How to Care For Your Skin on the Trail

Let’s FACE it… Living in the woods without running water, face wash, serums, elixirs, moisturizers and eye creams and all that jazz may not be the best way to care for our skin.  Even those of us who aren’t into a lot of fuss, can’t afford to ignore our skin for six months or more.

After nearly two months on the trail, I went home to nurse an injury before heading back out. Much to my amazement, my skin looked BETTER than it did before the start of my great adventure. As many of you start thinking about 2016 and 2017 thru hikes, or for those of you out there right now, here are some products and processes tried and true.

At the age of 60, I really want to protect my skin from the sun and avoid looking like this famous “leather lady.”

Magda - the famously day-glo orange leather lady

Magda – the famously day-glo orange leather lady in “There’s Something About Mary”

Even more, I am concerned about skin cancer. I have light skin and burn easily.  I still occasionally get a zit or two, so I also wanted to be sure my skin stayed reasonable clean. Lastly, I am a biting-bug magnet. Keeping the bites to a minimum, meant less itching and scratching and better-feeling skin.

Keeping a goal of a base weight for my pack at 19 pounds or less, I couldn’t pack a case full of creams and moisturizers – even if Sephora will ship just about anywhere. I also wanted to keep time spent at a minimum.  I am pretty low maintenance at home; the trail was no place to become more beauty obsessed!  The following products each did “double duty” so they were in my toiletry kit.

In the interest of full disclosure, my friend Patrick Smith provided me with many of these products as a sponsor of my hike. Patrick Smith Natural Health was founded in 2011 by Patrick Smith, a NYC licensed massage therapist and certified aromatherapist.  For more info on Patrick and his awesome products, please go to the end of this blog entry.

Patrick Smith Botanicals

Patrick Smith Botanicals

So, here is what I used:

  • Badger Balm Sunscreen – Badger Products – zinc oxide based, natural and organic and they eliminate a broad spectrum of harmful sunlight. I used the SPF 30 unscented variety. Even in the “green tunnel” the sun’s rays are damaging.
    • Bonus Benefit: Apply a little zinc oxide to blisters and cover with Leukotape to dry out the blister and allow it to heal.  After taking off your shoes and tape, apply more and leave the Leukotape off at night.
  • Organic Jojoba Oil – Patrick Smith Botanicals – great for use as both a cleanser and a moisturizer. I applied some in the morning prior to my sunscreen and again in the evening.
    • Bonus Benefit: I also added a little to my palm and worked through the ends of my hair as a substitute for the Argan oil I used at home.
  • Lavender Hydrosol – Patrick Smith Botanicals – This is organic lavender water. It is both cooling and soothing. I spritzed a little of this on a cotton ball or cotton round and used it to remove the grime each evening and tone the skin. Even the gentlest of wipes stung my skin, so this was an incredible alternative.  For the guys out there or anyone who dislikes lavender, another alternative is good ole’ witch hazel.
    • Bonus Benefits: Lavender is helpful in assisting with sleep and relaxation and feels great on insect bites.
  • Botanical Insect Repellent – Patrick Smith Botanicals – Patricks doesn’t sell this as a repellent because it would require FDA approval, but he will give the recipe to those interested.  It is made with all natural oils including peppermint, patchouli, cedar and juniper. I wore Bugs Away clothing that made me look like an unfashionable old man, but I had very few bites.  For all exposed areas, I sprayed this on.   In contrast, most hikers around me looked as if they had been used as dart boards!   I wear a Buff while hiking and I would spray Patrick’s mixture on the Buff and the back of my neck. I would re-spritz every few hours and the bugs would ignore me!
    • Bonus Benefit:  It masks a bit of the hiker “stank”

Using travel bottles you can buy at REI or the local pharmacy, you can carry these products and get big benefits without big weight.


Patrick Smith Natural Health

Patrick Smith Natural Health

Patrick Smith Botanicals are plant-based personal care products for skin and bath/body, handmade in small batches with only the purest ingredients, including organic, raw shea butter, organic plant-infused oils, and organic/wildcrafted/pesticide-free essential oils. As effective and healthy alternatives to some of the better known commercial brands, PSB products contain no pthalates, synthetic fragrances, parabens, or petrochemicals of any kind. Only plant-based ingredients go into our products, and we never test on animals. We are certified cruelty-free by the Leaping Bunny program.


Badger Balm Products

Badger Balm Products

Badger is a small, family-owned and family-friendly Company nestled on the banks of the Ashyelot River  in rural Gilsum, New Hampshire.    We blend organic plant extracts, exotic oils and butters and beeswax, and make healing balms, lip balms, safe mineral sunscreen and other personal care products that work and feel remarkably good.   Badger products are uniquely formulated blends of the finest organic ingredients available anywhere in the world.

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