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Personal Hygiene in the wilds + How to wash with very little water

A bit of funk can be forgiven after a day of exertion in the great outdoors but too much and you stand a higher risk of infections, or when sweaty feet are involved risk developing fungal issues. A spot of personal TLC is a nice way to finish the day and can work wonders on a tired aching body, look after your body and it will look after you (and if you’re sharing a tent your companions will be grateful you took the time)! The thing is water is a precious resource - it’s heavy to carry and even in an area where water is plentiful, takes time and energy to gather and sterilise so must be used wisely. Lucky for you, over the years we’ve figured out how to get the most out of ever drop so read on for our tips:


Wet wipes are handy for a quick refresh but since most are NOT biodegradable, you’re still left with a bag of damp litter to hike out with so isn’t really something we recommend. Plus we seriously need to get away with the ‘throwaway’ mentality!


Sea to Summit roll up camping sink - find out moreNothing beats washing with real soap and water so we suggest getting one of these brilliant roll-up sinks, or make a double use out of a clean enamel mug or eating bowl. Don’t fill your bowl to the brim each time as that’s wasteful, use your water sparingly splash by splash if you want to make sure it lasts.


Dr Bronner Castile Soap bars x 2 - AmazonCastile Soap is biodegradable and takes up very little space, it can also be used as dish soap, laundry detergent and even shampoo so there’s no need for anything else! Extra tip: cut a standard bar into smaller pieces for camping trips.


If you’ll be needing to wash your hands a few times, for example of grease whilst cooking and preparing food, leave the water in the bowl for the next few times. I like to keep a wet cloth nearby as a kind of reusable wet-wipe!


Think ahead of time and group your tasks into an order that makes sense to minimise the number of times you’ll actually need to wash your hands or utensils; leave handling raw food till last since you’ll need to throw it out immediately. For more on food prep check out our post on Food Hygiene in the Wild>


A face cloth/flannel (or a bandana if you’re going for multi-purpose) makes washing in a tent a lot easier and cleaner. Ideally opt for the lightest cotton fabric you can find so it dries quickly.


Head to Toe cloth washing technique:

Step 1: Warm your water till it’s as hot as you can bear to put your hands in. Use just enough to cover the cloth itself (save a splash for the end).

Step 2: Fully immerse your wash cloth, and squeeze out the excess with your hands so the cloth is wet but not dripping. (water cools quickly on a cloth in cold air so you might want to push the heat further and utilise a pair of tongs)

Step 3: Working quickly, start at the top and work your way down - wipe your face, neck, and arms first. Rinse your cloth and continue to the next dirtiest parts of yourself, using soap for the really stinky bits... If you’ve managed to get the cloth hot enough it actually neutralises the smell of body odour without soap, but sometimes you need the extra help!

Step 4: After you’ve rung out your cloth for the last time, discard the dirty water and use the saved splash from step 1 to give the cloth one more good rinse. Ring out as much water as you can before hanging up to dry.


Tip: Put EVERY drop of water to use wherever you can - dirty hand washing water is still useful for soaking burnt on food in a dirty frying pan (you’re going to need to give it a second scrub anyway!) or for cleaning dirty shoes etc. Before you tip any out, glance around camp to see what might benefit from it…


We hope you found this article useful, let us know what you thought in the comments below or any tips you have of your own to share!

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Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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