Lighten Your Load / Towels: It's not really about towels

I've gotten a few questions recently about what kind of towel to take on a backpacking trip, so I want to share my take on towels in the backcountry. But the towel question isn't really about towels, it's about getting clean. So here's my take on "what towel you should take." ;-)

First, we need to redefine showers 
When you're going backpacking, you'll need to let go of your notion of a shower. You will not have a clean shower with warm flowing water, suds all over your head and body, a plush bath mat to step onto and a large cotton towel to wrap yourself in afterward. This is okay though, because nature's showers are way simpler, more exhilarating and saves water!

Everyone has different standards of cleanliness in life, and this is definitely true in the backcountry. For me, I can tolerate getting dirty, sweating, and all that, but it's important for me to get that feeling of clean at the end of the day. It helps me wind down, relax, and sleep better.

My "showers" are typically standing under a waterfall, jumping into an ice cold alpine lake, splashing around in a river or trying to dunk my head in a small creek to just get a refreshing feeling on my scalp. If it's a few days on the trail, I don't use soap because it's slightly more complicated. (And I'm all about SIMPLICITY on the trail.) Simply rinsing myself off in a body of water makes me feel clean and refreshed - especially if the water is ice cold!

What I use
Tiny REI towel (15.5"x15.5")
Water source (river, lake, creek, whatever!)

A tiny towel? But how will I cover my valuables?
Since I'm not getting completely naked, there's nothing really to cover up. I used to have a larger lightweight towel because I thought I needed it, but I've gotten along fine with the tiny towel. Notice the size and weight difference.

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How I use my towel
I drench my tiny towel and rinse off my arms, legs, pits, neck, face, etc. (I'm usually down to my sports bra and underwear at this point.) I'm not using any soap in this process because I'm typically standing in or near a small creek or river and using soap in a water source is a HUGE NO-NO. After I'm done wiping down all those sticky/dried sweaty areas, I'll wring out the water from my towel and dry myself using the same towel. Even if I'm just rinsing my feet, I feel a thousand times better washing my feet, drying them, and putting my dry & clean sleep socks on. [Ahhhhh....] This is obviously nothing like drying yourself off with a plush towel after stepping out of a steamy warm shower, but it works! You get dry and that's the point. 

Getting clean (even if it's just washing my feet and face) at the end of the day helps me sleep better. If I'm sticky or dusty, I tend to wake up at night feeling uncomfortable. Good sleep means a refreshing new day and a matching good attitude. 

A couple notes worth mentioning

  • I don't use moist wipes/towelettes because it's more trash to pack out. I've replaced those with this reusable micro towel.
  • If you need to wash your vjayjay, I wrote a quick how-to here. Personally, I don't rinse my vagina in non-potable water because I'm weary of the risks. If I don't drink non-potable water, I definitely don't want it near anything so private. Ever since I got giardia, I'm extra cautious about channels for those little critters to get inside me! 
  • If I do need soap, I use Dr. Bronner's castille soap (repackaged into a tiny container) and will only use a tiny amount, away from the water source. "Biodegradable all-natural" soaps used directly in water is actually harmful to the environment. It was meant to be absorbed directly into the dirt, at least 200 feet away from water sources. 

In conclusion...
Get a highly absorbent micro towel that functions as a cleaning rag AND your drying towel. Because when you can get clean after a hard day's effort, you'll feel better, rest better and therefore your life will be awesome. Haha, something like that.

Oh and hey, some the links above are affiliate links. This means I earn a tiny bit of change if you end up buying something using that link. #MakinSomeChange