Part of being on the trail is taking care of your body, and that includes taking care of your hygiene. Now, I'm not talking about the smell (just get used to that). I'm talking about making sure to A) keep yourself clean in appropriate ways and B) using materials that won't harm the nature you are out there enjoying!
There are honestly 100s of tips I could give on this subject (and you'll constantly learn more from other hikers you meet in the trail!) but I thought that these few tips were the most important. Clean is a compromise you'll have to learn!!
#1: No Deodorant!
You really don't need deodorant to hike: actually, you'll be happier without it! It might get rid of some of the smell (and only some!) but it also attracts other bugs and animals, including bears. Take a few days and you'll get used to it: just make sure to regularly wash your armpits and groin area (I'll talk about this more below).
#2: Wash your hands!
Wash your hands after using the bathroom, before and after cooking/eating, and keep your hands out of your mouth! The biggest cause of trail illness is hand-to-mouth contamination, not always contaminated drinking water as people are quick to blame! Bring a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer since soap and water don't always work. Add a dime sized drop to your palm, and rug vigorously for 30 seconds.
#3 Rinse off!
You can't use hand sanitizer on your whole body, so you're going to have to clean yourself. My favored methods are:
- Jump in a lake! You'll feel refreshed, and sweat and loose dirt will be rinsed off. Do this away from other hikers and swimmers, and don't use soap!
- Try a trail shower! This means strip down, and then use biodegradable soap, a sponge or washcloth, and a few liters of water to clean yourself. This must be done at least 200 feet from any water (you don't want to contaminate it!). Make sure to get your face, underarms, groin, lower legs, and feet clean
- Too cold for that? Try a sponge bath. Strip down, put some alcohol-based sanitizer on a clean bandana or cotton balls, and start rubbing! Focus on areas like the groin, armpits, between your toes, and inner thighs. Moist towelettes also work well. Whichever method you choose, dry yourself off with a lightweight, quick-drying microfiber towel.
#4 Why biodegradable soap?
The phosphates in normal soap and cause algae blooms in lakes and streams: which is no good for the ecosystem! Hikers should never use regular hand or dish soap in or near water. Instead, choose biodegradable soaps that revert back to their organic ingredients, and still stay 200 feet from a water source to be safe.
#5: When do I change?
Change your sweaty shirt, pants or shorts with cleaner, warmer clothes each night. You can change your socks and undies, too, but I usually wait until right before bed to do this. Make sure to change before bed: wearing dirty clothing to bed not only sullies the inside of your sleeping bag, but it also creates a wonderful opportunity for rashes and other skin problems to develop during the night. If you're going for more than 2 days, rotate your outfits! Dry the sweaty clothes on your pack or a line betweeen trips, and then use it again later!
#6: What should be inside my toiletry kit?
Here's what I keep:
-Alcohol gel-based hand sanitizer
-Cotton bandanna or wash cloth
-Moist towelettes or baby wipes
-Absorbent pack towel
-Toilet paper in its own plastic bag