How to Manage Hygiene on the Appalachian Trail

So, you’re off to hike the Appalachian Trail. You’ve bought your gear and prepped your pack with advice from gear experts and hiker pros. But how to broach the subject of keeping clean and preparing for your (hushed tones please) period? Luckily, Julia “Rocket” Sheehan has put together a video (below) of her best tips on managing hygiene while camping.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways on how to keep oh-so-clean for anyone planning an overnight trip or a thru-hike on the Appalachian (and yes, there will be mention of penises and vaginas ahead).

Adapted from a recent video by 2019 Trek Vlogger Julia Sheehan. Apply to be a Trek Vlogger.

Peeing

So basic, yet such a logistical nightmare for those with vaginas. You can squat shamelessly like my dog every morning on my neighbor’s yard (sorry again for that time you saw and yelled at us to get off your lawn!!) or you can use a trusty urinal funnel. Urinal funnels help people without penises pee while standing, which sounds like a dream come true (the things some people get to take for granted, tsk tsk).

Important! Be wary of drip-drying for extended periods of time. Urine sitting on the skin can cause irritation similar to diaper rash. Rocket recommends bringing a microfiber towel or a Kula cloth to dab-dry. Make sure to wash all your pee products with soap and water to avoid infections or bacteria build up over time. And if you opt for baby wipes for clean up, please note that they are not biodegradable and need to be packed out.

This could be you if only you had a urinal funnel.

Bathing

Rocket endorses using baby wipes as part of a nightly routine to keep yourself smelling fresh and clean (or at least as close an approximation as you can hope for on a hike). But for real, avoid UTIs and yeast infections by cleaning genital areas in addition to your face and armpits. Rocket’s favorites are Huggies since they’re cheap, available in most convenience stores, and gentle on the skin. Again, pack them out, friends! They are NOT compostable (no matter what the packaging says).

Menstruating

Scar was definitely talking about packing tampons when he told the hyenas to Be Prepared.

Ya hate her, she’s a pain in the uterus, and yet she shows up to make a big ol’ mess without an invite. Yes, it’s your number one frenemy, your period. If you’re someone who menstruates, make a plan before she comes for a visit, or else you’ll be free bleeding with no convenience store for miles.

Menstrual cups may be the hot fad right now, but they’re maybe not the best choice on hiking trips. They require sticking your fingers up your vagina to pull them out and boiling them to clean. Since your hands are rarely fully clean and you only have one pot that you also eat from, menstrual cups may not be the most sanitary of choices.

But have no fear, just throw it back to good old fashion pads and tampons. Pack a few extra in case your flow is especially heavy and a couple of ziplocks – one for clean products and one for (say it with me) packing! them! out! Be sure to carry out EVERY part of the tampon, including the core that absorbs all the blood since they’re not biodegradable either.

So now, armed with the knowledge on how to keep yourself clean and comfortable, go out, enjoy your hike, and clean up after yourself!

Images courtesy of Jernej Furman, Thirdman, and Alexas Fotos.

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Comments 7

  • Avatar
    Kate the Midwife : Nov 17th

    Women on thru hikes and long adventures can cut out periods with Merina IUDs or continuous oral contraceptives. Just get set a few months early so your body can adapt and you can know what to expect.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Chill Bill : Nov 17th

    No mention of backwoods bidet? Tsk. Tsk.

    >Important! Be wary of drip-drying for extended periods of time. Urine sitting on the skin can cause irritation similar to diaper rash.

    Use water

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Tink : Nov 17th

    So… my biggest gripe with peeing is that I have to take my pack off every single time (hourly) and pull my pants down all the way. I thought the urine funnel would be awesome, except that I still have to take my off my pack and pull down my pants in order to get in the necessary wide stance (and yet I STILL get dribbles down my leg). So the urine funnel doesn’t save me any time, I get more residual dribbles, and I’m also trying to keep this weird funnel clean. I don’t see the advantage. Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Heather Waldroup : Nov 17th

      Which urine funnel are you using? I have the pstyle and I don’t need to take off my pack or pull down my pants very far. No dribbles.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Tink : Nov 17th

        I’ve tried three different kinds. I have to get in a really wide stance for all of them to get a seal. My pant’s waistband comes up higher than my pack’s waist belt so it’s impossible to pull my pants down without taking off my pack. I’m wondering if my body is just not built for these devices 🤔

        Reply
        • Avatar
          Devi : Nov 17th

          I have the pstyle too. I took it everywhere with me and never removed my pack or pulled my pants down. It’s easier, because of the way it’s made, it can work from many different angles- it doesn’t require a perfect angle for a perfect seal like most of the other ones do. No mess at all and so damn easy. It was my best friend on my last trip. For your specific situation I would just loosen the pack waist belt and pull the front of your pants low. If at all, I lower the back part of my pants an inch or so, but always stays above the crack!!

          Reply
    • Avatar
      Cheri : Nov 17th

      I tried a funnel once with a pair of shorts that don’t zip very far down. I had to pull the shorts down. I now hike in a purple rain skirt and compression shorts under. I can pull the skirt up in front and pull the compression shorts down enough to use the funnel without exposing anything. If you wish to wear shorts or pants, just make sure it has a long enough zipper to allow you to use the funnel without pulling them down.

      Reply

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