I love hiking but there is a serious problem - I find it disgusting to be sweaty or dirty. I am literally unable to function properly if I do not get a thorough and warm shower every morning.

This places me in a difficult position, as I do not want to give up long hikes but the discomfort is really too much for me. In the summer, a good swim every morning works OK to wash the filth off of me but there is only so much of summer and I tend to go out all year round (perhaps even more so in winter).

Are there some basic tricks to keeping clean? Or do you just try to get used to the filth? To be clear, I am speaking of keeping my body clean, not so much the clothes, since those bother me less (and I can always bring a change of clothes for longer hikes).

  • 11
    I love the question, but I can't help - I revel in the freedom of being filthy while I hike... of course, I hike alone most of the time, so there's no one to annoy with my stank :)
    – Ryley
    Feb 10, 2012 at 18:15
  • 6
    I find it disgusting to be sweaty or dirty. Get over it, or don't go hiking. Jul 7, 2014 at 13:51
  • @OlinLathrop: That was pretty much cut throat reply! But totally agree. Love the way you conveyed it! :)
    – WedaPashi
    Jul 17, 2014 at 11:52
  • Years ago I went with a few friends backpacking in Colorado in June. We hiked to the top of one of the mountains and camped out for a few days. There were a couple lakes and streams up there. Being Colorado it was very cold, even in June, and there were snowpacks everywhere. I personally don't feel the need to shower much, but my friend would go to the stream every morning and plunge into the frigid waters with his soap. Jan 13, 2015 at 18:35

6 Answers 6


Some methods

  • Alcohol, either hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol with a microfiber towel to have a "bath"
    Advantages: Lightweight, fast.
    Disadvantages: Dries your skin, have to carry the alcohol, and breathing it isn't perfectly healthy.
  • Solar Shower
    Advantages: Can get pretty darned clean.
    Disadvantages: You have to carry it, collect water, and even with sun it's really cold in the dead of winter.
  • Towel Bath with microfiber towel, bucket of water, and soap.
    Advantages: You can heat water with your camp gear and pour it into a bucket for warm water.
    Disadvantages: Slower, uses fuel.
  • Baby wipes, just wipe down with them (some people use them, I don't personally)
    Advantages: The only one I can really think of is that it's easy.
    Disadvantages: They're expensive, heavy, and you have to pack them out with you.

Remember, if you use soap, use a biodegradable one, do not use nitrate-based soaps, and pour your dirty water well away from any water sources. Dr. Bronners makes a good camp soap.

Microfiber towels are great. Personally I buy cheap automotive ones, which seem to work just as well (for me) as the fancy ones made just for hikers.

I'd recommend either just using your camp pot (if it's large enough) or buying a collapsible bucket.

I've always used the alcohol method because all it requires is hand sanitizer. When really grungy I have on occasion also wiped down with a damp shammy.

  • 1
    These are probably what I'd write also. I can't use alcohol because my skin is very dry to begin with, and this seems to make it worse. Personally I use baby wipes with a dash of hot water. Helps the smell, and for a short trip I don't mind the ounces. I second the Dr. Bronners, too.
    – Greg.Ley
    Feb 10, 2012 at 18:05
  • @Greg.Ley -- Thanks, I updated with the skin drying. I had not thought of that (never caused me that issue) Feb 10, 2012 at 18:10
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    I'd like to add baby/talcum poweder to the list: works in hair to cut down greasiness, in the underwear to deal with sweat/crotch rot, and in socks.
    – furtive
    Feb 14, 2012 at 0:55

After a long day on the trail, I'll take my grooming bucket (reused plastic margarine or sherbet container with lid), and go down to the water hole.

Collect some water and rinse out the bandana. Start at the head and work my way down/in. I'll pull off my shirt and then wash my torso. Pull off my socks and wash my legs. I then wash my groin area, and immediately change into my "camp" clothes. I tend to not use soap, and whenever the water in my bucket gets "icky", I'll toss onto the grassy area near where I'm washing, and refill with river water. Once I'm washed and wearing my camp clothes, then I'll fill my container and wash my clothes, and hang them up once I'm back in camp.

If the wash water was suspect, I'll frequently then take purified water and give myself a bandana-bath and dispose of that used water far from the watersource.

I tend to not use soap if at all possible, because I found that it does not always rinse cleanly, and that residue is a little annoying in the city, it's a horrible rash if it's in sensitive and high-friction areas.


An absolutely vital part of my camping equipment is what we call the washing up bowl: a rectangular plastic tub that's smaller than a sink, but larger than your plates and pots. I actually take two or three, stacked inside each other. They serve many purposes at once:

  • we keep all the kitchen bits and pieces (cutlery, cooking utensils, spices, little bottles of oil, matches, dishcloths etc etc in the stacked bowls, then stick that in a stuff sack. This goes in the pack with the bottom of the bowl (with rounded edges) against my back. Nothing ever digs into me.
  • we put an inch or two of hot water in each bowl after dinner and add dish soap to one for washing, and leave the other clear for rinsing (this also gets your hands truly clean)
  • the pair of them are fantastic for putting out the fire at bedtime
  • when camping somewhere that it's hard to draw water into my water filter, such as a sandy or muddy bottom and shallow water, I can wade out and come back with a washing-up-bowl full and filter that, without getting any of my potable-water containers contaminated with unfiltered water.
  • and finally, and relevant to your question, an inch or two of warm water, a facecloth, a bar of soap, some shampoo and a mug will give you an actually pleasant way to get clean. Do it well back from the water. This isn't a "sponge bath" - you can sling quite a lot of water across the parts of you that you feel need rinsing.

(Why three? So that while we're using two for dishes, the bits and pieces aren't scattered across the campsite. A hiker might decide to get by with one.) However many you choose, such a multi-tasker has a good argument for being in your bag.


Outdoor hair is full of sweat, but basically probably cleaner than the normal days. The air outdoor is much fresher than in the city. Probably we can skip the hair washing also prevent environment pollution but I would say You can try dry shampoo to clean your hair, you can look at this: As Hiking and Camping Supplies

Dry shampoo is easy to carry and some really clean quite well.

  • Hi and welcome to The Great Outdoors. It would be preferred if you'd give some further infos directly in the answer. Maybe your link will die some day and then we miss these infos. Additionally you could sum up the content from that link so the reader of your answer gets a fast idea of what you are speaking about.
    – Wills
    Jul 6, 2014 at 17:20

The principle of washing in winter is, generally speaking, the same as in summer. You find some stream (you usually camp near the stream) and wash there. The water in streams is fluid even by slightly minus temperatures, only the washing is more extreme because of cold.

If the water in the stream is frozen, you can melt in in the canteen and you can wash yourself.

It's really a bad idea to wash yourself on the morning. Firstly, because there's never much time, second it's good idea to wash before going into your sleeping bag. First you keep it cleaner, second, according to many people, the body is able to produce more heat at night if it's clean.


If you read the Snow Leopard, from Peter Matthiessen, he discusses this exact issue and looks at how the Tibetans handle it.

Part of Buddhist teaching is that as human beings we are at one with nature, with earth, with our surroundings. Understand this carefully. We are no better than anything around us - we are part of it. So the Buddhists, just as Olin Lathrop posted above, don't consider the dirt on their skin as something filthy.

Think of it. Why do you consider "clean", fatty acids and the additives from Procter and Gamble, versus the carbon atoms and minerals from "dirt" plus a little interaction from bacteria which are 10 times more populous in your body than your own cells?

Peter Matthiessen's remark is that the Tibetans don't care about it and simply embrace it.

So stay at home if you prefer Procter and Gamble chemicals on your body over the concept of becoming one with nature, which is the whole purpose of loving the outdoors.

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