tips

Hygiene / Backcountry Dental Hygiene

Have you heard yourself say, "Ehh, I'll just skip brushing my teeth tonight. I'm too tired and I feel so dirty anyway...what's skipping one night gonna do?"

Ha! I've said that a hundred times! (Ok, I exaggerate.)

Even if you might be feeling dirty from a good ole day's hike, I believe dental hygiene (hygiene in general) is important in keeping up your mental game. I really think it's the little things that extend mental longevity in the wilderness. Anyway, I love feeling clean at the end of a physically demanding day. (Who doesn't like that feeling of stepping out of the shower after getting filthy?) It's wonderful! But more importantly, being clean helps me sleep better and feel refreshed at the start of a new day. It's not just about being OCD with cleanliness, it's really about having a long-term strategy to help me keep going so I can stay out longer in the wilderness. 

All that to say, one piece of floss and some easy teeth brushing skills can help your mental game, not to mention your breath.

STEPS

1. Floss your teeth.
If anything, flossing is the least you can do. It's SO good for your dental hygiene!

2. Dab just a tiny bit of natural toothpaste on your kid-size toothbrush.
You don't need a lot of toothpaste. It suds too much and it gets messy if you use a lot. Instead, try just a dash just to get that minty fresh feeling without frothing all over (which means more clean-up).
TIP: Baking soda is also a great natural option!

3. Add a tiny splash of water and brush like normal.
I have my water bottle with me (with potable water) and I put the tiniest bit of water in my mouth before I start brushing. (This is my equivalent to getting my toothbrush/paste wet under the faucet when I'm at home.) Then I brush brush brush. I have a small toothbrush, so it takes a little more effort.

4. Add a little more water in my mouth, swish, and spit. 
Spit into a cathole or have you ever tried the spitting method where you create a really fine mist? (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, I really need to make a video!)

5. Final rinse.
One more mouth rinse and toothbrush rinse and voila! Minty fresh....Ahhhhhh! Time for bed. 

This is my entire hygiene kit I used for a 9-day trip. From L to R: Sunblock, toothpaste, lotion, Diva cup, tweezers, comb, kid toothbrush, floss, all-purpose castille soap, small piece of broken mirror. I had too much toothpaste, castille soap, and sunblock. I could've lightened my load even more. (And the lotion was gold!) Total weight: 4.5oz

SHOP*

Buy: Kid-size Preserve Toothbrush
Buy: All-natural Tom's of Maine Toothpaste
Buy: Oral-B Glide Deep Mint Floss

 

*All purchases made with these affiliate links support Snowqueen & Scout. Thanks!

How to Filter Water / Aquamira Water Treatment

There are a lot of different ways to treat water in the backcountry. This summer, I've been giving Aquamira my full attention and I want to share my thoughts on it because it's a really great system. 

Aquamira is very well-known in the ultralight (UL) backpacking community, but most folks don't know about it when they're first starting out. It's probably the most effective, smallest, ultralight water treatments out there. It's basically a two-part chemical that you mix and then drop into your water. Easy! Unlike a filter, you unfortunately can't drink your water right away. The chemicals need to do their magic, killing all of the water-borne diseases (for about 15-30 minutes). 

For some strange reason, I trusted Aquamira's effectiveness right away, unlike it's pill-form counterparts. I think there's something about seeing the chemical mix into the water right away that feels like it's at work, versus having to wait for (let's say) an iodine pill to dissolve. (Inside voice: "What if the pill doesn't mix thoroughly with ALL of the water?!") Plus, research always helps. 

PROS/CONS

THE PROS: Very effective, ultralight, tiny, affordable, easy, and water tastes pretty good compared to iodine treatment.
THE CONS: Chemicals are strong so you don't want to get it on your skin; the water does have a tiny sour taste (barely noticeable, but still worth noting); 15-30 minute wait time

HOW TO USE AQUAMIRA

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TIPS

  • Purchase small bottles to take only what you think you'll need on your trip. 
  • Drop about 20 drops of each A and B into the mix bottle in the morning. That way your Mix is ready for use all day.
  • Keep your Mix safe from heat and sun. If it's not bright yellow, it's probably compromised. Start over.
  • If you have a little left over at the end of the day, mine tended to evaporate.
  • Be careful not to get A, B, or Mix on your skin. You can smell the strength of the chlorine dioxide when you open the container. Definitely don't want to be getting that directly on your skin. 

SHOP*

MAKE YOUR OWN KIT
Buy: Small bottles
Buy: Aquamira

Would you give Aquamira a try? Why or why not? 

*All purchases made with these affiliate links support Snowqueen & Scout. Thanks!

Safety / Ticks are gross. Period

Ugh, I can't stand ticks! They're disgusting. But dealing with them is often part of the package of being out in the wilderness, especially during the spring when they the conditions are just right and they're ready to feast. This season, be prepared to avoid ticks.

But first, a rant:

  • I can't stand the way they are so damn ugly. 
  • I really dislike how you can only kill them by completely obliterating them. (Squeezing them doesn't work. Last time, I literally smashed one apart between two rocks so it would die.)
  • I really really dislike how they transmit diseases (especially life-altering Lyme Disease).
  • Last one: I hate how you can't feel them crawling on you! Ahhhh!

Source: http://albany.mosquitosquad.com/albanys-tick-identification-disease-control/

Ways to avoid ticks

  • Stay on the trail
    Since ticks are hanging out on leaves, grass, branches ready to hitch a ride feasting on you, try to stay in the middle of the trail away from brush. 
  • Use repellent
    Spray 30% (or higher) DEET on your clothes to repel ticks from even wanting to climb onto you. You can try natural lemon eucalyptus oils or sprays too or go treat your clothes and gear with permethrin. (Here's a great step-by-step on how to apply permethrin to your clothes.)
  • Go tick hunting
    This means that you check yourself thoroughly ALL OVER your body. Ask someone to help check your backside and areas that you might have a hard time seeing. Because you usually can't tell if a tick is crawling on you, it's a good idea to check yourself each night and when you wake up if you're in a tick-infested area. (Don't forget to check your neck, scalp, and private areas too!) 
  • Wear light clothing
    The dark-colored ticks are easier to spot if your pants/tops/socks are lighter colored. Plus it's cooler when you hike.
  • Remove ticks immediately
    If you see one on you, don't freak out (but I always do). With tweezers, grab the tick as close to your skin and pull gently and steadily. Don't twist it off, just pull it slowly and directly out. You don't want to aggravate the tick. Once it's out, clean the bite as you would an infection (soap and water) and monitor yourself. 
  • Have a dog? Be EXTRA THOROUGH
    If you're hiking with your dog, you know that s/he's bouncing all around off trail. It's very possible that it's carrying ticks. Check your dog not just for it's sake, but for yours too.

Did you know that author Amy Tan has Lyme Disease transmitted by a tick bite? Her story on Humanthologyis quite compelling.

Beware of ticks! Check yo'self!

Lighten Your Load / Repackaging your products

It's all those little things, those micro moments, micro seconds, micro bottles, that really matter in life. ;-P That's why you should repackage what you can.

Case in point
On the left, I have a bottle of REI's travel sized sunblock. I bought this years ago and have refilled it for my backpacking trips. It weighs 2.2 oz (for a bottle half full) and even that amount is plenty to last me a few trips. Way to go Liz! 

But wait, what's that on the right weighing only 0.6oz?
It's sunblock, repackaged into a tiny container with just what I need plus extra. In fact, it was more than I needed! The awesome thing about repackaging the sunblock was that it's more likely to fit inside the waist belt pocket of your pack (assuming you have one), which means you're more likely to apply it at the frequency you need.

Let's look at another example. 
I reused an old micro bottle of hand sanitizer and squirted some castille soap in there to use as toothpaste and anything else I'd need soap for (there isn't much). As small as this bottle is, it was overkill for the amount I needed. I only use 1-2 drops of soap as my toothpaste to avoid over-sudsing. Next time I'll use an even tinier dropper. Can't wait.

Next time you get a tiny bottle, consider saving it and reusing it to repackage for the trail. Doing this will give you such an appreciation for how little we need, and of course, a lighter pack. 

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