Outdoor hygiene



To keep good hygiene outdoors is essential, to be absolutely clean on the other hand is luxury. In this post you'll find some advice on water purification, doing dishes outdoors, dealing with No 1&2, handling period when outdoors, how to wash clothes and sorting garbage. To handle hygiene in the outdoors is a matter of health, wellbeing and not to ruin others experience of nature. Poor hygiene outdoors, can in worst case scenario lead to illness, like upset stomach or diarrhea. And we simply don't want that to happen, do we?

At the end of this post there's a travel memory on the subject of hygiene and perceived purity.

A rapid in Jotunheimen national park, Norway.
A rapid in Jotunheimen national park, Norway.

Water purification

In most Swedish woodland lakes and mountain streams, you can drink the water fresh. I also drink right out of the northern part of lake Vättern when kayaking. Places to avoid are lakes and rivers with agricultural areas close by. Also avoid still puddles in the woods, public beaches, public spots for caravans, large leisure boats and close to civilisation over all. Upset stomach on longer trips is not nice, I've tried a few times. One shall also avoid lakes and small streams where the beaver lives. If you don't believ me, Google beaver fever.

If you're uncertain if you can drink the water or not, you can boil it. Big bubbles, no troubles - is a common proverb in the outdoor community. Most bacteria dies when heated to more than 80° C/176° F. The only con with water boiled on open fire, is that it takes on a slight taste of smoke, but one gets used to it. When cooking, like boiling pasta, I use water from the lake, since it's boiling clean in the process. No need to waste drinking water for that.

There are also water purification pills and filters on the market. I've never used any of them, so you'd better ask someone who has. ;)

Doing the dishes outdoors

If you have forgotten your dish soap and brush back home, you can clean your pots with some sand and do them properly later back home. To let the dishes soak for a while does wonders as well. When I bring dish soap I'll take the mildest one I have and put it in a smaller bottle, so I don't have to carry the big one. I also bring a brush with natural bristles, usually one that's been used in the kitchen for a while back home and then been demoted to outdoor dishes. I also learnt this weekend that there's a small pad like wire wool, but plastic that doesn't trash the surface of your pots. But I try to avoid bringing plastic outdoors, so my brush with natural bristles will do just fine.

Before doing my dishes I take out any scrap food and either burry them properly or bring them home in a bag, depending on how long I'll be out. Even if I do the dishes by the shore, I pour the dish water on land. This way, the next person on the spot doesn't have to swim among my old macaronis and the nutritions in the dishwater are slightly rinsed through the ground before reaching the water.

I try to avoid usin wire wool and "Svinto" on the inside of my pots, they scratches the surface, making it harder to clean over time. Back home I put some vinegar to the outside of sooty pots and leave it for a few minutes before taking away the soot. This way the soot loosens up a bit and is much easier to remove.

Nr 1 och 2

You'll need:

  • 1 small garden spade or a stick
  • Campfire or trashbag

Nr 1. You can pee anywhere in the woods, but go away from the trail and waters. I trodd around a bit before squating, not to get bushes in the bush, so to speak. Afterwards I sit for a minute to let it dry, rather than wasting toilet paper. If I'm not far from water I wash up later. If you use toilet paper, bring the paper in a trashbag or burn it in your campfire. Toilet paper do mulch, but it's a very slow process in nature.

Nr 2. Go away from the trail, camp and waters. And now we're talking about 20-100 meters. Dig a hole somewhere, where no one will trodd and do what you need to do. If close to camp and the paper ain't to grose burn it. If the contents of the hole is more like cows dung, leave the paper with your contribution. Cover with soil, moss and a proper stone! Dogs are experts on digging up these types of pits ...

The menstrual cup is clean. The silicon changes color over time and with use.
The menstrual cup is clean. The silicon changes color over time and with use.

Handling your period outdoors

When posting this, it's actually the international day om menstruation, yay! (28/5) To deal with the flow outdoors is a high threshold for many. Which is sad, really. Here are some tips.

Prepare a period-bag before going on a several day hike etc. It's always nice to be prepared, especially if your period has a manner of showing up irregularly or to give away a tampon to someone else when needed.

My bag contains:

  • Painkillers
  • Chocolate
  • Menstrual cup, a pair of pads and some tampons. Tampons are for give away and the pads as a complement during the night so I don't have to crawl out of the sleeping bag to empty my menstrual cup.
  • I also have tranexam acid on pills with me (they lessen heavy flows, but don't use them if you're predisposed to get embolism)

Ask for longer pottybreaks. In general it takes about 8-15 minutes for those who wants to go away and handle their period. Many in the outdoors assume on habit that one only has to take two steps off track, pee and be done in 3 minutes.

Communicate with the rest of the group if you're in pain, gets tired or other issues when on your period. It might feel embarrassing at first, but it helps your friends to understand why you're not bouncing along the trail or why you might snap from time to time.

Different means of period protection:

Menstrualcup - a small cup made of silicon that you fold on the way in and clear when full. Make yourself comfortable with the cup at home first, it's a bit tricky in the beginning before you get the right placement. It's a bit messy to use, but it's easy to was off your hands. I usually clear my cup close to water so that I can rinse it or bring a petbottle, dedicated for water to rinse the cup. In winter I use snow to clean it. I know there are special wet wipes for menstrual cups, but I've never used them.

When i'm off my period I wash the cup with mild soap and water, put it away in my pack and boil it at home. If I'm out for months and supposedly get another period before coming home, I boil water over the fire, put the cup in a bowl not used for cooking and pour the boiling water over the cup. Not that it's dangerous boiling your cup in cooking pots, but your friends might get uncomfortable.

Cloth pads/menstrual briefs.

Use them like normal pads/briefs. Wash up with soap/bile soap and lukewarm water. Hang to dry, and then you're ready to go again.


Handy, packed water tight and go to in the fire pouch as well. Burn used tampons or bring them with you, often the little string are made of nylon and shouldn't be left behind in nature.


Should always be brought to the closest dustbin, since they contain plastic. Roll them up, and put them in your trash bag. If you tie it airtight, it won't smell.

There are also medications to post phone your period. One needs to take them about 3 weeks before expected menstruation in order to work, so it's for those with regular flow. I haven't used any of them, but I mention them anyway, for those who gets hell on earth when their period shows up.


Well, wash as if you're in an eternal pandemic situation. Always carefully with soap and hand sanitizer. Espescially after No 2 and before cooking.

Cooking fat or fat lotion takes away soot from your skin.

When I'm on longer canoeadventures and towing, I nowadays bring a small nail file to file down the callus on my indexfingers from the wet ropes.


Bring a pair of nail scissors, clean your nails every now and then. Cut them straight over to avoid nail tight.

Hair and body

If using liquid soap/schampo/balm, put it in smaller bottles, like with the dish soap above.

I use a mild, hard soap. It's inside a little meshbag that I can put to dry in camp or outside my backpack.

I also use a schampo bar and balm bar. They last longer, weights little and contains less harmful chemicals for nature (and you). I dry them beofre putting them away, either in a small jar or in a piece of cloth.

For towel, I either use a small one or my cotton scarf that I use to bring with me in summer anyway for sun protection over the shoulders.

Do you have long hair? Well, you've probably already picked up on this, but braid your hair for the night and it won't be as messy when you wake up. Sleeping with a cap can make dreadlocks on us all. Warm summer nights a bun on top of your head will do as well.

Winter swimming is enormously popular this year in Sweden. But even in summer, water can be quiet cold up here, depending on where in the country and the weather. Before a 6 week long canoe trip in northern Finland I practiced bathing in a lake nearby my home. I knew the water temperatures would be low, especially the first part of the trip. My training did come in handy. If nothing else, voluntary cold baths grows will power.

Washing clothes

Stepped to deep in the mud? Or are you running out of underwear? Keep track on the weather. A sunny, and slightly windy day, rinse your dirty clothes in nearby stream or lake and wash them with normal soap or bile soap if it's really dirty or stained. I'm particularly careful around armpits and crotches on the garments. Hang to dry. If the weather gods don't hear you, wash up one garment at the time and dry by the campfire under supervision.


Simply bring all the trash back home or to nearest garbage can. Even the trash that others left behind. A trash bag don't weigh much, but makes a lot of difference for nature and for the next person who drops by. If you find it grouse to touch others trash, bring a glove in your pocket.

Travel memory:

"I was sitting on the staircase off the service house at Ivalo River Camping. One of my travel companions was showering inside, myself, I hadn't got the opportunity yet.Four weeks in the wild and only a few minutes away from a warm shower. Those passing by stared at me, just like people looked at us when shopping in town and at the restaurant. It was first on that staircase, that I understood why. We were dirty. Not stained, no messy hair. We had bathed properly in the river and washed our clothes. But the soot, the toil, the mosquito bites and the scent of smoke had put a filthy, wild coating on us. As were we some voluntary, modern tramps. A handfull of jigsaw puzzel pieces, that did not fit with the rest of civilization anymore."

Was this post helpful? Please, share with friends and family. Do you have more tips on hygiene outdoors? Please, comment or share in stories, mentioning @tracelessintiveden so that we may share your experiences.

Wash up in peace!