I have a hard time finding people who want to hike with me or I end up with a partner like Stephen Katz from A Walk in the Woods. This year I’m going to do more solo hiking! I’ve already bought a DeLorme inReach Explorer so my family can find me (ya know, in case I’m eaten by a bear), and I’ve started taking a few short overnight trips alone. I’m getting into shape, organizing my gear, getting into shape, reading tips from other hikers, and getting into shape. (Today my workout included a #1 combo meal from McDonald’s… guess I’m going to be the hefty hiker.) I made it a point to read a lot of articles about trail hygiene and I can tell you right here and now hairy armpits aren’t my thing! Here are my tips for staying clean from head to toe.
I wear my hair short but it doesn’t mater what length your hair is you’ll want to keep it combed and clean. On the trail, I often wear baseball caps, knit hats, or bandanas. These will “smash” your hair down and cause it to look dirty very quickly. A brush/comb will help a little with the “smushed” hair but there is nothing like clean hair. Whenever I have the chance, I like to use a waterless shampoo like No Rinse Shampoo. This works well and it does make my hair feel better. I’ve also heard of people using baby powder in their hair but I think this would just make the oil mat together – yuck! I also wear on the trail.
I don’t want to have a break out on the trail so its important to me for my face to be clean. Also, have you ever tried to sleep with dried sweat on your face? It’s NASTY! My favorite trail face cleaners are the wipes or astringent with cotton balls. I don’t have a specific brand… I’ve found that they all basically work the same for me; however, if I have a choice, I like Equate Deep Cleaning Astringent for Sensitive Skin or Olay Regenerist Micro-Exfoliating Facial Wet Cleansing Cloths. Oh, I use these to clean my ears too!
I brush my teeth on the trail and I use dental floss. I can’t image going for a week without doing this – that funky fuzz that builds up on your teeth and tongue – GROSS! I went to Wal-Mart and found a travel toothbrush by Colgate and I got a travel tube of toothpaste. I’ve thought about making those little toothpaste dots but… Naw! I think I’m ok with the tube.
Many of the articles I read about trail hygiene said to leave the deodorant at home… “In a few days, you’ll get use to the smell”. I do not want to get use to the smell of outdoor me! I want to feel as fresh as possible. I use deodorant on the trail and don’t plan on stopping this practice. You can buy an unscented deodorant. Then take it out of its plastic container to reduce the weight. I store mine in a Ziploc bag. Again, I’m wearing my deodorant! I’m FEARLESS that way 😉
Washing your hands on the trail is really important. I wash my hands at whenever I have the chance but especially after going to the bathroom or before I eat. I would do the same at home to protect myself from germs. The germs on your hands can end up in your eyes or mouth and could make you very sick. When water is available, I use a biodegradable soap. (Please don’t panic! I don’t use my soap in a stream or lake.) If I do not have a ready water source, I use an alcohol based hand sanitizer. A small bottle will last a good while on the trail if your use a dime size amount in your hand and rub them together vigorously.
Torso, Legs & Feet
This one is easy. If you have water, jump in it! If you don’t have water, use some body cleansing wipes. Not only do these wipes clean the gunk off your body, they feel really good! I clean my body with these and my legs using the same wipe. One product I’ve used and like is No Rinse Body Wash. You don’t need water to use this and it does work well.
I have a special note for feet. I usually wipe my feet (last) with the body cleansing wipes but I go a step further with my feet. Your feet are going to need extra attention. After using the body cleansing wipe, I use an alcohol based wipe to clean my feet a second time. Then, I put Gold Bond foot powder on my feet – Ooooo! It makes them feel SO good! A final tip for feet, take a small tub of Lotrimin or the equivalent with you especially if you are prone to athlete’s foot. NOTE: If you use a shower on the trail, make sure you have flip-flops. You can get SO many germs and fungi from these showers.
After cleaning up, I shave my armpits! Hairy armpits aren’t my thing! I carry a disposable razor just for my pits EVERYTHING else can become one with nature but not the armpits!
Ok, I know you won’t be changing clothes every day but I think it’s a must to get out of your hiking clothes before you go to bed. First, you don’t want all the little critters in your sleeping bag with you. Second, it gives your body a chance to breathe. I take sandals, a t-shirt, and shorts to sleep in… now, my sleep clothes will become my hiking clothes at some point on the trail but I want something clean to sleep in. Also, wool, wool, wool is WONDERFUL! I like wool because it doesn’t smell as bad as synthetic material.
As you can tell, I’m not an ultralight hiker but I am comfortable and my back isn’t broken. You hike so you will be happy and you aren’t going to be happy if you’re not comfortable!