When venturing into the great outdoors, we aim to take in the sights and smells of nature. And it helps if those smells don’t include our overly ripe bodies. Yes, smelling good while camping is a concern. After day 1, all that sweat and dirt starts to turn into oils rich with bacteria and an unpleasant scent.
So, how to keep smelling good so we can smell nature and not ourselves?
Obviously, taking a shower would be ideal. That’s usually what we do at home whenever we please. But not all campgrounds have showers, and even ones that do, they might not be desirable places to strip and bathe.
Have you seen some of the outdoor showers at campsites?
Luckily, there are many ways to keep smelling good when camping that doesn’t involve showers. Think of things like sprays, wipes, and biodegradable soaps.
By having a combination of all of these, you can be sure to keep your body and your clothing clean-smelling. You also want to consider the types of clothes you wear and the items you should have extra (hint: socks).
Below are more specific smell-good items you should consider as well as some general tips.
Must Have Smell Good Items
There are plenty of ways to stay smelling good, so you don’t attract unwanted attention from man or beast. Next are some items to consider.
An oversized, all-body wipe meant to reduce sweat, grime, and bacteria. These wipes can be used as a wipe-down in lieu of a shower or whenever you need to feel refreshed. There are many brands; a few are highlighted below:
- Surviveware, created by backpackers, gives you a full-body wipe. These wipes are big, 8”x12”, and can be used all over your body. Best of all, they’re good for all skin types, including sensitive skin.
- Combat Wipes. Military soldiers created these. They’re a bit smaller, coming in around 7”x 8”, but they are made from a thick weave of durable fibers and shouldn’t break.
- Bar-D Wet Wipes. These bamboo-fiber wipes include tea tree oil and aloe vera to help soothe and moisturize your skin in addition to cleansing. They can be used as one giant sheet, 8” x 10”, or torn into two pieces for bathroom cleansing.
- Alcala Deodorizing Wipes. These wipes are individually wrapped, so no worry about re-sealing packages or dry wipes. They also pack in many natural odor combatants and moisturizers like aloe, chamomile, green tea, oat extract, cucumber, and tea tree oils. Sure to get you clean.
- Hyper Go. These wipes are unscented, which helps repel bugs, and they also fight grime and bacteria with a variety of natural oils. At 12” x 12”, they are big enough for full-body coverage.
This is a must while camping. So many times, I want to eat a quick snack or put a piece of gum in my mouth, but my hands are filthy from fishing or anything else. A quick squirt of hand sanitizer puts me at ease.
I usually have a larger one and a small bottle attached to my bag. The bigger bottle of hand sanitizer I’ll keep out after I set up camp to share, while the little bottle attaches to the outside of my pack for quick access.
If you’re going backpacking, make sure to put any hand sanitizer in a Ziploc bag if it’s going to lose in your hiking backpack. It would be horrible to have sanitizer all over everything. This happens to me with DEET once, and it was very unpleasant.
For when you can’t shower. If you are in nature for days, you’ll need to cut down the grease in your hair without attracting critters. Dry shampoo is meant to be used without water.
It comes in powder form and is administered by aerosol spray. These shampoos use starch-based ingredients, like corn starch, to soak up oil, thus leaving your hair dry.
How to use: For a more even coat, spray into your hands versus directly onto your hair. By spraying a small amount into your palm, you can weave it through your hair with your fingers for an even coat. Once applied, run a brush or comb through your hair to work the dry shampoo through your locks.
Pro Tip: Baby powder works great as well; just apply to your roots to eliminate greasy build-up. Make sure to get Talc-free because there are some dangers with Talc. Here’s an Etsy seller that makes Talc-free baby powder.
A good body spray can double as an insect repellant. Thankfully, these sprays have come a long way in the smell-good department. I have horrid memories of the overly chemical DEET bug sprays from my childhood. However, you can smell decent and repel bugs with sprays made from citronella and other essential oils.
If you are lucky enough to camp where there’s a shower or a water source you can use to rinse off with a towel, then taking soap is a good idea. However, make sure to choose a biodegradable soap so that you aren’t adding any harmful chemicals to the land and waterways.
Also, do not lather up directly in a natural water source, like a stream or lake, but instead, carry water away from the source to prevent contamination. Below are some good soaps to consider:
- Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Liquid Soap. This soap is all-natural, with no harmful detergents or chemicals. It’s also multi-purpose: you can use it on your body, your clothes, and your water bottles and dishes. Comes in a variety of scents. They also make it in a soap bar form (amazon link) as well.
- Campsuds. Camp Suds has been around since 1968, and it’s the most popular soap on the trail. This all-purpose soap works in hot water, cold water, and even saltwater. You can also buy it with citronella to repel insects.
- Coleman soap sheets. If you’re looking to keep your hands clean and other smaller parts, then consider a soap sheet. These suds up with water and are biodegradable. Just make sure to take them out with dry hands first.
A Warning About Scent
While some scents might smell good to you, they might disturb other campers who came to enjoy nature. Be careful about what you choose and how much you use. Also, bears and bugs are attracted to certain scents.
For instance, anything that smells of mint might attract bears, as mint can signal food. Also, some perfumes can attract insects. You want to go unscented as much as possible or rely on scents that are known to repel, like citronella.
Take Extra Clothes Camping
Backpacks get tight with everything we need to carry, but you need an extra set of clothes. The best is to alternate days so you can give your undergarments a quick wash in-between. It also helps to bring extra of the items that get very smelly, like socks.
Have Dedicated Sleeping Clothes
If you have space in your pack, it’s nice to have a dedicated pair of clothes just for sleeping. After a camp shower or sponge bath at night, I like to put on my sleeping clothes before slipping into my sleeping bag. This, along with using a sleeping bag liner, will keep my bag clean to avoid washing it when I get home.
Be Careful How You Dress
You want to choose clothing that will not get overly wet and smelly. This means all-cotton materials are no good. Cotton soaks up moisture and retains smells. Instead, look for synthetic clothing that prevents moisture build-up, like blends with polyester, nylon, and wool.
These blends are moisture-wicking—they help soak up moisture from your skin much better than cotton, leaving you dry and less sweat-smelly. You also want garments that protect from the sun and are lightweight.
Look for any kind of blend that has a ribbed or waffle-pattern surface. Keep in mind that wool is heavier and is best for climates where you need to keep warm. Colombia is a good brand that has an endless variety of styles.
For wool, look for a Merino blend, like the Smartwool brand. Merino wool fibers are very fine and lightweight, and they will absorb odor-causing bacteria.
Be Ready to Wash Camping Clothes
If you can’t wash your body, you can plan to wash some of your clothes, at least your undergarments. Bring extra water and a good biodegradable soap (mentioned above), so you can give clothes a quick rinse and let dry in the sun or overnight if the air is dry, not humid.
Make sure you do this away from a water source so you do not leave behind soap grime. The same goes for brushing teeth—plan to brush with extra water away from a water source. No one, human or animal, needs to wade through your toothpaste spit.
The best and easiest way of washing clothes while camping is in a dry bag.
Waterproof dry bags can be used for tons of things (check out our article about dry bag alternative uses) while camping and hiking, but for this article, we’ll focus on cleaning clothes.
They make dedicated washing systems like the Scrubba here on Amazon, but any dry bag will do.
How to Wash Camping Clothes With a Dry Bag
I recommend Gold Coast gear dry bags that are reasonably priced on Amazon. You can use any dry bag you have but make sure they are the thicker, more durable kind, so they don’t get any small holes.
Choose the right size dry bag for the number of clothes that need cleaning. A large 20-liter dry bag will fit almost anything you need. A common size dry bag is 5-liter, this size is fine, but you might have to do a few loads.
- Add dirty clothes, then fill the dry bag halfway with clean freshwater. As your adding water, make sure the bag is sable and propped up. Lean it against a large rock or tree if needed.
- Add your choice of soap. A small amount is all that’s needed. I use Dr. Bronner’s castile soap on Amazon here, but your favorite camping biodegradable soap will do (see the list of soaps above).
- Add a smooth rock or dog toy for agitation. You can skip this step if your clothes aren’t that dirty, and you just want to freshen them up.
- We aren’t going to close the dry bag the correct way in our article here; instead, leave the air inside and roll down 3 times. This will allow room for agitation. It would be best to close the bag at least 3 times so no water leaks out.
- Once closed, lay the dry bag on its side. Then roll or shake it with your arms for a few minutes. Shake and knead the bag as needed. Let your clothes soak for a few minutes to let the soap work in.
- Once done cleaning, carry the dirty water at least 200 feet away from streams or lakes. The proper way of disposing of the dirty water is to pour it into a cat hole 6 to 8 inches deep.
If you want to deep dive into the best way of washing clothes while camping, check out our guide.
Stinky Hiking Boots
After a day of hiking, your boots will probably smell pretty ripe. I’ve never felt this is much of a problem while outdoors because I keep my hiking boots outside of my tent.
The smell from boots can gather in the closet back home. Since it’s not recommended to wash your hiking boots in a machine washer, use some of these Arm & Hammer Odor Busterz Balls available on Amazon. Each ball should last for a few months, keeping the stink down!
What About Bathing in Nature?
If there are no official facilities, there might be a lake or stream, right? Sometimes taking a dip into freshwater can rinse you off and wash away any unwanted smells. If you want to accompany your dip with soap, make sure to bathe away from the water source.
Use a microfiber towel to dry off, as these towels will quickly dry. No one wants to carry a damp towel. Rainleaf has an excellent portable towel that is both absorbent and fast drying. Also, consider Wise Owl Outfitters, as these towels are portable and come in various colors.
Use a Portable Shower
Theirs a lot of portable showers you can use while camping. The water doesn’t have to be cold either. Kipida makes a camp shower (weighs 15.2 ounces) with a temperature gauge to show when the water warms up from sitting in the sun. Check to see if the Kipida portable shower is still available on Amazon here.
If you decide on this kind of portable shower, make sure to get a black one, as it will get slightly warmer than the lighter colors. Also, it’s always an option to top off with some hot water to make your shower more comfortable.
Suppose you’re looking for something much cheaper, then consider the Coghlan’s Solar Heated Camp Shower (12.1 ounces). I feel like this camp shower has been available since I was a little kid; I’ve seen it at campsites a few times. They are very reasonably priced, usually under $10. You can check out the current price of the Coghlan’s Camp Shower on Amazon here.
Some notes of caution about water sources: you need to know the water’s safety conditions, if possible. There might be contamination advisories that would be helpful to know. Visit the CDC website for water quality conditions in the area you are camping in.
If you’re hiking and don’t feel the need to carry the extra weight of a portable shower, a sponge bath is always a great way of feeling fresh. The Biodegradable Wipes mentioned above are great for wiping off your entire body, but a wet microfiber towel will work as well.
What’s nice about this is the water can be piping hot if you’d like. Sparingly use some biodegradable soap, and lather up! Clean the microfiber towel and use it again for raising off clean. Put on some fresh underwear you cleaned the day before with the dry bag method, and you’re good as new!
Wrapping Up Camping Hygiene
There you have it. There’s absolutely no reason to stink when camping or backpacking in the wild. Think about your comfort, the comfort of others, and make sure you are not contaminating the beautiful nature you are out there to enjoy.