How do you keep Clean in the Backcountry?

How do you prepare for the rigorous physical requirements of high elevation adventure? Strength and endurance are key, but are only part of a more complex equation. How do you prepare for changes in altitude, exposure, diet, etc.? How do you mentally prepare? Learn from others and share what you know about training in advance for outdoor adventures.
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SSSdave
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How do you keep Clean in the Backcountry?

Post by SSSdave » Fri Sep 13, 2019 8:06 pm

The last time we had a thread here about keeping clean in the backcountry was way back in 2011. Since then much has changed on this board including numbers of new members. So worth bringing up again especially since today was one of those really hot days in Northern California. Heck it reached 103F in Santa Cruz even. Here in Campbell it did reach 100F. At this time of mid September water temperatures in Sierra waters are often at their least cool but within a couple weeks tend to quickly drop off due to the long night periods.

From Maverick's 2011 thread "Backcountry Cleanliness" page 4:

http://www.highsierratopix.com/communit ... =35&t=5917

Of all that posted on that 2011 thread, WD is most like this Mr Clean. I may have been out for a week but am usually always clean because like WD, I readily will jump into waters regardless of how cold water is as I dislike being dirty, grubby, sweaty sticky, smelly, especially when getting into my wonderfully clean sleeping bag.

There is a trick to getting into colder water without acting like a cry baby that is about doing so quickly. In really cold water I do so like a jack-in-the-box on steroids. One can read on my post on page 4 of the above. Unlike the majority in the cotton t-shirt and shorts army, I've long been one to cover up most of my body even when not in mosquito season. That is in part to keep dirt off and keep the intense high altitude sun off. Especially hiking along dusty horse trails, bare legs will picked up a disgusting amount of horse turd dust...yukk! Thus my tough Levi 505 jeans. I also don't wear a shirt while carrying my pack but rather a thin front zippered nylon shell because 1) mosquito probosci can't penetrate the dense nylon weave 2) it doesn't absorb sweat 3) can be dunked into water then dried out quickly 4) zippered side pockets 4) can leave the front zipper open when warm. On warm trail hiking days, I also readily will bother to torso dunk at stream crossing that requires finding a boulder or slab where I can lean over a rock and dip my head and upper body into a stream.

I always carry a second pair of Darn Tuff socks and will wash and swap them every few days even though they may not smell much. Oddly I seem to have little body odors and clothes rarely become funky which is fortunate as I have a strong sense of smell so quite dislike foul smells. I do bring a cotton t-shirt for around camp use that is also useful as a wash cloth. Only soap I bring is a small tube with Alberto V05 Normal Shampoo (cheap ancient product with few non-soap ingredients) that I also use for cleaning cooking utensils as after fish frying meals. I do like to shampoo my wonderful hair every few days and can do so by just filling up my two small 2 REI cookset pots then finding a nice warm boulder mid day to lean over.

New in this era, I bring along in my photo day pack waist belt packet a small bottle of alcohol based hand cleaner. Thus readily removes any DEET or sunscreen I might get on my hands and also readily removes any of the horribly sticky pine tar that may get on skin or gear. And of course bring toothbrush and toothpaste though only seem to make time to brush every other day.

Me in Bear Creek at bit below the PCT/JMT crossing, nearly a couple decades ago:


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SirBC
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Re: How do you keep Clean in the Backcountry?

Post by SirBC » Fri Sep 13, 2019 9:41 pm

I have to admit that keeping clean isn't on my agenda when backpacking. Most of my trips are only 3 to 7 days so given the comparatively short time span (compared to what others here do) I am not that concerned about cleanliness. It's always something that I just kinds of push to the back of my mind and think, "I'll get clean when I'm home". I just did a quick 3 day trip and on day two my wife was taking a dip in a pool of water and she couldn't convince me to even soak my feet. I felt fine as I was ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

I don't know, I think "cleanliness" is a little overblown when backpacking. I wash my hands after doing my business or before cooking anything to eat or brushing my teeth, but for me cleanliness is more about comfort than it is about worrying about getting sick. I do sleep better when I don't feel "icky" with suntan lotion or bug spray on my body, but it isn't a priority for me. For me it's just something that I look forward to, like a good meal and a beer when I come out.
Last edited by SirBC on Sat Sep 14, 2019 5:42 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: How do you keep Clean in the Backcountry?

Post by Wandering Daisy » Fri Sep 13, 2019 10:04 pm

I became a "clean freak" after being out 28 days, weather horrible June snows and cold icy water, so did not bathe or wash clothes. It was basically 28 days of survival, not much else. The first spell of good weather we all spent an entire day just bathing and washing. I swore I would NEVER get that grimy again! It was not only ME feeling dirty, it was living in close contact with all the other smelly tent mates. Ugh!!

Due to more algae in the lakes over the last decade (more use of the backcountry and multiple years of drought and higher temperatures) if you step into a lake to take a dip, you likely will stir up gunk. So I have been using "bucket baths" more often. I just use my cook pot and dump water over me. A quick dip into a high alpine lake with little or no algae is still the best but I do not want to step out of a lake dirtier than when I went in. I solar heat water in a 2 L platypus and after dinner, wash my face in warm water using dry-soap makeup removers cut in half. They weigh nothing, produce very little soap and are good at removing grime, sunscreen and fish smells after eating fish. After using on my face and hands, I then use them to wipe out the cook pot.

We are lucky in the Sierra to have relatively dry air, especially at night. Mid summer one can even wash a shirt and wring it out well and then hang it in a tree and it will actually dry overnight. I wear socks two days, then wash. I take three pair; an extra to wear while the first pair are drying and one thin pair strictly for using inside the sleeping bag. I have gone back to wearing a very light weight cotton undershirt ($3 at Walmart), because it feels so much better than nylon (I feel sticky and sweaty in a nylon shirt because it does not breath well) and it will dry in an hour. I use it as my towel after my bucket bath then wash it and wring out well. After the trip, the shirt gets thrown out. My long sleeve hiking shirt gets washed every other day, weather permitting. I have been using "bugs-off" shirts for several years now; I do think they help keep mosquitoes from biting. Unfortunately these shirts are expensive.

I will be that oddball you see wearing knee-high gaiters all the time. It really keeps my pants clean, keeps bugs from crawling or flying up my pant legs, and protect my legs during bushwhacking. Gaiters wash and dry easily. Using long gaiters, I rarely have to wash my hiking pants. Long gaiters are very "old school" commonly worn in the PNW in the 1960's-70's and is the standard gear for NOLS. A few years ago I ran into a gal wearing long gaiters and shorts on the PCT at Woods Creek. We immediately knew each of us was an old NOLS alumni. We laughed about this and agreed we absolutely LOVED our gaiters!

I also wear light weight canvas gardening gloves when hiking ($2-$3 at Walmart or $1 at the Dollar store). It keeps my hands clean and more importantly, saves wear on my hands due to using trekking poles and I spray DEET on the gloves, not me, so no residual DEET in my food when cooking. These too get thrown out at the end of the trip.

I find that cleaning fish is hell on my hands. Have seriously considered surgeon's gloves. Right now I bring Eucrine cream and put it on every night. I have also used pure lanoline and/or "bag balm". But my fingers still get dry and cracked if I am out more than a week cleaning fish. I would love to find a solution to this problem.

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Re: How do you keep Clean in the Backcountry?

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sat Sep 14, 2019 9:38 am

Just want to add that cleanliness on longer trips has more to do with staying healthy than smelling good. Hands, feet and crotch can get sore and infected if not kept clean. Washing socks is needed otherwise sand and dirt grains imbedded in the socks will act like sandpaper on your feet. If you follow the PCT journals, you see that those who fail to keep their feet healthy and have to end their hike. So do those who get repeated digestive problems due to uncleanliness. Long haul trips really have to be undertaken with a different set of practices than shorter trips.

If I am traveling long days where there is not enough remaining daylight, I dip in a stream at noon break. It is very refreshing. Because I have long hair, I wash my hair at noon break so it will dry before evening. One reason I prefer to wade a stream is the wonderful relief for my feet. I also avoid bathing if I am already chilled. That is why the bath comes first, before setting up camp.

By the way, I DO NOT use soap near streams. If I use soap, I haul the water away from the stream or lake in a place where the runoff will not go back into the water.

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Re: How do you keep Clean in the Backcountry?

Post by acorad » Sat Sep 14, 2019 10:47 am

I hiked last week in running shorts, running shoes, running socks, and a all-poly button-down dress-type shirt. Everything loose, to keep the skeeters from biting through. I typically bathed at lunch time, although the Toulumne River was cooooold! Everything dried pretty quickly as we hiked, and the cooling effect of the evaporation was much appreciated. My buddy sometimes took 3 baths in a day.

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Re: How do you keep Clean in the Backcountry?

Post by freestone » Wed Sep 18, 2019 4:21 pm

I only fish in and drink Sierra waters, no swimming for me!

For cleanliness, I rely on a nice hot shower in the late afternoon using this setup which includes two ziplock bags designed to heat up food or water using the sun and a shower head that screws onto a one liter bottle or two liter Platypus bladder.

But I admit, I go days without just because I'm too bushed at the end of the day to do anything other than eat then crash.

BTW, I'm as nordic as they come and I'm guessing Vikings went months without bathing! The leader of a Viking ship, would always wash his face first, then pass the same bowl of water to the 2nd mate to wash his face, then the 3rd mate and so on.... :eek: For them, all they needed was a clean face I guess.

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Re: How do you keep Clean in the Backcountry?

Post by TurboHike » Thu Sep 19, 2019 2:14 pm

For overall cleanliness, I carry a one gallon ziploc bag and a small 10" by 14" PackTowl. Once I set up camp, I pour one liter of water into the ziploc, insert towel to get it wet, then wipe down, starting with my head/neck, then arms, body, etc. If it's cold/windy, this is easy to do without completely disrobing. The water is dirty by the time I'm done, so it works. And I feel much better. I don't use soap and I do this away from creeks/lakes. The ziploc and towel are lightweight and take up nearly zero room in my pack.

I also carry a few "Below the Belt Goodwipes" for tidying up the rear side after a #2. I pack these out with my used TP.

I have a small (1 ounce) container of hand sanitizer that I use before meals and after using the bathroom.

The only soap I carry is in my first aid kit. I carry about 1 mL of liquid soap just in case I need to wash a cut or scrape. I haven't used it so far, hopefully never will.

It's rare that I'll go swimming since I find the water to be frigid.

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