13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips – Great Tips to Stay Clean and Safe Out on the Trail

13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips
13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

Here’s our ultimate list of backpacking hygiene tips.

Planning to live out of a backpack for the next few days?

Cleanliness may not be the first priority when you’re out in the wild and close to nature. But it doesn’t mean you must forgo personal hygiene while staying in the wild. Besides, you must be cautious about the various germ sources that can make you sick.

We have compiled some of the most effective tips and tricks to help you stay cleaner and fresher in your next backpacking adventure.


1. Don’t Use a Deodorant – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

On the face of it, masking your body odor by using a deodorant might seem like a good idea. But the strong scent can attract a variety of bugs and bears. The same goes for perfumes. 

There’s hardly a chance that any of your companions will notice how you smell. They will be smelling as bad as you anyways. Moreover, if you’re in bear country, you must embrace your sweaty smell to stay safe.

2. Go to the Toilet Properly – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

This is one of the most important and often confusing aspects of any backpacking trip. You need to learn a few tricks about pooping and peeing while in the wild. 

Beyond that, waste management is a serious issue. Proper disposal of human waste is a must to prevent the spreading of diseases and avoid the pollution of freshwater sources. Actually, the set of minimum impact practices is a part of outdoor ethics.

It’s important to find a proper location for pooping. Ideally, it should be a less-traveled spot at least 200 feet away from the campsite, trail, and water sources. If you‘re staying at the same camp spot for multiple nights, don’t go to the same spot twice. 

An elevated spot through which water doesn’t travel and that gets sunlight is a good choice. This reduces the chances of contamination, and the sunlight speeds up the breakdown of waste.

Besides, check whether there are any regulations on human waste in the area you’re visiting. In some sensitive or highly traveled zones, you may need to pack the solid human waste in sealable plastic bags. 

For example, you must pack out all solid human waste and toilet paper while backpacking in Zion National Park. Per the rules, each camper should carry at least one human waste disposal bag for that purpose.

Here are some of the most important tips you need to remember:

  • One of the easiest and most eco-friendly ways of pooping in the wilderness is digging a cathole. You can dig an 8-inch deep hole with a lightweight aluminum trowel or a stick. Once used, you can cover the space with soil, rocks, lichen, or bark. 
  • If you’re backpacking in a desert region, the hole should be around 6 inches deep. This is because most biodegradation occurs closer to the surface in arid conditions.
  • It’s best to use white, non-perfumed biodegradable toilet paper and bury it in the cathole. Burning toilet paper can be a risky business and lead to wildfires. Using natural toilet materials like leaves, smooth rocks, or snow as toilet paper is also a good option.
  • Some backcountry campgrounds may have an outhouse with a waste compositor. Using it is a good option.
  • The best way to get into position is to drop your trousers and get into a low squat. You can hang on to a branch or your hiking stick for balance. Otherwise, you can build a set out of stone or socks or use a tree stump or a fallen log to sit on.

Human urine is less dangerous for the environment than fecal matter. However, some animals, like deer, can get attracted to the salts in the urine, which can cause a nuisance. So keeping the right distance from campsites and water sources while peeing is equally important.

3. Take A Shower, but Get Creative – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

Washing frequently during a backpacking trip isn’t a practical option. But if you have the chance to take a swim in a lake or an easy-flowing stream, go for it. Ensure you don’t use artificial soap or shampoo, which might upset the fragile ecosystem. 

But hang on a minute…

Some high alpine lakes contain organisms that have not been exposed to chemicals from sunscreens, beauty products, and even the oils in human skin. Avoid using such lakes for bathing.

Another option is to take an occasional sponge bath to wash your face, underarms, groin area, and feet. This will keep the skin free from sweat and dirt and reduce bacterial growth. Carry a quick-dry towel for this purpose. Even using biodegradable soap for this, stay clear of water sources. 

13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips
Camping Shower

Carrying a camping shower can be a great choice if you aren’t an ultralight hiker. A simple hanging bag with a hose and showerhead operates by gravity and needs no power source. They are available in various shapes and sizes, so pick one as per your requirements.

Fair enough, but what if there’s no freshwater supply?

In areas where you don’t have access to running water, use hygiene wipes or moist towelettes to clean yourself at the end of the day. These wipes contain antibacterial elements and also remove grime from the skin. Store the used wipes in a ziplock trash bag for disposal at a later date.

4. Handle Periods Properly – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

This is an important aspect for the ladies in terms of hygiene. However, this isn’t a deal-breaker or something you must be stressed about while backpacking. With the right level of preparation and organizing your supplies, you can easily enjoy the trip without worrying about your periods.

To start with, carry sufficient amounts of all the items you need. Picking them up from a store isn’t an option in the wild. 

If you’re using tampons and pads, pack them in a resealable waste bag. Burying them isn’t an option, as animals can dig them up. To control the odor, add some dried tea leaves, ground coffee, or a small amount of baking soda to the bag.

The other option is to use a menstrual cup that’s made from silicone and reusable. You must dig a hole daily to dump the contents and wash the cup with soap. You can also use pre-moistened wipes for cleaning up. 

Warning: Ensure you have tried and practiced the method at home before using it in the wild for the first time. 

Keep in mind that high altitudes may result in alterations in the periods due to hormonal changes. Take proper precautions before heading into such terrains.

5. Carry a Hand Sanitizer – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

The pandemic has made hand sanitizers an integral part of our lives. The fact is, it’s a great way of keeping your hands clean and preventing any infectious bacterial diseases. To minimize the risks, use hand sanitizer before preparing food or eating and after going to the toilet.

Since it’s compact and lightweight, carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket is no issue. 

An alcohol-based gel sanitizer that’s unscented is the best choice. Moreover, since they don’t require rinsing, hand sanitizers are perfect when you are on dry trails with limited access to water.

6. Maintain Dental Hygiene – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

Your dentist will gladly tell you that maintaining dental hygiene while backpacking is one of the easiest things to do. A folding toothbrush and travel-sized toothpaste are good enough to do the job.

Also, carry some dental floss to remove any traces of food from between your teeth. It’s best to practice brushing your teeth after every meal. 

We also recommend using biodegradable toothpaste to minimize environmental impact. Remember to spit away from freshwater sources and some distance from the campsite. You don’t want the aroma to attract critters or larger animals.

7. Use Biodegradable Soaps – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

Just because you’re carrying hand sanitizers, don’t forget to pack some biodegradable soap

As per the CDC, hand sanitizers are ineffective when your hands are visibly dirty or greasy. So washing your hands with soap and water is the best option whenever you get the chance.

Make sure you don’t use the soap carelessly. Don’t rinse directly in a source of water. The best way is to fill a water bottle and walk around 200 feet from any river or creek before rinsing.

One more thing…

Trim your nails before starting on a backpacking trip. This will ensure that dirt and germs don’t pile up on them.

8. Pack the Right Clothes – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

Underwears are clothes that stay closest to your skin for the longest hours. Carry multiple pairs to ensure that you use a fresh pair every day.  Use materials that are breathable and allow the sweat to evaporate

If you wash your underwear while backpacking, dry it completely before use.

To stay clean and comfortable during the night, use a set of “sleeping” clothes.  Since your hiking clothes can get sweaty and dirty during the day, using a separate set of clothes for sleeping is a good idea. 

However, don’t go overboard with your “sleeping” clothes; keep them light and simple. The other thing is, to change into your sleeping clothes only when all your other tasks are over and you are ready to move into the sleeping bag.

Other than that, you can think of picking a sleeping bag liner. Apart from adding to the warmth, it also helps keep the bag clean.

9. Keep Your Feet Clean – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

Remember, cleaning your feet daily is a must while backpacking. With your feet stuck in socks and a pair of heavy backpacking boots throughout the day, there isn’t much space for the skin to breathe. 

The accumulation of sweat and dirt can make them smelly and lead to a nasty fungal infection.

Allow your feet some breathing space by taking your shoes off after a long day. You can also soak them in a running stream to improve circulation and feel fresh. It will also prevent any hot spots from turning into blisters. Clean your feet whenever possible with water or wipes.

Also, you need to change your socks regularly to prevent the growth of bacteria. In addition, allow your shoes to air out. In case they are wet, dry them out before wearing them.

10. Clean Your Clothes – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

If you’re on the trail for long durations, the unwashed clothes will accumulate. The only way to stay trail fresh is to quickly wash your filthy clothes. 

Doing loads of laundry in the wilderness isn’t an option. One pair of outer garments or underwear is the best you can do in a day.

Most importantly, you need to pack clothing that will dry up quickly. Try to choose special quick-dry materials that are lightweight. While cotton is a breathable material, it takes longer to dry and can develop an odor quickly.

One of the easiest ways of washing your clothes is to jump into a lake or a stream with your clothes on and then dry them in the sun. However, this isn’t a good option in fragile environments, where even the nanoparticles of synthetic clothing can harm aquatic organisms.

The other method is to use a zip-up bag and some biodegradable cleaner. Put the clothes and some cleaner in the bag, add some water to fully immerse them and shake the bag thoroughly. 

Once the cleaning is done, empty the dirty water in a hole dug in the ground at least 200 feet from the water source. Refill the bag with water and wash the clothes until they are soap-free.

If you cannot wash your clothes, try airing them out to reduce odors. Hang them in a windy place under direct sunlight to reduce bacterial growth.

11. Keep The Pots and Pans Clean – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

Keeping the dishes and cooking pots clean is important in your backpacking hygiene routine. This also prevents the growth of bacteria and reduces the chances of infection. Unclean dishes will also attract bugs and mice.

So what can you do about it?

The first step is to reduce the amount of leftover food on your plate. Next, pour some warm water to dislodge the sticky particles. Scrape with the spoon if needed. 

Next, you can use soap and boiling hot water to clean the pots and plates. Once the cleaning is done, put the greywater away from the campsite in a cathole.

12. Reduce Chances of Infections – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

One crucial aspect of staying healthy during backpacking is managing your drinking water. Make no mistake about it; this is one area where you can’t afford any slips.

Firstly, it’s best to collect water from moving sources and not stagnant ones. Also, inspect the water source for any signs of contamination before collecting water.

Next, we come to water purification.

The first step is to remove the suspended impurities from the water. You can use a clean piece of cloth for filtration. The other simple method is to allow the water to stand in a pot. The heavier impurities settle down at the bottom in some time.

The most vital part is removing harmful microorganisms from water.

One simple method of purification is by boiling. You should fully boil it for at least a minute. But if you don’t have enough fuel, it’s best to carry a chemical or UV water purifier. However, these methods won’t remove any dissolved chemical impurities from water.

Another effective way of drinking water is using straw filters. They can remove suspended particles as well as microorganisms from water. 

Anything else?

Avoid sharing food and leftovers with other backpackers to prevent the spread of infections. Since there’s a general lack of hand hygiene among many people, sharing trail mix from a common bag isn’t the best idea either.

13. Care for your Skin – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

Your skin is one organ that is affected a lot by backpacking. Think about heavy sweating, damage from UV radiation, embedded dirt, and chafing and rubbing from the backpack straps.

Here are a few tips you can use to take care of your skin while hiking:

  • Use a headband or bandanna to prevent sweat from trickling into your face. Choose clothes that are made from absorbent and fast-drying materials.
  • Wipe down the sweaty skin in the chafe-prone areas of your body as much as possible. 
  • Choose sun-protective clothing and select the right category of sunscreen. The SPF30 or SPF50 grades are the best options. Apply sunscreen at regular intervals.
  • When you can’t get a bath, clean your skin with wipes to remove the dirt and grime.
  • For ladies with long hair, braiding is the best way to keep your hair clean from dust. Use a wide-brimmed hat for further protection.
  • Wear thick, comfortable socks and choose shoes that fit well to prevent hotspots and blisters in your feet.
13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips
13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

Conclusion – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

These practical tips help you stay clean and fresh during your next backpacking trip. We hope these will help in making your trips more enjoyable.

First-time adventurers might need time to find out what works best for them. But once you have it figured out, you can enjoy your trip despite getting dirty on a trail.

Frequently Asked Questions – 13 Backpacking Hygiene Tips

1. Why is Hygiene Important When Backpacking? – FAQs

Hygiene is essential when backpacking because it prevents the spread of germs and disease, keeps you fresh and clean, and can help you avoid discomfort or illness.

2. What are Some of the Most Common Hygiene Issues Encountered by Backpackers? – FAQs

Backpackers frequently face hygiene issues such as staying clean while on the trail, avoiding infection from cuts or scrapes, managing menstrual cycles, and dealing with waste disposal.

3. When I’m Backpacking, How Often Should I Wash My Hands? – FAQs

While backpacking, it is recommended that you wash your hands frequently throughout the day, especially before eating or preparing food.

4. What are the Best Ways to Keep Your Personal Hygiene While Backpacking? – FAQs

Packing appropriate toiletries (such as biodegradable soap), using hand sanitizer, washing your clothes regularly, practicing good oral hygiene, and properly disposing of waste are the best ways to maintain personal hygiene on a backpacking trip.

5. How Do I Keep Myself Clean and Fresh While Hiking and Camping in the Wilderness? – FAQs

Pack wet wipes or a small towel for quick daily clean-ups to stay clean and fresh while hiking and camping in the wilderness. You can also give yourself “cat baths” by wiping yourself down with a damp cloth.

6. Should I Pack Toiletries for a Backpacking Trip, and if so, What Should I Pack? – FAQs

Bring a toothbrush/toothpaste, biodegradable soap/shampoo/conditioner combo, deodorant (if desired), sunscreen/bug spray combo lotion, and toilet paper/trowel/hand sanitizer combo kit.

7. Is it Safe to Wash Up in Natural Water Sources (Such as Streams or Lakes) While Backpacking? – FAQs

Natural water sources may contain harmful bacteria or parasites, so using biodegradable soap at least 200 feet away from water sources is advised. Use a separate container, such as a collapsible bucket for washing dishes.

8. What Should I Do if There are No Showers or Bathing Facilities Available While Backpacking? – FAQs

If no shower/bathing facilities are available during your trip, you may want to bring some wet wipes/sponges/collapsible buckets for sponge baths.

9. Is There Anything Special that Women Should Keep in Mind When it Comes to Backpacking Hygiene? – FAQs

During their menstrual cycle, women may require additional supplies (such as tampons/pads/menstrual cups); they should pack all used products in ziplock baggies to properly dispose of them off-site rather than burying them in holes.

10. What is Leave No Trace, and What Does it Have to Do with Backpacking Hygiene? – FAQs

Leave No Trace is an outdoor ethics program that promotes the responsible use of natural resources (for example, packing out all used toilet paper/wipes/hygiene products).

This means that backpackers must properly dispose of their waste and reduce their environmental impact by adhering to LNT principles, which include hygiene practices. We can reduce our environmental impact and leave no trace by practicing good hygiene while backpacking and properly disposing of waste.

11. How Can I Properly Dispose of Waste (Such as Toilet Paper) While Backpacking? – FAQs

Dig at least six-inch-deep catholes at least 200 feet away from water sources/trails/campsites before depositing human feces/tampons/paper towels/dryer lint/etc., and cover the cathole with soil once finished.

12. Can I Use Biodegradable Soap While Hiking or Camping? – FAQs

Yes! Biodegradable soap keeps you clean while protecting natural water sources and wildlife habitats.

13. How Can I Avoid Becoming Ill as a Result of Poor Hygiene Practices While Backpacking? – FAQs

Avoid getting sick by washing your hands thoroughly before preparing food/eating meals/drinking water; carrying hand sanitizer; avoiding touching your face/mouth/nose without thoroughly washing your hands; and keeping wounds covered with sterile bandages until completely healed.

Food should be stored away from wildlife areas; Leave No Trace principles should be followed; and adequate insect repellent/sunscreen protection should be used when necessary.

Ben Wann- Tent Camping Expert

My name is Ben Wann, and I’m a lifelong tent camper and backpacker who jumps on every opportunity to get out and enjoy nature! I created this site to inspire others to get outside and to make the process easier for you.