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How to stay clean on the trail


Clean your room! Do the dishes! Wash behind your ears! As much as it pains me to say this: Your mom’s actually. Keeping clean is a great habit to have both at home and on the trail.

Here are some tips to make it easier.


Many outdoorsmen I know carry a small pack of baby wipes on the trail. They’re lightweight and contain just enough liquid to feel refreshing on your skin.


Do it religiously after you use the bathroom, before you cook a meal and prior to eating. Warm water and soap is best, but on the trail a gel-based hand sanitizer is often easier. Choose one with an alcohol concentration of at least 60 percent so it’ll kill all the microbes that can collect on your skin and make you sick. Be sure to rub the gel into your hands for about 20 seconds or until dry. Check out Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer (about $2;


Home. Not home. You still need to clean your chompers. Bring along a toothbrush and use it. If you’re camping with your troop, consider sharing a tube of toothpaste between friends. And if you’re really an ounce-counter (a hiker who is fanatical about ultralight backpacking) cut off the handle of the toothbrush to save weight. Need one? Check out the Boy Scout Toothbrush ($2.59;


Sure, being dirty can be fun for a few days, but if you’re sharing a tent with fellow Scouts, pay attention to your stink factor. When it’s bath time, get a pot of water and scrub yourself down.

Use a biodegradable soap like the liquid Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap ($2.50;—I like the peppermint scent—or Sea to Summit Pocket Soap ($5; little, thin, single-use leaves of soap. If you’re really homesick, try the solar-heated hangable Sea to Summit Pocket Shower ($28;, which gives you about seven minutes of warm showering. Finally, my favorite: swimming. Nothing feels better than a quick dip after a long day on the trail.


Obviously you need a towel to dry off after bath time, but it’s silly to bring a big ol’ thick towel from home. Besides being heavy, they’re slow to dry. A better bet is a lightweight, quick-dry towel like the MSR PackTowl Ultralite ($14 to $30; or REI Multi-Towel Lite ($12.50 to $26.50;


If you have room in your backpack, bring along an extra set of underwear and clean clothes for wearing around camp. Once you do your sponge bath or swim, it’s nice to change into clean (or sort of clean) clothes. It also gives your trail clothes a chance to air out and dry overnight.


For longer backpacking trips, you can wash your clothes by putting them in a drybag (turn it inside-out) or plastic trash bag with a little water and soap (Dr. Bronner’s works great). Seal it up, then hike with it attached to the outside of your pack. Or simply shake it vigorously for 10 minutes or so. Drain the soapy water and refill for the rinse cycle.


If you’re on dish duty, use a biodegradable soap like Campsuds ($3.50;, Dr. Bronner’s or Sea to Summit Pocket Soap. One simple way to do dishes is with a portable sink like the Kelty Kitchen Sink ($46;, which comes with a retractable drying rack. Remember: You don’t need purified water to wash your camp dishes as long as you let your clean dishes air-dry before using them again because most microorganisms can’t survive in a dry environment. You can even use river water and a handful of sand to scrub the pots like a Brillo pad.


Use a small folded-over towel as a kind of welcome mat for your tent to collect dirt before it gets tracked inside. Make a rule that you and your tent mates must take off your boots before getting inside.


You are no doubt familiar with the sleeping bag stank syndrome. After several days of hiking hard and going to bed without a bath (you didn’t read Bath Time, above, obviously) your sleeping bag and tent often stink. So when you can, let your sleeping bag and tent air out in the fresh air before breaking camp each day.

7 Comments on How to stay clean on the trail

  1. Bring a bathing set with everything you use in it

  2. When water is a premium and can not be used for body washing I suggest the “NO RINSE” line of body wash and shampoo. They are not as good as the real thing but will help with the smell and grimy feeling after a long day of trekking.

  3. Cool

  4. I hate it when you go to summer camp and half the guys never shower or brush their teeth and are covered in dirt.

  5. I says to Mabel I // December 31, 2010 at 12:54 am // Reply

    Some of the best advice on

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