How do you keep clean living in the dirt?
Hygiene is important. That said, your hygiene on trail will change. Forget daily showers, every other day hair washings, or constant access to hand soap and running water. Your new BFF will be wet wipes. I recommend Wet Ones brand as they are tougher than some of the others I have run across. Typically I carry 2 packages at a time, 1 antibacterial for dish cleaning and hand washing before meals and after bathroom duties and one that is not antibacterial that I would use to wash my face and clean the rest of my body. Keep in mind the sneaky norovirus that often spreads among hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Avoid touching the shelter brooms, pens, or log books without sanitizing your hands afterward….wipes are better than the gel, but anything is better than nothing. Same goes for privies. Use a wipe to open the door, check under the privy seat for spiders, and wipe the seat before you sit. PLEASE don’t throw wipes in the privies. These wipes do not biodegrade easily. A kind volunteer will have to fish the wipe out of the sewage. Ewww. Be considerate of those who help care for the trail…our home for a while.
The good thing about a NOBO journey is most of the time, you will be in warm weather. Use creeks to your advantage! Abiding by Leave No Trace principles, carry water 200 feet away from a stream. The trail will be crowded, particularly as you begin your thru-hike. Would you want to drink from the same spot Dirty Harry just chose to have his first bath in a week? Ewww. To carry water for this purpose, I have seen people use lightweight water bags , the bottom half of a gallon milk jug, or a simple water bottle. A bandana or lightweight microfiber cloth can be used as a wash rag. (Find one at your local Dollar Tree store.) Using biodegradable soap, Dr. Bronner’s is a favorite of thru-hikers, bathe and rinse. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel on a hot day after a refreshing “bath” in the woods! I carried a small microfiber towel to use for drying purposes. The instances when you do choose to rinse off or soak your aching feet in a stream (please no soap!), do so downstream from where hikers collect their drinking water.
Now, to be frank, there will be days you’re too tired or it’s way too cold to bathe in this manner. On my flip-flop thru, I hiked until December 7, so the last 3 months were too chilly to enjoy bathing with “real water”. Remember the non-antibacterial wipes? Here’s where they come in handy. Use a couple of ’em to wipe yourself down once you’re in your warm tent. Just remember to pack out your trash!
One thing most thru-hikers learn is the blissful joy of that warm shower when you arrive in town. If you’ve never appreciated the comfort of a shower, you will soon when you go a week without one!
*Side note: During my thru-hike, I sanitized/cleaned my tent 3-4 times using Clorox antibacterial wipes. Remember to keep your home clean too!