Our Editors independently research, test, and rate what we feel are the best products. We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.
There’s an inexplicable joy in getting your hands dirty. That said, if you go camping for an extended period of time, you can end up pretty ripe. Worse, a lack of hygiene can lead to considerable health issues that can ruin your trip.
So how can you maintain proper hygiene while camping? It begins with bringing the right supplies and using a little common sense. Here are seven tips to make your next trip cleaner and less filled with unpleasant odors and nasty germs.
1. Wash Your Hands
By now, you have heard a million times how to wash your hands for the correct amount of time by singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice in your head. However, when you go into the backcountry, you generally lack access to sinks with running water and towel service. How can you clean your digits after getting them dirty?
One way is by using a waterless hand sanitizer. Granted, this substance won’t remove the worst grime. Therefore, if you dumped your ATV in the mud, you will need to find a water source to rinse away the worst of the muck.
Put enough product on your hands to cover all surfaces, including your wrists. You want about a quarter-sized dollop. Then, rub it in thoroughly until your hands feel dry — don’t wipe it off on your pants. If you do, you won’t kill all the nasties, and you could re-contaminate yourself.
How can you keep water handy for washing if you aren’t near a stream or another natural source? One way is to bring along an extra cooler with a spigot and let the ice melt. Use the valve like a faucet for handwashing. If you’re heading into an arid region, remember you will need sufficient drinking water, too.
It’s a wise idea to carry both a filtration system and chemical purifiers so you can take advantage of naturally occurring H20 when you encounter it. This way, you have a continual way to refill your supply.
2. Keep Your Food Safe
Food-borne illnesses can ruin a camping trip — and they don’t make the journey home pleasant, either. The last thing you want when you’re deep in the forest is a case of stomach cramps. That’s why it’s critical to follow food safety practices, even when you’re roughing it.
One vital step many novice campers overlook is cleaning the camp grill. Buildup from your grill enables dangerous substances to enter your body and wreak havoc. You also risk bacteria from meats lingering on the slats, waiting to contaminate your toasted marshmallow.
Clean your grill after every use and try covering the surface with aluminum foil to keep drippings from contaminating surfaces.
You also need to ensure your food stays cold. For example, you should always store fresh chicken at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. You need to keep other meats cold, too — and don’t forget vegetables can also develop bacterial growth. What do you do if you run out of ice two days before you return to civilization?
One method you can try is taking a food thermometer with you — it barely takes up any room in your backpack. If you do run out of ice, you can place items that need to stay cold in a plastic bag and weigh it down in a nearby stream with a rock.
You will need to test your meats to ensure they haven’t become too warm, but this trick could potentially save you from a day full of growling tummies and wasted provisions.
3. Tidy Up Your Campsite
Let’s face it — when you sleep on dirt, you’re going to get a bit filthy. However, keeping your campsite neater can reduce the need for multiple runs to wash in the creek.
Pack an extra-large ground cover to place underneath your tent. This practice keeps you slightly elevated off the cold ground, and it also provides a space to knock off the trail dust before entry. Before you go in, take off your shoes on the excess mat outside.
You know you don’t want to keep food in your tent, but you also don’t want critters scattering your garbage in the middle of the night. Even relatively small animals like raccoons can leave a cyclone of damage in their wake.
Pack trash bags to collect all trash and food scraps immediately upon finishing your meals. For added security, take a locking cooler for scraps to deter hungry scavengers.
4. Take the Right Cleansers
You’re heading out for a week in the backcountry, and you plan to bathe in nature. You merely need to grab a travel-sized body wash from your local grocery, right? Not so fast there, partner.
The soaps people frequently use at home often contain harsh chemicals such as triclosan that can poison the soil and water. Instead, take along a biodegradable camp soap. You can typically use these for both washing your hair and body, and they won’t make the Yaqui catfish in your nearby stream go belly-up.
5. Remember Oral Hygiene
Your mouth matters. While you may think your teeth are merely luxury bones that help you chew, a lot more occurs in your oral cavity than you assume. For example, if you get periodontal disease from bacteria under your gums, it could travel to your brain and increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Fortunately, dental floss and a toothbrush take up next to no room in your backpack. You can find folding camp toothbrushes that use even less space. Make sure to floss once and brush twice daily, even when in the wild.
6. Bring Extra Underclothes and Socks
While it’s unlikely you’ll end up with trench foot on a brief expedition, damp underthings and socks can cause significant misery. Worse, they can cause you to get chilled, which weakens your immune system.
Getting lost is challenging enough without adding a head cold into the mix. Plus, dirty undergarments allow bacteria to flourish and cause unpleasant odors, as well as disease.
Even if you plan on only a weekend excursion, take a second pair of underwear and socks with you so you can wash one and wear the other. That way, your outerwear stays somewhat fresher, as the clean underclothes do the job of absorbing the worst of your sweat.
7. Wash Dirt From Your Equipment
Finally, you also need to clean any equipment you take with you. For example, if you bring your mountain bike along, carry an old toothbrush for cleaning out the gunk that can accumulate on the chains. If you plan to wash your bike while in the wild, take a proper cleaner and a soft towel to dry it with after you finish.
Other equipment, like paddleboards and bodyboards, need rinsing with fresh water to remove salt and brine after use. If you plan on camping out on the beach while catching some sweet waves, take sufficient water with you to wash off your belongings, as well as your body.
Maintain Better Hygiene on Your Next Camping Trip
Camping gives you the chance to get down and dirty, but you don’t want your trip cut short or ruined due to improper hygiene. Follow these tips to stay safer and tidier during your next outdoor adventure.