In brainstorming an Appalachian Trail thru hike, some basic hygiene questions come to mind. For those who wear contacts — how am I going to see? For those who want some semblance of hygiene — how will I bathe? More importantly, for those of us not poop/pee shy — how will I wipe my ass?
Good questions. Here are some possible solutions:
You’ve got options. Ranked most to least Leave No Trace (LNT) friendly.
- Back Country Bidet
- This is the most ultralight and inexpensive option. Take your water bottle, place the tip on your back, and let the water run towards the front. Wash with soap and water afterwards. For those with vaginas, it takes a bit more skill in the rinsing and trickling water method.
- Rocks, pinecones and leaves
- Mmm, earthy! These can work nicely when paired with the back country bidet method, believe it or not.
- Snow! (if you’re lucky)
- I’ve heard it’s quite refreshing.
- Ultralight Bidet
- attaches to your water bottle cap. Streams a jet of water at your butt from an upside-down water bottle. Probably the most hygienic, and least likely to result in a UTI for those with vaginas.
- Kula Cloth
- (for pee only!!) an antimicrobial, washable option. You can snap it shut so the wipe-fabric comes into minimal contact with its surroundings. Also, they’re cute and support artists!
- I would not recommend. (LNT friendly I guess but…) You can get rashes and infections, but it’s your ass, your gamble.
- Baby Wipes
- Pack them out, they are non-biodegradable.
- Toilet Paper
So far, I have still never taken toilet paper on a backpacking trip. Granted I’ve only been out for weekend trips, but I still don’t intend on bringing any toilet paper on the A.T. This planet has to be around, and has been around a lot longer than we have. Respect your Mother Earth, dig a cathole and don’t leave toilet paper blooms everywhere. Every shit matters <3
Fun fact: If you have to pee while in your tent in the middle of the night and it is freezing, just go pee! If you hold it, you’ll have to go eventually and your body will expend more energy on keeping you and your high volume of pee warm, which could make you colder. In the words of the famous meme: Go piss girl.
Since I was little, I have thought about how if there was a zombie apocalypse and I didn’t have any glasses or contacts, I would just die. Thankfully, before the trail, you have ample time to make preparations so you won’t trip on every root and rock. To fix this problem for myself, I have given into glasses. I was originally an avid contact wearer. I used to wear contacts on trail for weekend trips, but I’d always wind up sitting outside my tent, with tears streaming from my eyes as I rubbed my dirty fingertips on my dirtier shorts as I attempted to touch my eyeballs. It was a sight. I decided it was not for me. If you are a more cleanly person or more skilled at poking eyeballs, maybe you can swing it.
I started wearing glasses again, for the first time since middle school, about six months ago. Some of the on trail benefits:
- Less risk of eye infections (no dirty fingers)
- Less time to put them on
- comes in handy for impromptu sunrise jaunts and scary noises in the woods at night
- Eye protection
- Looking super smart and hot
I got glasses that look like regular frames, but are lightweight and designed for running (supposedly. I would not recommend them, but I’ve made my peace with them.) I have a few regular problems with them. Here’s how I’ve fixed my four-eyed blunders:
- Sliding down/hurting my ears: I keep these funky little ear gripper things on and they work well.
- Rain: I wear a rain cap while I’m out and it keeps the rain from gathering on my glasses.
- Raining hard and sliding down my face: I just run and hope for the best. (Would not recommend.)
So far, I have forgotten a toothbrush on almost every backpacking trip I’ve been on. I am determined to NOT do this on the A.T. However, this begs the question: How can you dispose of used toothpaste following LNT? Well, my quick google search perkily responded to Swallow it! After spending some time chuckling about commenters bickering over spitting or swallowing, I did not think this was a savory or feasible option for night after night on a thru hike. Some suggested using charcoal or baking soda, but charcoal can kill important bacteria in your gut, and baking soda can wear away your tooth enamel. Some advocated for the spraying option, to mitigate the environmental impact, and I’m curious if people do that one. I’m not sure which I’ll choose, so if you’ve got advice, I’d love to hear it.
I also think dental floss is a worth addition. Not only does it make your teeth feel a little cleaner — it can also double as thread. (The thought came to mind of using my used dental floss to further embroider my pack, but I’ve decided that’s gross, not creative. I’ll just pack it out.) Maybe I will finally follow my dentist’s advice of flossing.
Finally, I am debating bringing my retainers or not. It’s nerdy, but I’m in my twenties and my teeth are still shifting around. Plus, my teeth being straight is another thing I can control, which might be nice in the midst of weather that I can’t. At least when I’m soaked, cold and shaking, I can have a lisp right before I go to bed. Schleep tight guyths.
For those who menstruate or have a backpacking partner who is menstruating, you might worry that a packed-out bag of tampons is a bear magnet. That is actually a myth! (Unless you’re dealing with polar bears.) As far as the A.T. is concerned, black bears don’t care about menstrual blood — however, if you’re using tampons, be sure to bring unscented ones, because they are drawn to scented products. Sarah Wolfson has a helpful article explaining packing out tampons and pads. Also, diva cups may seem like a good idea — but trail fingers and removing and inserting a diva cup is a recipe for infection.
However, as delightful as menstruation can be, there are forms of birth control that have the ability to prevent you from having a period in general. I’m a fan of this option. IUDs and birth control implants can last four years or more, and can take the stress of managing a period on trail out of the equation for some.
When I neglect to shower for a couple days, I joke with my roommates that I am “preparing for the trail.” (I use this excuse for eating questionable things from the fridge, wearing clothes a couple days in a row, anything that is actually just me being gross.) I didn’t know about the proper LNT protocol for bathing until recently. But then again, I’ve only been out for weekend trips so far, so I have not had to wash myself on trail. LNT advises that you walk 200 feet (70 big steps) from a water source, bring a cloth, water bottle and some unscented soap (it won’t attract furry visitors) and rinse yourself off. People use baby wipes as well, but be sure to pack them out, as they are not biodegradable.
Hope this helps you all prepare for the trail! May your cathole always be ready before you are <3
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