The Bits the Guidebooks Don’t Tell You

Confession: I am pretty gross.

I often eat food off the floor, washing my hair is a chore I try to do as infrequently as possible, and most of my clothes normally have food spilled on them.

But I do like being clean. I find baths kind of pointless but I love showering. I didn’t realize until I went to uni that it’s not that common to shower more than once a day (once when you wake up, once after you exercise). Every day I make myself almost late for work by savoring an extra couple of minutes in the shower.

So, how am I going to survive in the shower-free environment that is the AT?

For this post I’m going to run through the less picturesque aspects of my upcoming hike in order to give a more accurate representation of what my day-to-day life will look like.

A Few General Points

—At the shelters and campsites where I’ll spend most nights there’s no plumbing, therefore no toilets, showers, sinks, washing machines, etc., etc.

–There are no bins. In order to follow Leave No Trace (LNT) principles all rubbish must be packed out and disposed of when you get to an appropriate location.

—I will visit towns along the way and plan on spending some nights in hostels so will be able to wash properly occasionally.

So, here are the answers to the questions that people are starting to ask me.

How Will You Wash?

Baby wipes and hand sanitizer, and maybe the odd river. That post-exercise shower is going to be a distant memory.

So You’ll Just Cover Yourself in Loads of Deodorant Then?

No. I have not seen a single hiker list deodorant in their gear list. Essentially, you get to a point that you smell so bad that deodorant won’t make any difference. Lovely.

Are You Taking Dry Shampoo?

I’ve never actually used dry shampoo so probably won’t. I’m planning to cut off a lot of my hair before I go, as I have far too much for normal life, let alone for hiking life. I’m aiming for that perfect “not too long but long enough to tie back without bits falling out” length. But it’s still going to be gross. If it really bothers me I may buy some talcum powder, but otherwise I’m just going to try to embrace it. My main concern with my hair is keeping it dry when it rains; having very thick hair means that it takes forever to dry. Wet hair can make a chilly night unbearably cold.

What Do They Do for Toilets in These Places?

Basically, they don’t. From what I can work out, some shelters will have privys, which are backcountry toilets using sawdust or similar as there’s no running water. For the rest of the time I’ll be taking a trowel with me. Toilet paper gets packed out. I’ll let you work out the rest.


My current plan is a menstrual cup. I’m not loving it so far but I don’t love the idea of carrying around a week’s worth of used sanitary products either.

Washing Clothes?

If something gets really gross (or I spill food all down myself) there’s the possibility of rinsing things out in streams but this has to be done with caution so as not to pollute water sources. Other than that I’ll be scouting out laundrettes whenever I’m in town. Apparently it’s easy to spot a hiker in a trail town as they’ll be the one wearing nothing but their waterproofs while everything else they own is in the wash. I’ll have one set of  clothes for hiking and one set for sleeping with the exceptions of socks and underwear, of which I may treat myself to two sets of each. Now I understand why hikers smell so bad.

If There’s No Plumbing, Do You Have to Carry Water from Town to Town?

No. Apparently the AT is abundant in water sources so there’s no need to carry loads of water. The difficulty is that there’s no guarantee that water coming from natural sources is going to be clean. Due to the wonders of modern technology this shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve bought a tiny little Sawyer Micro water filter that I can squeeze water through or screw on to the top of a bottle of dirty water and drink directly through.

My Sawyer Micro filter. Everything I drink will pass through this first.

Part of me is quite excited to see just how gross I can be without worrying about having to look presentable.

But the rest of me is already missing my shower.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 6

  • LeoYermo : Jan 24th

    OMG. What a great article.
    Well written and down to earth.
    Thanks so much.

  • Matt : Jan 24th

    “I often eat food off the floor” – Love it!

    See you on the trail!

  • LeoYermo : Jan 24th

    Great good, earthy article Thank you so much.

  • George : Jan 24th

    You really get used to the infrequent showers. It makes them that much more enjoyable when you get into town. As far as smelling, there seems to be a principle that you get used to your smell. Ian and I never thought that we smelled. But every so often, one of us would stop on the trail and sniff the air. That person would wrinkle their nose and say “soap”. Sure enough, a few minutes later a day hiker would pass us. I’m sure they thought we smelled, but then we thought that they did. You get used to it and it seems normal. We encountered privies everywhere except parts of Tenessee, where there was no privy, but the was a shovel provided but the shelter. Best of luck

    George (Dos Equis) SOBO 2015

  • Pony : Jan 25th

    Good on you for planning to pack out your TP. Many people recoil at this idea upon hearing it, but once you do it, you realize it’s truly no big deal. I did it for the last half of my 2016 AT thru-hike and now I always do it.

  • Nate - Day Hiker : Jan 25th

    I actually carried deodorant with me my entire thru-hike last year and used it every day. Additionally, I usually wiped down at night with Wet Wipes or a damp pack towel with some Dr. Bronners on it to wipe the grime off to try to keep my sleeping bag as clean as possible. It was just a little thing that made me happy for a very minimal weight.


What Do You Think?