Consider a 10-day trip without resupply. A bathroom is not exactly available next to the campfire. What would be different about brushing teeth: frequency, tool, etc.?

  • 2
  • You can at least floss.
    – DKNguyen
    Oct 28, 2021 at 13:40
  • 2
    Could always go for the traditional Arabic method : Miswak
    – J...
    Oct 28, 2021 at 15:43
  • @J... see also comments under Vorac's answer
    – Chris H
    Oct 29, 2021 at 7:28
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    @ChrisH Yes, you're talking about non-specific "ragged sticks" there and fruit tree wood - this is rather more specific. Salvadora persica is a particular species with thousands of years of history used for specifically this purpose (cleaning teeth).
    – J...
    Oct 29, 2021 at 11:53

7 Answers 7


Those are some of the problems I have encountered and solutions which have worked for me.

P: Water is scarce.
S: Brush, spit (profusely), rinse, spit, rinse, spit. This amounts to only 2 small gulps of water - as little as 100ml.

The brush shake hard, rinse lightly, shake hard. That gets the toothpaste residue off.
by @Chris H

Sacrifice a small squirt from a bicycling bottle to give the brush a very rough rinse.
by @Michael

P: Batteries are scarce and in the dark the toothpaste drops to the ground.
S: Squirt the toothpaste into your mouth instead of onto the toothbrush. Soon you will learn to measure the correct dose. And will obviously never drop it.

P: A toothpaste weighs a ton.
S: Purchase a tiny package or carry a nearly empty one.

P: I forgot my brush. And paste.
S: Chew some tough grass or young branch to make it into a brush. Use it to remove food in between the teeth. Never forget again as 10 days without tooth care is too much.

P: My brush is wet, it's gonna rot.
S: Dry it at the rest/dry/eat session at lunch.

  • 16
    I’d opt to use nothing over something like grass; a few days without brushing won’t kill you, but contamination on the ground could! Oct 27, 2021 at 2:56
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    You shouldn't rinse after brushing your teeth anyway, according to the latest advice. Anyway the amount of water used in brushing teeth is small compared to drinking/cooking needs.
    – Chris H
    Oct 27, 2021 at 8:51
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    @fraxinus against splinters possibly. Most (but by no means all) woods are safe enough for culinary use including putting in your mouth. I could test apple, olive, walnut, and lemon (not listed but orange and lime are) twigs from my own garden if I really wanted to
    – Chris H
    Oct 27, 2021 at 14:38
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    The main problem with scarce water is: How do you clean the brush? I usually sacrifice a small squirt from a bicycling bottle to give the brush a very rough rinse. But it’s not a great solution.
    – Michael
    Oct 27, 2021 at 17:09
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    @Michael shake hard, rinse lightly, shake hard. That gets the toothpaste residue off anyway. Then, if you're worried, rinse properly when you fill up your bottles with water, even if that means filling a bottle to give the brush a good squirt.
    – Chris H
    Oct 28, 2021 at 8:02

My go-to solution for backpacking teeth brushing is to use baking soda.

It is:

  • odor-free, so you don’t have to worry about treating it as a smellable
  • extremely light, as it is a powder
  • does actually work

Some cons are the taste and texture which aren’t great, and it may not be ideal for long periods of time (as fluoride is good for teeth health). However, for a week or two, a little container of baking soda is great.

I store it in something like this:

small tubular container with a flip-up top to dispense the powder Image courtesy of Amazon, no affiliation.

The container solves most of the cons of trying to bring baking soda as a powder. The little spout dispenses the powder directly onto the brush, and then you can use it like normal.

And if weight is really critical, you can actually cut your toothbrush handle off, most of the way up. All-in-all, lighter than regular toothpaste, and odor-free, which can be of concern in many areas.

  • 2
    toothpaste tablets are also available - similarly easy to store and lightweight as they are dry.
    – aucuparia
    Oct 27, 2021 at 12:15
  • @aucuparia they sound interesting. Do you know if one tablet is equivalent to a lot or a little toothpaste (as I suggest using a minimal amount for various reasons including disposal)
    – Chris H
    Oct 27, 2021 at 14:35
  • There’s also an added bonus to this approach in that baking soda is useful for other things too. Oct 28, 2021 at 0:50
  • 1 tablet is enough to brush your teeth once. They have the advantage of not tasting revolting and containing fluoride, but they can't be used for anything else and are more expensive than baking soda. I use them all the time - less packaging. Google "toothpaste tablets" and you'll find a few types.
    – aucuparia
    Oct 28, 2021 at 8:34
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    @Vorac yes, and as the Crest link mentions, it also doesn’t provide fluoride, and can be a bit hard on the gums after a while. If you’re talking a cumulative month vs a whole month at a time, maybe I’d consider a different option. However, it is definitely effective, albeit not a long-term solution. I think the issue is actually it acting as an abrasive more than a chemical issue, from the couple links talking about it Oct 28, 2021 at 16:00

I'd take a toothbrush (cut the handle down for easier packing if space is tight) and a small tube of toothpaste, to be used sparingly, about half as much as at home.

You can also brush your teeth without toothpaste, but with a brush. This might be a good idea in the most sensitive areas if you don't want to dispose of toothpaste in a hole in the ground. For occasional use you can swallow a little bit.

Rather than pouring water onto the brush if fresh water is scarce, I take some water into my mouth and wet the brush with that, having applied a smear of toothpaste to it first.

In more highly travelled areas, a little toothpaste is insignificant so I tend to spit the toothpaste into a hole in the ground (well away from water of course) then cover it up. The spat out toothpaste can be diluted/washed in with water (not necessarily clean) or by urinating on the mess on the ground.

While I can sometimes find tiny tubes of toothpaste, they're overpriced and wasteful, so I only use them if space is at a real premium. Instead I save the end of a tube for travel (hiking, bikepacking, or motorised travel).

  • I usually get a small tube of toothpaste from my dentist after my semiannual cleaning (You can argue whether it's really "free", or just inflating my bill.) I don't think I've ever had to buy a small tube myself.
    – chepner
    Oct 27, 2021 at 16:00
  • @chepner sample sizes are great for this sort of thing, but my dentist doesn't give out freebies
    – Chris H
    Oct 28, 2021 at 7:57
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    I've only used two dental practices in my life: the second one gives out samples, so I wasn't sure if that was just a modern practice that my childhood dentist never picked up, or it was unique to my current dentist. :)
    – chepner
    Oct 28, 2021 at 12:09
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    My dentist sometimes had those sample tubes, I believe the toothpaste producer gives them out as promotion, hoping to improve sales.
    – Willeke
    Oct 28, 2021 at 19:28

In desert areas spitting toothpaste is frowned upon and water may be scarce. I've used this method.

  • brush using minimal toothpaste or other substance
  • floss
  • swallow

Pack out the used floss.

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    One should get a fluoride-free toothpaste if planning to swallow it
    – TCooper
    Oct 27, 2021 at 23:03
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    @TCooper only for long term use or with certain medical conditions - for a few days if there aren't any contra-indications the key is to use very little. Some swallowing is to be expected anyway, even at home. Baby toothpaste is another option, having fluoride but far less
    – Chris H
    Oct 28, 2021 at 7:59
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    @ChrisH Sure it's hard to get enough fluoride to be toxic... doesn't mean you shouldn't prevent ingesting it where you can. Not like there aren't plenty of great options for when you don't have a sink: byrdie.com/best-fluoride-free-toothpaste (no affiliation)
    – TCooper
    Oct 28, 2021 at 16:15
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    @TCooper but if you're already making compromises about your teeth this could be one to avoid. Getting enough NaF to cause gastro-intestinal discomfort - well below toxicity - would mean consuming a few grams of toothpaste, which you wouldn't do in a week and your body passes it quickly. Toxicity would mean eating a large tube in one go for an adult
    – Chris H
    Oct 28, 2021 at 16:24
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    @ChrisH If your teeth are so on the verge of being 'unhealthy' that a few days of a different toothpaste causes you problems, by all means, swallow your fluoride. I'm confident I could go 3 days without brushing at all and resume normal routine after with little to no consequence, so I'll stick to substituting my toothpaste rather than intentionally swallow something with warning labels not to do so.
    – TCooper
    Oct 28, 2021 at 16:32

I always take a toothbrush backpacking and brush twice a day. If space and weight are absolutely critical you can cut a length off the handle and have a half-length but useable toothbrush.

I once tried 3 days without brushing and it was pretty grim. I wouldn't go 10.

Toothpaste is not necessary for 10 days (arguably not necessary at all) - brushing without toothpaste does a perfectly good job of removing food, and solves the problem of how to carry toothpaste, where to spit it, etc.

  • The purpose of brushing is to remove plaque, not food, strange as that may sound. Visible plaque can take as little as two days to develop in my experience. That is in a mouth brushed before breakfast and after every meal with orthodontics. After which it can only be scraped off with metal. Get a dental scaling afterwards.
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 5, 2021 at 17:28


If it makes you feel better, also use a small toothbrush or one of those tiny brushes (praxi brushes?) that easily get into the spaces between teeth. You can forget about toothpaste. Your teeth can survive just fine without toothpaste for 10 days. Longer. Swish water around your mouth after eating, and swallow it.

But, do not worry about spitting out food and plaque particles on the ground. You pee much more volume than you spit.

If you are uncomfortable when you are not squeaky clean, just concentrate on what a marvelous treat your first shower and first vigorous brushing will be. Homo sapiens went through a couple of million years of evolving while dirty. You can be dirty for 10 days. (Although I admit, I would go crazy if I did not wash my hair at all during a ten day trip.)

  • Are you like me where if you go 2 days without washing your face, starting at about 75% of the way there, the sweat on your eyelids gets into your eyes and burns them?
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 8, 2021 at 5:48
  • @DKNguyen The great majority of my hikes and backpacking are in areas with plentiful streams, so washing my face with cold water is easy. But I know what you mean. I get that effect by yard work in the summer in 90 degree F heat!
    – ab2
    Nov 10, 2021 at 2:13

Baking soda is definitely a good option, and you don't need a large quantity.

When I go backpacking I tend to remove the toothbrush head from the electric toothbrush that I use at home - an easy and lightweight solution!

  • great for being lightweight + not terrible for the environment
    – Chloe
    Apr 22, 2022 at 15:19
  • That answer has already been given.
    – Chenmunka
    Apr 22, 2022 at 17:16

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