Staying clean in the backcountry

One thing that afflicts us all is our stench after several days backcountry. Time after time I walk past fellow hikers and they smell like fresh laundry. I, on the other hand, smell like week old roadkill. So this week, I decided to go ahead and write about backcountry hygiene.

If you’re like me, you sweat a lot. No matter if I’m skinny or more round, I sweat. And we’re not talking about a glistening sweat. This is a downpour of saline solution. My nether regions and rump tend to sweat the most. I’m soaked down there after about three miles into the hike or so. My pits sweat almost as bad as my lower half. My head sweats like crazy as well, and when it dries, I have salt crystals all over my face. Now, one day of sweat isn’t bad. I normally don’t think it warrants attention. But two days of sweat? That’s when it starts getting bad. If I don’t clean up somehow after about a day and a half of hiking, I start chafing. I get the “chub rub”. And I smell horrendous! Of course, everyone else smells about the same, but still, I don’t want to attract animals to me or repel other human beings.

So what to do? Can’t really bathe in a lake or stream. Here in Utah it’s strictly forbidden to swim in mountain lakes. However, in Montana, it is not. If you’re in an area where you’re allowed to swim in the lakes, by all means go ahead. Get some of that grime off of ya. Just don’t add soap. For the rest of us, however, there are a few solutions.

  1. Wet wipes. I cannot express how many times wet wipes have saved my butt. Literally. They clean off the sweat and oils, and give you a fresh baby scent. The downfall to these is the weight. Moist cloths are heavy. These are better for keeping at your base camp. You can pick these up literally anywhere.
  2. CampSuds. I take CampSuds with me everywhere. It’s great for washing dishes and my face/nether regions. Pair it with a microfiber cloth, and you’re in for a good time. Even though it’s biodegradable, please don’t take a bubble bath in the river. I like to fill up my water bottle or a pot with water and soap and then scrub down. Plus, it’s got a pretty nice pine and citrus scent. Downside is that it’s soap. Without water, there’s no use in it.  Grab a bottle at your local REI or Sports store for around $4-5.00.
  3. Portable shower. Sea to Summit makes an amazing portable shower. Packs down to about the size of a Twinkie yet holds 10 Liters of water when full! Fill that puppy up at a lake or stream, set it in the sun for a few hours and you’ve got yourself a lukewarm shower. Pair it with a microfiber cloth and some CampSuds, and you’ll be fresh as can be. Downside is that you have to be near bodies of water to shower, and  it takes up some pack space you can use for other things. At 5.25oz, you’ve got yourself a pretty lightweight solution. I got mine at REI for $30 more or less.
  4. Mineral Salt Deodorants. I use these when I know I’m not going to be showering for a while. Put some of that on your pits and between your thighs, and you’ll be fresh without being fresh. Best to buy these on Amazon or online. They’re hard to find in stores.
  5. Pack a change of undies. Can’t beat the feeling of clean underwear in the backcountry.  Plus, they don’t smell as bad as the ones you wore the day before.
  6. Toothpaste and brushes. There are many lightweight options to keeping your dental hygiene going. I absolutely hate the taste in my mouth when I wake up if I didn’t brush the night before. So take a small toothbrush and some paste. It’s worth it’s weight.

All of these ideas are great. They’ll all cost you some pack space and weight, but it’s either that or the stench. I’m sure there are other ways out there to stay clean, and I’d love to hear about them, so leave a comment below on how you stay clean in the backwoods.

Published by sjtillman

I have ADHD and Anxiety, the perfect match made in heaven. I am a proud father and husband. I work too much, travel too little, but try to backpack and hike as much as possible. I do a lot of research and have too many thoughts in my mind.

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