“Bath twice a day to be really clean, once a day to be passably clean, once a week to avoid being a public menace.”
- Anthony Burgess (1917-1993)
Maintaining hygiene standards in the wilderness is important for warding off infections and intestinal problems. However, a hiker’s personal hygiene should never come at the expense of the environment.
Distance: Choose a spot at least 50 metres away from water sources.
Means: Use your cooking pot or a large water sack (eg. Platypus). Focus on the “essential” areas. If you choose to use soap, make it biodegradable and dilute it as much as possible.
Alternatives: If water is in short supply, then baby wipes are a great option.
Swimming: Before jumping in, be sure to give yourself a quick pre-wash if you have been using sunscreen, insect repellent or any other type of cream or lotion. At the end of a long hot day on the trail, it is easy to forget that what you see as a quick means of cooling-off and getting clean, is in actual fact a home for aquatic life and a water source for animals and future hikers.
Suck it up: If you are hiking for only a few days, you don’t need to be worried about washing clothes.
Daily Attire: During extended trips (ie. more than a week), the only items I regularly wash whilst on trail are socks (I don’t wear underwear). Clean socks are important in discouraging blisters and fungal infections. I generally carry three pair. One for sleeping (always kept clean) and the other two for hiking. In hot and/or humid conditions when I am sweating profusely, I will also rinse out my hiking shirt and shorts every two or three days to help avoid chafe.
Technique: Wash your socks away from water sources. No soap or detergent necessary. Use your cooking pot or alternatively use a zip lock bag filled with water. After finishing, hang your socks on the outside of your backpack and away you go. In regards to shirt and shorts, I will generally put them straight back on and within 30 minutes to an hour of hiking they’ll generally be dry again.
Distance: Dishes should be done at least 50 metres (55 yards) away from water sources.
Technique: Pour a little water into the pot. Give it a good scrape and stir with your eating utensil. If you are not the fussy type, drink the liquid residue. If that doesn’t appeal, use a bandana to strain the larger food particles (which you can eat or pack out) and disperse the remaining water over a wide area.
Alternatives: For hard to remove food residue, use a dishcloth, bandana or natural alternatives such as sand or snow.
No Soap: I tend not to use dishwashing soap. Utensils and pots can be sterilized simply by boiling water. If you choose to use a dishwashing liquid, make it biodegradable, dilute the water as much as possible and after finishing disperse it widely, ideally over a bare or already impacted surface.
The #2 Question
Location, Location: Choose a spot at least 50m away from water sources. Avoid drainage areas where heavy rains may dislodge the faeces and wash it downstream. Whenever possible, choose a site with maximum sun exposure, as heat helps to accelerate the decomposition process.
Depth: Dig a hole about 15 cm (6 inches) deep. Use your heel, a stick, hiking pole, rock or tent peg. Don’t go too much deeper as soils decomposing bacteria is concentrated closest to the surface.
Technique: Once you have finished your deposit, break it up with a stick, and mix in some dry leaves or grass to help speed up decomposition. Urine and water also helps.
Toilet Paper: There is nothing worse than seeing used toilet paper in the wilderness. At the very least all TP should be well buried. The best option is to pack it out. Use a ziplock bag to decrease the odour factor. If it makes you feel weird looking at a bag of used TP, double it up with a coloured baggy.
Alternatives: If you use natural materials (eg. moss, large leaves, flat rocks) for wiping, then bury them together with the faeces.
Clean Up: Always clean your hands after finishing. If using soap (biodegradable) and water, do so at least 50 metres (55 yards) away from water sources.