Packing proper toiletries for hygiene on the Camino can be a real stress reducer. Although knowing you can stay clean (or at least “Camino clean”) as you walk will alleviate many concerns, but doing so can be costly in cash, convenience, and kilos. Here are some items that can help.
For the Shower: Soap & Shampoo
Cleansers can get both heavy and messy. I’ve heard good things about shampoo bars like the Lush brand, but although they do combine the two shower products into one, they suffer from the same problems as others (such as this cheap substitute).
For decades, backpackers have sworn by Dr. Bronner’s amazing all-in-one soap/shampoo/detergent. It is all-natural, comes in handy sizes, and is so concentrated that you don’t need much tog et the job done. One 4 oz. bottle might last a whole Camino and costs less than $10. Grab a bottle and see what you think.
For the Laundry
When it comes to laundering, Dr. Bronner’s can be used for this as well which saves yet another bottle. For drying, instead of carrying pins that can be lost and add weight, I am going to use the Sea-to-Summit clothesline. It is super lightweight, has a built-in system for hanging any sized item, and can be used on a pack, bunk bed posts, or whatever else you have to hang it on. It’s $16, but for a multi-use item, that’s not terrible.
Ultra lightweight hikers are famous for cutting the handle off their toothbrushes to save weight. But now Zpacks – the kings of ultra lightweight backpacking – have created a simple little toothbrush package that costs only $3 and weighs in at a mere .13 oz. (4 grams)! The entire package with a week’s worth of toothpaste is .7 oz.
(Pro Tip: Zpacks’s minimum shipping is $5, so combine this with their bottle clip or something else when ordering or else you’re tripling your cost!)
OK, it’s time for The Talk.
Let’s face it, one of the biggest questions new pilgrims have is where to go to the bathroom. While one can of course find proper bathrooms in towns, the Camino’s popularity has skyrocketed (and its clientele seriously shifted) in recent years. The fact is that today there is a serious problem of toileting on the Camino (especially for the ladies). It is no longer a question to be brushed off.
I believe a large part of the issue is that many pilgrims have little-to-no experience with toileting on the trail. I know I was in my 30’s the first time I pooped in the woods even though I had backpacked throughout my 20’s. I am pretty OCD so it was not something I ever wanted to do, and since my trips were mostly single over-nighters, I managed to avoid it for quite some time. As it turned out, however, it wasn’t a big deal at all. In fact in some ways it was easier than using a toilet! But for those who are inexperienced and unprepared, it can be a real stress (and mess).
So, for the uninitiated, here is the deal with peeing and pooping on the trail.
For guys, peeing isn’t a big deal on the trail for obvious reasons. Just get way off the trail and go. For the ladies, however, it can be quite a bit more complicated (as the father of one little princess who loves to hike with daddy, believe me I know).
Clothes-wise, wearing a dress/skirt is a huge help, but this is not always convenient on the trail. I got my girlie a female urination aid called a GoGirl to help her out and it has worked well. You might also check out the Shewee and Venus to Mars brands.
While it would be ideal to never have to poop on the trail, there are any number of reasons it might have to happen. Given that on the Camino you will be digesting different foods than you’re used to, the ease with which you can catch a bug while sleeping with 100 other people in an albergue, and the new bodily schedule you’ll get from walking every day, you need to at least be prepared to do the deed.
First, I’d recommend training your body to go when you first wake up. That might need adjusting when you switch time zones, but if you can get regular at times when you’re near a bathroom, all the better.
Second, learn to go in the woods like every human did for millions of years before the porcelain throne was invented. Western culture has really done some unnatural things with regard to pooping and the sooner you can get over them the better. For one thing – you don’t need to sit. Squatting is far more natural and actually makes the process go a lot smoother because it gets the body parts aligned correctly and gets more parts out of the way for an easier cleanup. To build up to this position (and just have a better bathroom experience over all!), I recommend a Squatty Potty.
Said squatting is to be done over a “cat hole” about 6-8 inches deep. No need to dig deeper than this, as the soil that best breaks down poop is the top layer. Just go way off trail to where someone is not likely to walk (at least 200 feet / 60m / 100 steps from any water source!). You can use a stick, rock, or trekking pole for digging, but a lightweight trowel is ideal.
As to cleanup, let’s talk about TP. Although we moderns are used to using it, TP sucks for hiking. It’s heavy and you need to carry it out with you in a ziploc bag because TP does not break down quickly and makes for a big mess even when buried because animals like to dig it up. Gross. TP also kind of sucks for cleanup. Seriously, think about it: If you got poop on your hands or bare feet, would you just wipe them with paper and go about your day? Of course not! So why do we think our bums are good to go after a few wipes? Because we’ve been taught to think of our bums as “dirty,” we don’t seem to consider them in need of the soap and water cleansing we use on every other part of our body. That’s rather silly, isn’t it? However – if we take care to rinse, we not only use far less TP (if any), we can also help avoid the chafing caused by salt crystals left over from sweat. To accomplish this goal, consider using a portable bidet.
Finally, if you’ve done your business and cleansed properly, you should just need to stand up, kick some dirt into the hole until it is full, and walk away unscathed. At least one hand should remain completely clean, but washing both is not a bad idea anyway. Have some hand sanitizer handy (or, if you do not wish to kill your body’s natural defenses, use the Dr. Bronner’s!).
Camino hygiene is important and pilgrims can learn a lot from backpackers who want to stay clean but also keep pack weight down. An inexpensive kit can be created by using products that are multi-use and made with the ultralight hiker in mind.