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Washing Clothes When Backpacking

You don't want to carry ten pounds of clothes when backpacking. In fact, for us lightweight backpackers, anything more than a few pounds is too much. This means washing clothes on the trail at some point. Here are some tips on how to do it right.

Here's the easy solution for short backpacking trips, those that are three days or less: just don't wash your clothes. That is, unless they really need it. In that case proceed to the next paragraph.

Try to make your backpacking clothes less stinky. In other words, don't sweat too much. Actually this is a good idea for another reason. If you get your clothing wet with sweat, later you may have a problem staying warm. It cools dramatically at night in the mountains and desert, for example, and the evaporative effect from your damp clothing can chill you dangerously at times.

The best plan, then, is to remove layers before you start to sweat. You can also prevent sweaty feet - and therefore stinky socks - by applying antiperspirant to the bottoms of your feet for several days before you go backpacking. Letting clothing air out on tree branches in camp can remove some odors as well.

Washing Clothes

Of course at some point, especially on the longer backpacking trips, you will need to wash your clothes. Detergent, however, is bad for streams and lakes. If you feel you absolutely must use it, follow these guidelines:

- Carry the clothes and water away from the stream or lake (200 feet).

- Get the clothes just wet enough to lather them up with detergent.

- Add soap, scrub and then squeeze out as much detergent and water as you can.

- Slowly pour rinse water over them, stopping when they are wet enough, and squeezing more detergent and water out of them.

- Repeat this until they are sufficiently rinsed.

It is better for the environment and simpler too, if you just avoid using detergent. To do this, you can follow the above guidelines without detergent. You can also swim in a lake or stream with your clothes on to wash them. Do this just before the heat of the day, so they will dry on you as you hike. Avoid doing this in small ponds that may be affected by the soap, deodorant and such that inevitably washes off your body.

Socks and small pieces of clothing can be hung on your pack to dry as you hike. In camp, you can hang clothes on spruce trees to help impart a better odor to them. If your clothing supply is limited when backpacking (isn't it always?), wash it early, so you'll be able to dry it before the cold night comes. Shake the clothing and fluff it up once dry. It will insulate better this way, keeping you warmer.

About the Author: Copyright Steve Gillman. To get the ebook "Ultralight Backpacking Secrets (And Wilderness Survival Tips)" for FREE, as well as photos, gear recommendations, and a new wilderness survival section, visit:
The Ultralight Backpacking Site:

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