Bathing in the Backcountry

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Staying clean in the backcountry is important, especially if on a multi-day backpacking trip. The longer the trip, the greater the importance of bathing and keeping the body clean, not just for hygiene, but also for personal benefits as well.

The Benefits of Bathing in the Backcountry

There are several benefits for bathing while on an extended backpacking trip. First is that bathing cleans pores that have been sweating. Sweat can build up in areas of the body such as the armpits and groin. If these areas are not cleaned regularly, uncomfortable rashes can develop. Sweat can also accumulate in the feet from being in boots all day.

Other benefits of bathing include:

  • Washing off dirt that could get into open cuts or sores and cause infections.
  • Reducing body odor, which the tent-mate can appreciate.

Bathing can also be a morale booster. After several days of being on the hot, dusty trail, there’s nothing like washing the dirt off.

Sponge-Bathing in the Backcountry

An efficient way to bathe in the backcountry is by taking a sponge bath. To do this, fill one or two quart-sized water bottles with purified water. A bandanna or spare t-shirt and some biodegradable camp soap will also be needed. Find a secluded spot away from the group, and also away from water sources. Wet the places that will be washed, and use a drop of soap. Use the bandanna as a washcloth to scrub and rinse. Water that is leftover can be used to clean other parts of the body, such as the torso, face, or at least rinse hair. Use a camp towel or extra t-shirt to dry off, although in the many western states in the U.S. the humidity is so low that the body will dry quickly.

Taking a sponge bath only requires one or two 1-quart water bottles, a bandanna, and some camp soap. Find a secluded spot two hundred feet or more from water sources. Using purified water, wet the bandanna and scrub the body. Use a drop of camp soap on the bandanna to make it soapy. However, do not pour the soap in the water bottle itself. Not all the soap may come out, and when the water bottle is later used for drinking the user might get sick. Use the second water bottle to rinse-off. In arid areas the body will dry quickly, but a camp towel, extra shirt, or another bandanna can be used to dry off. This technique is useful for an individual backpacker who wants to get clean.

How to Use a Backpacking Shower in the Backcountry

A backpacking shower system is another method for bathing while on extended backpacking trips. Fill the bladder of the shower with clean water, cap it, and allow the bladder to sit in the sun for a while. This allows the water inside the bladder to warm. Then, hang the bladder from a tree branch. The gravity-fed water will pour from the spot, allowing a camper to take a shower. A backpacking shower is helpful for when several people want to

How to Use Wipes to Bath in the Backcountry

Sometimes it’s just not possible to use water in order to stay clean. Backpackers might be in areas where water is scarce, and is needed for drinking water instead in order to stay hydrated. When in this situation, one can use wipes to clean certain areas of the body. Of particular importance are the armpits and groin to wipe away sweat and dirt. Make sure to pack out the used wipes for proper disposal. Using wipes may not help get the whole body clean, but at least they can clean those important areas of the body.

Bathing in the backcountry does not have to be a chore. Instead, there are several options available for backpackers who want to clean themselves and be refreshed.

What About Bathing in a Lake or Stream?

Bathing in a lake or stream is not environmentally sound, as even the use of biodegradable soap can be harmful to the ecosystem of the water body. This is why Leave No Trace recommends that bathing occur far from water, at least two hundred feet. However, a swim in the river without using soap can be refreshing, especially during the summertime as a way to cool off.

What If It’s Not Possible to Bath in the Backcountry?

Sometimes it’s just not possible to get a bath in, but it can be possible to get certain parts of the body clean every day. It doesn’t take much effort to splash some water on the face to rinse off grime and open up the pores, especially if sunscreen has been applied a lot during the trip. Another place to clean daily is the feet. Even just rinsing them off with some clean water can help prevent rashes. Finally, the hands should be washed every day, especially before eating or after having dug a cat-hole, to prevent from getting sick.

Something as simple as bathing can make a big difference in the health of a backpacker. It can also provide a morale boost during those difficult times on the trail.

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