Backpackers who have been on trail for more than a few days know that we don't smell like roses. Your days have been spent sweating your way up and over mountains, across streams, and into camp. If you've not been out on trail for a few months chances are it's harder than you remembered to walk those miles with a pack on. All you want to do is make your supper, climb in your tent, and sleep like a log. In fact, many long-distance hikers do the same thing! We push through long days to eat, sleep, wake, and repeat. One thing that I definitely saw fall by the wayside was personal hygiene. This post will be about how to keep yourself a little bit cleaner with minimal effort - which means so much more than just using hand sanitizer once a day!
First of all, I want to talk about the Norovirus. Norovirus is a nasty little bug that seems to make an appearance every single season. If you click the link you'll see a post I wrote about the terrible symptoms and ways you can contract the virus on trail. You really don't want this - so let's talk about the things you can do to keep yourself clean on trail.
Hand Washing - Not Just Sanitizer!
Hand sanitizer - so easy! You just slap some of this stuff on your hands and go on your way. Well, it might be easy, but it's not so fail-proof these days! I personally hate the stuff and pretty much only use it as fire starter. It always leaves me feeling sticky. Because it felt sticky and I was already grubby I just quit using it. Hand sanitizer also encourages the breeding of super viruses and bacteria, which I won't go into in great detail here about those things - just know that we as a society are teaching bacteria and viruses to evolve and are doing more harm than good by over sanitizing everything we own making the bad bacteria breed stronger and the good bacteria (probiotics that naturally live on our skin) die off. One thing we do as guides in my company is hand washing before meals. We heat up just a small amount of water with our stoves, lather up, and rinse. It takes less than 4 ounces of water and only a drop of Dr. Bronner's soap to wash up. Now that I know how easy it is, I make it a priority every day at least once! It doesn't take much time and having clean fingernails is definitely a plus! You can see the Center for Disease Control's recommendations on Norovirus here.
Brushing Your Teeth
You're tired and it's been a long day. You want to eat and go to sleep. I recently wrote an entire post about how important it is to take care of your teeth on a long hike, especially since your body is getting poor nutrition and is stressed more than it would be back at home. Please check out this post for more info about dental hygiene and why it's important on a long hike!
Laundry Day is Worth the Money
While doing your laundry may start to seem like a moot point after you've settled into smelling like a funky hiker, it actually can do a lot of good for you and your hygiene! As you've read in my Norovirus post, lots of nasty things can live in your clothing. Even if you don't want to pay for doing a load of laundry at a laundromat, just rinsing your clothes clean when you shower on trail can help tremendously. You'll find that on those hot summer days, your sweat will dry and form salt crystals. These can really hurt when they rub your skin directly. Washing your clothes with detergent in a laundromat is definitely worth the few dollars to get rid of the pain!
Washing Your Pack
When we were taking a near-o day in Daleville, Virginia (a day when you don't hike very many miles and stay in town for the night), some friends of ours were taking the afternoon to wash and dry their packs. Not only does it help with that funky thru hiker smell, it will help wash off the salt crystals and whatever else happens to be living on your pack. If you're doing a longer hike, chances are you have tossed your pack around in a few shelters, in patches of dirt, on the side of the road, etc. You can pick up more than a few microorganisms this way! All you need to do to wash your pack on trail during a near-o or zero day is some Dr. Bronner's and a bathtub. Prerinse your pack - rinsing until it runs more clear, scrub it down with the soap using your hands, and rinse again until water runs clear. Let it drip dry in your tub or outside in the sunshine.
**I shouldn't even have to say this, but please make sure to clean up your mess if you're doing this in a hostel! Hostel owners, especially during the hiking season, already have a full schedule of cleaning up after you - don't make them clean up your mess!**
When All Else Fails - Baby Wipes!
Baby wipes are one of the most important things I carry on a long hike. They can be used for their usual purpose or a quick wipe down when you're feeling funky. In the hot summer months, when the bugs were at their highest swarms, we often found ourselves applying too much bug spray multiple times a day. Add this to the layers of dirt forming on your legs and you've got what NoKey and I like to call "human varnish". We'd have layers of dirt alternating with bug spray in thick, nasty chunks. The baby wipes at the end of the day helped clean all this off and leave your skin feeling a little less funky. We always went with the unscented version, which also work great at wiping residue out of your cook pot.
While we all know smelling bad is just a part of being a backpacker, taking a few moments each day to clean yourself up a bit can not only be good for your mental state after a long day, it can really help keep you healthier! What are some ways you keep clean when you're taking a backpacking trip or a long hike? Is there anything you'd add to the list? I'd love for you to leave me a comment or connect with me on Facebook and let me know!