Homesteading and self-reliance

Tips for Good Campsite Hygiene When Living Off the Grid

Nadia TamaraCamping, Emergency Preparedness, Hygiene 1 Comment

Homesteading and self-reliance

Personal hygiene is a broad topic which I discussed in great detail in this post. Living spaces must be clean as well, to maintain overall health and environmental safety.

Let's discuss some tips on how to keep your campsite clean while also leaving the environment untouched and free from harmful materials and chemicals.


Washing machines are a thing of the 20th century. Surely our ancestors used techniques that we can employ when we’re away from our timed wash and dry appliances.

  • Packing Clothes: It is recommended that you pack at least three sets of clothes. A skivvy roll will help you make a clothing bundle that takes very little space. Put this bundle inside a gallon-sized Ziplock bag to make it waterproof.

  • Bag Washing: A quick way to wash a few items of clothing is by putting them inside a leak-proof bag. Add a few cups of water and a little biodegradable soap. Shake, shake, shake! Pour out the water, wring out the clothes and put them back in the bag with clean water. Shake a few times again and wring them out a second time. Lay them flat to dry or clip them onto a makeshift paracord clothes line.

  • Air Washing: If you have limited access to water or soap, you can air wash your clothes by leaving them out in the sun for at least 2 hours. You can clip them onto a paracord line.


Being outdoors may cause us to be more prone to open wounds, whether it be because we scratched a bug bite or because of an injury. When we’re off the grid, seeking medical assistance may not be a possibility, so we must learn to take care of any open wound so it doesn’t worsen.

  • Clean: Use clean water every time you clean your wound.

  • Sterilize: Urine works great as a sterilizer, especially if you don’t have any other options. Surgical powder may be used on open wounds but NOT baby powder.

  • Dirt and debris: Try to keep your wound unexposed to the elements. Dust and insects can cause infections.

  • Cover: If the wound is large enough that it needs to be covered, you can use plantain leaves in place of a bandage. Plantain leaves contain anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.


Under any circumstance, babies require a heavy amount of attention. In the wilderness, this is no different, in fact, they should be given extra care.

  • Diapers: Diapers should be changed more regularly than usual, even if the baby only pees. Make sure you change them in a clean area, by laying down a clean cloth underneath them.

  • Older babies: Keep infants and toddlers as clean as possible, especially their hands.

  • Adults: Wash your hands thoroughly before and after changing your baby. Properly dispose the dirty diapers to prevent any diseases from spreading.


Our pets can be our best companions in the wilderness. Their hearing is much better than an adult’s and therefore can help us when they hear nearby predators. They provide us with a great sense of protection and company during lonely times. That is why they must be given special care to ensure their health in the woods.

  • Leashes: Some dogs are prone to wander the wilderness and get lost. If this is a characteristic of your dog, keep them on a leash throughout the day. At night time, ALL dogs should be put on leashes to prevent them from running away (unless they’re sleeping inside your tent).

  • Cleanliness: The woods can be a very dirty place for our pets. Keep them as clean as possible, based on your resources.

  • Fleas: Bugs are a part of life and certainly a part of nature. Prevent a tick and flea infestation by protecting the coat of your pets with natural bug repellents. Check out this post with other tips on how to protect your pets!

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Clean water is your most valuable resource, wherever you are. We have dedicated a whole post about finding and purifying water in the wilderness. You can check that out here. These are some tips you can learn in case you’re looking for potable water:

  • Collect: There are many ways to collect water. If it rains, you can collect rain water, which doesn’t need to be purified if it’s caught from the open sky (meaning, it hasn’t touched trees or other debris before landing on your water catchment source. Snow can be melted and boiled. If you’re near a stream or river, always collect water upstream.

  • If water is scarce: You can find water in the desert by going to a higher point where you can overlook the valley. Look for deciduous tress to find water below them.

  • Purify: One of the best ways to disinfect your water is to boil it for at least 20 minutes.


It is vital that you keep your sleeping and eating headquarters as clean as possible. Food and garbage will allure insects and animals, which can bring about a lot of other problems. Remember to be the least amount noticeable in the woods, since you’re technically invading the home of many animals.

  • Setting up camp: We recommend you set up your camp approximately 100 to 200 feet away from your water source, whether that be a river, stream, etc. Always aim to set up camp in an area that is higher than the rest of the terrain. If it rains you may run the risk of getting flooded if you’re in a valley.

  • Bathroom: Designate the bathroom area a minimum of 200 feet away from your campsite and any water source. Make sure the area you choose is downhill from your campsite.

  • Cleanliness: Keep your trash far away as well, perhaps in the bathroom area.

  • Sleeping: Air out your sleeping bag inside out every day. Designate a pair of pajamas for sleeping, so the dirt from your day clothes doesn’t get the inside of your sleeping bag dirty.

Cooking utensils

Wilderness cooking is an art of its own. Learning to make a long lasting fire and cooking your food without burning it may take time and a little experience, but in most cases, learning is what makes it fun. These are some hygiene tips to keep in mind:

  • Prior to cooking: Before using any of your cooking supplies, wipe them down with a clean cloth to ensure there’s no dirt on them.

  • Cleaning: Wash or clean out your utensils, pots, pans and dishes right after eating. Left over food draws in some of our least favorite critters and bugs. Don’t learn this the hard way. If you’re washing them with water, lay them out upside down to air dry.

Human waste

As mentioned before, your bathroom facilities need to be set up at least 200 feet (about 70 steps) away from any water source, wells, and your campsite.

  • Outdoor toilet:

    • Cat hole: This option is generally acceptable only if the emergency is less than 48 hours. Dig a hole (at least 18 inches below the ground), line it with a plastic bag, and use as normal. To sanitize it, pour a combination of bleach and water: 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. If you don’t want to use bleach, you can cover it with sawdust, ashes, dry dirt, grass clippings, or wood shavings.

    • Bucket: Instead of digging a hole, you can use a 5 gallon bucket or sturdy container (a wooden box works too).

  • Pee: Try to pee on non-vegetated areas, such as dirt, sand, or rocks. Never pee near any water sources, such as lakes, ponds, or streams.

  • Poo: The cat hole method is not the best option for poop. Instead, it’s best to designate a special pooping place away from your campsite.

    • Dry out: You have probably noticed the natural decomposing of animal feces, either in the wilderness or in your backyard if you have a dog. The same method should apply to our poop when we’re in the wilderness. I know it sounds gross, but let’s trust nature on this one! After pooping, take a stick and spread out the poop a little bit so that the sun rays (at some point in the day) will dry it up. The UV light from the sun kills bacteria. Make sure to do this far away and downhill from your campsite.


Garbage needs to be looked at in the same way as human waste because it draws in many bugs, critters and bears.

  • Bag it:  Keep your trash in tightly sealed bags at all times and covered in garbage cans as often as possible.

  • Disposal services: If there are no garbage disposal services available for several weeks, it is recommended that you bury or burn your trash.

  • Bury it: Only bury trash if it’s wet.

  • Burn it: Only burn trash if it’s dry. Before starting a fire, consult local or wilderness authorities and comply with their regulations. One safe way to burn your trash is to burn it inside a metal barrel.


Even if you have a lake or river nearby, there are some things to consider before jumping in to shower in it.

  • Lakes: The water might be contaminated. It is recommended that you filter and purify the water if there is algae collecting on the surface.

  • Rivers and streams: If you must jump in the river, go down-stream from your campsite location. It is advised that you collect water and bathe with it about 200 ft. away from the water source and campsite.

  • Distance: Any time you take a “shower,” make sure you’re about 200 ft. away from (and lower than) your water source and campsite.


Can you really find soap in the wilderness? Yes, you can! What do you think our ancestors used before they invented bar soap?

  • Hand sanitizer: Let’s dispel the hand sanitizer myth first. Hand sanitizer is not helpful if your hands are visibly dirty. Even when they’re not, it only kills a percentage of bacteria, leaving the surviving germs to live happily ever after. If hand sanitizer is your only option, then use it. At least it’ll reduce the amount of bacteria present. However, if you have other options, don’t rely on your hand sanitizer. 

  • Saponins: There are certain plants that produce saponins, a plant chemical that possesses a detergent-like quality when rubbed with water, which can be used as hand soap and shampoo. The crushed roots of the yucca plant contains an extremely concentrated amount of saponins. Other plants include: legumes (soy, lentils, beans), ginseng, licorice root, lily of the valley, and alfalfa, to name a few.

  • Bar soap: If you bring any kind of soap with you to the woods, make sure to only use biodegradable and unscented soap. Some soaps may leave behind chemicals that are toxic to the plant, animal and aquatic species that reside there. Make sure you’re not leaving any trace behind.

Nature's insect repellants

The reason you need to protect yourself from insects is because they carry disease. Certain types of mosquitos carry zika, dengue and other viruses which can become lethal if not properly taken care of. Not just that, insects are annoying and can really make your outdoor experience a living nightmare. I wrote a blog dedicated to this topic, which you can read here. Here are some practical tips in the meantime:

  • Unnatural repellents: While they have a great reputation for killing insects, they have a horrible reputation for protecting your health. Plus, try to keep unnatural chemicals from entering the wilderness. Opt for a natural repellent whenever possible.

  • Plants: The most effective insect-repelling plants are: catnip, citronella, eucalyptus, lemongrass, lemon thyme, any mint species, and rosemary. Rub these on exposed skin and repeat the process every couple hours.

  • Essential oils: If you brought essential oils with you, there are several that are known to help deter insects: citronella, lemongrass, tea tree oil, and clove essential oils are very popular and effective. Mix these with a carrier oil (castor oil or coconut oil for example) and rub it on exposed skin.

  • Mud: If you’re okay with getting dirty or completely desperate, rub thick layers of mud in the exposed areas and let it dry.

  • Water: Set up your campsite as far away as possible from standing water. These are breeding grounds for mosquitos.

  • Smudge fire: If permitted by forestry authorities, build a smudge fire. Add cedar or pine and stand in the smoke until you’re fully covered.

  • Clothes: If possible, cover yourself with loose clothing as much as possible. Also, light colors attract less bugs, so try to wear lighter tones of beige, green, or white.

Items to consider bringing on your next outdoor adventure

Our goal is to enter and leave the wild without there ever being a trace that we were there, therefore any item that you bring with you needs to leave with you. These are some items we recommend that everyone takes on their next bug out journey (apart from your backpack and gear which is personal to you).

  • Baking soda: This substance is extremely versatile and super cheap. Keep a box with you and you’ll surely be surprised to discover its many uses.

  • Bandana: A bandana can be used as a washcloth, a sling, a signal, among other things. It’s lightweight, dries quickly and can come in handy when you least expect it.

  • Biodegradable soap: Washing ourselves properly is the key to stopping diseases from spreading. At the same time, finding saponin-containing plants can be difficult when you know little about plants. To prevent the worry, bring this along.

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Well, there you have it, an almost complete guide to hygienically living in the wilderness. Let me know in the comments below what you tips are in regards to staying clean and healthy while out on outdoor and bug out adventures.

You can never be too clean when camping or living off the grid. For one, you are likely to be far from immediate medical attention but also many diseases are preventable if we are careful. Hopefully these tips are helpful to you and give you practical ideas on how you can keep yourself and your family safe in the woods.

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Comments 1

  1. I agree that you should make sure that all the sop you use while camping is biodegradable. I don’t want to damage the environment, or any habitats by using soap that will stay in the water system. If I take a long camping trip where I’ll have to wash some clothes, then I’ll make sure to get some biodegradable laundry soap as well as hand soap.

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