“Do you mind if I roll down the window?” the shuttle bus driver timidly asks me, as he’s already rolled the window half way down. “Not at all….” I reply. I’m relieved when the fresh mountain air swirls in the bus. Partly because I became incredibly anxious and overwhelmed being around fast moving vehicles, and still recovering from the swarm of tourists who rushed me as I was making my way out of the wilderness and into Stevens Pass Ski Resort, and partly because I knew I had a slight aroma. And, by ‘slight aroma’ I mean my stink could have killed a small child.
Personal hygiene, backpacking sanitation practices, funk removal, whatever you want to call it, is more than just the smell. Your health is at stake. Keep bugs, bacteria, viruses, and other nasty’s at bay through better personal cleanliness.
Hikers are usually knowledgeable about water contamination and proper treatment, but are less cautious about other sources of germs picked up from food, waste, and general poor hygiene.
- Bring hand sanitizer. Use it after every bathroom break, before grabbing that handful of trail mix, and before preparing ‘meals’ (does instant rice and peanut butter qualify as a meal?). Your chances of ingesting bacteria that can make you sick are greatly reduced with this practice alone.
- Don’t pass up a chance to dip your feet in a creek. A 5-minute dip not only removes dirt and lessens the chance of bacteria growth, it reduces swelling and relieves hot spots (which turn to blisters if left untreated). Make sure your feet are completely dry before you put your socks and shoes back on; if you have an extra dry pair of socks, throw those bad boys on.
- Use a pee rag. Listen, I know it sounds nasty, but it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. The UV rays from the sun sanitize the few drops of urine it wipes up. Give it a rise at night when you’re at camp, hang to dry.
- Snag a few extra litres of water at your last water source before you get to camp. If you’re using a stove, boil some water to use as ‘sponge bath’ water, and to ‘wash’ your extra socks and underwear in. Giving your body a quick wipe down makes you feel like a million bucks after a few days of backpacking.
- Bring wet wipes! They are versatile; I used them for #2 wiping, and in lieu of hot water sponge baths when I didn’t feel like lugging around extra water.
- Resist the urge to just crawl into your Sleepingbag when you get to camp. Give yourself a good wipe down, hang your hiking clothes to air them out (whether it be outside your tent if there’s no chance of rain, or inside your tent if it’s raining). Once you’ve cleaned up, get into your camp clothes and don’t go adventuring… you want to keep these clothes as clean and dry as possible. Don’t forget to do a bug check!
- Bring 2 extra ziplock bags. One for regular waste, and one for toilet paper/ feminine hygiene waste (Yup! Leave No Trace <LNT> means you must pack out everything!). Keeping your garbage and waste separated from your gear and food is obviously a good thing.
Ladies…. We’ve got a few extra challenges while long distance backpacking, and I suspect it’s a contributing factor as to why there aren’t many female hikers out there.
Maintain good feminine hygiene is extremely important. UTI’s are a common ailment for women on trail. Keep yourself clean, dry, and hydrated are essential in avoiding the dreaded UTI. Use pantyliners and switch them out once or twice a day. Make sure you’re completely dry after peeing.
Switch to a menstrual cup, instead of using tampons. Not only do you feel much cleaner in general, you can go up to 12 hours before you need to empty it versus having to change tampons every few hours. A menstrual cup is beneficial over tampons because it eliminates the need to pack dozens of tampons, and then having to pack them out (remember… LNT).