Camp Sanitation and Hygiene

Clean camping practices encompass everything from personal hygiene and cookware cleaning to water purification systems and human waste disposal. Remember, once you're in the woods, no municipal water utilities will do the dirty work for you.

Leave No Trace

You may have seen the words "Leave No Trace" on the packaging of CAMPING GEAR, in books, or on Internet trail guides, but these are not merely words of encouragement. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has developed seven principles designed to keep the wilderness as it is for generations to come, and should be strictly followed and kept in mind during all camping activities. This includes anything you do to keep yourself and your camp clean.

The seven principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) are:

  • i) Plan ahead and prepare
  • ii) Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • iii) Dispose of waste properly
  • iv) Leave what you find
  • v) Minimize campfire impacts
  • vi) Respect wildlife
  • vii) Be considerate of other visitors

Personal Hygiene

Don't neglect personal hygiene just because you're in the great outdoors. Keeping a clean body will ensure that you stay healthy on your trip, which could be spoiled quickly if you come down with any number of intestinal illnesses that can accompany poor hygiene. Staying clean, however, shouldn't come at the cost of harming the environment.

Be sure to use biodegradable soaps, shaving cream, laundry wash, or any other cleaning agents when you're in the woods. It may not seem like pollution, but after thousands of campers spend years in any particular spot, their cleaning agents can have a huge impact. One of the simplest ways to stay clean is to add multipurpose castile soap to your BACKPACKING GEAR. You can use this to brush your teeth, wash your hair, shave, and do laundry, all without harming the environment.

Still, it's best practice not to use any soaps while in ponds or streams. If you're going to lather up, make sure you're at least 200 feet from any water source.

Cooking and Eating

When you spend time in the outdoors, you'll naturally build up a little more grime and be exposed to potentially infectious substances. Before cooking any meal, it’s best to obliterate any germs by using hand sanitizer gel or wipes. But, following LNT principles, be sure to pack these out when your trip is over.

Spending time in the woods doesn't excuse you from doing dishes, either. Once you've finished your meal, be sure to clean out your cookware and follow the same principles you used to clean yourself: use biodegradable soaps far from any water sources. For stuck-on food, try warming or boiling water in the dirty pot, then wiping it clean.

Since there’s no sink to pour out your wastewater, you'll have to dig a hole away from your camp to keep bears or other opportunists from entering your campsite. That water is going to have a food smell, and you can bet the wildlife will want a taste of it.

It's best to altogether avoid having scraps of extra food left over, but if you find you just can't finish those last few bits of pita and peanut butter, don't just toss them out. (Remember the bears.) Instead, seal them in a plastic bag and pack them out with you, along with any other trash that piles up.


In addition to food waste, you'll also have to deal with human waste when camping. Although the guidelines vary by region, standard practice is to move at least 200 feet from any water source or CAMPING TENT, dig a small hole, and fill it in later, making sure to cover it with branches or rocks to keep any wildlife from getting to it. Though it's not required in all areas, packing out toilet paper is the best way to ensure that you're complying with LNT principles.

Drinking Water

Your camping or backpacking trip won't last too long if you don't have clean drinking water. Even though the clear water flowing in rivers and streams may look refreshing, it could still be home to bacteria, parasites, viruses, and other contaminants. These can lead to intestinal infections with nasty names that cause even nastier consequences. The giardia parasite is one of the most well known threats. Others include cryptosporidium, shigella, and norovirus.

All water should be prepared before drinking using any one of several methods. Boiling water for at least one minute will usually clean it up pretty well; however, any campsites above a mile in elevation should boil water for at least three minutes. Using chemical treatment tablets is also an effective way to sterilize water, and all it takes is about 30 minutes for one liter.

Other, more convenient options include the SteriPEN, which uses filters and UV light to kill any contaminants. When using a filter, one of the most important things to remember is to keep the intake and outtake hoses separate. Using them interchangeably is surefire way to contaminate your drinking water. Above all, stay away from stagnant wading pools or swamps, which are likely to be rich with parasitic life.

We head to the outdoors to get away from the everyday problems and impurities of suburbs and cities, so be sure to practice personal hygiene and camp sanitation through LNT principles to help keep those campsites around for generations to come.