Ah, the great outdoors. It's why we do this - to break those everyday bonds of civilization and live a little rough for a while. No need for the neck tie or the high heels, you can even forego a shower or two and build some of that nice outdoor musk.
A vehicle recovery in hot weather, a long hike, campfires, a well-deserved swim in the ocean and a relaxing afternoon on the beach. More often than not we all get sweaty, gritty, and a bit stinky out on the trails. At home we don’t think twice about hopping in the shower and starting fresh. But, what do you do for your personal hygiene when you’re living out of your vehicle for long stretches?
There are a lot of good reasons for staying clean on the road - not the least of which is sparing your trailmates' noses.
Whether you are an ultralight tent dweller, or you travel in a fully-kitted Sprinter van, taking care of your personal hygiene can be a challenge if you're traveling overland for long stretches. This goes double if you're spending extended periods in remote areas where water may be scarce and environments are sensitive to human impacts.
Like with most aspects of day-to-day living on an overland trip, preparation is the key to making sure you and your crew can stay spiffy and spruced up. Keeping clean means managing two resources carefully - water and soap. The soap situation seems obvious at first. Why not use the same soaps you use at home?
Many "normal" personal cleaning products are not biodegradable. Because they are generally disposed of in water treatment systems or in contained septic systems it poses less of a problem in town. But out in the wilderness, many of the detergents and other chemicals in standard soaps won't break down quickly or at all. Keeping our Tread Lightly principles in mind, we always want to minimize our impacts when we travel in wild places. Luckily there are plenty of biodegradable soaps available out there including, of course, the venerable and ubiquitous Dr. Bronner's castile soap. In addition to self hygiene, many of these soaps can double or triple up as laundry detergent and dish soap. This helps minimize complexity and weight in your packing.
Regarding water, we've tackled some of the logistics of carrying water in your overland vehicle in past articles. If you know you'll need to use the water you carry for washing your body as well, this adds plenty of extra consideration to your calculations. If you have multiple people in your group who need showers, the usage rates can quickly spiral up. Should your route includes easily accessible public water sources, plug in your particularly sweaty activities and showers on the days you land at those camps. Showering doesn't require filtration.
Lastly, sometimes finding a way to shower is more difficult when you roll back into town than it is out in the woods. Many longterm travelers have gym memberships with nation-wide chains so they can have access to locker rooms in most cities. If you've never chilled in a trucker's lounge and bathed in one of their sweet shower facilities, you're missing out. Spotlessly clean and easily accessible from nearly every major highway, most of the major travel center brands offer one-off showers if you're just stopping in, or subscription services that let you shower all you want all year long.
Now that you're prepared with plenty of the right soap and enough water, what's the best way to get that bath you so sorely need in the backcountry? As is often the case, there's a lot of really cool gear to rescue.
The Rinsekit portable rinse off kit does way more than its name might suggest. Portable and hand powered, the Rinsekit stores up to two gallons of water under high pressure so you don't have to shower under a dribble. Pair it with the Rinsekit 12 Volt Hot Rod water heater and you've got some serious spa-level luxury right out of the back of your pickup truck. Of course, you can use it to rinse down your gear and your four-legged friends as well.
Yakima also offers a clever showering solution that's a little bit more permanent in terms of installation. The Road Shower holds either 4, 7, or 10 gallons, and can be pressurized using a hand pump, an electric pump, or a garden hose. It heats water efficiently on sunny days using passive solar heat. It mounts securely to any number of roof racks out there on the market.
Of course, no shower is complete without a comfy towel to dry off with. Packtowl's Luxe towel is a generous 59 inches by 36 inches to wrap up even the largest of overlanders. It comes in multiple colors and offers cozy, cotton-like comfort with fast-drying and Polygeine odor-controlled performance. The Ultralight model clicks in at a scant 5.1 oz and is perfect for throwing in the backpack for those overnights away from the rig.
Do you have any hacks for staying clean on the road? Questions about shower kits? Drop us a line down in the comments.
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We don’t like to get too hung up on labels here at Overlander, but, well… it’s in our name so we thought we’d take some time to think about what overland travel means to us and for you.