If you’ve ever been on an extended camping trip, you already know how dirty you can get while living outdoors. Dirt, grime and slime will coat every inch of your skin, you’ll smell bad and generally feel icky.
But staying clean on the trail isn’t impossible. In fact, we’ll provide several actionable steps below that’ll help you keep yourself clean while camping. And because hygiene isn’t limited solely to your body, we’ll also share a few tips for keeping your belongings clean during your next trip too.
Use wet-wipes liberally.
Wet wipes are great for quickly cleaning up when your hands get dirty, and they’re also good for cleaning your face or various cracks and crevices. They won’t get you as clean as soap and water will, but they are much more convenient and will help remove the dirt and grime on your body until you can wash up properly.
You probably don’t need to bring an entire package of wet wipes on most trips, so just take about 10 or so out of the package for every day you’ll be on the trail. Just be sure to keep them in a sealed plastic bag to prevent them from drying out. You can burn them after use to avoid having to pack them out.
Keep a small broom inside the tent.
A clean tent is a comfortable tent, so you’ll want to do your best to keep dirt and debris outside. However, you’ll invariably end up tracking in some dirt, so use a small, hand-held broom to help clean up the tent floor periodically.
Many retailers sell small brooms with an attached dustpan, but you’ll want to leave the dustpan at home – it’ll just take up space unnecessarily and add weight to your pack. Instead, just use a piece of paper or the back cover of a book as a makeshift dustpan.
Never, ever, ever wear your boots inside the tent.
Your boots will likely become coated in dirt, mud and gunk within the first thirty seconds of a camping trip – it’s just part of the gig. This isn’t a problem, but you don’t want to bring them into your tent, or they’ll get everything dirty. Instead, make it a practice to take your boots off each and every time you go into the tent.
Because this can get a bit tedious, many campers like to bring a pair of sandals or another type of slip-on shoes while camping. You can wear these around the campsite, as they’re easy to kick off when heading into the tent, and then change into your hiking boots when hiking or leaving the campsite.
Bring a collapsible water container for doing dishes.
Dirty dishes aren’t just gross – they can actually cause you to become sick, as any food residue left on them can support bacterial growth. Eat off dirty dishes on the trail and you’ll regret it – probably all-night long.
Most campers are aware of this fact, so they do their best to wash their plates, pots and cutlery after meals. But while washing dishes at home in your kitchen sink is easy, doing so on the trail is much harder. Many campers try to wash dishes in a nearby stream, but this is a bad idea – even biodegradable soaps take time to break down.
Instead, bring a collapsible container that will serve as a sink. This will give you a convenient washing station and make it easy to dispose of the sudsy water several hundred yards nearby creeks or streams, as is recommended. For bonus points, heat a pot full of water near the fire while you’re eating – warm water will make it easier to get the dishes clean.
Whenever possible, orient your tent so that it faces downhill.
You’ll have to consider a lot of things when deciding where to place your tent, but insofar as is possible, try to orient it so that the door opens downhill. This won’t profoundly change the amount of dirt and dust that blow into your tent, so don’t do so if it’ll cause a safety issue or force you to sleep on a tree root, but it is worth doing when possible.
Not only will this keep some of the dust and dirt from entering your tent, it will also cause the debris that does make its way into your tent to slide down toward the door. Here, it’ll present less of a problem, and will keep the dirt away from your face when you’re sleeping.
Bring plenty of ground tarps or plastic sheeting for the ground.
The best way to stay clean is to avoid getting dirty in the first place, so try to use ground tarps or plastic sheets when sitting on the ground. You needn’t break out the plastic every time you need to sit down and tie your shoes, but it does make sense to do so when sitting down to prepare or eat dinner, pack or unpack your gear or you want to play a card game with your companions. Sure, sitting on a plastic bag is at odds with the romance and ethos of camping a tiny bit, but then again, so is the notion of staying clean.
Plastic tarps or ground covers are lightweight and easy to pack, so there’s little reason not to use them. In fact, you could even use extra-large garbage bags if you like – they’ll also be great for bringing home trash or wet clothes, once the trip is over.
Use or make a camp shower.
You have two basic options for bathing during a backcountry camping trip (although car-camping sites occasionally provide shower facilities): You can take a dip in a nearby body of water or you can use a camp shower.
Bathing in a body of water presents a few problems. Lakes and ponds are frequently full of algae and particulates, which mean you won’t be able to get especially clean while doing so, and most mountain rivers are downright frigid. Additionally, you can’t use a soap – even a biodegradable one – in a body of water.
But a camp shower allows you to bathe in a more effective way – you’ll be washing the dirt off your body and right onto the ground, rather than swimming around with it. Additionally, if you place the shower far from nearby water bodies, you can use a soap suitable for camping.
There are a variety of commercially produced camp showers available, and some are even designed to warm up in the sun. But you can make a crude version on your own with little more than a garbage bag. You just have to figure out how to suspend it and then fashion some type of hole that will allow the water to pour out. You could add a clothespin to keep the hole closed when need be, if you want to be fancy. And, you may even be able to heat the water up a bit by sitting the dark-colored bag in the sun for a while or adding a pot or two of stove-warmed water to it.
Bring and store a change of clothes in the car.
In addition to staying clean during your trip, you’ll want to feel as clean as possible during your return trip to civilization. And the patrons at the local diner you like to stop at after camping trips will also appreciate your attempts too.
One easy way to lift your spirits and help you feel cleaner is by stashing a change of clothes – including underwear and socks – in your car. This way, you can use a few wet wipes or enjoy one last camp shower when you arrive back at the car and change into a set of fresh, good-smelling clothes. You can even store some deodorant in the car to help improve your smell even more.
You won’t be able to stay squeaky clean while camping, and you don’t need to either. Camping is, after all, an outdoor activity and you’re going to get dirty while enjoying the natural world. But by following the tips listed above and investing a modest amount of effort, you’ll surely be able to stay reasonably clean. This will help you feel better and enjoy your trip as much as possible.