water bag is black and will heat up surprisingly quickly if left on a rock in the sun for a while.
If if you are going to use soaps then make sure that they are biodegradable and tip any water away at least 100 metres from the nearest lake or stream so it doesn’t pollute the watercourse.
Going to the toilet
In a previous article I wrote at on wild camping I covered in detail going to the toilet outdoors. It should be mentioned though that you should always go to toilet at least 100 metres from any water source and always carry out or burn any toilet paper you use.
The contents of my toilet pack.
I carry with me a toilet pack that I keep in a small drybag. The contents include:
- Toilet paper (or tissues)
- Hand sanitizer gel
- Alcohol hand wipes
- Lighter – for burning paper (where it’s not going to cause a fire hazard)
- Ziploc bag – for packing any used paper (where burning isn’t safe)
Hopefully these tips have been useful if you were wondering how to keep clean and hygienic outdoors for however long your trip. Aside from the obvious benefits of good hygiene if you’re travelling in a group, your friends will be more likely not to back away from you after a few days in the backcountry.
Please let me know if this article has been helpful and if you have any other thoughts or suggestions about keeping clean outdoors in the comments below.