Essential Backpacking Hygiene Tips & Feminine Care in the Outdoors
Alright, this one’s for the women backpackers out there. Sure, you boys may be able to glean something from this, and definitively give it a read if you are interested, but don’t say I didn’t warn you! In this article we are going to spill the dirt on essential backpacking hygiene, and more specifically female hygiene while backpacking in the outdoors.
Sure, you may be the kind of gal that likes to play in the dirt, but that doesn’t mean you don’t care about personal hygiene while camping and backpacking. Even the dustiest of dirtbag darlings like to stay clean in the outdoors. This guide to feminine care while backpacking will help you stay clean while still enjoying the great outdoors. These tips for staying clean in the backcountry are designed to not only help you but also minimize your impact on the environment.
So let’s get down to it and answer your most burning questions about personal care as a woman backpacker. Trigger warning: we are about to get REAL here because let’s be honest everybody poops. If some of these subjects gross you out, proceed with caution.
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essential backpacking hygiene tips for women backpackers
Keep Those Hands Clean
The best way to ensure you’re off to a great start with backcountry, regardless of your sex, is to keep your hands clean. This means using hand sanitizer before and after bathroom breaks, handling food, or whenever they get dirty. If you’re sharing snacks with a buddy be sure to dump snacks in each other’s hands, instead of reaching into a communal baggie and contaminating it.
What’s the Best Way to Stay Fresh-Faced?
Keeping your face feeling fresh and clean can be a real mood booster. I like to carry around a quick dry towel or use a BUFF headband to quickly wash my face. I typically just use water, since soaps can leave harmful chemical residue on the environment. If I have a particularly bad day lathering on bug spray and sunscreen, I’ll wipe my face with a Wet One. However, I’ll always pack these things out with me in my waste bag.
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backpacking on your period
Getting your period on a backpacking trip doesn’t have to be a deal breaker or a total bummer. There are a few ways to keep everything under control and tidy while hiking on your period. First, it’s important to understand that one of the key elements of backpacking is packing out your trash, this includes items such as toilet paper and tampons. To put it plainly, don’t bury your tampons (animals dig it up - gross!) carry them with you. For many of us, that’s kind of gross. There are two ways to deal with this.
Create a waste baggie. Cover a ziplock baggie with duct tape and add a little baking soda to the bag to help with the smell. You can put your used feminine products in the baggie and toss it away when you get home. Or sometimes I will get a light-weight “stuff sack” and I keep my unused items loose in the stuff sack, and I have a separate ziplock for my used items. Then when you head off for the bathroom, you still maintain your personal privacy because your friends will just assume your bringing TP or backpacking wipes with you.
Use a menstrual cup. Many women love this option of using a menstrual cup while camping and backpacking. It’s simple to use and you don’t have to fuss with a bunch of trash (not to mention the cost savings). Use a little water to rinse out the cup each day. If you’re out for many days, you’ll likely want to bring along some biodegradable, mild backpacking soap to wash it out with. Just be sure to bury the organic contents of the cup in a cat hole, just as you would if you were going to the bathroom. If you're new to club cup, be sure to practice with it at home first, it takes some getting used to.
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What is the Best Way to Pee in the Woods?
Going to the bathroom in the woods, especially for the non-initiated can be an intimidating experience. Peeing is one of those times where I’m really jealous of the guys. They just have it so much easier while we have to deal with split streams, extra backpacking toilet paper, splashback, squatting with a pack on, snow, and everything in between. I’ve tried countless methods of peeing outside throughout all the seasons and I’ve become something a she-wiz-wizard. There are several methods I recommend giving a go (see what I did there?) but only one that I truly find to be the best.
DRIP DRY OR USE NATURAL MATERIALS
This is my actually one of my go-to methods because honestly, I’m a little bit lazy. It’s also very effective in a pinch. If you use leaves or rocks, you still risk getting dirty in your nether regions (or accidentally wiping with a poisonous plant - ouch!). So take care, usually I just drip dry.
Advantages: No new skills or special gear required.
Disadvantages: You’re still squatting. This method is dirty, and if you don’t allow for a long enough “drip dry” time, it could be a bit uncomfortable walking.
SKIP THE BACKPACKING TOILET PAPER AND USE A RAG
We’ve already discussed how you can’t leave your toilet paper behind, so why waste more by using it to go number 1? Use a pee rag instead. There are a few products out there that anti-microbial fabric (Kula Cloth is a personal fave). Simply do your business then use the cloth instead of toilet paper. Then attach the cloth to the bag and let it dry in the sun. The sun and anti-microbial fabric work together to keep the cloth clean. I recently got my first Kula Cloth and I am learning to stop being lazy and use this instead. I love it!
Advantages: You can wipe yourself and feel clean and dry.
Disadvantages: Again, you’re squatting, and if you are backpacking for multiple days you may want to take biodegradable soap to wash your Kula Cloth (or comparable pee rag).
USE A PEE FUNNEL
A pee funnel is another great method, and another one of my preferred methods for weeing in the outdoors especially if I know there won’t be a lot of privacy on the trails (read: minimal tree coverage or rocks to hide behind).I use this a lot in mountaineering, and sometimes in the #vanlife, but that’s another post. You don’t have to hem and haw over popping a squat ever again. The best part is, you never really expose your backside so you can stay toasty and covered. A pee funnel or female urination device is one of those god-send gadgets you never know you needed. Look for a funnel that has a good seal, plenty of funnel space (so you don’t have to hold back when you really gotta go) and is easy to clean.
I keep my funnel wrapped in a pee rag, so I can give myself a quick wipe when I’m done. To rinse, simply run some water through the system. I’ve used mine for up to two weeks without it getting stinky or gross. These also work well for travel (ahem, nasty public restrooms.)
Again, they take practice. Everything you’ve ever been taught tells you that peeing standing up will end badly. Take a few practice runs at home if you’re a little gun shy.
Advantages: You don’t have to worry about splashback, snow, or exposing yourself to the elements.
Disadvantages: It’s another piece of gear you have to buy and carry, and takes some practice getting used to.
What ABOUT pooping IN THE WOODS
There’s no avoiding the squatting in this situation, and its really important that you practice Leave No Trace Principals when it comes to pooping in the outdoors. What are the rules around this?
The best practice is to follow Leave No Trace Principles which recommend you “deposit your human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.”
So what does my backpacking bathroom kit typically look like then?
What’s the Deal with Biodegradable Soap for backpacking?
A lot of people think it’s okay to use biodegradable soap in the backcountry to wash up and stay clean. I’m here to burst your bubble. First, it’s never okay to put biodegradable soap in freshwater sources. Bathing in a lake, river or stream with biodegradable soap harms the environment. This is particularly true in sensitive wilderness areas such as the high alpine or desert.
That doesn’t mean that biodegradable soap is bogus, it just means you need to use it properly. If you do choose to rinse off and take a backpacking shower using biodegradable soap, you need to follow Leave No Trace principles. This means carrying the water and camping soap you will use more than 200 feet (70 adult steps) from any water source and burying it after use in a 6 to 8-inch cat hole, just like you would if you were to use the bathroom. In all honesty, that’s a lot of work for a quick rinse, so opt for a soapless sponge bath instead.
How to Keep Clean Down There?
Every woman is different and unlike men, we have a bit more to worry about when it comes to staying clean in our nether regions. When you’re backpacking you’re getting sweaty and dirty. Often times, you’re traveling light without enough pairs of clean underwear. In order to keep things neat down there, you’ll need to get a little creative.
For starters, don’t try to shave while backpacking. That is most certainly going to end poorly for you. I like to think of the shower after a big backpacking trip as a holy experience and that includes shaving, trimming, what have you.
The next trick is letting yourself get some air down there. When you’re at home, you change often, but while backpacking you’re often wearing the same clothes for days on end. Let your body breathe a little. Go commando at camp for a few hours (trust me, it helps), or put on a fresh pair of underwear (underwear inside out counts for a fresh one while backpacking, and as long as my backpacking trips are within the 3-5 day range I usually opt to just bring enough fresh pairs for 1 per day). Baby wipes or Wet Ones aren’t a bad thing to have on hand, you can quickly do a wipe down or take a sponge bath if you need. We’ll chat more about that later.
Is it Safe to Take a Bath in Nature?
After a long day on the trail, a dip into a pristine high-alpine lake may sound like pure bliss but think twice. These watersheds (and those in other delicate areas such as desert potholes) are insanely fragile. Take lichen for example, it takes years to grow! Fish and other organisms in high alpine lakes have rarely been subject to humans or other invasive species, so they hang in a pretty delicate balance.
When you take the plunge into a water source in a sensitive wilderness area, you taint that water source with sunscreen, bug spray, beauty products and even the oils from your own skin. So please look but don’t touch, you may just introduce harmful chemicals and bacteria into an already delicate ecosystem.
Sometimes you’ve got to bathe, and I totally understand. After I spent four days at a basecamp high in the backcountry climbing mountains, I needed some relief from my own juices. I simply stripped down in the warm afternoon sun and gave myself a backpacking shower by doing a sponge bath with water. A quick-dry towel is an excellent piece of gear to bring on any backpacking trip. All you need for a quick rinse is some water and a towel. Use one end of the towel as the “sponge” and keep one end dry to pat yourself down after. Hit your face, pits, feet, and nether region (in that order!) for a quick freshening up. Lay the towel out to dry.
Skip the Perfume
And possibly the deodorant. Perfume attracts unwanted attention and wildlife, the last thing you want while you’re sleeping at night. Some people get a rash by wearing deodorant without a shower so feel free to leave the stick at home, personally I never bring it. It’s just extra weight and I smell anyways! Learn to embrace it. Sure you may be a bit riper, but no one cares when you’re in the wild. This is your chance to let it all hang out and be comfortable in your skin.
Tips and Tricks for Keeping Unruly Hair Picture-Perfect
I’ve got a confession to make: I’m very lazy about my hair when I go backpacking. Do you know what saves me? Braids. Braiding your hair will keep your locks neat and tidy if you’ve got long enough hair. Braids, hats, and beanies. Boom. Bad hair day solved.
As a seasoned pro at not washing my hair (I’ve gone 7 days once), the itchiness is the worst part. You can bring along dry shampoo or baby powder to help with the itchy scalp. For just a few nights, you should be fine, but if you’re backpacking for weeks, it might be worth it to carry along some dry shampoo.
How to Treat Your Feet
If you’re the duchess of dirt, then the feet are queen. Every backpacker knows that happy feet equal happy trails. Always treat blisters and hot spots at the first sign of injury. Wear non-cotton socks (I like wool socks from either Darn Tough or Smartwool) while backpacking to keep your feet happy and healthy. A hiking density sock (like Smartwool’s Hike Medium Crews) will give you a boost of cushion that feels fresh day in and day out.
In fact, one of the best ways to prevent blisters, in my opinion is to change your socks frequently when you are hiking. I always have at least 2-3 pairs when I’m backpacking. Usually I have 2 lighter thickness pairs for hiking in during the day, that I will switch out frequently and let the other pair dry on the back of my backpack. Another important part about preventing blisters is keeping your feet clean. So at the end of each day, bring some water to camp and wash the dirt and debris off your feet. This will help prevent rubbing and blisters in your shoes.
Keep a special pair of sacred socks just for camp. Pop those bad boys on once you’re done hiking for the day. This pair provides a loving hug for your feet and helps prevent nasty foot fungus from setting in.
Lastly, if the weather allows, give your feet some room to breathe. Take a load off and sit down with your shoes off, allowing your feet to dry out in the sun. This will also help prevent foot fungus, blisters, and other nasty tootsie troubles.
feminine Hygiene backpacking -Essential backpacking toiletries
We’ve discussed a lot of things about how to stay clean as a woman while backpacking and talked through many of the most important hiking hygiene tips. Keep organized with this handy backpacking hygiene kit packing list that you should bring on your next backpacking trip.
1) A Pee Rag Like the Kula Cloth!
2) Biodegradable Wipes (don’t forget to pack them out!)
4) Menstrual Cup for backpacking when on your period
5) Ziplock Bags (to carry out waste, and for your feminine hygiene kit when on your period)
6) A Lightweight Backpacking Trowel (to dig those sweet catholes)
8) Biodegradable Soap (optional)
9) Small Quick-Dry Towel : Microfiber Towels work perfect for this
10) Hair Ties so you can tie your hair into braids! (Oh and don’t forget a hat and beanie!)
These eco-friendly backpacking hygiene tips for women are built to keep you cozy and minimize your impact on the trail. Stay clean while getting dirty this season with these feminine camping hygiene tips for backpackers.
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Hope you ladies (and maybe gents) loved this one, and I hope this article showed you that rain or shine, no matter what time of the month it is or what backcountry hygiene habits and camping hygiene essentials are important to you, you can still have an amazingly fresh time on the trails.
Do you have any backpacking personal hygiene tips you’d love to share to add to this list? Help a girl out, leave a comment below with your beset tips for staying fresh on the trails!
Looking for even more backpacking related tips? Check out these articles on the site!
Allison - She Dreams of Alpine