For women hitting the trail, knowledge of proper hygiene is essential to having an enjoyable hike. If you’re day hiking or spending six months on the trail, you’ll pick up a hygiene tip or two. And guys, if you’re looking to get your girlfriend, wife, sister, or friend that has female parts give this a share.
Pooping in the Woods
I know I’ve just let out the big secret that women actually poop. Now that we’re over that, let’s talk details.
There are a few different ways to do the deed, but all require digging a proper cathole. You are required to find a spot 200+ feet away from water sources, camp, and trail. I suggest measuring out 200 feet at home and see what that feels like to walk that distance to follow proper Leave No Trace Ethics and leave the trail looking beautiful! Make sure to use a trowel to dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter. Do your business in the hole and cover it up properly. Make sure to pack out your toilet paper. There is a huge issue with hikers not digging a proper cathole or even worse, not even attempting to make one. This can be very problematic. Why?
Animals will dig up poorly buried waste.
“toilet paper blooms” found in the wilderness are unsightly.
Hide your waste under a rock? Volunteers often use found rocks for trail maintenance. Think of them next time you’re too lazy to dig a cathole.
Some Additional Tips
Dig a cathole the night before if you often have to go in the morning. It’ll be a much better hole if you’re not in a rush.
Too late? Dig a cathole after and move your waste into it.
Carry a proper poo kit:
Contents: Ziplock to hold all contents, trowel, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and extra freezer bag to carry used TP. You can also duct tape around your used tp bag to hide the contents.
Peeing on the Trail
First things first- don’t pee on the trail. Make sure you’re 200+ feet from any water sources. Also don’t pee in places where you plan to cook or sleep — or where you think others might reasonably do the same.
There are five main methods women use for cleanup:
Toilet Paper: A traditional method. Make sure you pack out all TP. If you’re hiking a long distance trail you can send yourself additional footage in each resupply.
Shake/Drip Dry: This method means nothing to pack out, but with added moisture from that little leftover pee comes a chance of bacteria growth. I recommend this method in conjunction with another. If you’re running low on toilet paper or head into the woods to pee without the tools below, just drip dry.
Natural Materials: Smooth rocks, leaves, and snow are all great natural materials for wiping. You can use all for wiping your bum as well, just put it in the cathole. Be aware of leaves you use!
Pee rag: My favorite method uses a corner of a bandanna to wipe up any excess pee. You hang your bandanna off your pack where it is sanitized by the power of the sun. There’s nothing to pack out, it’s sanitary, and eco friendly.
Urination Device: I’ve yet to try one, but the idea is you have the convenience of peeing while standing up without exposing yourself to the world. Just rinse the device after and there’s nothing to pack out. It is the heaviest option of the bunch and may take some at-home practice to master.
The most popular devices include:
Having Your Period While Backpacking
First, bears aren’t attracted to menstrual blood so you’re fine to hit the trail. If you use tampons or pads, you need to pack it out. The OB brand is a nice option as there is no applicator so you have less trash to deal with. Bring a freezer Ziplock bag for this or invest in some MaskIt pouches for ultimate cleanliness on the trail.
An alternative method is to use a menstrual cup. There are a few different brands but all serve the same purpose. Some benefits to using a menstrual cup over tampons include reducing excess trash from packaging and one time use products, 10-12 hours of usage before reusing, and is easy to use. On the trail you don’t have any trash to pack out. You should dig a cathole to rid of the contents.
Popular Menstrual Cups:
Some women women use hormonal birth control such as pills, Depo-Provera, or IUDs to regulate or skip periods. For bonus points, carry a couple tampons. First, that desperate hiker who forgot her feminine products will be forever grateful. There are also multiple uses for tampons including making a medical bandage or fire tinder.
Having Long Hair
The biggest worry with long hair on a backpacking trip is it dreading. Make sure to comb your hair out daily. Either bring a small pick comb or use your fingers. I suggest putting your hair in a ponytail, bun, or braids. Wear a hat if you have a part to prevent burning your scalp, especially if you hike in high altitude or desert areas. Make sure you use hair bands that don’t have metal to prevent breakage and be gentle with your hair. Some women opt to drastically cut their hair before a long distance hike to make maintenance easy.
When you get home use either a clarifying shampoo or go natural with apple cider vinegar to get rid of all the additional buildup.
For daily cleaning, focus on your feet, pits, face and privates. I use Huggies Natural Unscented baby wipes. Do not use anything antibacterial on your V. You don’t want to get rid of the good bacteria doing its job. You can dry wipes at home to save weight and re-wet in camp with water. I like to bring a teeny tiny bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap for extra cleaning.
Make sure you take care of your feet during the day. Deal with hot spots before they become blisters, air out your feet whenever possible, and keep your socks clean.
Don’t bother with deodorant. Ever smell a middle school boy covered in Axe spray? That’s what you’ll smell like.
Pick your underwear carefully. By wearing a pair of synthetic underwear like ExOfficio, you can take 1-2 pairs for your whole trip and stay sanitary.
For laundry, don’t get soap in water sources! Bring a gallon ziplock bag, fill it with water and a tiny bit of Dr. Bronner’s soap. Seal the bag and shake away. Wring your clothes out and let dry on a rock in the sunlight. Synthetic or merino clothing is best for hiking and dries quickly. I wore Merino head to toe on the John Muir Trail and loved how versatile it was in both the heat and cold. If you are in an area that requires a bear canister, like the Sierras, it makes for a great washing tub!
Shaving is optional. For some women, going all nature is part of being on the trail. For others, shaving helps them feel clean. This is a personal preference.
I recommend making your hygiene routine consistent. Air out your feet every afternoon on your lunch break. Wash up once you get into camp while your water is boiling if you are preparing a hot meal. Brush and floss your teeth before bed. In the morning, wash the socks you wore the day before and hang on your pack to dry. Even if it’s cold, it will eventually warm up. You only need two pairs of socks if you rotate each day.
There you have it. Solutions to all your hygiene woes and questions. Once you get a hygiene routine down, you won’t believe how easy it is to do in the backcountry. You may even jump for joy!
Have a tip to add? Leave a comment below!
Last modified: February 23, 2018