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Backpacker Magazine – April 2008

Start Smart: Stay Clean and Healthy

4 strategies to feel and smell better

by: Susan Alcorn

Don't let backpacking's grungy reputation keep you off the trail. You don't have to give up on personal hygiene just because the nearest running water is a frigid stream. Make these hygiene tactics part of your campsite routine, and you'll look better, feel cleaner–and protect your friend's health, too.

  • To wash up, apply a dime-sized dollop of unscented sanitizer to your hands and rub vigorously for 20 seconds. If the sanitizer evaporates before that time, then you didn't use enough.
  • Soap, warm water, and friction remove fatty deposits found in food, especially meats. Use a biodegradable cleaner like Dr. Bronners Liquid Soap (, $3.75) and rub your hands for one minute.
  • Lick clean your personal dishes, then wipe them with hand sanitizer, or warm water and biodegradable soap. Air dry by fanning.
  • Sponges and scrubbing pads are prime real estate for germs. Sanitize them after repeated use with alcohol gel or submersion in boiling water.
  • Pour trail mix into a person's hand instead of letting him reach into the bag.
  • Reduce skin chafing by applying a non-greasy friction barrier like BodyGlide Anti-Blister and Chafing Stick (1.3 oz., $9) to any problem areas, especially hips and thighs.
  • Before turning in, give yourself a quick sponge bath with a damp, clean bandana. Wipe down your groin, armpits, and feet with alcohol sanitizer to eliminate bacteria.
  • Change your clothes and underwear when you're done hiking for the day.
  • Pack three pairs of hiking socks: One to wear, one to wash, and one for sleeping.

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Reader Rating: -


Jul 03, 2010

last summer in the high sierra, we used our bear canister to haul water from a lake to the campground to wash our clothes. it worked like a charm and having clean undergarments for the next day's trek was great.

Frontier Gal
Jul 02, 2010

Anyone here of sagebrush. If you have it growing around you, use it. Great antibacterial, fresh smell, and its free. A plus, no nasty alcohol smell, that stuff is not good for you.

Frontier Gal
Jul 02, 2010

Anyone here of sagebrush. If you have it growing around you, use it. Great antibacterial, fresh smell, and its free. A plus, no nasty alcohol smell, that stuff is not good for you.

Lisa from Maryland
Jul 02, 2010

Even when I'm hiking in cool weather I get a pretty good workout and have very oily face skin so I do a sponge bath each night. To make this really simple I carry an empty plastic gallon jug with the top cut off(probably a tip from Backpacker). You do not need purified water just scoop it up from your nearby stream. I feel relaxed and sleep much better after wiping off sweat and dirt. Also keeps sleeping bag cleaner, I do not have a liner.

Jul 02, 2010

Anyone use Lavilin deoderant before a trip?

Jul 02, 2010

Bah: You must have some angelic feet. I can't imagine wearing the same pair of dress socks for a week at work, let alone 9 days of wet hiking socks? We just got back from Philmont. I had 2 pair Smartwool hiking socks and a liner pair. I usually wore the liners around camp, and rinsed/switched the hikers every third day. None smelled as fresh as when I started.

Jul 02, 2010

With regard to socks, I disagree with having a 3rd pair. Bring one to hike in and one to sleep in. Quality wool hiking socks should not smell even after 9 or 10 days of use. I wore the same pair of SW medium cushion hiking socks for 10 days straight, it rained 9 of them and was 70 the last day. By the end of the trip, they smelled as fresh as when I started.

Jul 02, 2010

Best deodorant system: waterless handcleaner, then thai stone, then bath powder(I make my own from corn starch and baking soda in a blender)


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