Trekkers often ask us if it is hygienic to go the entire duration of a trek without taking a bath. To this, our answer is — yes, it is.
Trekking is not as unhygienic an activity as some people imagine it to be. Here are some simple ways to remain hygienic on a trek.
1. Take a sponge bath
Carry a small towel, preferably one made out of cotton or any other natural fibre. Wet the cloth, and use it to wipe yourself clean. You could also sprinkle some aloe vera and baking powder on the towel, and then wipe yourself.
Ideally you should do this as soon as you reach your campsite, and before you put on a change of clothes.
Do not use wet wipes, as they are non-biodegradable and harmful to the environment.
2. Change your inner layers every day
While you can trek using the same clothes for 2-3 days, make sure to change your inners every single day. Alternately, you could also use reusable underwear cloth liners. And yes, men can do this too!
Also, avoid trekking with your thermals. They tend to get sweaty and begin to smell. Make sure to put them on after you clean up, and before you sleep. Take them off in the morning before getting into your trekking clothes.
We also suggest that each day you change the base layer you wear. For this you could wear a vest, or a merino wool t-shirt. Merino wool absorbs sweat and wicks it out. It’s better to avoid materials like cotton which hold onto the sweat, and make you feel cold.
It is enough if you take 2-3 of these quick-dry base layers, even if you are going on a multi-day trek. You can easily rinse and dry these when you find time on a trek. This not only reduces the load you carry, but also keeps you clean!
3. Cut your toenails and fingernails before the trek
During the course of the trek you often accumulate a lot of dirt under your nails. To avoid this, make sure to cut your nails before you set off on the trek.
Also, long toenails also make for an uncomfortable trek! And you could potentially injure your foot while descending.
4. Foot care for better hygiene
Before you put on your shoes each day, apply some powder to reduce sweat and bad odor.
Alternately, at the beginning and end of each day, you could sprinkle some aloe and talcum powder in your shoe, and wipe it gently to remove pre-existing odour.
Our founder Arjun Majumdar says, “Nowadays, shoes are more sophisticated, and are waterproof, snow proof, and well sealed. While this is good, it doesn’t allow the shoe or your foot to breathe. This traps the sweat and odour inside the shoe and makes your feet smelly.”
He strongly recommends you remove your shoes, and let them air out once you reach your camp.
5. Maintain oral hygiene
Since it is cold on a trek, you could try dry brushing, which means use your toothbrush, but don’t use toothpaste. Dry brushing with hot water is another way to maintain good oral hygiene.
If it is a summit day, and you start trekking at 3 in the morning, then you could probably let this pass.
If you are very particular, you can rinse your mouth after every meal.
6. How to clean up after your morning job
At Indiahikes, we use dry toilets. For this, we recommend using toilet paper.
We do not allow wet wipes on any of our treks. We also do not recommend using water as it slows down decomposition of faecal matter in our dry toilet set up. Further, it allows the odour to remain!
You could sprinkle a few drops of water on a dry tissue, and use that instead.
In the middle of the trek, or maybe once in two days, you could take some time to wash up with water, away from the camps.
7. Menstrual hygiene
We recommend using menstrual cups and cloth pads as they are hygienic and reusable. But if you must, you could use a tampon or a pad too. But make sure to carry them back to the cities to dispose of them. Use plenty of toilet paper, and wipe well.
As mentioned earlier, once in two-three days you can wash yourself with water away from the campsite.
8. Try to use spoon/fork while eating
Whenever possible try to use a spoon or fork while eating. This brings down the risk of hand-foot-and-mouth disease. We understand that this might be difficult while eating roti, but do try it while eating other items.
We also ask our trekkers to bring their own cutlery for Indiahikes treks. We noticed this has a huge impact on making the trek food experience hygienic.
Remember to wash your cutlery before using it. It goes a long way in maintaining hygiene.
Further, follow routine habits such as washing your hands well before and after your meals.
Why we do not recommend taking a bath on a trek
Exposing your body to water, in cold weather, at high altitudes is dangerous. It could cause hypothermia. Which means your body loses heat faster than it can gain, or retain heat. This at high altitudes is very dangerous, and could even be fatal.
It is for this reason that we do not recommend taking a bath on our treks.
Further our camps do not have the infrastructure to support bathing on a trek.
Finally, try to be as hygienic as you normally would in the cities
Overall, we understand that treks sometimes pose a challenge in maintaining one’s personal hygiene – be it the cold, altitude, lack of water, or limited clothing. But try and maintain personal hygiene as you normally would, if you were in the city, back at home.
Another thing to keep in mind is that throughout the duration of the trek, you live in close quarters with your fellow trekkers. So hygiene becomes a basic courtesy.
Not only is this important for you to have a safe and healthy trek, but also ensures that your tent mates and other trekkers have pleasant experience too.
If you have any other tips or suggestions on how to maintain personal hygiene, comment below and let us know!