Hiking/Camping Part 3 – Camp Health & Hygiene

Decomposers The fungi on this tree feed on dea...

Image via Wikipedia

Living outdoors can put a lot of stress on the body and can introduce many types of fungus, bacteria and other disease causing organisms.  While it can be difficult if you are hoofing it through forests and mountain paths it is still important to at least keep clean if not well groomed.  Depending upon where you are hiking and camping the options will differ.  Usually state park camping areas provide  bathrooms/outhouses and many even provide washrooms with showers.  So keeping clean and groomed is not that difficult.  But if you are going more back country than these options are more limited and likely you will be using a hole in the ground and lakes or streams to rinse yourself off.  Regardless of which situation you are in there are some things you are just going to need in your bag of tricks.

Hygiene Gear Bag

Cinch SackWell, the first thing you will need is a bag.  You will need something to store your grooming and hygiene gear.  One idea is to use a cinch sack with a zip pocket.  The cinch sack could be used to hold and organize your clothing mentioned in the previous article while the zip pocket can hold the items needed for grooming and hygiene.  Minimalists backpackers may not like this idea as they want to keep as much out of their packs as possible but I think it would be beneficial to have a bag you can grab from your pack that has what you need to change and get ready to go.  You can just grab this bag and go to the park washroom or if in back country a privacy area you may have setup to get ready.  Also, I could see where one might not want to keep pricey clothes in a pack, but by keeping hiking/camping clothes in a cinch sack at home and actually using the convertible pants and shirts for other activities hiking, biking, etc you can then clean and throw them back in the cinch, simplifying packing.  Now you can just grab the cinch and throw it in pack when you want to hit the road and go on a camping/backpacking trip.  Efficiency can just make the experience more enjoyable.

Washing Up

Body WipesCamp SoapCamp ShowerDromedary

First you will want some multi-purpose camp soap.  This soap is usually made from bio-degradable ingredients that will be gentile on the environment.  This soap is multi-purpose and may be used not only for bathing but for laundry and dishes as well.  Another option to consider is body wipes.  If you are on the go, hiking, body wipes may be used in between bathing to clean off and freshen up so one might skip a bath or so especially if the facilities or opportunity is lacking.  Finally, if you will be in an area that doesn’t have washroom facilities, especially in back country, you could get a solar bag shower.  Smaller two gallon ones may be an option for the pack but the weight versus benefit will need to be considered.  An alternative to decrease weight for hikers is to have a larger water bladder such as the MSR Dromedary 6 or 10 liter which can double as a hanging shower.  When you want to cut down on weight you need to look for options that can fulfill multiple purposes.  A hot shower can go a long way to lifting the spirits.  One way to augment a solar bag shower’s capabilities is to get a strip thermometer the kind used for aquariums and to stick it on the back of the bag so you can monitor your water temperature.  There are some more advanced options such as bags with built in solar panels to heat the water (again weight, cost and benefit have to be considered).  One thought; if you are in back country you could create some privacy for your shower using a poncho and paracord.

HorseradishFun Survival Tip:  If you find yourself lost without any soap you can always make your own soap.  While this is by no means a first priority when you are lost or trying to survive, at some point you need to get clean.  Making soap is somewhat simple.  You just need to boil some oil or fat in water and than add pot ash (some ash from your fire) and let it reduce down till it thickens and then remove it from the fire and when it cools you will have basic soap.  To make the soap anti-bacterial add some pine resin or horse-radish root while boiling.

Drying Off

Light Load TowelsPack TowelNow that you’ve washed off, or taken a dip you are going to want to dry off.  Also if you have worked up a sweet you will want to dry off as well.  Your going to want to have a pack towel.  Pack towels are generally made from micro-fibers which allow them to soak up a large amount of water and dry off quickly.  They are not as large as a regular towel and are designed to pack down small.  Discovery Trekking, MSR and Sea to Summit make some high quality pack towels.  Another option are the light load towels.  These towels pack down to the size of a hockey puck but expand out to a large beach towel.  There are also hand size ones which might be used as hand towels or wash cloths.  These light load towels are not plush like a regular towel but make up for this with versatility.  Light loads  may also be used as kindling for a fire or as a water filter or face mask.

Keeping Your Teeth Clean and Hair in Place

Folding Tooth BrushGenerally you are going to want a travel tooth brush and tooth paste.  Options include folding tooth brushes and tooth brush that double as a brush & tooth paste holder.  If you don’t happen to have tooth paste you can always use baking soda or salt to brush your teeth.  Next to washing your body cleaning your teeth is just as important.  Tooth decay and subsequent infections have been known to cause severe illness and even death.


Fun Survival Tip:  If you don’t have a toothbrush and tooth paste there are some other options.  The stems of horsetail and cattails may be split open and the core fibers rubbed against the teeth.  Alternatively, twigs from either the Sweetgum tree or a Miswak from the Salvadora persica tree (mustard tree) may be frayed at the end and chewed on to clean teeth.

Folding Brush

To keep your hair together a comb and folding brush should fit easily into the pocket.  Learning to use a straight raiser might be advisable as they take up less room and can be sharpened.  Again the camp soap can be used in place of shaving cream.  Throw in a nail clipper and you have a well rounded hygiene pack.

Using the Washroom

Squeeze bottleUsually when camping you will have washrooms, outhouses or port-a-potties available.  These will usually also be supplied with toilet paper.  Its probably a good idea to have a roll or so on hand just in case.  If you are in the back country your going to have to dig a hole and bring your own paper.  But then paper adds weight and takes up space.  For extended back-country periods you might have to clean up beday style.  A small squirt or squeeze  bottle such as the Fuelbelt bottle would be a good choice.


Protect Your Skin

Fabric Insect RepellentInsect RepellentSunblock with Insect RepellentSun Block

Last but certainly not least you will need to protect your skin from insects and the sun.  Insects can cause disease and sun burns can result in dehydration all of which can lead to serious illness or even death.   Two methods of insect repellent to consider are those applied to the skin or repellents applied to fabric and clothing.  Some companies like Columbia make clothing having threads impregnated with repellent called Bug Shield or a more cost effective alternative might be to treat clothing yourself using something like the Sawyer Permethrin.  To protect skin the best of both worlds is insect repellent combined with sun block.  Insect repellents applied to the skin either use deet which is also a pesticide and works against the widest range of bugs but which also has some long term health concerns associated with it.  The alternative, picaridin, repells insects and is non-toxic with few if any long term health risks but doesn’t work against as wide a range of insects as deet.  Treating clothing helps to reduce the amount of repellent needed on the skin which reduces absorption and any potential impact to long term health.  As far as sun block if you are hiking you will want water proof sun block having higher SPF ratings at least greater than or equal to 30.

Well I hope that many will find these tips useful.  Keep enjoying nature and stay clean, or as clean as one can in the great outdoors.


About Last Fiddle
I have always had many interests; technology, science, philosophy, theology, politics, history, etc... Currently, life for the past twelve years has placed me in the area of technology fulfilling roles in System Administration and Architecture. But I have always been involved in the local church and enjoy researching and discussing issues of theology, philosophy, history and politics...

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