wilderness hygiene

Wilderness Hygiene: Keeping It Clean While Getting Dirty

You’ve probably pictured survival scenarios with daring feats and cunning tactics, but I bet “where to poop” and “how to avoid smelling like said poop” never crossed your mind. Fear not, my bushcraft buddies, for I’m here to shed light on the art of wilderness hygiene. After all, a clean survivalist is a happy survivalist.

Hygiene and its Importance: Urban Hygiene vs. Wilderness Hygiene

Transitioning from the comforts of the urban world to the rugged wilderness can be a real culture shock, especially when it comes to hygiene. In the city, hygiene is pretty straightforward: we’ve got a constant supply of hot water, an array of modern soaps to choose from, and convenient, flushable toilets.

But once you’re far from the madding crowd, things change. Water sources are often uncertain, your hygiene kit needs to be lightweight and practical, and your ‘toilet’ may be just a hole you’ve dug in the ground. It’s a whole new ball game!

Urban Hygiene Wilderness Hygiene
Steady supply of hot water Water may be scarce or need purifying
Access to modern, chemical soaps Biodegradable or natural soaps preferred
Flush toilets Leave No Trace practices for waste disposal



The Risks of Poor Hygiene in the Wilderness

One aspect that remains unchanged, regardless of the setting, is the importance of maintaining good hygiene. You see, in the wilderness, the stakes are raised significantly. Neglecting cleanliness can lead to an array of unpleasant health issues. These can range from skin problems like rashes and fungal infections, internal infections such as yeast and urinary tract infections, to more serious issues like gastroenteritis due to poor sanitation(1).

It’s not just about feeling fresh; it’s about survival. Because let’s be real, trying to navigate the wild while fighting off an infection is about as fun as hugging a porcupine.

Wilderness Hygiene 101: Recognizing and Using Natural Resources

“But wait,” I hear you cry, “I can’t even tell poison ivy from a plantain leaf, let alone figure out wilderness hygiene!” No worries, I’ve got you covered.

When you’re in the wilderness, being able to identify and use natural resources is a massive boon. For instance, did you know that certain plants, like the yucca, can be used as a natural soap? Or that a handful of smooth stones or moss can serve as a replacement for toilet paper?

Sure, it may not feel quite like your triple-ply at home, but when nature calls in the middle of nowhere, you’ll be glad to have these natural alternatives on hand. Plus, it’s biodegradable and low impact, which is great for the environment.

Natural Resource Hygiene Use
Yucca plant Natural soap
Smooth stones, moss Natural toilet paper
Wood ash Natural soap, teeth cleaning

Stepping into the wilderness requires a significant shift in our hygiene practices. It can seem daunting at first, but with the right knowledge and a bit of ingenuity, it’s absolutely achievable. Remember, the goal here is not just cleanliness for the sake of feeling fresh; it’s about maintaining your health and ensuring your survival in the wild. Plus, let’s face it, having a few wilderness hygiene hacks up your sleeve is pretty cool too!

wilderness hygiene

Your New Best Friend: The Wilderness Hygiene Kit

Now, no survival situation is complete without a well-stocked hygiene kit. This handy little bag is home to essential items like biodegradable soap, baking soda, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. But before you stuff your pack full of 24-rolls of Charmin Ultra Soft, remember that mother nature can provide some nifty solutions too. Ever wiped with a smooth stone or a handful of leaves? Let’s just say, it’s an experience.

Wilderness Hygiene Kit Alternative Natural Materials
Biodegradable soap Wood ash, almond tree leaves
Hand sanitizer Ethyl alcohol, tea tree oil
Toilet paper Smooth stones, leaves, moss
Wet wipes Plantain leaf, snow

The Survivalist’s Bathroom Break: Going in the Great Outdoors

Taking care of business in the wilderness requires some adaptation. While the thought of doing number two behind a tree may seem alien initially, it’s an essential skill in outdoor survival. So let’s dive right in!

The Survivalist’s Mindset: Embracing Nature’s Call

First things first: change your mindset. Yes, everyone poops – even the most hardened survival experts. Going to the bathroom is a natural function, and there’s no shame in it. In fact, being able to manage your bodily functions effectively in the wild is a testament to your adaptability and survival skills. So, no blushing, okay?

The Dangers of Poor Bathroom Hygiene

Poor hygiene practices in the wild can cause some unpleasant outcomes. Improper waste disposal can turn your campsite into a breeding ground for bacteria and insects, potentially leading to health issues like diarrhea and other stomach upsets. Moreover, it can attract wildlife to your site, which is something you want to avoid for obvious reasons.

Problems with Poor Hygiene Potential Consequences
Incorrect waste disposal Breeding ground for bacteria and insects
Attracting wildlife Increased risk of animal encounters
Contamination of water sources Illnesses like diarrhea and dysentery

wilderness hygiene

Nature’s Toilet: How and Where to Go

The key to maintaining hygiene when going to the bathroom outdoors lies in the ‘how’ and ‘where’.


  1. Dig a cat-hole: Find a secluded spot and dig a hole about 6-8 inches deep. This will be your ‘toilet’. Use your boot, a stick, or a small trowel if you’ve packed one.
  2. Do your business: Squat over the hole and do what you need to do.
  3. Clean up: Use toilet paper, smooth stones, or natural leaf toilet paper (making sure it’s not poison ivy!).
  4. Cover the hole: When you’re done, cover the hole with the dirt you dug out. This helps decompose the waste and prevents animals from digging it up.


  • Stay away from water sources: When choosing a spot for your bathroom break, always avoid areas near water sources. Human waste can contaminate water, making it unsafe for drinking and disrupting the local ecosystem. A good rule of thumb is to set up your ‘bathroom’ at least 200 feet (about 70 steps) from any water source(2).
  • Away from the campsite: Also, you wouldn’t want your campsite to smell like a public restroom, would you? So, make sure you are far enough from your sleeping and eating areas.

When you’re answering the call of nature in the great outdoors, remember: It’s not just about convenience – it’s about respect for the natural world and its inhabitants, including your fellow adventurers. So next time you head out into the wilderness, arm yourself with knowledge, a little shovel, and perhaps some biodegradable toilet paper.

A Stitch in Time: Maintaining Your Clothing and Gear

Dirty clothes can attract bugs and other wildlife (and not in a Snow White kind of way). Keep a clean pair of clothes for sleeping and make sure you air out your sleeping bag regularly. The goal here is to maintain a good repair of your gear, not to smell like a fresh spring meadow. Trust me, in a survival situation, fresh linen is the least of your worries.

Staying Fresh: Personal Hygiene Tips and Tricks

A key part of survival hygiene is taking care of your entire body, not just the obvious bits. This means keeping your hands clean, your mouth clean, and yes, even your feet clean. Here are a few pro-tips from yours truly:

  • Oral hygiene: Your pearly whites still need love, even when you’re out in the wild. Did you know you can use roasted orange peels or baking soda to brush your teeth? For a makeshift toothbrush, try a twig with frayed ends.
  • Proper foot care: Let’s face it, feet are weird. They’re even weirder when they’re covered in blisters and fungal infections. Keep ’em dry and clean, and change your socks regularly. You’ll thank me when you’re not nursing a throbbing blister halfway up a mountain.
  • Essential oils: As a survivalist, you’ll be roughing it, but who said you can’t do it with a bit of finesse? Essential oils like tea tree oil and coconut oil can work wonders for keeping your skin clean and protected. Plus, they make you smell less like you wrestled with a skunk.
  • Feminine hygiene: Ladies, let’s talk. Wilderness hygiene involves managing menstruation too. Consider using menstrual cups and biodegradable wipes, or even opting for birth control methods that limit or stop menstrual cycles during extended trips. Trust me, nothing says ‘survivalist badass’ quite like mastering your moon cycle in the wild.

washing clothes while camping

Washing, Cleaning, and Dining: Keeping the Wilderness Tidy

Maintaining cleanliness and hygiene in the wilderness extends beyond personal hygiene. It also encompasses washing and cleaning your clothes, dishes, and campsite. Here’s how to achieve that.

Keeping Your Clothes Clean

To keep yourself free from bacteria and bad odors, regular washing of clothes is essential. Now, it may not be as simple as tossing your clothes into a washing machine, but with some creativity, it’s manageable:

  1. Stream washing: Find a clean stream and give your clothes a good scrub. Use a biodegradable soap to avoid harming the water ecosystem.
  2. Bucket washing: If you have a spare container, you can also wash your clothes right at your campsite. Fill the bucket with water, add soap, and get to scrubbing!

Remember to dry your clothes completely before wearing them. Damp clothes can lead to skin issues and hypothermia in cold conditions.

Cleaning Your Eating Utensils

There’s nothing like a hearty meal after a long day of surviving, but cleaning up afterward is equally important.

  1. Scrape off leftovers: First, scrape off any food leftovers. They attract wildlife and can become breeding grounds for bacteria.
  2. Wash with hot water and soap: Use biodegradable soap and hot water to clean your utensils. The hotter the water, the better, as it helps to kill any lingering bacteria.
  3. Sterilize with boiling water: For an extra layer of cleanliness, especially if you’ve been dealing with raw food, consider sterilizing your utensils by boiling them in water.

Wilderness-Friendly Soaps

Remember to use biodegradable soaps that are gentle on the environment. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, you can even make your own soap from wood ash:

  • Wood ash soap: Mix wood ash and water to create a paste. It’s a basic soap that can help clean your hands, clothes, and utensils.
Wilderness Cleaning Task How to Do It
Washing Clothes Stream washing or bucket washing with biodegradable soap
Cleaning Utensils Hot water and soap wash, followed by boiling for sterilization
Making Soap Mix wood ash with water to create a soap paste

The wilderness may lack many of the conveniences of home, but with a bit of creativity and resourcefulness, you can maintain a high level of cleanliness and hygiene. So, remember, while you’re out there enjoying Mother Nature’s finest, take care of her by keeping your wilderness home clean and tidy.

The Bug-Off Strategy: Dealing with Insects and Other Annoyances

Insects and other small creatures can turn your wilderness adventure from a fun survivalist journey into a scratching frenzy. Not only do they disrupt your peace, but they can also pose risks to your health through bites and potential disease transmission. Here’s your guide to dealing with these tiny threats.

Why Insects Love You

Insects such as mosquitoes, ticks, and flies are attracted to humans, particularly ones who are sweaty and dirty. The smell and saltiness of human sweat are like a dinner bell to these critters. Furthermore, certain insects, like ticks, are potential carriers of serious diseases like Lyme disease(3).

Keep Clean to Keep Them Away

Maintaining your personal hygiene can significantly reduce your attractiveness to these pests. Regular washing, changing into clean clothes, and ensuring your sleeping area is clean can all help to keep bugs at bay.

Preventative Action How It Helps
Regular washing Removes sweat and odor that attract insects
Changing into clean clothes Keeps body odor at a minimum
Keeping sleeping area clean Prevents breeding and nesting of insects

DIY Bug Repellents

Bug repellents can be quite useful in the wilderness, but what do you do when you’ve run out? You can make a simple DIY bug repellent using dish soap and water. Just mix the two in a spray bottle, and voila, you have a makeshift bug spray.

Please note: this method may not be as effective as commercial insect repellents, and its effectiveness may vary depending on the type of soap and the specific insects in your area.

Remember, You’re a Visitor

While insects can be a nuisance, it’s crucial to remember that we’re visitors in their natural habitat. The aim is not to eradicate them, but to peacefully coexist during our wilderness stay. A mosquito may be an annoyance to us, but it’s also a food source for many birds, bats, and other animals.

Insect Role in Ecosystem
Mosquito Food source for birds, bats, frogs
Bees Pollination
Ants Soil aeration, decomposition

So, remember the bug-off strategy next time you’re in the wilderness. Keep clean, use repellents, and respect the ecosystem. After all, the more we understand and appreciate these tiny creatures and their roles in the environment, the more enjoyable and enriching our wilderness experiences will be.

wilderness hygiene


Survival hygiene is far from glamorous. You’ll have to make do without a hot shower, your favorite shampoo, or fluffy towels. But remember: proper hygiene is key for maintaining your health and comfort in the wilderness. Embrace the challenge, learn from nature, and enjoy the journey. After all, coming back from the wild smelling like a bear might not be so bad – it gives you some serious survivalist cred!


How do you not smell when backpacking?

To prevent smelling while backpacking, maintain good hygiene by cleaning sweat-prone areas with biodegradable soap and water, changing into clean clothes regularly, and applying natural oils like tea tree oil, which can act as a natural deodorant. Also, eating a balanced diet can help minimize body odor as certain foods can cause more body odor than others.

How do you prevent UTI when camping?

Preventing UTI when camping involves staying hydrated to flush out the urinary system, urinating regularly to prevent bacteria from staying in the bladder for too long, and practicing good hygiene, such as wiping from front to back and using biodegradable wet wipes or toilet paper for cleaning.

How do you deodorize a backpack without washing it?

Deodorizing a backpack without washing it can be achieved by emptying it out completely and airing it outdoors, using baking soda by sprinkling it inside, leaving it overnight and vacuuming it out the next day, or using fabric fresheners or deodorizing sprays designed for fabrics. Remember to spot test any sprays or substances on a small, hidden area of the backpack first to ensure it doesn’t discolor or damage the fabric.


1.Kabir, Ashraful, et al. “Factors Influencing Sanitation and Hygiene Practices among Students in a Public University in Bangladesh.” PLOS ONE, vol. 16, no. 9, 22 Sept. 2021, p. e0257663, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257663.

2.Leave No Trace. “Principle 2: Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces – Leave No Trace.” Leave No Trace, 2018, lnt.org/why/7-principles/travel-camp-on-durable-surfaces/.

3.Rhode Island Department of Health. “Tick-Borne Diseases: Department of Health.” Health.ri.gov, 2022, health.ri.gov/disease/carriers/ticks/.