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How to Keep Yourself (and the Environment) Clean While Camping

Roofnest Team

Feb 22, 2024

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Camping is pretty straight forward: You show up in the great outdoors, pop up your roof top tent, get a fire going, grab yourself a drink, then just sit back and relax.

But if you plan on camping for more than just a night or two, certain everyday routines can become complicated — one of the biggest being keeping yourself clean and sanitary, while also avoiding personal hygiene products that could damage the environment.

That’s what we’re here for! We’ve picked up some tips and tricks while spending time out on the trail about how to stay clean while camping and leave no trace at the same time. Here are 7 environmentally friendly ways to keep yourself clean while camping.

1. Bring Two Outfits and Wash Each Night

At the end of a long day of outdoor activities, your clothes will likely be less than fresh. But whether you’re camping or backpacking, you’ve got to be selective about how many clothes you bring along.

The truth is, you really only need two different outfits. And once one outfit becomes too dirty to wear, you can “do your laundry.”

Here’s how you can easily and sustainably do the laundry while camping:

  • If there’s a natural source of non-standing water nearby, like a pond, stream, or lake, you can use it to clean your clothes. Otherwise, pack extra water to use for laundry.
  • Bring along a gallon-size Ziploc bag and put in your clothes, some unscented biodegradable detergent powder, and your clothes.
  • Seal the bag and shake it up! Five minutes should do the trick.
  • Dump out the water (at least 200 feet away from water sources to avoid contamination).
  • Refill the bag with clean water.
  • Seal and shake the bag for a few more minutes.
  • Dispose of the water, again at least 200 feet from water sources.
  • Hang your clothes up to dry overnight.

As for your shoes, they may start to stink after a while. The best solution are these handy Odor Busters by Arm & Hammer, which you can toss in your boots overnight to keep them smelling fresh.

Just be sure they don’t get left behind at a campsite, and remember to leave no trace!

2. Bathe in Nature

Wondering how to shower while camping? There are three ways to bathe in nature:

  1. Jump in the lake
  2. Bring along extra water
  3. Pack a portable camping shower

If you’re rinsing off the dirt from the day in a lake or stream, be careful not to use any soap or other cleaning products as these could contaminate the water.

If you do need to use soap, bring along extra water to take a DIY shower. Rinse off, soap up, and rinse off again somewhere at least 200 feet away from any water sources.

If you really want to step up your camping cleanliness game, you can invest in a portable camping shower. These are pouches or containers that you fill with water and use either gravity, solar energy, hand pumps, or batteries to create a pressurized stream of water for showering.

You’ll need to either pack in the water or find it in nature for use with your camping shower.

3. Don’t Forget the Baby Wipes and Sanitizer

Depending on how long you’ll be out in the wild or where you’ll be, a portable shower or dip in a lake may not be an option. Thankfully, baby wipes and hand sanitizer can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to staying clean and sanitary.

Our favorite sanitary wipe for camping is the Shower Pouch. This is a small compact pouch that holds a large camping wipe that can be used to clean your whole body.

The great thing about Shower Pouch is that you can put the whole bag in boiling water over your campfire to heat it up before you clean off, which makes for an extra refreshing experience.

One last easy trick is bringing along a small squirt bottle that you can use to clean up after going to the bathroom. You can also use it to squirt water under your arms, on your hair, or over your face if you get extra sweaty.

With bottles, camping wipes, feminine products and more, always remember to pack out everything with you.

4. Try Dry Shampoo

Dry shampoo is a highly effective product to keep your hair clean when you don’t have the ability (or time) to shower — even if you’re not going camping!

Dry shampoo comes in a powder form that you can shake directly into your hair to cut down on grease. It’s also great for adding volume...a bonus if you’re trying to impress someone special out on the trail!

5. Wear Moisture-Wicking Clothes

The best camping clothes are moisture-wicking ones made from synthetic polyester or wool. These help wick away sweat so when the sun sets and temperatures drop, you’ll stay warm and dry.

Plus, less sweat and moisture in your nether regions means less bacteria, less stink, and less to worry about when it comes to staying clean.

6. Use a Sleeping Bag Liner

Sleeping bag liners are designed to help add some extra warmth to your sleeping bag. But liners are also an excellent way to protect your sleeping bag from yourself!

If you find that you’ve gotten pretty dirty, dusty, and less-than-aromatic over the course of your travels, a sleeping bag liner will help contain the grit from soaking into your sleeping bag. Plus, you can easily wash it with your clothes described in tip number one!

7. Leave the Unnatural Hygiene Products at Home

When you go camping, it’s important to do your part to protect the environment so that future generations of outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy it, too. And part of this effort is only bringing personal hygienic products that are environmentally sustainable.

A few tips for environmentally-friendly biodegradable soaps and deodorant:

  • Always stick to unscented products — scented products can attract bears and other wildlife (no, thank you!)
  • Use castile soap — it’s a non-toxic, biodegradable soap
  • Try a natural unscented deodorant made with coconut oil or beeswax

The Final Frontier in Outdoor Cleanliness: Going to the Bathroom While Camping

One of the trickiest challenges to staying clean while camping is what to do when you have to go to the bathroom. That’s why we’ve put together a list of handy tricks and tips to make relieving yourself easy, clean, and environmentally friendly.

Read our complete guide on going to the bathroom while camping >