Camping Hygiene: How to Stay Clean When Camping

On the surface, camping may seem like the enemy of cleanliness. Whether you're backpacking and sweating or camping deep in the woods, camping hygiene still applies and can even be refreshing.

While you can't take your entire bathroom with you, let alone the convenience of your own hot shower, you can get up close and personal with the products of modern camping. Keep some dignity on the road with these simple hygiene tips and tricks.

a pile of clean clothes

Bring enough clean clothes.

Some backpacking purists only bring two sets of clothes: one for the trail and one for the construction site (no, a change of clothes doesn't count as a double). While the space savings are sensible and prudent, you're bound to break a sweat if you're out for more than a few days.

Foot comfort and care are an important part of my beauty routine. I carry a pair of socks almost every day. I also wear a pair of socks on long trips and dry socks in my wool socks for cleaner and better protection against the athlete's foot.

Bring a pair of underwear and socks for camp use. Wear them to bed after the shower, making sure they're the least messy pair you'll ever own.

cotton kills

It's a cliché that my Boy Scouts used to say and that my friends still say to this day. Cotton contains sweat reservoirs, which can lead to the build-up of bacteria, grease, dirt, and more. Plus, the moisture in cotton will keep you cold in adverse conditions.

Go the synthetic route. Synthetic materials tend to be absorbent, which means they do so on purpose and dry quickly. Wool is the second best and keeps you warm even when wet.

have a laundry day

If you're hiking for months or do need to clean some basic clothing, use a biodegradable soap and water source, preferably a river. Make sure your water supply is not stagnant.

While steaming, lathering, and rinsing are convenient, such washing can destroy natural habitats supported by rivers and other water sources. Make sure you do all cleaning (washing dishes and brushing teeth) within 200 feet of water.

Use a Scrubba laundry bag to wash clothes, then drain the grey water out of the water. A regular Ziploc bag is a perfect replacement if you want to save money, as shown in the video below.

biodegradable soap
Typical body soaps, dish soaps and laundry detergents disrupt natural ecosystems. Fortunately, many soaps are biodegradable and are available in travel sizes to optimize space in a backpack or car.
You can also buy this camping soap in different sizes. Just think about spending frugally, reducing waste and reducing environmental emissions.

A close second is Campsuds since it's not organic. It does the same for trail hygiene but is only available at outdoor stores.

The alpine pool at the waterfall

take a mountain bath

My father forced my brother and I into cool alpine rivers as a child. We were soaping and shampooing because he told us to get to the back of our ears and neck before touching the towel my mom was holding. It's pure torture, but their plan has a clear approach:

Plan your trips around alpine lakes, rivers and other water sources. Not only does this provide water for your venue, but you can shower/bath in the lake to wash away sweat, body oils and grime.

If the water isn't deep enough for swimming, take a river sponge bath to clean your most important areas. Again, make sure you're not drawing inspiration from stagnant sources. Camping near water, while obvious, is probably the most important tip; water is the catalyst for cleaning.

Another trick is to use a microfiber towel to dry. You can buy some fairly small to save space, and if they get too wet you can wring them out to dry further.

Bring a camping shower.

When you need to be cleaner and have some privacy, a camping shower is the way to go. However, this is an area where you might get lost in all your options. Amazingly, there are dozens of brands.

Probably the most efficient and space-saving is the solar shower. It's really simple: fill it with water, put it in the sun, give you warm water. (Boil some water if you need extra heat!) Then hang this camping shower from a sturdy tree branch to organize.

If you are looking for privacy, place a towel or blanket. But if you're car camping, I've even seen people bring shower curtains from home!

Easy and fast cleaning - use a camping towel

Deep in a forest (or desert) away from water? You don't have to be completely unclean. Baby wipes are a good alternative to the shower. Bring a pack of these to clean your most important areas. It's a good idea to buy alcohol-free wipes because they kill the good bacteria on your body.

If you want to earn bonus points, buy more eco-friendly biodegradable wipes. You can buy these from Amazon, but as always, we recommend heading to your nearest outdoor store.

dirty dog

Don't forget to take care of your dog

Some people's feet are lucky, but I'm not one of them. I always keep foot powder with me, whether it's Gold Bond or Lotrimin for athlete's foot. It's also a good idea to use Gold Bond to keep your feet dry and moisture-free to avoid blisters.

I put on sandals for my camping shoes after a day of hiking. This allows my feet to breathe and drain water naturally.

Drop the stick even if you're a luxury tent. The smell isn't really something to worry about. You should probably throw away your sticks and sprays, as they attract bugs. It might not look that hygienic, but it's really just a fragrance that smells less sweet.

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