I’ve been seeing a lot of questions regarding hygiene and more specifically female hygiene on trail. I didn’t plan on writing this post, but seeing this is something a lot of women struggle with, I thought I’d share my personal approach.
Whether you are planning a thru-hike that will take months, a bikepacking trip of a couple of weeks or just an overnight camping trip, hygiene seems to be one of the main concerns for female trekkers. Setting off on your first trek can be unnerving and scary, but don’t let your worries about practical things stop you from starting your journey.
There are a lot of options out there for just about any ‘problem’ you might have. Keep in mind that women have been trekking for years, so whatever your issue might be there is a solution out there. It is just a matter of finding what suits you best. I’ll share the options I prefer and mentions some alternatives I know other women use.
Everyone is different and will like different things: that’s okay! Do what makes you feel most comfortable and don’t mind what others do too much.
A personal source of inspiration is Dixie from Homemade Wanderlust, she has some awesome videos and posts on trekking (as a woman).
Face it: you will smell and you will be dirty. There is no way around it I am afraid. But there is a big difference between embracing your stink and getting a yeast infection “down there”.
Depending on how you travel you might or might not have access to showers, streams, lakes, the ocean, … In most cases you’ll go at least few days without the option to have a thorough wash. When you get the option to shower or swim: do it! Even if the showers on the campsite look disgusting and even if you are too tired to be bothered. You’ll be happy afterwards.
For those days that you camp out in the middle of nowhere there still are a few options. I personally like to use a baby wipe (or two) to freshen up after a long day of hiking or cycling. I’ll usually use one for my private bits and one for my face, arm pits and back. I tend to get a rash on my back if it is hot for more than a few days and the baby wipes help a lot with that. You can carry the baby wipes as they are (that’s what I do), but I have seen people who dry them and then add a bit of water when they want to use one. This will save you some weight.
Another option would be to get some water from a stream or lake and wash up with you bandana or towel. Make sure you are at least a hundred meters away from the water source and do not use soap. Even if it says bio-degradable, it is not naturally there so don’t put it there.
Make sure to take care of your feet. Let your feet air out at the end of the day, trade your hiking shoes and socks for sandals or go barefoot. This will help prevent any kind of fungus or infections developing. If possible give your feet a rinse of wipe down every evening. Make sure to bring a nail clipper and keep your toenails trimmed. Happy feet make for happy hiking!
Don’t skip brushing your teeth, being out in the woods is no excuse to not brush your teeth! Besides it gives me an instant clean feeling if I have clean teeth and a minty breath.
Do: embrace your stink, use baby wipes, take care of your feet, brush your teeth
Don’t: deodorant, makeup, dump soap / toothpaste in lake or rivers
Peeing & pooing in the wild
At some point you will have to pee and poop out there. I promise it is not as bad as it sounds.
- If you go number one, go at least 50 meters away from any water source and the trail.
- If you go number two, go at least 100 meters away from any water source and the trail. Always dig a cat hole.
- You can bury
toilet paper, butNOTHING else(no baby wipes even if it says biodegradable or flushable or …) *I was always told toilet paper is okay to bury, but just learned that toilet paper takes about 5 years to deteriorate!*
- Take an extra ziplock bag with you for used toilet paper, baby wipes, …
- don’t want anyone stumbling onto your cat hole? Stick some small sticks in an ‘X’ on top of it
- a pack on the side of the trail means someone is off to the side to do his/her business, don’t bother them 😉
You have a two options on how to pee: squat or stand up.
I prefer squatting and just doing my thing, but you can use a pee funnel (like the GoGirl) which allows you to pee standing up.
To go number two you only have one option: squat. I promise it is not as bad as it sounds.
I usually bring toilet paper with me and bury it after use or take it with me. It is a good idea to roll the paper on itself instead of on the cardboard tube, this saves some space and weight in your pack. Always put your paper in a ziplock bag so it stay dry.
Another option is to use a pee rag (only for number one!). You can use a designated bandanna (preferably a dark colored one), wipe when needed and hang it on the outside of your pack to dry. The air and sun will keep in from smelling. Just rinse it out the next chance you get. You can still take toilet paper with you for number two, but this way you don’t need to take that much.
A third option is to shake it off and let it dry (again, only for number one!). I personally don’t like this option, to me it doesn’t feel clean or comfortable. But many ladies out there do it and swear by it.
A fourth option is to use water. You can use any kind of squeezable plastic bottle to spray some water and shake dry or dry off with a bandana.
A last option is to use natural things like leaves or moss.
Do: go away from the trail and water sources, store toilet paper in ziplock bag, leave your bag on the trail
Don’t: bury wet wipes or baby wipes
Menstruation & female hygiene
It might not be any more fun than getting your period at home, probably even less fun, but don’t let your period stop you from chasing the trail. Every woman out there has been there and done that. No reason why you couldn’t do it!
Consider skipping your period. Depending on the kind of birth control you use it might be an option to skip your period. Especially if you are only going for a couple of days or weeks, this might be a good option. I did this multiple time while on ‘the pill’ and it was a great solution for me. I am no expert, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor for more information on this option.
If you are going to have your period while on the trail you have a few option: pads, tampons or a cup.
My least favorite option to be honest. They get hot, sweaty and start to give me skin irritations where I do not want them. I personally never use pads and would not recommend them for any kind of active trekking. However, I am sure that there will be women out there who love using them.
Not as bad as pads, but still not ideal in my opinion. They are bulky and take up lots of space. If you are using tampons consider getting the kind without the applicator. That way they take up far less space.
My all-time favorite is the cup. You only have to take one and can’t run out. It does however take some practice, so try it a couple of times at home before you leave. You can leave a cup in for about 12 hours without risk of TSS and it will hold up to three times what a ‘super tampon’ would.
If you go with pads or tampons make sure to bring more than you think you will need. Store them in a ziplock bag so they can’t get wet. You might want to bring an extra trash bag to take your waste with you. Popular options are: dog poopbags or a ziplock bag with tape over it. That way the content stays hidden and you can keep the smell contained. Please, never ever leave or bury your used pads or tampons in the woods. That is just disgusting.
If you decide to use a cup you might consider bringing some cup wipes or cup soap with you. You don’t need to use that every time, but it can be nice to use once in a while. Dig a cat hole to empty your cup in, don’t empty it next to a stream.
In any case: wash or disinfect your hands before you get busy down there.
If you get cramps or headaches when on your period think about carrying some extra painkillers to keep you comfortable.
To keep things fresh you can use baby wipes and consider sleeping naked or at least in loosely fitting clothing, that way your skin can breathe. When bikepacking I would ditch the underwear once in camp, that way my private parts could get some ‘fresh air’.
Do: wash your hands, take too much supplies with you, take your waste with you, dig a cat hole, use hand sanitizer, practise using a cup
Don’t: let it stop you!
As I already said above, if possible I’ll sleep naked or in my underwear. I use a sleeping bag liner to keep my sleeping bag clean and that way it is easy to wash. If it is too cold I’ll sleep in my thermal underwear. That way my clothing can air out and my skin can breathe.
If those options don’t sound appealing or practical, consider sleeping in your extra T-shirt or bringing a light sleeping gown with you (not the babydoll kind, just like a long T-shirt).
Do: let your clothes air out, let your skin breathe
Don’t: sleep naked without a liner (too much fuss to clean your sleeping bag)
I always try to stay away from cotton, it feels heavy and stays damp forever. That being said, I’ll wear just about anything I feel comfortable in. For me that mostly means merino wool (when I can afford it) and loose fitting synthetic clothing. Merino wool helps with preventing odors. I also prefer shorts and trousers over skirts. There are plenty of women out there wearing leggings, tights and skirts to trek in. Wear what is comfortable for you.
I don’t always wear clothing particularly designed for the task. For instance while I was bikepacking I never wore cycle shorts. I preferred a basic merino T-shirt and normal sport shorts.
Try to work with layers as much as possible, especially if you are going somewhere cold.
For underwear I try to take different kinds with me to rotate. That way I don’t get the same seam or fit day in and day out. It limits chafing and irritation. I usually take sports bras or bras without an underwire. The clip in the back never bugs me, but I try to bring at least one bra without a clip.
If you easily get chafed on the insides of your legs, consider wearing leggings or if, like me, you’re not comfortable in a legging, try running shorts with a legging attached on the inside.
Do: wear what is comfortable, pack light, wear (merino) wool and synthetic clothes
Don’t: use cotton
If you have the space and can carry the weight it is okay to take some luxury items with you. Just remember: everything you take, you will have to carry!
For instance: I took a dress to wear in camp or town with me on my bikepacking trip. Yes I had to carry some extra weight, but I was so happy to have that dress. For me it was well worth the extra weight.