When it comes to personal hygiene while hiking there are many methods you can use to keep yourself feeling fresh and clean. It's common for a lot of backpackers to "EMBRACE THE STINK" and not worry too much about keeping clean until they get home - but with these tips and tricks under your belt you can be the envy of all hikers.
Hand sanitiser is so important in this day and age, not only for Covid but for general health and wellbeing while out on trail. Poor hand hygiene is the leading cause of gastro or "funny tummy" while hiking.
By making sure your hands are clean after collecting water, going to the toilet or before preparing food is a way of protecting yourself and others. Your hands can get contaminated with foreign bacteria, viruses, and organisms that you don’t want to ingest. This can happen when you rub your eyes, pick your nose, go to the toilet or by simply reaching into someone else’s food bag to eat some trail mix or share food.
The ground is commonly littered with animal droppings and it is far too easy to touch them without realising it, just by simply taking off your shoes. While your body’s immune system does a pretty good job of fighting off infections, it’s not always successful.
Hand sanitiser is essential and a great multi-use item; you can use it to light fire, clean wounds and clean skin of oils before attaching a band-aid/blister patch. You can also use it when wiping your feet clean in the evening.
Your feet are the things that get you from point A to point B and not keeping them in good condition and happy can mean a good hike turns into a hideously bad one.
At the end of each day, clean your feet thoroughly. Wipes are a really easy way to do this or a wet microfibre cloth. Giving them a good clean will get the salt, funk and grime off your feet making your feel much happier at the end of the day.
Merino wool socks will help with foot odour rather than synthetic which can tend to hold moisture. Shaking baby powder onto your feet before bed will make sure they dry out, helping with blisters and trench foot if you've been crossing rivers and your feet are sodden.
One really great way to make sure your feet are happy is to let your feet air out during breaks throughout the day. Many hikers can't be bothered taking their shoes and socks off but it will go a long way to keeping them in good condition.
Pits and Bits
My favourite ways to freshen up at night in the tent are wilderness wipes or a wet microfibre cloth. Using either of these on your face, pits and bits will do wonders to help you feel clean and fresh. Wipes are safe to use all over your body, from your nether regions to your stinky armpits.
Baby powder is also a great deodoriser in general. You can use it for your body, as a dry shampoo for your hair and it can be used in shoes if they get really stinky. Baby powder will help get rid of odours like nothing else!
It can also be used for chaffing, but ladies make sure you get a corn starch powder not talc powder for your girly bits.
If you just can't stand the thought of not having a good old fashioned wash down you can always have a sponge bath. Regular soaps contain phosphates, which can promote algae blooms in waterways so make sure you use a biodegradable soap. If you're not too shy, simply collect some water and move 50m away from any camp or water source - put some biodegradable soap and water into a ziploc bag, using your microfibre cloth soap up and rinse off.
Hikers have a tendency to eat more sugary snacks during hikes than they normally would but keeping your teeth clean while on trail isn't difficult. At the end of the day you don’t need a lot, just a toothbrush and some water will do the trick but if your prefer toothpaste, a small travel tube will suffice.
Just make sure you use less toothpaste than normal and brush your teeth away from camp or a water source as the paste can attract animals or contaminate the water source.
There are 3 ways to lessen the impact toothpaste can leave, they are to swallow it, but if the thought of it makes you want to dry reach, spit it into your rubbish bag or last but not least - use the spray method. Simply take a small swig of water and spray the foam out with all your might. This will help disperse it over a larger area. Sounds a bit weird I know !!!
A lot of people freak out about having to do their business in the bush. Whether you are out on a day hike or a multi week hike there is a possibility that you may need to poo. Regardless of the length of your hike I recommend you always carry a lightweight trowel and toilet paper or baby wipes.
Read our cheeky little Blog about HOW TO POO IN THE BUSH WHILE HIKING
Just make sure you are at least 70 steps from trail, a water source and a camp site before you go. Dig a 6 inch cathode and use toilet paper or baby wipes. Always sure you LEAVE NO TRACE by packing it out in a seperate Ziploc bag.
Keeping your hair looking half decent isn't all that difficult. Your can buy a relatively light weight collapsable brush / mirror combo. Using this enables you to get the knots out at the end of the day. Simply shake some baby powder into your hair after you've brushed it out, making sure you rub it in, then brush out the excess. The powder will dry out some of the oils you get when you haven't washed your hair for a while. You could bring along dry shampoo but baby powder is a multi use item.
For longer hair I recommend keeping it in a braid or plat all day until you get to camp, then give it a good brush out.
Synthetic underwear rather than cotton is recommenced. Choose breathable moisture - wicking quick-dry underwear.
Bring an extra pair or two, so you have a dry clean pair to change into at the end of the day. In between wears, rinse out your undies, and let them hang dry off your pack while you are hiking.
There are 2 common ways which women deal with periods on trail, they are tampons/pads or menstrual cup.
Going with the traditional method of tampons/pads make sure your hands are clean using water first then hand sanitiser before inserting to prevent any nasty infection. Remember you'll need to pack out all used sanitary items.
I recommend carrying unused items in their own ziploc bag so you can keep them from getting wet and another ziploc bag (Or double ziplock bag) sprinkled with some bicarb soda to keep the odours down, for the used sanitary items. Having the used ziplock bag in a dedicated bag you can't see through will help keep things personal.
Finally a menstrual cup is becoming more popular for women on and off trail. Again just remember to practice good hand hygiene and empty it out into a cathole, clean the cup with soapy water and dump the contents and water into the cathole too. As always, fill in your cathole before moving on. I definitely suggest you master the use of a menstrual cup use before setting out on trail.
On general cleanliness you might be trying your best to look after your general hygiene while out on trail but not everybody is. Allowing others to reach into your scroggin, chips and other snacks is one of the main causes of gastrointestinal distress while hiking.
I'm not saying don't share with your hiking buddies but I suggest pouring some out into their hands, cup or bowl rather than letting them all dig in. Trust me, you'll thank me for it !
Trying to keep clean on trail is always going to be a compromise but with a few basics tips and tricks you can make it a little easier.