How to Stay Clean While Backpacking

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It’s no secret that hygiene can be a challenge when backpacking. When you’re on the go, it can be hard to find time and space to take a shower, never mind wash your clothes. However, there are a few things you can do to stay clean while on the trail. Here are the best tips and tricks on how to stay clean while backpacking!

What To Pack

The biggest tip for how to stay clean while backpacking is making sure to pack the right items. Bring along things like: 

Biodegradable soap

While washing your hands with regular soap at home may not have much consequence, the same cannot be said of using soap in nature. At home, the suds created while washing hands quickly rinse away down the drain. Those same bubbles in the wilderness are a far cry from harmless; they contain phosphates that can cause an overabundance of algae in lakes and streams.

To maintain safe water sources for animals and let other travelers to enjoy nature’s beauty, hikers should never use regular hand or dish soap near any body of water, it simply isn’t worth it! 

Instead, use biodegradable soap. Despite it being more environmentally friendly, make sure to still stay around 200 feet away from any water. By doing so, you’ll help protect the environment and make sure to stay clean while backpacking.

Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is one of the most important things you can pack. This compact germ-killing solution is a great way to avoid spreading germs and keep yourself clean. It’s especially important when you’re hiking, around lots of animals, or taking part in activities that involve contact with dirt and water. Pack one or two small 1- or 2-ounce unscented alcohol-based sanitizer bottles. And make sure they’re easy to access so that you can give your hands a quick spritz before meals and activities.

Keep in mind that hand sanitizer works best without visible dirt and grime on your hands. If your hands are dirty, run them under some water (either from a water bottle or from a stream) before using the sanitizer to get the best result. Make sure to get under your fingernails too since this is often where most germs like to hide.


A washcloth is optional because water is very effective at rinsing the sweat and dirt off. But if you want to get a more thorough cleanse. Opt to use something you may already have like a bandana, Buff, or a t shirt to help scrub. Another added benefit is that these items don’t take up much room in your backpack. And most likely you are already planning on bringing them.

Moisturizer & Sunscreen

These two items are optional. But can help keep your skin healthy while also helping to minimize the risks of sunburn and dry skin. The moisturizer will help keep your skin hydrated, while the sunscreen will protect it from harmful UV rays. In most cases I don’t bring moisturizer but will bring a small tube of sunscreen.

Using travel sized toothpaste and a toothbrush cuts down weight

Travel toothbrush and toothpaste

When you’re out camping, you’re going to need to sacrifice some of the comforts of home. However, brushing your teeth should not be one of them! Make sure to pack a travel toothbrush and toothpaste, especially since keeping your teeth clean is one of the easiest hygienic things you can do outdoors. A toothbrush and toothpaste will help your breath stay fresh and keep teeth healthy. If you’re trying to really lighten up the load, try toothpaste tablets.

Toilet Paper

For some toilet paper is an absolute necessity. For others, sticks and stones will do the trick. Some hikers claim that leaves are often better than toilet paper for getting the job done. Choose the option that’s best for you, remember to respect nature, and pack away any used toilet paper in a Ziploc bag.

If you want to reduce the amount of toilet paper and/or wet wipes. Try using a backcountry bidet like the happy bottom or culo clean. These items can be real life savers on minimizing the number of wipes and toilet paper you’ll have to bring since they just use water.

Extra Socks and Underwear

In addition to these items, you should also bring a change of socks and underwear. This will help keep you warm and dry, as well as prevent chafing of your skin. Make sure to choose lightweight options that wick away moisture and are easy to pack. Avoid 100% cotton. Wool or a synthetic blend of polyester tend to work really well for wicking and minimizing odor. It’s also a good idea to think about how these pieces will be layered in your clothing system so you can stay warm and comfortable on the trail.

What To Leave Behind


Deodorant can often be a hassle to carry, and it has no place in the wilderness. You just don’t really need it! Surprisingly, a thorough rinse with water or wet wipe bath will do quite a bit to minimize body odors.  

Not to mention, deodorant can be dangerous especially when scented. The smells can attract all kinds of critters, from insects to bears. It’s best to leave it behind and just let your body find its own balance when in nature.


Shampoo again is not really necessary. There are backcountry biodegradable types of shampoo but, this is more of a luxury item. Most people can go without shampooing their hair for a backpacking trip. One tip for people with longer hair is to put them in braids this tends to somewhat protect the hair from getting as dirty.

Hairbrush or Styling Accessories

There really is no need for styling accessories when backpacking. Who do you need to look pretty for? The birds? Again, hair will stay out of the way as long as you keep it tied up. Leave these items at home and save space in your pack for the essentials. These items are not really worth the weight in your pack.


Razors are just not practical and not worth the extra weight to carry. It’s much easier to just grow your bread, whether it’s on your face or legs. Do not bother bringing your shaving kit. Leave them at home and embrace the wild side!

Perfume or Cologne

These are super unnecessary and can be unsafe. Perfumes and Colognes tend to be highly synthetic and unnatural. Which means they can attract insects and animals like Bears. Not worth it besides, the smell of nature is many times better!

Water alone is a great way to rinse sweat and dirt off

Bathing in the Woods

Staying clean while backpacking can be a challenge, but with the right items, it’s possible. You won’t be as clean as you normally would at home, so throw out that idea, but you’ll still be able to stay hygienic and safe on your trip. 

So, where should you bathe at?

Lake or river

When camped near a water source, use the lake or river to rinse. The cool water will be refreshing, and you can even do a little swimming or soaking. Just remember to stay away from where other hikers collect water and never use soap, even if it’s biodegradable. 

Shower at Camp

For this, you’ll need some biodegradable soap, a washcloth, and a few bottles of water. Make sure you’re at least 200 feet away from any water source and start cleaning! Focus on the most important places like your face, armpits, groin, and feet. This will ensure you stay clean while backpacking.

Whether it’s through a combination of biodegradable soap, a washcloth, or just some cool water, you can make it work. Just remember to respect nature and leave your camping spot better than how you found it! 

If you are short on time or just want a quick clean off. Bathing wipes work really well for getting essential areas cleaned up.

Brushing Your Teeth in the Outdoors 

Brushing your teeth is an essential part of staying clean and healthy during your camping trip. Bring along a toothbrush, some toothpaste, and a bottle of water. 

Use the smallest amount of toothpaste possible, then rinse your mouth with the water. The most important part about brushing your teeth is the brushing itself, not the toothpaste. So, if you really want to leave no trace, just bring your brush and some hot water.

Tips of disposing toothpaste

  • Adults, you can swallow small amounts of toothpaste just do not make it a habit outside of camping
  • Spit toothpaste into a plastic bag or bottle and take it with you
  • Spray your toothpaste like a whale spout. This sounds silly but it helps disperse the paste
  • Burry toothpaste in a cat hole and cover it up
  • For minimal waste try using toothpaste tablets

How to Pee and Poop in the Outdoors 

An essential part of camping is knowing how to use the bathroom responsibly. Always plan ahead and know where you will be able to go when you need to ‘go.’ It’s important to stay away from water sources for obvious reasons. 

How to Pee Outdoors

Men will have an easier time peeing outdoors than women. For men, just aim away from any trails or campsites. For women, here are a few extra tips:

  • Squat as low as you can go to minimize splashing.
  • Avoid slopes if possible. If unavoidable, angle yourself so that the pee doesn’t run down the slope towards your feet.
  • Use toilet paper (and place it in a Ziploc bag), a pee rag (which you can tie to your backpack to dry in the sun), backcountry bidet, or just shake dry to clean up.
Carry a dedicated poop kit to follow Leave No Trace Principles

How to Poop Outdoors

For pooping, dig a 6- to 8-inch-deep cat hole with a trowel, stick, or rock, do your business, and then cover it up with dirt and rocks. Make sure you’re 200 feet away from the nearest water source. Wiping options:

  • Use toilet paper and place it in a Ziploc or doggie bag afterward.
  • Use leaves or rocks or snow.
  • Get yourself a backcountry bidet. Again, it is a gamechanger. 

Keep in mind that in some areas, burying your business is not allowed such as protected areas and alpine regions. It’s best to do some quick research beforehand to avoid making any mistakes. 

Be sure use hand sanitizer every time to maintain good hygiene. 

Tips for Feminine Care 

When it comes to feminine care, the same rules apply. Try to stay away from water sources and pack used products in a Ziploc bag. 

Dealing with your period

When you have your period while on the trail, a few solutions are available to you. 

  • One of the most ecologically-friendly choices is utilizing a menstrual cup — preferably one that’s made from reusable silicone. Just empty it out, sterilize your hands, and reinsert. 
  • Another option is to wear disposables like pads and tampons. Do not bury these items. Instead, place them in Ziploc bags to throw away when you get home.
  • Some hikers take birth control, which can help eliminate periods altogether for some people.

Staying Clean Down There

No matter your period status, it’s important to stay clean and healthy while on the trail. 

  • The best thing you can do is change your underwear frequently. If you don’t have new underwear to change into, try going commando in camp, or in desperate situations, switch your underwear inside out. 
  • Panty liners can be a lifesaver. Bring a few on your trip to help keep your underwear fresher for longer.
  • Bring wet wipes or a washcloth to freshen up.
  • Use hand sanitizer before and after you go to the bathroom. Why before? It sterilizes your hands so that you can wipe your nether regions without spreading germs. Why after? Wiping is not a very clean task. Sanitizer after you wipe, especially if you’re going to be eating soon. Otherwise, you’re going to catch a whole bunch of illnesses. 

Backcountry Hygiene Gear Supplies List

In general, it does not take a whole lot of items to keep you clean in the backcountry. These items are essential for staying clean while backpacking. Here’s a short list of the items I recommend you bring:

  • Trowel
  • Toilet paper
  • Pee Rag (optional)
  • Backcountry Bidet (optional)
  • Biodegradable Wet Wipes (optional)
  • Buff, bandana, or small camp towel
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Small sealable plastic bag for packing out used items
  • Toothbrush
  • Travel size toothpaste or toothpaste tablets
  • Hand sanitizer

Final Thoughts

Backpacking is a great way to explore the outdoors and experience nature in its rawest form, but it can get pretty messy. Staying clean while backpacking may seem like an impossible task, but with a few simple steps, you can keep your environment and yourself clean without sacrificing any of the adventures. 

If you have any questions about how to stay clean while backpacking, feel free to leave a comment down below. Have any other tips and tricks let us know!

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