What I wished I knew before I starting backpacking and hiking, but didn’t…. Part 7: Staying clean on the trail (HBA)

This is the 7th part of a series

HBA stands for Health and Beauty Aids.   I don’t know why I started calling it that, but I did. It pertains to all things related to how do you stay clean when you are on the trail. Well, I’ll be honest. You don’t really stay all that clean…. I mean, I’m not NASTY, but I’m not exactly snuggle with the wife clean, either…. I brush my teeth in the morning and at night. I clean the face, pits, and privates (in that order, by the way) every night – especially when I’ve been sweaty most of the day. But clean? Not really. There’s a term of “hiker funk” for a reason. If you are hiking all day, every day, for multiple days in a row, it’s really a losing battle to stay shower fresh. It uses a lot of energy. The items needed to stay shower fresh are heavy. Everyone else stinks. You get used to it. Really, you do. Plus, I will tell you when you have a certain degree of hiker funk even the bugs leave you alone.

So, what do I do? I carry a bandana on my shoulder strap. During the day, I use it to wipe sweat out of my eyes or to insulate against hot items (my mug on the stove, for instance). When given the opportunity and conditions (near water but not IN the water) I’ll rinse it out and use it to wipe off the areas in the order listed above (face, pits, and privates). I do carry a small amount of a natural soap (I use Dr. Bronners but there are others) when I need a deeper clean. I collect water (I’ll explain later) and use it away from the water source to clean up. I brush my teeth two times a day and carry a small container of dental floss. I have a travel size deodorant for short trips. Given the right conditions and temperature, a swim in a lake can be a “bath.”

One of the biggest questions that comes up is “How do you go to the bathroom?” Well, the answer is, just like you do at home, but outside! I mean, you do have to improvise a little…. This is where men definitely have the advantage because one type of bathroom break (the easy one) is a no brainer. You go out of sight of others, away from water, and do your business. The other type (that typically takes longer) does take a little more preparation.   I highly suggest a lightweight trowel. You need/should dig a hole. Do your business in the hole. Wipe. Cover the hole.

For this situation, I carry what I call my “poop kit.” It’s in a waterproof bag (it can be a Ziploc bag). In the bag is toilet paper and/or wipes and some hand sanitizer. If there’s not facilities (called a “privy” on the trail), you get out of the sight of others (200 ft off the trail), away from a water source, dig a hole, lower the pants, do your business, wipe, cover the hole, and march on. The true LNT people carry their used toilet paper out with them. I’m not a true LNT person. As a note, when you squat to do the deed, make sure your pants are well out of harm’s way. Don’t ask me how I know…..

That should cover the basics of staying “trail clean.” It is a relative term. One thing I didn’t address is keeping your hands clean. This is highly important to keeping yourself from getting sick. I use a combination of hand sanitizer and actual soap. When enough water is available, I will use a small amount of soap, really scrub my hands, and rinse. Other times I use hand sanitizer. You should also want to clean your feet at least once a day. This will help prevent blisters as you remove the dirt and grime that eventually build up when hiking.

These items can be heavy – especially if you carry full size items. Look in the travel section at your local store. You’ll likely find small containers of soap, shampoo, toothpaste, a travel toothbrush, and other items that you may want to carry backpacking. One thing I didn’t mention is powder. I HIGHLY suggest carrying a travel size container of medicated powder. IF you have chaffing issues, clean and powder the affected area. The medicated powder will sting, but you’ll be in much better shape the next morning. Of course, if you can solve the chaffing issue by changing out a clothing item, that’s even better.

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About jnunniv

I like outdoor activities including hiking, camping, and scuba diving.
This entry was posted in Backpacking, Beginner Series, Hammock Camping, Hiking. Bookmark the permalink.

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