Episode #8 of the course Beginning Backpacking by Alice Morgan
Hello again! Today, we’ll be talking all about keeping yourself clean while backpacking. Hygiene is even more important in the wilderness than at home. If you neglect basis cleanliness, you could end up with gastritis or diarrhea.
Let’s jump right in with the topic that’s on most new backpackers’ minds. The first rule of pooping in the woods is that when you need to go, you should go. When you don’t have much experience toileting in the woods, you may have the impulse to resist your body’s urges. Don’t! It will make for an uncomfortable trip and could cause harm to your body.
To prepare, you’ll need a small, light shovel. Dig yourself a hole (called a cat hole) that is four inches across and six to eight inches deep, and at least 20 feet/6 meters from camp, water, or the trail. Pro tip: dig your hole beneath a tree or rock, so you can brace yourself with the object. Other options include: grabbing a tree and leaning out from it, or finding a fallen tree you can sit on.
After the deed is done, put the small amount of toilet paper you used in the hole with some dirt. Grab a stick and stir the mixture to help your waste break down, pour in the rest of the dirt, and leave the stick poking out from the covered hole to warn other hikers. Use hand sanitizer afterward. As a note, this is pooping procedure for most, but not all, of the forests you could be visiting. In desert, rocky, or fragile terrain, you may need to pack your waste out with you.
Urinating in the woods isn’t as much work as pooping. Guys, step off the trail and do what you usually do. Gals, find yourself a nice tree or rock setup like above, and do your best to avoid getting your boots wet. After a couple practice sessions, you’ll get the hang of it. You can choose to drip dry or use a bandana or “pee-dana” that you can attach to the outside of your pack when not in use. Remember to use hand sanitizer after.
For anyone who has a uterus, the idea of starting your menstrual cycle in the wilderness can be daunting. Backpacking with a period may not be the most enjoyable experience, but it doesn’t have to be agonizing. Be sure to plan for the possibility of a period even if you aren’t on track to get one during your trip. Sometimes the additional exertion may cause you to bleed early.
You’ll need three zip-top bags to make a period kit. One small bag for clean pads or tampons, one small bag for soiled supplies, and one larger bag to store them in. Some people prefer to cover the large bag with opaque tape. If you’re worried about smell, you can crush up an aspirin and add it to the bag of used materials. A great alternative to pads or tampons is a period cup.
You may have noticed that I’ve stressed using hand sanitizer every time you go to the bathroom. Clean hands are important because human waste contamination is the cause of many illnesses in the backcountry. You should also wash your hands with camp soap away from your campsite before preparing food.
In the woods, everyone smells. You won’t usually need to bathe unless you’re out for weeks, but baby wipes are a great way to freshen up on short trips.
In addition to keeping your hands clean, you also need take care while eating snacks and making your meals. Never eat out of the same bowl as someone else, and don’t let others handle your food. If you’re planning to be out for a long time, make sure to periodically wash your dishes with soap and sterilize them with boiling water. Waste-washing water should be buried in a cat hole or dispersed through the air far from camp.
That’s it for today. Tomorrow, we’ll go into a few common ways you can get yourself into trouble while backpacking and tips for preventing emergencies.
How to Shit in the Woods, 3rd Edition: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art by Kathleen Meyer
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