Some background. Whilst car camping down in Weymouth recently I was unfortunate enough to encounter a stomach bug (we initially thought it was food poisoning but later realised it was a bug as my other half developed the same symptoms over 3 days later). I ended up making a mess inside the tent, though not as bad as it could have been (this one was mostly just water).

My sleeping bag became unusable however, and this was on the first night, so I slept under a blanket instead, as luckily the weather was still surprisingly warm for September. My other half kindly cleaned up as best he could - the tent seemed to wipe clean ok and was done immediately - but my pack and my sleeping bag took the brunt of the mess.

Since we were only there for two nights we just chucked most things effected into the back of the car, but obviously if we had been trekking instead of car camping this would not be possible.

My sleeping bag is synthetic and machine washable (as stated by the manufacturer on low heat, no or low spin and only a tiny bit of detergent, no fabric softeners) and now lovely and clean. Again, this isn't exactly something I can manage out on a trek in the future - plus we had plenty of towels with us due to swimming etc, which we probably would not have with us trekking. Also as vomit is a rather nasty thing to clean up anyway, I'm not worried if things get dirty but obviously vomit is completely unhygienic, so I would assume it need something more thorough than a splash in a stream like you do with grubby boots.

So my question is: When out trekking, what is the best way to clean camping gear of vomit?

  • 5
    Let your dog at it :-) Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 17:06
  • This is a huge assumption that you would have a dog with you, of which I don't even own one.
    – Aravona
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 17:51
  • 4
    It was supposed to be humorous. oh, well. Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 18:36
  • 1
    @CarlWitthoft - Dogs are easily the most efficient vomit cleaners, anyone who has a dog and small children can attest to how efficiently they can clean up vomit, especially on carpet. They lap it up right of the top, nothing really even soaks in if they get to it soon enough. Our first baby was a spitter, my dog literally followed her around the house waiting for his next curdled milk treat.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 22:22
  • One of the biggest things is to kill the bacteria that cause the odor. You want a liquid that will soak in to kill the bacteria, in my experience.
    – m4tt1mus
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 17:54

2 Answers 2


I'll caveat this with -- I've never vomited in my gear, nor do I know anyone who has. But I did sit and figure out how I'd try to solve this if it happened to me.

  1. Dry the liquid. This will depend on gear and season. Sunshine, freezing cold, or dirt can all work for this. Even cooking materials such as flour can work. Anything to make it less liquid.
  2. Scrape off the resulting dry stuff/goo.
  3. Let it air out as long as possible, preferably in sunlight.
  4. When completely dry, scrape again and brush over with a small amount of hand sanitizer.

Again, it's theory, but this is how I actually clean up vomit anyways, just applied to gear. There are a lot of variables that could matter here, such as location, weather, etc.

Lastly, please do NOT use a stream or water source. It should go without saying, but contaminating the water for everyone else is bad.

  • 5
    +1 for "please do NOT use a stream or water source. It should go without saying, but contaminating the water for everyone else is bad"
    – WedaPashi
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 12:02
  • 1
    Could you please cleansing that with Hydrogen Peroxide? Its a good smell-killer that you can easily find in your medical kit.
    – WedaPashi
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 15:48
  • Wouldn't work in my case, as I don't carry Hydrogen Peroxide in my med kit :) Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 18:13
  • 2
    Well, hydrogen peroxide could maybe damage the fabric, depending on its concentration... Commented Apr 4, 2015 at 17:13
  • 3
    Wait, is a single person's vomit truly going to influence a stream's cleanliness? Wouldn't it be but a drop in a pool and hasn't that stream seen worse?
    – Jasper
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 8:38

It sounds like what you did to clean it up was effective and could be adapted for trekking. For example there are three key things I read you did to improve the situation:

  1. wiped up the mess using towels;
  2. left contaminated gear in a separate area from your regular activities so it could be cleaned when the opportunity presents itself; and
  3. you cleaned contaminated gear when the opportunity presented itself.

You can do those three things trekking, just need to adapt the gear/methods for mobility. Here are the same steps, using what's available trekking based on what I and my peers carry:

  1. Wipe up the mess using handkerchiefs instead of towels. I carry an excessive amount of cotton bandanas to serve as handkerchiefs. It's a relief to have enough clean ones to comfortably wipe your face, blow your noes, whatever you need a quick wipe for. They can also be multi-purpose (and the fact that bandanas come in many colors makes it easy to color code them for different purposes, e.g. so you're not dressing a wound with a snot-rag). One purpose they can serve is as a napkin for eating, or in this case more like a paper towel to clean up a mess. Forest floor duff can also serve as a paper towel to clean up a mess - it leaves (or should I say leafs) its own mess behind, but duff is potentially a much more hygienic mess than whatever it wiped up.

  2. Do whatever easy cleaning you can do of contaminated gear - such as wiping the vomit-covered bundle of bandanas you may have in a bunch of leafs - then store it safely and separately until you can do a better cleaning. For this purpose, having many lightweight bags proves immensely useful. I'm not sure what an old-day equivalent of this is, but having a bunch of zip-lock bags, grocery bags, and larger garbage bags folded up in your pack can serve many different purposes. From poncho to tarp to a sack to seal up something nasty away from everything else next to it in your pack - a good garbage bag can serve a similar purpose as the back of your car did.

  3. Now that your mess is mostly cleaned and contained, you can continue onward. Eventually you need to clean the mess you've contained though. In some treks, the bag of nasty bandanas can wait for a slop sink and washing machine at home. In other cases, due to extended time in the wilderness or due to the importance of contaminated gear (like a sleeping bag you couldn't totally clean and have been carrying in a garbage bag for a day or two), you'll need to have a cleaning session in the field. I find this to be a pain but it is doable and you should be prepared to do it if need be. Having soap (suitable for trekking in its versatility and environmental friendliness), something to scrub with (could even be forest floor duff), something to hang things up with (e.g. rope), and a way to carry water is important (for water, a 1L bottle might do, but a folding bucket, large pouch, or tarp to serve as a slop sink makes this much easier). Away from surface water (preferably 30+ meters) but close enough to have a water source, do plenty of rinsing of your gear, scrubbing and soaping as needed to clean it off. Hang your washed gear up to dry a bit. If the gear or weather isn't conducive to drying easily, then be extra careful in your rinsing to only wet what you need to. To make all this easier, plan on more time than you expect for this process, as being in a rush about this will add stress and not help any of the situation.

Ultimately this also raises the importance of redundancy, which is even more challenging and yet even more important when trekking. Versatile gear is good because it can add to your resilience. A tarp serves multiple purposes, good blankets serve multiple purposes, as do multiple layers of clothing and even sleeping bags (e.g. using a medium and light bag combined rather than a single heavy bag). While your main bag is out of commission, having backup gear and knowledge to keep you ok over night is precious.

  • 1
    Way to carry water: On long trips, we carry a solar water heater, which is a heavy plastic bag, clear on the top, black on the bottom, 5 gal capacity, with a small hose attached. we've never had to clean up vomit from towels, but it is perfect for washing dirty socks, hair, hands and faces. Of course you have to be travelling in territory with many streams.
    – ab2
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 17:41
  • @ab2 that would work well, thanks for adding that. I have usually carried a folding, semi-soft plastic jug with a spout, by attaching it to the outside of my pack - it is lightweight, but bulky and a bit unwieldy to use. Just nice to be able to store a bunch of water at camp. The solar water heater bag could double for showers too I imagine.
    – cr0
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 18:14

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