I'm looking for a good solution for clothing (or clothes washing) on long hikes with the following considerations

  • Southeastern United States, Appalachians
  • We hike light
  • 10+ day trips

I don't want to wear dirty clothes for too long, especially socks. When clothes start to chafe, it's going to have a real impact on my ability to keep going. I want minimal weight, but something that will allow me to keep going.

It has been my experience, even with good quality (I've tried just about every brand of hiking sock sold), that things like socks do not dry out overnight in the Appalachian mountains. I have socks that are okay for hiking when wet, but I'm not sure that's the right way to go (wash and hike in wet socks seems much less than ideal).

To be clear, my concern is how to wash and have dry clothes and specifically the plan and gear for that. I need specifically for long hikes, in areas where there's lots of tree cover (ie, the appalachians), and lost of moisture (ie, the appalachians).

  • No fire, I rely on a stove these days. Fire might be an option once a week though so I could consider that. Thank you. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 18:59
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    Not precisely an answer to the OP, but very important: wear wool! Besides regulating moisture and heat better than most other materials, wool is naturally antimicrobial and can potentially be worn for weeks without washing -- odor-free and comfortable.
    – themirror
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 1:45
  • There's underwear that REI sells designed for hikers to wear for longer periods of time. A friend of mine refers to it as "5-day underwear." Sounds a little gross, but they stay amazingly low-odor for days at a time. Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 3:22
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    As for socks, I wear a pair and carry a pair, then swap them about every hour or two, hanging the previous pair on the back of my pack. When I cross a creek, I carry my shoes, leave the socks on during the crossing, then swap after to let the wet pair dry. Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 3:24

3 Answers 3


Rinse your socks and undies out with water, rub them on rocks then re-rinse and wring dry. Put them on damp in the morning.

I can't think of a lighter weight solution than that :) I've done plenty of trips with no extra pairs of anything. You certainly won't smell good at the end of 10 days, but I don't think your performance will be affected.

Edit: Alternatively, leave the wet clothes in the sun when you are stopped, and tie them to the outside of your pack while you're moving.

  • I've added xpda's comment to this answer and upvoted his comment. I think the combination of those two methods is the ideal solution. Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 19:43

When washing in the backcountry there are some techniques and considerations that will benefit yourself and the pristine wilderness you are traveling within.

Don't ever wash near a water source, you are contaminating it for yourself, everyone else, and the animals that drink from it.

1. Always carry water at least 500 feet away from:

  • The source of the water.
  • Your campsite.
  • The trail or travel area.
  • Other persons' campsites.

2. Never use a nitrate-based soap

  • These soaps kill naturally occurring and helpful bacteria in the soil.
  • The soaps can cause an overabundance of certain kinds of water-based algae.
  • They contaminate water sources and make them unfit to drink for yourself and the animals living nearby.

3. Wash yourself and your clothes in a central location if staying for multiple days.

  • Moving the wash location affects a greater number of areas.
  • Concentrating the wash area minimizes contamination elsewhere.
  • Scatter dirty water within the wash area to prevent soap from entering the deep soil and killing plant roots.

4. Use a scentless soap

  • Using a soap that smells like fruit is a good way to get tracked or attacked by bears or mountain lions.
  • In some areas scented soaps are not allowed (e.g. Glacier National Park)

5. For drying clothes:

  • Use the sun if possible, get into camp early (i.e. 3:00 pm), wash, and dry.
  • OR wring clothes and place them on your body inside the sleeping bag at night. Your clothes will be dry by morning.
  • For socks, tie them in a knot and store around your neck while sleeping. Same result as above.

Pack a vessel that can carry water and that you won't be using for cooking. The best I have seen are collapsible wash buckets made of synthetic fabric. These are light and allow for easy transportation of water away from the camping/water/travel area.

For the best backcountry soap I've used try the following. Dr. Bronners - Unscented castille soap, baby.

For more information please see the following: Leave No Trace - FAQ

  • One solution may be to place the clothes on top of your sleeping bag, which will act as a buffer for the clothes. Or if you are in warm weather, string cord between the poles of your tent to create an inside "drying line". The 2nd suggestion will only work in temperatures above freezing of course. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 18:59
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    Leave the wet clothes in the sun when you are stopped, and tie them to the outside of your pack while you're moving. This assumes you have a dry set of clothes to wear.
    – xpda
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 3:00
  • Revisiting this. I have to say that any advice that involves sleeping with damp clothes against the body is suspect. Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 19:44
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    Not sure what you mean by 'suspect' @RussellSteen this is a technique which has been used for a long time and is taught in many reputable outdoor programs. The clothes are not wet, they are damp, and the best source of heat is your body. Clearly this should not be attempted if hypothermia is a possibility. Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 0:58
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    Very often on extended backcountry trips, using damp clothes during travel and drying damp clothes at night is the only option. Keep in mind that I recommend wearing dry lightweight baselayers and simply draping the clothes to be dried over those dry layers. I see your concern, however if you are still skeptical consult the Backpackers field manual, Freedom of the Hills, of the NOLS Wilderness manual to confirm my recommendations. Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 18:52
  • Find a spot at least 200 ft away from water sources, camp, and trails. (Per LNT guidelines)
  • Place soiled items in a gallon zip-loc bag with water and small amount of concentrated, biodegradable camp soap (I use Dr. Bronner's).
  • Burp all air from the bag.
  • Agitate the mixture until desired laundering is reached
  • Open the bag slightly, squeezing it and broadcasting used water in a flinging motion to aid dissipation and breakdown of waste water.
  • Use the same procedure to rinse (don't use too much soap to begin with)
  • Optionally reuse the soapy water to wash multiple items if they don't fit in one bag. Two zip-loc bags is helpful (and they can serve other purposes.)
  • Wring out excess water
  • Wrap the item in a camp towel or shammy and re-wring with it inside to remove more water. Repeat until no more water can be absorbed. (This will greatly aid drying.)
  • Use sun (hanging on branches, rocks, pack), body heat (wearing), or careful placement by a campfire to further dry items.

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