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mrkstvns

Frugal Backcountry Cleanliness

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"A scout is ... CLEAN" - Scout Law

"Dispose of waste Properly"  - Leave No Trace Principles

Wander around in any outdoor store and you'll find plenty of "environmentally responsible" solutions to the perennial problem of staying clean in the backcountry.  Of course we want to keep the weight low so we're not lugging a whole bathroom with us, but we also want to maintain some modicum of hygiene. We don't want to spread germs and we don't want to smell bad. But we're well aware that conservation and outdoor ethics are keystones of the scouting program, so we like finding solutions that not only keep us clean, but that are clean for the environment and that are courteous to other outdoor afficianados.  Cheapskates, like me, especially like doing that on the cheap.

So here are three thoughts on how I can better embrace Leave No Trace while staying clean and staying cheap...

1. Wipes are nice.
My favorite "no trace" solution is not to bring any soaps, sanitizers, or waste products at all. Instead, I can pack any brand of baby wipe, body wipe, or anti-bac wipe that I want in a plastic Zip-Loc bag.  I wipe myself off when I'm dirty, or I wipe down my dishes after I eat, and then I put the used wipes in the Zip_loc to pack out with me.  No fuss, no muss, no trash, no liquids, no expensive specialty products.

2. 200 feet is 30 steps
If you must bring liquid soaps, remember that LNT guidelines say to stay away from lakes, rivers, streams, and other water sources by at least 200 feet. Most of us are aware that distance applies to any cat holes we might dig, but it also means we don't throw used dish water close (or in) to a stream. It's easy to know when you're an appropriate distance because 200 feet is approximately 30 paces for a teenager or an adult.

3. Specialty soaps sure do cost a lot!
Several brands of "camp soap" can be bought.  They're often marketed as "biodegradable", and they don't always appear too expensive at first glance because some brands cost as little as $3. What makes them expensive is that the bottles are small --- often as little as an ounce. Great for backpacking, right?  Well, not when I can buy an off-the-shelf soap at any grocery or department store and put it into a small bottle myself.  To be "biodegradable", a soap should be free of phosphates, surfactants, and anti-bacterial agents.  Dawn Plus is my favorite for outdoor use because it's more environmentally responsible than most "grocery store" brands, yet I can buy it at my local Target or Food City.  

Do any of y'all have any other tips for being conservation minded, the clean and cheap way?

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My favorite resource in at least part of your discussion is "How To Shit In The Woods"  by Kathleen Meyer.   It can be had on eBay or Amazon….

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Take a "woods shower". A pot of water heated to a nice bath temp, a cup, a bandana, and a private place in the woods. Scoop and  pour cupfuls of warm refreshing water over your head. Use other hand to "scrub" away dirt and grime. Being extra mindful of crotch and armpits. Dry off best you can with bandana. Get dressed.

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10 hours ago, DuctTape said:

Take a "woods shower". A pot of water heated to a nice bath temp, a cup, a bandana, and a private place in the woods. Scoop and  pour cupfuls of warm refreshing water over your head. Use other hand to "scrub" away dirt and grime. Being extra mindful of crotch and armpits. Dry off best you can with bandana. Get dressed.

If you have a ready water source, that might work just fine, but if you're backpacking and you have to carry everything in, then a few baby wipes for a faux shower will save quite a bit in weight.  Water is heavy!

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11 hours ago, mrkstvns said:

If you have a ready water source, that might work just fine, but if you're backpacking and you have to carry everything in, then a few baby wipes for a faux shower will save quite a bit in weight.  Water is heavy!

For sure. Backpacking having to carry all water sounds like a chore. I tend to go places where water is abundant. 

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On 11/15/2019 at 6:55 PM, DuctTape said:

For sure. Backpacking having to carry all water sounds like a chore. I tend to go places where water is abundant. 

Some of those places can present different kinds of challenges...

If you go to Northern Tier and try a canoe trek through the BWCA, you will find a huge abundance of water. But if you're observing LNT practices, you then want to make sure your waste disposal and shower sites are 200' away from any water source.  With thousands of lakes and streams EVERYWHERE, finding a piece of land that's 200' away from any water source can be as challenging as lugging an extra 9 pounds of water up a mountain!

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Just now, mrkstvns said:

Some of those places can present different kinds of challenges...

If you go to Northern Tier and try a canoe trek through the BWCA, you will find a huge abundance of water. But if you're observing LNT practices, you then want to make sure your waste disposal and shower sites are 200' away from any water source.  With thousands of lakes and streams EVERYWHERE, finding a piece of land that's 200' away from any water source can be as challenging as lugging an extra 9 pounds of water up a mountain!

It is not difficult to find a location. I have been to the Quetico (Canadian side of BWCA) numerous times, and locations are easy to find. One has to find them for digging a cat hole anyway.

Second, if one is only using warm water (no soap), then it is no different from swimming in the lake. 

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16 minutes ago, DuctTape said:

It is not difficult to find a location. I have been to the Quetico (Canadian side of BWCA) numerous times, and locations are easy to find. One has to find them for digging a cat hole anyway.

Second, if one is only using warm water (no soap), then it is no different from swimming in the lake. 

Exactly right!

So if you're thinking you need a shower, go jump in a lake!  (Just don't lather up when you're in or near the water.)

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3 hours ago, mrkstvns said:

Exactly right!

So if you're thinking you need a shower, go jump in a lake!  (Just don't lather up when you're in or near the water.)

When the water is heated, it is quite nice as a "shower". No need to lather up! Feels great to have the bath temp water pouring over one's head, especially when lake temp is in the 50s.

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24 minutes ago, 69RoadRunner said:

That site has some good discussion!

I like that he gets into situations like how to hard-pack a platform so you can take off skis or snowshoes in the winter, how sand is more of a sterile environment (not biologically rich) so less suitable than a hole in the forest, and how you can "roll a rock" in a hard-baked surface.  

I was sort of thinking he might discuss the "smear technique", which might be useful in a very rocky, arid area --- you just do your business on top of the rocks, then take a stick and smear it around on the rocks. The idea is that while there's no bio action to break down your waste, there is plenty of sun that can do the job for you.  

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The "smearing" or "frosting" technique shows a complete understanding of the principles when used appropriately. And a complete misunderstanding when not. I do not include it in my basic LNT instruction as it is suitable only in environments where those new to backcountry camping are not (or should not) be venturing yet. 

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2 hours ago, 69RoadRunner said:

Usually, I bring wet wipes for this purpose. This link got me wondering if packing a peri-bottle or travel bidet would be able to replace toilet paper entirely. They don't weigh much and you obviously don't need to use filtered water. Has anyone tried it?

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7 minutes ago, Saltface said:

Usually, I bring wet wipes for this purpose. This link got me wondering if packing a peri-bottle or travel bidet would be able to replace toilet paper entirely. They don't weigh much and you obviously don't need to use filtered water. Has anyone tried it?

Eliminating the TP entirely sounds like a GREAT idea....if your goal is to build up crusty skid marks in your underwear!

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