Hiking Hygiene Tips – How to Stay Clean in the Backcountry

Hiking Hygiene Tips - How to stay clean in the backcountry

Sooner or later everyone who wants to spend more time in the outdoors ask themselves how does it actually work with showering, cleaning clothes, brushing my teeth?

We tend to forget that before we had showers and bathrooms people have been taking care of their hygiene using what nature has provided them with. If they could do it why shouldn’t we?

In this episode I would like to answer couple of the most burning hiking hygiene questions and give you some insights on how to stay clean in the wilderness.

As a bonus grab your free outdoor hygiene guide book plus backpacking hygiene kit to be best prepared for your next adventure!

Get your FREE Step by Step Guide toUltimate Hiking Hygiene!

Hiking Hygiene Guide Book-s

Learn how to simply and effectively
stay clean in the backcountry.


Outdoor toilette

Dealing with “nature’s call” is probably one of the most burning hiking hygiene questions every hiker asks him/herself. While peeing isn’t really complicated the #2 issue is little more complex.

Regardless if it’s #1 or #2 there are a couple of rules to remember:

Choose a spot which is at least 200 feet (60m) away from any water source, trail and/or camp
If possible choose a place with high sun exposure to speed up the decomposition process
Avoid spots which bear marks of heavy water drainage

Once you have found a perfect place it’s time to answer “the call”.

#1 – Peeing in the woods

For male hikers urinating is no biggy. Female hikers however have to think about it a little bit more.

Urinating is your body’s way to clear your bloodstream from any waste by-products created by your metabolism. These water soluble chemicals need to be removed regularly and effectively. That is why proper hydration and often rest stops are so important for your overall well being while hiking.

It’s important to pay attention to the color of your urine as it’s the best indicator if you’re properly hydrated and if your body is cleaning itself properly:

» Transparent to pale yellow – your body is properly hydrated – keep it up!

» Dark yellow to orange – this color indicates dehydration. You should start paying EXTRA attention to your fluids intake. Increase the amount of water you drink as well as frequency of water intake

» Brown, deep red etc. – these colors indicate health issues most often related to your urinary tract. In this case you should drink plenty of water and seek medical attendance asap. Problems such as UTI (urinary tract infection) can be very unpleasant but when taken care of quickly they pose no threat.


there are couple of ways to stay hygienic and dry – let’s see what options an outdoor woman has:

» Shake-Drip-Dry is a basic/emergency method if you don’t really have anything around to keep yourself dry. Remember however that this is not the best technique as it leaves some moisture around which may cause a potential bacteria growth

» Natural “items” are another option – smooth rocks, leaves or snow are widely available and mean no waste to pack out. Beware however and make sure you use non-poisonous leaves and that all objects are smooth and clean.

» Traditionally you would use a TP and it’s ok. Using this technique you need to remember the following – dispose of used paper properly: you can either dig a hole and bury your waste or you can use a ziplock bag to pack it out

» You can also use wet wipes instead of TP. Some hikers prefer this option as it leaves them more “refreshed”. Same as in case of using a TP makes sure you pack out used wipes (don’t bury them!) and trash them at a nearest bin. Don’t use antibacterial wipes as they kill the good bacteria taking care of your V’s health

» The last and maybe most “controversial” method is using a pee rag. Now you might not be familiar with this notion so let me explain:

  • Pee rag is in essence a piece of fabric (can be cotton bandana, microfiber cloth etc.) which is used to dry yourself after you pee. As you know the amount of fluid is minimal so drying takes very little time. You hang your pee rag outside your backpack, expose it to the sun (ultraviolet rays are one of the best, natural disinfectants) and wind for drying and disinfection. Now the initial idea might be slightly off-putting but once you start using it you won’t look back.

» There is one more peeing technique you might consider using – it’s really a personal choice and it requires some practice as well. I’m talking about a urination devices which allows you to stand while you pee and eliminate the need to squat and use a TP or wet wipes. There are a couple versions out there:

To keep yourself dry you can use one of the above tools and either use drip and dry technique or pair pulling the silicon tool against your skin and using a thin panty liner.

#2 – Pooping in the woods

Hiking Hygiene Tips - How to stay clean in the backcountry

Proper sanitary set will make answering “nature’s call” easy and hygienic

It really doesn’t have to be as complicated as many believe. Follow these simple steps and soon you’ll become an outdoor pooping pro ;)

  • Choose a spot which is at least 200 feet (60m) away from any water source, trail and/or camp
  • If possible choose a place with high sun exposure to speed up the decomposition process
  • Avoid spots which bear marks of heavy water drainage
  • Dig a proper cathole – ~6 inches deep and ~4 inches wide
  • Do what you got to do
  • For better decomposition use a stick and mix your waste with some soil and dry leaves (if it’s too much for you you can skip this step)
  • If you used leaves or TP place in it in the whole
  • Cover the hole properly and make sure you leave your spot looking as natural as possible. To better secure your waste place a stone over your cathole.

To stay clean you might want to use natural items like smooth stones or leaves, TP or wet wipes. I figured a good system is to use TP first, then wet wipe, then TP again. This way you’ll make sure you’re clean and reduce any chances of unpleasant aftereffects. Remember that wet wipes belong in your waste ziplock bag and not in the ground.

After doing your deed you need to remember to properly clean your hands. A lot of hikers underestimate the importance of proper hand washing which leads to intestinal disorders you really want to avoid. Use water and biodegradable soap as an initial clean up then use a hand sanitizer to finish it off.

Outdoor shower

Taking a proper shower in the outdoors might be somewhat troublesome if often not possible. There are however ways to stay (relatively) clean and reduce your “stickiness”.

For most times you don’t really need a whole body shower – it’s enough to take regular care of the “problematic” zones like underarms, feet, privates, belly button, behind ears and face. It’s important to keep your cleaning routine even in colder weather.

Depending on water availability you can clean yourself in various ways:

» Unlimited water supply – taking a dive in a lake, river or a stream is a best way to clean your complete body quickly. When doing that make sure you’re doing it in clean waters. If you’ve been using a sunscreen or an insect repellent make sure to remove those chemicals from your body before jumping into a water. Try avoiding using a soap of any kind when using natural water sources.

» Limited water supply – if you only have a certain amount of water available you need to adjust your cleaning routine. Make sure you take care of the most important areas. To clean yourself with small amount of water you can use your cooking pot or other vessel to gather water and use a bandana or a small microfiber cloth to give yourself a nice wipe. Make sure you’re at least 200 feet away from your water source and when/if using a biodegradable soap to dilute it as much as possible.

» Little to no water supply – it happens that you’re breaking camp in a place without a near water source. In such cases you should still take care of your body’s hygiene. In such situations using wet wipes is the best option. Focusing on most important parts (underarms, feet, privates, belly button, behind ears and face) will ensure you stay clean. It will also make you feel better and reduce the nasty sticky feeling at the end of day.

When cleaning your private areas all female hikers should remember to use wipes that DO NOT contain antibacterial chemicals. Such wipes kill the natural bacteria doing its job in keeping your V in a proper shape.

Get your FREE Step by Step Guide toUltimate Hiking Hygiene!

Hiking Hygiene Guide Book-s

Learn how to simply and effectively
stay clean in the backcountry.


Teeth hygiene

Brushing your teeth in the outdoors regularly is really important. I recommend sticking to the same routine you follow back home. Bring along travel size toothbrush or cut your regular one however make sure it’s long enough to reach your back teeth. If you want to use a toothpaste opt for a fluoride free one like the one for children – it will reduce the environmental impact as well as be safe for you when you decide to swallow instead of spit.

Now the question is what to do with the teeth-brushing wastewater? You have couple of options:

» Spray it – after cleaning your teeth try to blow the waste out of your mouth and spread it that way. Make sure you choose area without leaf coverage.

» Burry it – dig a cathole and place your spit in there. After finishing cover the hole and make sure the used area looks as natural as possible. You can place a rock on top of it for added protection against animals.

» Swallow it – okay this one is the most controversial one. If you’re strict LNT practitioner it’s something for you but most people will have problems to act against something that was said to us since we were children. It might also not be too appealing to bring all this bacteria into your system. It’s a personal preference and everyone needs to choose for themselves.

There are also couple of alternatives when it comes to toothpaste and its replacements. You can use children’s toothpaste without fluoride or you can replace it with baking soda or activated charcoal. Both of the above options work well.

Clothes cleaning

On the extended trips keeping your clothes clean is almost as important as cleaning yourself. It not only reduces unpleasant odors but also maintains the designed and desired functions of your clothing.

I recommend always bringing a second, clean set of clothing for wearing during night. It not only keeps your sleeping bag nice and clean but also gives you a pleasant sense of cleanliness after your evening hygiene routine. Having a second set also allows you to rotate your clothing during longer trips. You can air out or wash your primary hiking set and leave it dry while using the second, “night” set.

Typically my second set consists of merino shirt, pair of undies, pair of socks and merino leggings. Now all of the above can serve you during night or day – even leggings can be used as an emergency hiking “pants”.

When it comes to cleaning your clothes you can either air or properly wash them. To perform the later you should bring along a gallon ziplock bag (or especially designed Scrubba Washbag) and a bit of biodegradable soap like e.x. Dr. Bronner’s. Stuff your clothes into a bag, fill it with water and soap and give it a proper shake. You can also leave them in a bag for the part of your hike and your walking motion will work as a washing machine. After the wash rinse your clothes and leave them to dry. Make sure you perform all the actions at least 200 feet away from any water source and your camp.

Hair hygiene

Hiking Hygiene Tips - How to stay clean in the backcountry

Hiking Hygiene tip – wear a hat or a buff to cover your hair when you can’t wash them

I don’t know how about you but after three days of not washing my hair I hit a critical point and all I want to do is either wash it or just scalp myself.

Do you know that feeling?

Most long haired women (and some men as well) struggle to come up with some clever cleaning strategy. There three things you can do to take care of your hair:

» Wash it – find your perfect interval and try to stick to it. As I mentioned mine is around every three days. Use all purpose soap like Dr. Bronner’s and give your head a quick wash, dry it with your towel as good as you can. This works well during warmer periods when days provide enough warmth to dry your hair.

» Cover it – it happened that I was wearing hats for days on end. This is the case especially during colder months when I’m not too eager to walk with wet head. Find your favorite hat, buff, bandana and wear it. All the time. You’ll be happy to be able to hide that mess when you finally reach town.

» Endure – yeah you can do that as well. Some people can’t be bothered and just go with the flow. It’s all a personal preference.

In any case if you have long hair bring along a number of bands, clips or whatever keeps your hair together. Put your hair into ponytail, bun or braid for ease of maintenance. And don’t forget to brush your hair every day to keep them from dreading.

Hiking Hygiene Female Special – Moon Cycle

Hiking Hygiene Tips - How to stay clean in the backcountry

Hiking hygiene tip – menstrual cup is one of the best solutions for period while hiking

Dealing with your period on the trail is probably one of the most burning issues for female hikers. All women know how troublesome it can be and managing it while being outdoors is kind of a special skill.

You have four options when it comes to managing your period while hiking:

» Traditional – bring along whatever you use at home, tampons or pads and once used pack them out. Have a special ziplock bag for your waste or get some of the Maskit pouches for maximum cleanliness. This option is the heaviest one as you need to bring along enough tampons or pads for all the days of your period.

» Modern – menstrual cups are becoming more and more popular among female hikers. They are light, reusable and can be worn the whole day without replacing. When using those you need to pay special attention to keeping your hands clean. To dispose of the contents dig a cathole and empty your cup in it. Using menstrual cups takes some practice and getting use to so try it at home couple of times before you hit the trail. There are different brands you can choose from:

» Chemical – some women use birth control pills, IUDs or contraceptive injections like Depo-Provera to regulate and get rid of their bleeding. It’s totally up to you if you want to interfere into your body’s hormonal system or not.

» Planning – the last thing you can do is to plan your hikes around your period and schedule them accordingly. If you’re not a thru hiker this might be the best solution. Make a proper planning and organize your trip during period free weeks.

Get your FREE Step by Step Guide toUltimate Hiking Hygiene!

Hiking Hygiene Guide Book-s

Learn how to simply and effectively
stay clean in the backcountry.

Hiking Hygiene Kit – what to bring along?

For obvious reasons you should only bring what is really necessary to keep yourself clean. The content of the hygiene kit will vary from one hiker to another as we all have different standards and comfort levels. Below you’ll find, in my opinion, bare minimum to bring with you:


  • Razor
  • Panty liners
  • Pads/tampons/menstrual cup

There you have it – all you need to know about hiking hygiene and how to stay clean when in the backcountry. It might seem tricky at the beginning but with a bit of practice you will get your routine down.

Get your FREE Step by Step Guide toUltimate Hiking Hygiene!

Hiking Hygiene Guide Book-s

Learn how to simply and effectively
stay clean in the backcountry.



Disclosure: If I like a product and that product has an affiliate program, then I will link to that product using an affiliate link. Using an affiliate link means that, at zero cost to you, I might earn a commission on a product if you buy something through my affiliate link.

Meet the Author

Trail Maiden i.e. Karo is an optimistic outdoor fanatic. She has founded trailmaiden.com to share her knowledge and experiences with all the nature loving hikers out there. When not hiking she’s planning her next trip or her next tattoo but knowing her it’s probably both ;)

2 comments… add one
  • Adrianna Jackson Sep 19, 2016, 7:20 pm

    This website has a great selection of reusable/ washable options for that ‘time of month’ so check it out. I use Luna Pads and wash them.

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