No matter if you’re an experienced overlander or simply enjoy spending time outdoors, staying clean while camping is essential for making the most of your time outdoors.
Maintaining hygiene in nature can be challenging, but with some simple practices you can keep your camp as clean as possible. Whether you’re seeking ways to stay healthy while camping or looking for tips for glamping, these best practices will help keep your body, hands and face as fresh as possible.
In a Nutshell: Overlanding Hygiene Best Practices
While some of these best practices might seem fairly obvious, hopefully you won’t feel patronized or offended – we just want to cover all bases and help you figure out some of the nitty-gritties behind overlanding. Who know, one of these basic best practices might just remind you to bring a nail clippers along.
- Handwashing: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially before handling food, after using the restroom, and after touching potentially contaminated surfaces. If water is limited, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
- Personal grooming: Keep your hair, nails, and body clean by bathing regularly, using biodegradable soap, and water. Wet wipes can be a useful alternative for quick clean-ups when water is scarce.
- Oral hygiene: Brush your teeth at least twice a day and use dental floss or interdental brushes to maintain good oral health.
- Food safety: Store perishable food items in a cooler or refrigerator, cook food thoroughly, and wash your hands before and after handling food. Dispose of food waste properly to avoid attracting wildlife and pests.
- Dishwashing: Clean cooking utensils, dishes, and cutlery with biodegradable soap and water, ensuring they are thoroughly rinsed and dried before storage. Avoid washing dishes directly in natural water sources.
- Restroom hygiene: Use designated restroom facilities whenever possible. If not available, dig a “cathole” at least 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet away from water sources, trails, and campsites for solid human waste. Pack out used toilet paper in a sealed bag.
- Menstrual hygiene: Pack appropriate menstrual hygiene products, such as tampons, pads, or menstrual cups, and dispose of them responsibly. Carry sealable bags to pack out used items.
- Clothing care: Wear moisture-wicking and quick-drying clothing, and change clothes regularly to prevent odor and bacteria buildup. Wash clothes with biodegradable soap and water when necessary, and dry them in the sun.
- Foot care: Keep your feet clean and dry by regularly washing them, wearing moisture-wicking socks, and allowing your shoes to air out. This can help prevent blisters, fungal infections, and foot odor.
- Insect protection: Use insect repellent, wear protective clothing, and use bug nets or screens to prevent insect bites and related illnesses.
- Campsite cleanliness: Keep your campsite clean and organized, disposing of trash in designated receptacles or packing it out. Follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize your environmental impact.
- First aid: Carry a well-stocked first aid kit and be prepared to treat minor injuries, such as cuts, scrapes, and insect bites, to prevent infection.
- Water purification: Treat water from natural sources by filtering, boiling, or using purification tablets or UV sterilizers to remove pathogens and contaminants.
- Avoid sharing personal items: To prevent the spread of germs, avoid sharing personal items like towels, toothbrushes, and eating utensils with others.
- Handkerchief or tissue usage: Always use a handkerchief or tissue when sneezing or coughing, and dispose of used tissues properly.
- Pet hygiene: If traveling with pets, clean up after them by disposing of their waste responsibly and maintaining their overall cleanliness.
One of the most essential camping and overlanding hygiene best practices is managing clean water properly. Contaminated water in some parts of the world can be lethal, leading to severe infections, diarrhea and stomach pain for those who already have compromised immune systems. Furthermore, waterborne diseases tend to strike young children more often than older individuals since their immune systems tend to be weaker.
When camping, it’s especially important to be mindful of the quality of water you drink and use for cooking, brushing your teeth, washing hands and making ice. In the US, some campgrounds have designated dishwashing facilities and drain water basins; if not, you’ll need to plan an effective waste disposal solution.
Water filters can also help ensure the safety of your drinking water. These devices filter out contaminants such as sand, dirt and larger particles from the mix, which helps reduce taste and chlorine content.
Another way to guarantee your water is safe for drinking is to boil or add a chemical treatment before use. Boiling or adding a purification tablet is an ideal option if you plan on using the water for drinking, cooking and brushing your teeth.
Filtering your water can be as easy as using a camp water filter or even a portable device that will purify it for drinking. Many filter systems come with various attachments so you can customize it according to your requirements.
When traveling long distances or to remote places, it’s wise to bring along a camping water filter as part of your overlanding supplies. Doing so can help avoid an unpleasant surprise should the vehicle’s tanks run dry or you arrive in areas without reliable sources of drinking water.
When selecting a camping water filter, opt for one that can purify the water as needed. Look for one with multiple filtration settings or one with both sediment and carbon filters.
Finally, always carry a bottle of hand sanitizer and use it whenever your hands come into contact with natural water sources. Doing this helps prevent the spread of disease. Furthermore, washing your hands with the sanitizer before and after handling food or other potential contamination sources is recommended.
Hand sanitizers are products that use alcohol to kill germs on hands. While they can be useful in certain circumstances, such as when soap and water aren’t available or for cleaning hands after someone has sneezed, coughed or touched their face, they won’t eliminate all germs; in some cases they may cause a rash or dry skin.
To prevent infection, regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This is especially essential after using the bathroom, eating, coughing or sneezing into your hands, as well as touching mouth or nose.
Soap and water are effective at eliminating certain kinds of germs, such as norovirus, Cryptosporidium, and Clostridioides difficile1,5,12. They also remove chemicals like pesticides and heavy metals like lead.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can effectively kill many types of bacteria, including those responsible for respiratory diseases. They’re frequently used in places where soap and water aren’t readily available, like hospitals or schools. Not only are these sanitizers an ideal choice for workers in these settings but they’re also very convenient to use.
They can be useful for cleaning hands after handling food or playing sports, but may not be effective against other kinds of germs. For instance, they may not eliminate bacteria that cling to hands or are resistant to alcohol treatment.
It is best to select a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol (also known as ethyl alcohol or ethanol) diluted in water and use it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once applied, rub in for even coverage across your hands.
Some sanitizers contain methanol, which is toxic and can be hazardous when absorbed into the body. If you suspect your sanitizer contains methanol, check for contamination and discard it promptly.
(Always) Nice to Have: Baby Wipes
Baby wipes offer a convenient and effortless way to keep your hands and surfaces clean between hand washes. They may also be utilized as an efficient means of eliminating oily residue from fecal matter, wiping away urine, or wiping up small spills on faces, fingers, and bodies.
Disposable baby wipes often come in convenient packs that can be easily packed away into a diaper bag or backpack for camping and overlanding excursions. Many of these wipes are made from biodegradable, sustainable materials like plant-based fibers, making them an environmentally friendly option as well.
Disposable wipes contain water, oils and moisturizers as well as fragrances. These elements work together to make them spongy and absorbent while also keeping them moist and soft to touch.
When selecting baby wipes, there are a range of different brands to choose from. Some contain chemicals and fragrances while others remain unscented.
For instance, Nice ‘N CLEAN(r) wipes are made with plant-based fibers that are biodegradable, helping reduce ocean pollution. Plus, they have some added natural ingredients which deodorize, cleanse and moisturise effectively.
Another essential ingredient in baby wipes is a surfactant, which helps clean skin. According to Valerie Flaherty-Hewitt of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Washington DC, “A good surfactant can remove much of the oily residues from fecal materials which may be very irritating.”
Some baby wipes also use humectants, a type of moisturizer that keeps the wipe from drying out too quickly and adds an additional layer of moisture. Humectants may include propylene glycol or glycerin but some may include oils like olive oil or olus oil as well.