Next year I am planning my first backpacking trip where I need to wash myself and some clothes. What is a soap that will work for both and is still good for the environment?
Submitted by – Jim – Shoreline, WA
There are lots of soaps out there that are marketed as biodegradable. Many people think that means that you can therefore jump into a pristine backcountry lake, soap up yourself and your clothes, and it’s no harm, no foul. Unfortunately that is patently untrue. There is no soap that is safe to use in such a way.
Washing your clothes in the backcountry is a big pain in the butt, which is why in 20 years of backpacking, I can’t remember a single time I’ve done it. Even on long (2-week) backcountry trips, I’ve never felt the need to wash my clothes out with soap. As for washing myself, I usually pack along a couple of Action Wipes (actionwipes.com), which are 9” x 10” wipes that are pre-soaked with all-natural, skin-friendly ingredients like tea tree oils, eucalyptus, frankinsence and the aromatic ylang ylang which have antibacterial and antifungal properties. They clean me up just fine, and just a couple lasts for a week, because they’re durable enough to be rinsed and reused. Here are some more tips for keeping fresh.
Now, if you mean backpacking in the European or Asian sense of the word—going from hostel to hostel, where sinks and pipes and drains are available—by all means wash your smelly clothes! Some good travelers soaps are Campsuds ($4, sierradawn.com) or Sea to Summit Citronella Wilderness Wash Soap ($5, seatosummit.com).