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December 2020 Issue
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Keeping clean in the outdoors

A trail bath can reduce body odour and help cool you off after a hot hike. Photo: Carlos Charlton

Personal hygiene is often thrust onto the backburner in the backcountry, but staying clean can prevent health issues arising and prolong the life of your gear. 

Take a trail shower
If you’re tramping for more than a few days, do yourself (and your hut mates) a favour and take a trail shower. Though you’ll struggle to get perfectly clean, any washing you can manage in the backcountry will improve your mood, increase your chances of making friends, and reduce the risk of fungus and chafing. Strip down as much as you are able, and use a wet sponge, bandana, biodegradable wipes or washcloth with biodegradable soap to clean where you can reach. Start with your face, neck and shoulders, and continue to the increasingly dirty areas – paying particular attention to your armpits, groin and feet. Ensure soap residue is rinsed or wiped off, and make sure you’re 100m away from water sources. Change into your hut or sleeping clothes once washed to keep your sleeping bag cleaner.

Make the most of fresh air
Grubby clothes won’t get any cleaner stuffed inside your pack, so if you don’t mind airing your dirty laundry, attach it to the outside of your pack while you walk, and hang it once you’ve stopped for the day. Any dampness in your garments will quickly evaporate, along with some of the smell if you’re lucky. What’s more, UV light from the sun can kill off bacteria growing on your clothes. If weather permits, take the opportunity to air out your feet whenever possible, as damp feet can lead to fungal or bacterial problems.

The right wardrobe
It’s impossible to stop your body from smelling after a hard day on the trail, but choosing the right clothes to wear can make a world of difference to nearby nostrils. Merino is anti-bacterial and extremely effective at neutralising odours, and though it’s expensive, it’s well worth kitting yourself out with merino underwear and thermals if you’re worried about your smell. My merino socks pass the smell test even after days of use – something I wouldn’t even attempt with synthetic pairs. Synthetic fabrics – even when treated with anti-odour solutions – tend to hold onto odours longer, though they are faster drying than merino.

Laundry won’t be on many trampers’ to-do lists, but on long trips or thru-hikes, it might be a necessary evil. A clean-water wash will effectively dissolve the salts produced by sweat, but for a fresher result, add water with biodegradable soaps or baking powder to your dirty clothes and give it all a good shake in a dry bag. Rinse the soap off, ensuring you’re a responsible distance from water sources, and air dry.
If this all sounds like it’s too hard, you can’t go wrong with a fully-clothed swim.