Being clean is a sign of spiritual purity or goodness, as in ‘Don’t forget to wash your ears—cleanliness is next to godliness’. This phrase was first recorded in a sermon by John Wesley in 1778, but the idea is ancient, found in Babylonian and Hebrew religious tracts. Society today still invokes it, often as an admonition to wash or clean up.
If you ever hike in the Californian desert, as I did on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2019, your chances of achieving cleanliness will be as remote as achieving godliness. There is limited access to water and most hikers avoid soaps and other toiletries because of their detrimental impact on the environment and their weight.
You won’t die. Just wait for a shower at your next resupply town in a week’s time.
Ways exist for maintaining hygiene and cleanliness with limited resources.
To keep your bottom free of faecal matter which leads to uncomfortable butt chafe, wipe well after toileting with Wet Ones or toilet paper, and practice ‘Leave No Trace’ principles by always packing these items out in your dirty bag before disposing of them responsibly in designated garbage areas in trailside towns. Carry a small quantity of butt chafe cream to ease the problem should it develop.
If you have spare Wet Ones left over, give your face a good wipe. Next, tackle your hands as you will need them for meal preparation. Inadequate food safety practices may see you susceptible to tummy bugs if your hands are dirty. Most hikers are aware substandard hygiene practices on the trail can quickly spread infection and germs to other hikers.
The primary measure hikers take to avoid cross-contamination with others is to greet each passing hiker with a fist pump, often an air one where no touching is involved, instead of the usual handshake. Since the spread of COVID-19, the entire world has become more cleanliness-focused, but in 2019 it was nice to see hikers employing their own safe practices for protecting others on the trail when they could not avoid the dirt and grime.
After you have washed your hands, clean any wounds with spare clean wipes, apply an anti-bacterial gel, and then cover with bandaids, plasters, or leukotape, or whatever clean taping you have available, to help avoid potential infection. Repeat this same routine with your feet—the part of your body that is getting you through this ordeal. Keep them clean and dry, paying particular attention to dirt between the toes, and treat blisters the moment you feel any burning sensations.
Finally, I sponge bath areas of my body that could do with a refresh and wipe my arms and legs. If I am out of Wipes and have enough spare water, I dampen a spare cloth or bandanna for this task.
You may choose to turn your underpants inside out if that makes you feel any better. Other than that, this routine kept me as clean on the trail as was humanly possible until my next much-awaited town stop.
‘Embrace the suck’ and enjoy being a grub.