How to Keep Clean in the Woods

On day five, I crawled in the tent with my canoeing partner. We were halfway through our trip, and he smelled bad. I mean he smelled like a bucket of ripe clams left out in the sun on a beach in 100-degree weather for five days. I looked over at him and said, “Dude, you stink.”

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “We’re in the woods, of course, I stink.”

And from that moment forward, I’ve made it a point to try and stay clean when on adventures, and you can too.

Why Don’t You Take a Sponge Bath, Bob?

One of the main actions you can take that will help you stay clean while on trips is to sponge bath each day after you set up camp. This is easy to do. Get about a quart of water from your water source and put it in your cooking pan, then wander off into the woods, make sure that you are a good distance away from the water source. Mix in some biodegradable soap and sponge off with a quick drying camp towel. Make sure that you really wash your feet, pits, and groin well, because these are the main three areas that start to stink on a trip.

A Solar Powered Gravity Fed Human Cleaner

Don’t feel afraid to take a shower when you’re out traveling. Canoes and kayaks have a lot of exposure on their decks and in their hulls, and you can use this to your advantage. Very inexpensive black plastic solar showers are available at most outfitters, and to use these, you fill them with water, let them sit in the sun for the day, and by the end of the day, you will have a hot shower. This takes a little more work than a sponge bath, but you will be much cleaner at the end of the day, and you can clean your hair.

Go Blow Out Some Air

The next action you can do is air out your clothing and sleeping bag. Try and let sun shine down on these items. The fresh air will help get rid of odor that collected during the day. This especially works for sleeping bags that are stuff in their stuff sacks all day. If you have time in the morning and the sun is shining on you camp, you should also air out your sleeping bag in the morning. This will help dry out the sleeping bag, which will help control the dreaded bag stench while it is stuffed during the day.

To Maytag is Not Just For Kayakers, Anymore

Don’t feel afraid to wash your clothing on a paddling trip. The easiest way to do this is to turn a dry bag inside out, fill it with water using your cooking pan, add some biodegradable soap, put your clothing inside, seal the bag and shake like crazy for 15 minutes. Drain the water away from the water source, and then fill the bag again with water. Shake again for five minutes, dump and ring out your clothing and hang to dry. Don’t expect your clothing to smell as good as they do straight out of a washing machine, but they will smell better than not washing them.

Swim, Swim, Swim

For us, paddlers, it’s easy to take a swim; we paddle on our pools all day long. A sponge bath is great, but swimming after a sponge bath feels great and helps get that last bit of dirt off your skin and out of your hair. You will still help to sponge bath to remove odor, but a nice swim at the end of a sweaty day refreshes you like nothing else can.

So Many Soaps, which Should I Choose?

When you head to your local supermarket looking for biodegradable soap don’t expect to find too many choices, you probably will have to go to an outfitter to find some. Look for a bottle that says biodegradable, and make sure that it is recommended for cleaning people as well as cleaning dishes. My favorite is Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Biodegradable soap, which you can shave with, wash your hair with, wash your pans with, and even brush your teeth. It also smells good.

My Hands, My Hands

Often campers forget to wash their hands often. One of the most common illnesses in the wilderness is caused by fecal contamination of the hands, and then those hands preparing food. Make sure to wash your hands after every bathroom break and before you eat or cook. The easiest way to do this is carry a waterless hand sanitizer, like Derma Gel. You simple squeeze some gel onto your hands and then rub your hands together and, bam, you have clean hands. This gel also works well to eliminate pit and foot odor.

Put on Your Good Sunday Duds

The final action you can take to fight off the dreaded fourth day stench is to bring also an extra set of clothing that you can change into at camp. By doing this you have a set of clean clothing to change into after you sponge bath, shower, or swim. Not only does this feel great, but it also gives to set of clothing you wear while your day clothing dries and airs out. Plus, if you plan it right, you’ll be the best-dressed adventurer at the campsite.

Mr. Clean is in the House

So, next time you shore up and set up camp take a few minutes before dinner to head off into the woods with a pan full of soapy water, a small wash cloth and a head full of determination to not smell like a dirty ape. You’ll feel better, smell better, and won’t offend your paddling partners. On top of it, if you’re out paddling with me, you may have a chance to look almost as good as I do in camp, but then again, I doubt it. After all, I earned the trail name of “Fashion” on the Appalachian Trail.

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