“Hiker Trash”. “Dirt Bag”. These derogatory terms are used to describe those who have been on the trail long enough to show it. Unkempt hair, black fingernails, and dirt smeared skin paired with a particular type of smell are just part of life on a long trip. Hell, I can look like a Sasquatch after one night in the woods.
Even though you may not be able to keep up your regular hygiene habits in the same capacity on the trail, it is still important to stay clean and healthy out there, or you will ruin yours and others’ trips. Bad hygiene is the number one contributor to illness on the trail.
I don’t bring shampoo or deodorant or even soap with me on a thru hike. I do, however, take meticulous care of my teeth, feet, hands, and butt. On the trail, I brush and floss every morning and night, I sanitize my hands before cooking (especially for others), before brushing my teeth, and EVERY TIME I POOP, I clean my feet every night and file my toenails when necessary, and I bring a single wet wipe per day to keep my daisy fresh.
The following are the lightest and most effective items I’ve found to help facilitate a good personal hygiene regiment on the trail.
Weight: 65.10 g / 2.29 oz
- The world’s first and only all-day skin protectant
- Kills 99.99% of germs on contact
- Germ barrier lasts up to 24 hours- Nano Pure™ forms a molecular bond that stays active on the surface of your skin.
- Non-flammable, water based, with clean scent
FDA listed, EPA approved, alcohol free, safe and easy to use. I spray this on my hands in the morning and have an underlying barrier against germs all day. Washing your hands can quicken the degradation of the barrier, which is why this product is perfect for backpacking; you seldom get the opportunity to wash your hands on the trail!
You use enough sprays to then rub and spread over the area you want to apply to. One bottle lasts about a week for me.
I supplement this proactive germ defense with traditional hand sanitizer after dropping a deuce and before brushing my teeth.
Check out the story of the company and the technology at their website, here.
Weight: 72.58 g / 2.5 oz
This is just your good old fashioned liquid alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Choose your brand, choose your size.
You should bring some sort of hand sanitizer on the trail, even if you only use it after going to the bathroom. If you choose to bring soap on your trip, you still need to supplement your hygiene regimen with a sanitizer that will kill germs, not just remove dirt.
I typically ship one of these bottles in every resupply box. One 1 ounce bottle usually lasts me five to seven days.
Weight: 6.3 g / 0.22 oz
On the trail, you can go for weeks without the opportunity for a proper wash. I find bringing one small moist towelette per day keeps me feeling more clean and refreshed out in the wild. Not only is a wet wipe more effective at removing “dirt” and keeping you cleaner which helps reduce chaffing, the morale boost from having a fresh behind each day is significant.
These are the lightest single use wipe I’ve have found.
Weight (one board cut in half): 4.87 g / 0.17 oz
I searched and searched for a light weight but durable nail clipper for years. Quality clippers weigh over an ounce. The tiny ultra light ones you find in checkout lines and airport kiosks fall apart very quickly.
I finally decided to ditch the heavier clipper option for a simple Emory board. There are non-disposable ones out there made of metal or other hard material, but I like the board based ones because you can cut them in half, lessening the weight and saving you money by doubling the quantity.
The downside is kind the upside with nail files. Downside: you have to do more upkeep, filing and shaping your nails more frequently. Upside: providing more frequent maintenance to your feet will improve their performance and happiness. With a nail file, you are able to shape the nail the way you want to, taking special care with custom treatments around problem areas, depending on the shape of your foot and the position of your toes.
Nail clippers only allow for a few different shapes and angles of cutting. With a nail file or Emory board, you can angle anyway you want and reach more areas more easily.
Did I mention the weight and money savings? Never clip again.
Weight (per tablet): 0.51 g / 0.017 oz
When I began hiking and camping I would bring with me a small tube of travel sized toothpaste for brushing each day. As I began transitioning to more light weight gear, I finally looked more closely at that little tube of paste and realized it was pretty dense; weighing several ounces!
I knew there had to be a lighter option, and one that would offer me the control to bring only what I needed for any given trip. With a tube of paste, no matter how small, you are still committed to bringing all of the paste in that tube, even if you won’t be able to use all of it. Enter toothpaste tablets.
Dry toothpaste tablets are ridiculously lightweight and small, winning in those categories. The tablets feel and taste like tiny breath mints. The are hard and dry, and when you first chew them, they crumble into a powder. Almost immediately, though, the powder begins to react with your saliva and works itself into a familiar minty foam, like normal toothpaste.
The short transition period from hard and powdery to minty foam takes a little getting used to, but is sped up by agitating the powder with your toothbrush after chewing the tablets up.
You can also make your own toothpaste tablets with your preferred brand of paste by following the simple directions in this video:
Weight: 0.58 g / 0.02 oz
I use to take an entire dispenser of floss with on trips, regardless of the duration. “It’s so small, I won’t even know it’s there”, was my thinking. Then I weighed a floss dispenser. Most weight several ounces.
That’s when I began looking for another option and found these. I got a bag of 100 of these floss picks at Wally World and was immediately a believer. Just over half a gram each, and I can take just what I need for any specific trip.
One of the flaws with this style of floss pick is their shape. I personally don’t use the “pick” end of these guys; I only floss with the string side. The sharp pick part has punctured the plastic zip top bag I store these in or the trash bag they end up in on several occasions. Not a deal breaker but something to be aware of.
For me, the other downside is the amount of actual floss used. This is nit picky and just a personal thing but when I floss, I like to use a fresh section of string for each quadrant of my mouth. I can wrap a length of floss around my fingers and let out a fresh amount for quadrant, while wrapping up the used section on my other set of fingers. With the pick style of floss you only have one one-inch section of floss to go between each tooth. Also, not a deal breaker; I’m just weird.
Plus, I found longer lengths of floss that are individually wrapped in paper and weigh even less.
Weight: 0.55 g / 0.17 oz
Cheaper, smaller, better-packing, and lighter weight. The Pocket Dental Floss Packs check all of those boxes. These individually wrapped floss packs tear open and reveal an 18″ length of string that is mint waxed. These give me a cleaner, just left the dentist feel than a non-waxed, non-minty, one-inch-of-floss-on-a-stick-style option.
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