Trail Hygiene – How To Keep The Funk Away On A Thru-Hike

We backpack to leave civilization behind, but there are ways to stay civilized.

Here’s a quick guide on the stuff you need plus some techniques to keep yourself from turning into a wild animal on the trail.

Camp hygiene necessities.

A Basic Hygiene Kit

  • Toothbrush (cut off most of the handle)
  • Baking soda
  • 1 cotton bandana for men, 2 cotton bandanas for women
  • Squeeze bottle
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Dr. Bronner’s (baby unscented)
  • Zip top bag
  • Plastic tub and lid (yogurt/sour cream tub)

The zip top bag holds all of your kit then stows inside the plastic tub. The tub is used to collect water from your water source and hold your treated water while you wash.

If you feel a tub will take up too much space in your pack, you can go with a second zip top bag.

The Kit In Action


You must brush.

Not brushing leads to a whole host of illnesses and infections. So skip everything else, just not this.

You’ll notice there’s no toothpaste on the kit list.

That’s because the bristles on your toothbrush are what get your teeth clean. A small amount of baking soda and a bit of water will replicate the toothpaste feel, but won’t harm the natural ecosystem of the trail.


Getting your face clean will leave you feeling invigorated and ready for the trail. Use your cotton bandana and water from your tub, drop 1 or 2 drops of Dr. Bronner’s on your wet cloth.

Wipe your face. Rinse out your cloth and move to the next body part. Which is...


A couple more drops of Dr. Bronner's on your wet bandana.

Give your pits a nice scrub. Rinse the cloth and wipe away any soap residue.

Leaving residue can lead to a rash, so make sure those pits are wiped clean. Rinse your bandana and hang it on your pack where the sun can dry it.

Follow with the tiniest dab (use less than you think, too much will irritate) of baking soda with a drop of water applied to your pits.

The scents and perfumes of deodorant are just not a good idea out on the trail.

Baking soda neutralizes bacteria and keeps the stink away.


Drying your shoes and socks while camping.

Feet are probably your most important asset on the trail. 

So take care of them.

If you can, periodically take off your boots and socks to let everything dry out.

No matter how light you're trying to get, carry 2 pairs of socks.

When you get to camp, wash the pair that you're wearing. Use a drop or 2 of Dr. Bronner's and your tub full of water as a mini washing machine.

Agitate and rinse. Hang them overnight. The next day, attach your socks to the outside of your pack and let the sun dry and sanitize them them.

Repeat daily.

Even if you don't want to or are unable to wash your socks each night at camp, at least rotate your socks, hanging one on the outside of your pack so they can thoroughly dry and get some sunshine on them.

Underwear (& related areas)

Use the sock method on your underwear as well. Carry an extra pair, wash and hang one pair on your pack while you wear the other.

Here is what the second bandana for ladies is for.

It's called a pee rag.

And it is used exactly as you may imagine: it replaces toilet paper to blot urine then, you hang it on the outside of your pack to get sanitized by the sun and ready for next time.

Leave no Trace means everything you bring in must be brought back out, that includes used toilet paper. Avoid having to deal with that by using a squeeze bottle.

After a BM, a squeeze bottle full of water and one of your hands will get your bottom clean.

When you're all cleaned up, rinse your hand and then use hand sanitizer.

Hand sanitizer

Hand Washing, using sanitizing gel.

Before you eat.

After you use the bathroom.

Before you brush your teeth.

A little dab of hand sanitizer will help keep you from getting sick.

In a pinch, if there’s just no water around, a little hand sanitizer on your bandana can be rubbed on your pits and feet to clean them up.

Hygiene miscellany

  • Whenever you do any sort of hygiene on the trail (washing, rinsing, spitting), do it at least 200 feet from any water source and 200 feet from your campsite. Wash water from humans can attract animals
  • Don’t go to bed dirty. Change your clothes when you get to camp or before you go to bed. Having a change of clothes just for camp, and not for hiking, will keep your sleeping bag clean. Nothing feels better than getting to camp and feeling the comfort of a clean(er) change of clothes
  • UV light is nature's sanitizer. Hanging stuff on your pack dries and sanitizes it as you hike
  • Baking soda sprinkled into and shaken from your hair will combat oil
  • Wool is a great sock material as it has natural antibacterial properties
  • In your hand sanitizer, opt for a brand that doesn't have any perfumes

Hike On

Anything you think we should add to the kit list?

Any toiletry item you just can’t leave out of your pack?

We want to hear about it.

About the Author

After spending 5 years testing gear, meeting people and exploring his home state of Colorado with his wife, Andrej realized something about the outdoor industry. Mostly, that it was complicated. Andrej set out to create no-nonsense gear that was just as easy to use as it was reliable. He recruited a team of wilderness professionals and educators and hit the drawing board. The result was simple gear that you could trust, with specs you understood. Now he’s inspiring others to get out there and explore, by giving them the confidence to trust both themselves and the gear they use.