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Beginner Skills

16 Ways to Be (and Feel) Less Gross on Your Next Backpacking Trip

Stay fresh, whether you’re out for a few miles or a few thousand.

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No, you’re not going to be showering under a waterfall every day on the trail. (That would be sweet, though.) And no, a little B.O. never hurt anyone. Keyword: a little. Unless you want the wildlife and other hikers to turn tail and run, it pays to pay basic attention to hygiene wherever you are. Plus, by staying on top of your oral health, bathroom routine, and more, you’ll come home feeling more refreshed, mentally and physically. Start with these simple tips. —The Editors

The expert: Amanda “Not A Chance” Timeoni has hiked 14,500 miles since she started counting in 2009, including four laps of the Pacific Crest Trail. She has never had foot fungus.

Take care of business 

Go natural. Hiking far? Use smooth stones, leaves, or snow for the initial work and TP to finish (or leave it at home altogether).

Scrub the poop deck. You might be dubious, but this will change your life. “I do this every time I go to the bathroom,” says Timeoni. “It keeps things a lot cleaner, especially if you use leaves instead of toilet paper.” Nothing ruins a trip like monkey butt. 1. Fill a dedicated 4-ounce squeeze bottle with water. 2. Direct water into your nether parts. 3. Use soap if you need to. 4. Drip dry. 5. Wash your hands. Tip: You may sanitize your mitts, but what about everyone else? Fist bumps are better than handshakes for hellos.

Clean your teeth

Cover up. Don’t leave your brush naked. Grab a travel-size one with a cap.

Pack floss. Make your dentist proud. (It also doubles as thread.)

Less is more.

Adapt to the trail with these ultralight alternatives.

Instead of a trowel, use: an aluminum tent stake. Use it to loosen rocks and dirt 7 inches down. Excavate with a stick or your hands.

Instead of a hair brush, use: a lightweight comb or nothing at all. Braids and finger-brushing should keep you tangle-free. For LNT dry shampoo, try cornstarch or arrowroot powder.

Instead of lotion, use: packets of coconut oil. Try Carrington Farms single-use Go Paks ($9 for 8). They’re effective, light, and don’t require lugging a tube or jar. Bonus: They’re tasty.

Instead of deodorant, use: your natural scent. On short hikes, you’ll be reminded of your animal spice. On long ones, you’ll acclimate by the time you reach terminal funk.

Bathe responsibly

Big jobs: If you need a full bath, 3 liters of water will get you clean.

Little jobs: Use wet wipes (pack them out).

1 dab of soap is all you need. Try Dr. Bronner’s. Lather it up on a packtowel or bandana to make it last.

Dump used water 200 feet away from water sources, trails, and others.

Foot work: Timeoni scrubs her feet with soap and water every night before bed. “You feel a lot cleaner when you don’t have dirt between your toes,” she says.

Do your laundry

You can usually get through a backpacking trip without needing a costume change—but from mud pits to bird shit to other assorted encounters, accidents do happen. Know how to clean your clothes in a pinch and you’ll feel more confident packing less.

Full load. Fill a gallon zip-top bag half-full of warm water. Add clothes and biodegradable detergent (powders are lightest), but leave enough room to squish the contents around. Agitate for 5 to 10 minutes, then scatter used water 200 feet from water or trails. Refill your bag with clean water for the rinse cycle. Wring out clothes, then hang them in the sun to dry.

Giovanni Corrado Leone

The bare minimum. Not fastidious enough for all that? At least do your socks. 1) Bring two pairs. When one gets crusty, wash them, wear your spare, and hang the damp ones on your pack to dry. 2) Take your socks and shoes off at breaks to let everything air out and help prevent fungal growth.

Originally published August 2017; last updated March 2022

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