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.
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.
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.
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