Bathing on the trail

Hiking practice

If you are hiking for any length of time get used to not being as clean as you usually would like. While you need to clean yourself all over from time to time, areas such as hands, the face, armpits and groin are areas that will need more regular cleaning.

For the past 5 years we been using a body washing system, thanks to the recommendation of a friend, which is about as simple as it gets.

One thing to note here is that while using this method will make you feel much better, and in the short term make you smell better,  that doesn’t last long. I find on long distance trips that even after leaving a town having had a shower and having washed and dried my clothes in a machine I smell within a couple of hours of walking. The good thing is that so does everyone else!

Toilet facilities typical of the campsites on the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail. These toilets are large enough to strip off and wash yourself. Alternatively if the weather is really bad, you may have to bathe yourself in your tent

The kit

My Body washing kit which includes:

  • A Chux cloth (disposable cleaning cloth). My preferred size is about 40cm x 40cm, I just find that this works well
  • Essential oil (we use tea tree oil or lavender oil). A 15-25ml bottle is enough to last you fro multiple weeks as you only need to add a couple of drops for each wash
  • A sandwich size ziplock bag.

Just add a small amount of water to the ziplock bag and a few drops of essential oil and start cleaning – you’ll be amazed at how ‘fresh’ you’ll feel

Body washing kit

Lavender Oil is another option for those that prefer

The process

  1. Find a location to wash yourself.  If you’re doing an overnight hiking trail that has toilets at the trailhead/campsites then it is easy to strip down and give yourself a good wash in the toilet stalls. If you have enough privacy (and you are really sure about that) and the weather is warm enough, then strip off outside the tent to give yourself a clean. Some people are very comfortable with themselves and don’t care who is around but keep it family friendly.
    • Make sure that you are at least 60 metres away from water sources to limit the amount of germs, bacteria and chemicals that enter the waterways.
  2. Pour a small amount of water into the ziplock bag (sandwich size) leaving the wash cloth in the bag then add a couple of drops of essential oil (we use tea tree oil or lavender oil but the choice is up to you). Squeeze most of the water out of the cloth back into the bag so that it’s still wet but not dripping.
  3. Clean away! You’ll need to squeeze out the cloth and add more of the water and oil from the bag as you go
    • Wipe your body focusing on the areas that need to be cleaned and don’t forget the bottom of your feet and between your toes. You won’t get as clean as having a shower or bath but you will at least be reasonably clean as well as being less offensive to other hikers and you’ll feel much better.
  4. Once you’ve finished do a final rinse of the cloth and then empty out any remaining water. You may need to add some clean water and do a final rinse of the cloth.

Last words

Now the thing to remember is that compared to your day to day life, keeping yourself washed and clean on the trail is a compromise. If you are hiking for an extended period, you need to get used to smelling less than perfect but it’s amazing how much better a wipe down can make you feel. I find on long distance trips that even after leaving a town having had a shower and having washed and dried my clothes in a machine with commercial detergent I end up smelling within a couple of hours of starting walking.

While this could be considered a luxury for the sake of less than 40 grams it makes a huge difference to how you feel at the end of the day and is well worth carrying on longer hikes.

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