Health & Hygiene

10 Best Tips for Backwoods Hygiene

After a few days in the woods, you’re going to start smelling like a bear. Maybe you don’t care, but the bears might! Here are our 10 best tips for backwoods hygiene.

1. Avoid bacteria and bugs.
Most of the ways that you are going to get sick in the wilderness involve getting bitten by something or drinking tainted water. There are a lot of invisible creatures in water, like Giardia,  and Cryptosporidium. Unless you brought plenty of store-bought water, plan to bring all water to a rolling boil for one minute. At higher elevations, you need to boil for three minutes. Why? Because water boils at a lower temperature at higher elevations, so even though your water is boiling it may not be hot enough to kill all the critters. Using chlorine in the water is not an effective protection against Cryptosporidium.

2. Use hand sanitizer after bathroom breaks and before preparing food.
Unless you’re actually living in the woods, you can probably afford a large bottle of hand sanitizer. Like, a half gallon size from Costco. It’s cheap and it will last you a long time.

3. Swab yourself with some alcohol and cotton balls.
You might have soap, but you might not have enough water to use it. Instead, you can swab yourself down with some rubbing alcohol. It is cleansing, and sanitizing, and again, inexpensive.

4. Wash your sock regularly.
Wearing dirty, crusty socks is uncomfortable. But beyond that, that’s where a lot of your smell is coming from. Take at least one extra pair to change into and wash the worn pair as often as you can. While you’re at it, swab your feet down with that alcohol.

5. Change your clothes at night. 
If you can’t wash your day clothes daily, at least change out of them while you’re sleeping and let them air out a little.

6. Use dental floss. 
You can most likely take a tip from Native Americans and use some tender twigs to clean your teeth daily. Or you can saw off the handle of your toothbrush for an ultralight version. You should also take a container of dental floss. Dental floss is a good thing to have in your bag anyway as it can be used for a number of things. Like…fishing line, binding together poles for a shelter, a small animal snare, a clothes line, a campsite alarm with tin cans and lids ala Walking Dead, a tripwire, a restraint, a shoelace…the list can go on and on.

7. Wear cotton underwear.
This is true for both men and women. Synthetic fabric is not a good choice for underwear because it doesn’t breathe like a natural fiber. It may trap wetness and promote odor as well as chafing. If you’re worried about comfort and chafing, choose undergarments that cover your thighs. Wash your underwear like your socks…as often as you can.

8. Take along some soft, washable cloths.
If you’re a woman, use these both as padding inside your underwear and also to wipe with. Men need something soft to wipe with too. Take along a few squares of a cotton bandanna. While lightweight microfiber cloths like these are easy to wash and quick drying, when dry they are not very absorbent. Cotton absorbs quickly so you can wipe quickly. Attach the cloths to the outside of your pack when you’re not using them.

9. Stay hydrated.
Especially in hot weather, dehydration can be a major cause of illness. Staying hydrated and peeing regularly will help flush your system.

10. Take sunblock and petroleum jelly. 
With these you can prevent sunburn, a major source of discomfort, protect your lips and treat any chafing that may occur from your pack rubbing.

What else do you do when you’re in the backcountry and trying to keep yourself clean?

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Mark James

Mark James

Mark James lives with his family in Western Oregon, the area that Oregon's FEMA director said "will be toast" in the event of a Cascadian earthquake. He hopes to share information to help others protect themselves and their loved ones.

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