How to Stay Clean While Camping

Being a clean camper may sound like an oxymoron, but maintaining personal hygiene is important to creating a successful outdoor experience. Every adventurer requires different levels of cleanliness to stay happy, and the range of methods to stave off dirtiness offer options for anyone. While some outdoorsmen, like overland enthusiast Josh Remer, refer to their “woodsy musk” as “an honorable badge of outdoor adventure,” many campers would beg to differ.

Preventative Steps

Prior to reaching the point where all you can think about is the promise of a steamy shower, there are preventative measures you can take to reduce your impending dirtiness. The most vital advice: Don’t wear cotton. Clothing made from cotton may be comfortable at first, but the fabric quickly soaks up sweat, which rapidly gets dirty and can cause uncomfortable chafing. Choosing synthetic materials will help wick moisture and stop sweat from lingering on your body.

Recently returned from a trip to Zion National Park, Joshua Riggins states, “I find that synthetics seem to dry a lot faster than cotton. They also don’t cause blistering or chafing in areas that normally suffer from these issues.”

Many outdoorsmen also wear gaiters to keep their legs and ankles unsoiled during particularly muddy or sandy excursions.


While Outdoors

For a quick fix to your soiled state, baby wipes are a favorite tool for many adventurers. Outdoor companies have created wipes specifically designed for camping, but regular baby wipes can be just as effective. “Best wipes are my best friend,” says climber Kayla Hendrickson of her efforts to clean up while camping. They can be used to scrub muddy toes, refresh sticky skin, eliminate armpit odor, and more.

Lakes in Utah

If you have access to a body of flowing water, consider taking a quick dip. Purely rinsing off can feel like a thorough shower experience, but if you would rather use soap, be sure to pack a biodegradable variety and only use it at least 200 feet away from any water source. Don’t want to commit to bathing your entire body? Soak your feet for a few minutes, or splash your face with cool water to refresh your senses. Anthony Sicola from Overland Nomads agrees, asserting that “a quick face wash does wonders.” When you’re out on the trail, the smallest dents in dirtiness can make a big difference.

Car camping opens up the opportunities to create a cleaning station where you can rejuvenate yourself as frequently as you’d like. Bring a small bucket, washcloth, towel, and earth-friendly soap like Dr. Bronners. Fill the bucket with a small amount of water for lathering up and scrubbing grime away, and then replace it with fresh rinsing water for a miniature sponge bath. Be sure to check if your campground has access to water, if not, bring extra water designated specifically for cleaning.

Getting a little mud on your boots is a welcome side effect of time spent outdoors, but moist, dirty feet can become a nightmare for backpackers and campers. Aside from the threat of developing athlete’s foot, keeping your feet in wet, dirt-caked socks elevates your chances of getting painful blisters. While hiking, stop occasionally to dip your toes in a stream, allowing them to cool down, clean off, and refresh any hot spots. Be sure to change into new socks daily if possible, or at least carry two pairs of socks and switch them every day. Avoid sleeping in dirty, damp socks.


Beyond The Dirt

Staying clean outdoors isn’t just about personal comfort; cleanliness can affect your health, too. One of the easiest precautions to take against germs and illness while camping is packing a bottle of hand sanitizer. Make it a pre-meal habit to rinse your hands with water and apply sanitizer before every meal, helping to reduce the likelihood of ingesting any harmful germs you may have picked up during your day’s adventure.

You may be tempted to bring along a perfumed spray or scented lotion to keep you smelling good while outdoors, but fragrant toiletries are notorious for attracting unwanted wildlife visitors, including bears. Keeping a clean, unscented camp kept mountaineer Michael Restivo out of harms way during a recent trip when “a pack of very large mountain goats passed through our campsite.” If he didn’t take precautions like thoroughly rinsing soapy shower areas, the goats may have caused problems for him and his campmates. Plus, scented products merely mask odors rather than curing them, so embrace your natural musk and avoid the chances of luring animals to your campsite.

Whether you view time outdoors as the perfect excuse to get as dirty as physically possible, or prefer to see it as a challenge to get creatively clean, the multitude of options for surviving in nature without a conventional shower offer solutions that can be tailored to suit any adventure from car-camping to bushwhacking.

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Katie Boué lives and breathes the outdoor lifestyle. An ardent advocate for fresh air and muddy boots, she follows the lure of adventure to explore places from the rolling mountains of the southeast to coastal crags in Canada, including a sponsored yearlong climbing trip across the country. Katie documents her travels and experiences on TheMorningFresh.com, a site dedicated to inspiring readers to get outdoors and embrace healthy lifestyles.