Family Backpacking Hygiene

You don’t have to feel like a cave man when you are on a long hike. People often tell me they would like to try backpacking, but can’t get over the idea of not showering for several days or even weeks.  There are two things I can say about this- if you are hiking hard, long miles throughout the day, you honestly won’t care how dirty you feel. You will fall asleep easily from exhaustion, too spent to care about how you smell.  However, for the most part, this is not how I hike when with my family.  We keep our mileage moderate- about 10 miles a day, leaving us time to relax at camp each night.  Which leads me to my second point- this kind of hiking allows you time to notice how dirty you are, and also time to do something about it! Family backpacking hygiene is easy to deal with, so don’t let that keep you from an adventure!

Family backpacking hygiene

Family Backpacking Hygiene: Staying Clean on the Trail

While admittedly, family backpacking hygiene is pretty basic out on the trail, we have a simple system which works great to keep us feeling clean. If near a lake or stream, it is fun to jump in for a swim to clean off. However, soap is not an option to use for this method as even biodegradable soaps have an detrimental effect on lakes and streams. But I promise you, you will never feel more clean or alive than you do after soaking in a cold mountain lake or stream. One caveat- for obvious reasons, don’t swim near where people are collecting their drinking water. Another option we do is a “bath” at our camp. First, we have a Collapsible Camp Bucket which we fill from whatever water source is nearby. Making sure to be at least 200 feet away from lakes or streams, we strip down and using a bandana or small washcloth, wash off with a biodegradable soap. We especially like Dr Bronner’s Lavender Castile Soap as it smells wonderful, but any of Bronner’s soaps work great. (Just know that the peppermint is tingly, for real!)  I use this for both hair and body and a little goes a long way, so don’t overdo it! For hair, make sure to use a tiny (I’m serious!) amount, and rinse completely or your hair will feel crunchy and dry. When rinsing, we take turns running back to refill the bucket until we are all clean. On dry days, I also use this bucket and the same soap to wash clothes and hang out to dry overnight.  It’s amazing how clean they get this way.

Family Backpacking Hygiene

Feeling Clean on the Trail:

While some may think it’s a waste of time and weight, I also always carry a disposable razor and shave when bathing and a small unscented deodorant to use daily. For me, this is the only way I feel normal. Another product I like for backpacking is Olay Facial Cloths. When packing, I cut these in to smaller pieces (4 per cloth) and carry these in a plastic baggy. With a tiny amount of water, they work great to scrub grime off your face or any body part. In addition, I carry a small baggy of wet wipes and a tiny container of baby powder which is great for quick clean ups and helps keep odors controlled. Remember, you must pack out any disposable cloths, etc. that you use. Once clean, I use our small, lightweight Camp Towel to dry off. Using this method, I usually feel pretty clean when backpacking!  Other hygiene items we carry are dental floss, toothbrushes and a tiny tube of toothpaste in a plastic baggy.


If our clothes are especially dirty and the day is warm and sunny, we occasional have done Laundry on the trail.  First, we use our Collapsible Camp Bucket which we fill from whatever water source is nearby. We then scrub our clothes with soap and simply rinse it all out. We use the same soap we use to clean ourselves. Dr Bronner’s Lavender Castile Soap is my favorite as it smells wonderful, but any of Bronner’s soaps work great. Don’t forget, little goes a long way! Then we lay everything out to dry on a clothesline or flat surface.

Family Backpacking Hygiene

Girl Problems:

Cause I’m a girl, I have other issues. When I have my period I carry the tampons I normally use and pack them out in a bag lined with a paper towel so that we don’t have to stare at it through the clear plastic.  I regularly sprinkle baking soda in the bag as well to control odors. No big deal. Some people use washable Reusable Cotton Pads when backpacking, but this seems like it would be difficult to maintain and honestly, I don’t want my pads hanging to dry on the clothesline. I have also heard of a product that has been around for a while called the DivaCup. Environmentally friendly, this is a reusable internal cup that eliminates the need for tampons or pads.  I haven’t tried this so I can’t comment on how easy this is to use, but there are plenty of reviews on Amazon you can look up. Don’t let your period keep you off the trail- it really is not a big deal.

We put all of this in a small Stuff Sack to keep organized. That’s it! It really is easy to keep clean when hiking. Family Backpacking Hygiene is easy peasy!

Click HERE to read our entire Family Backpacking 101 Series to get you out on the trail for your own adventures!

What do you do to stay clean on the trail?

Happy Travels!

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Written By

I love to plan family travel adventures with our four kids. Encouraging time in nature, National Parks travel, backpacking and hiking are my passions and I love to write about them.


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