FEMALE HYGIENE TIPS FOR HIKING: HOW TO STAY CLEAN IN THE BACKCOUNTRY
At Bearfoot Theory we are lovers of the great outdoors and wanderlusters at our core. However, sometimes long road trips and days upon days of backcountry outings leave us a little, er, gross. Knowing proper female hygiene tips for camping and traveling keeps you safe, happy and healthy when you’re outside —luckily, it’s also pretty simple.
As a team made up of all women, we consider ourselves an authority on this issue. So to help out, we’ve compiled some of our favorite female hygiene tips and tricks on how to stay fresh and clean when you are backpacking and miles away from a shower
Here are the best female hygiene tips for backpacking, camping, and hiking.
Staying clean and healthy “down there” while camping
Ok, so you’re going on a backpacking trip. You’ll be five days without a shower and only have 1 extra pair of undies. What are the essential female hygiene tips for staying clean and avoiding odors?
Use a Pee Rag!
Back in 2014, I spent 22 days on the John Muir Trail, and I discovered that the most obvious cause of smelly underwear was drip drying after peeing. Even with the most aggressive shaking, you inevitably end up with a few drops of pee in your undies. At the end of the day, that’s a lot of dried pee that can you leave you feeling smelly and disgusting. Even after rinsing your undies, your still left with an odor that you just can’t shake.
The solution to this is simple. Use a pee rag! After peeing, use a bandana, a small quick-dry towel, or an antimicrobial Kula cloth to wipe. In between going to the bathroom, hang your pee rag on the outside of your pack. Then at the end of the day (or as often as you feel necessary), rinse off the cloth and you’ll be ready to go for the next day. You can even bring a bit of biodegradeable soap to clean it. Just make sure if using soap, you follow Leave No Trace guidelines and wash it 200 feet away from a water source.
Only wear moisture-wicking underwear
Cotton underwear are a recipe for a yeast infection. Cotton traps moisture and heat, and after a long sweaty day on the trail, those cotton undies can be a breeding ground for yeast. Especially if you are prone to yeast infections to begin with, this can lead to a very itchy and uncomfortable trip.
Instead choose moisture-wicking, quick-dry fabrics that breathe well. Bring an extra pair or two, so you have a dry pair to change into at the end of the day. In between wears, rinse out your undies, and let them hang dry off your pack while you are hiking.
Check out our favorite moisture-wicking hiking undies for women here.
Pack one wipe per day
Once per day, either after going #2 or before going to bed, I use one wet wipe for a complete refresh. The folks at Cora make Individually Wrapped Bamboo Body Cloths that are safe to use all over, from your nether regions to your stinky armpits. They are chemical free and made with plant-based moisturizers & essential oils. Simply wipe as needed, store in the wrapper and put it in your ziplock trash baggie. Each purchase provides proper feminine hygiene supplies for girls in need, who might otherwise miss school or be susceptible to disease because of their periods. A worthy cause to support, for sure.
Don’t Hold it
Stopping to pee when you are backpacking may seem like a pain, but holding it can cause much worse problems – like urinary tract infections. So when you feel that urge to go, stop and do your business.
Take a daily probiotic
Whenever I’m traveling or backpacking, I make sure to take a daily probiotic, a supplement containing strains of good bacteria that support healthy immune, digestive, and urinary function. A major benefit is they help prevent yeast infections. When shopping for a probiotic, you’ll want one that doesn’t require refrigeration. This PRO-Women formula by Hyperbiotics is a great probiotic option for camping and traveling that is specially formulated for women’s health. First and foremost, it doesn’t go bad outside of the fridge like most probiotics, it has 6 healthy strains of bacteria, and it also contains a cranberry extract to help prevent UTIs. Pop one of these every morning with your breakfast to help keep the yeast and other infections at bay.
Click the images below for my favorite backcountry feminine hygiene essentials.
How to Camp On Your Period
Proper female hygiene is crucial when your camping trip coincides with that time of the month. Don’t cancel, just be prepared and remember that it’s nothing to feel stressed out or embarrassed about—even if you’re with a group of guys.
Everyone has their own preferences so the best plan is to stick with whatever you do at home when you’re on the trail to avoid complications or surprises.
If you use tampons and pads, remember you’ll need to pack everything out, so bring a separate resealable bag (double bag if you can) and sprinkle some baking soda inside to absorb odor. This will also have to go in your bear bag or canister, so keep that in mind as you plan. Bring double the amount you think you’ll need because running out to the store isn’t an option!
A menstrual cup is also an option that’s waste-free. These silicone cups can stay in for up to 12 hours without odor or discomfort and are reusable. When you need to empty the menstrual cup, dig a hole the ground (just like going #2), dump the contents, and use some water to rinse it out. You can also use a little biodegradable soap like Dr. Bronner’s to clean it before reusing. It’s important to have already tried this at home because you won’t want to be dealing with an ill-fitting cup for the first time outside.
How to Poop When You’re Backpacking
If you’ve never been camping before, this will probably be at the forefront of your mind. Lucky for you, we’ve got an entire blog post devoted to the topic of pooping in the woods.
The first step is putting together your poop kit in a big ziplock baggie. Your poop kit should contain:
- A small shovel for digging your cathole so you can Leave No Trace
- Clean toilet paper
- A small ziplock for packing out used toilet paper, tampons, used wet wipes, or other trash.
- Scent-free hand sanitizer
Next, you’ll want to brush up on Leave No Trace. When searching for your ideal #2 spot, you’ll need to dig a cathole that is 6 inches deep and at least 200 feet from a water source. Do your business in the hole, cover it back up, and then pack out all of your used toilet paper.
From a feminine hygiene perspective, wiping shouldn’t be any different than you would at home, except afterwards you might choose to use your daily wet wipe for a refresh and to start your day off on an extra clean foot.
Keeping your Hands Clean
Make sure you give your hands a good squirt of hand sanitizer after going to the bathroom, changing your tampon, or cleaning yourself with a wet wipe. Remember, you’ll likely be sharing food and gear with your hiking partners, so do everyone a favor and keep your hands as germ-free as possible for healthy hygiene on the trail.
We also recommend that you give your nails a good trim before starting your backpacking trip so they don’t harbor food and nasty bacteria.
Managing Long-Hair and Tangles
A bun usually leaves my hair in a giant knot at the end of the day. Instead, I’ve found that braiding my hair is the best style for preventing tangles in the backcountry. I generally don’t bring a brush when I backpack, but if you are seriously prone to tangles, a small compact brush isn’t a bad idea to keep the dreadlocks at bay.
For grease, I just cover it up with a hat. If you can’t see it, it’s not there right? Plus a hat helps keep sweat from running into your eyes and prevents too much sun exposure on your face.
Braids keep the tangles away.
Taking Care of Your Feet
Here are some simple tips for taking care of your feet when you are backpacking:
- Allow your feet to dry out at the end of the day. First thing when you get to camp, take off your hiking boots and socks and let your feet air out for a while.
- Set one pair of socks aside as sleeping socks that are always dry and sweat-free. Only wear your sleeping socks at camp or only in your tent if it’s raining.
- When given the opportunity at camp, soak your feet in a cold stream or lake. This will help ease any foot pain, improve circulation, and wash away dirt and grime. Your hiking partner will also appreciate this if you have smelly feet 🙂
- Treat hot spots right away to prevent blisters.
Let those tootsies get some fresh air!
Check out this blog post for more blister prevention and treatment tips.
Some female hygiene tips for traveling from the ladies at Bearfoot Theory…
“I like to pack light, but I also like to feel fresh and clean, so I often wash clothing by hand when on the road or on the trail. All you need is a little Dr. Bronner’s or other mild soap and some water. Even a quick dunk at the end of the day will rinse the sweat and dirt from your hiking clothes. Just make sure you are keeping the soap out of waterways and give your clothes time to dry or bring one extra set to alternate.” – Linda, Director
“My favorite products are multi-functional and earth-friendly, of course, so I like to bring a small spray bottle of rosewater and a tube of coconut oil. Rosewater is a gentle astringent that cleanses your skin with a few spritzes, plus it’s refreshing and cooling if you have wind or sunburned skin. Right after, I’ll pat on a few dabs of coconut oil which is hydrating and antimicrobial. It also works well as a makeup remover, a moisturizer, lip balm and a small amount of SPF in a pinch. I’m also big on using a menstrual cup outdoors.” – Katherine, Contributing Writer
“I swear by Green Goo for anything on the trail. I think wearing high-quality wicking base layers is really important in terms of not developing a rash or irritating your skin with full-day hikes. If I start to get any sort of skin irritation and I can’t shower immediately, I apply Green Goo ointment to the area. I also travel with Goodwipes and DoTerra Peppermint Essential Oil Drops everywhere I go. It’s important to make sure any wipes are safe for our most intimate areas such as these Swipes Lovin All-Natural Intimate Wipes” –Kim, former Community Manager
This is a normal everyday picture of what Kim’s legs & feet looked like on the Pacific Crest Trail. Kim says, “Don’t forget, some of “staying fresh” in the outdoors is also learning to embrace the dirt!”