Camping guide to hygiene
For most people living outdoors, worries about bugs focus on insects – flying, crawling, and biting… The focus should really be on those on and inside the body that can lay you low; smelly feet are gross but stomach bugs are horrible.
The key factor is storing all foods in containers, preferably airtight, keeping raw and cooked foods separate. Remember that in your kitchen at home you are in total control of your environment. That is far not the case when camping so thinking ahead is essential. Avoid leaving food lying around and, if you have food stored with freezer blocks, keep storage lids closed and do not re-freeze food if you even suspect it has been thawing. Be vigilant and careful rather than paranoid.
You will have less space in which to prepare food so take extra care to avoid cross-contamination during preparation. Being outdoors, do your best to keep flies off food; camping in winter is good for this.
Getting a routine established for diving into the washblock heads off the gradual deterioration of standards that can come with a combination of being idle and no space in the showers. There is no need to become obsessive about washing hands except when preparing food. If you are camping wild and relying on natural water sources to wash, such as a lake or stream or river, use biodegradable soap to reduce contamination.
They are hardly likely to fall out if cleaning is neglected for a week or so but that is not really considerate. My favourite comment, overheard on site in Vermont, summed up the reality: “Boy, your breath could knock a buzzard off a gut wagon!”
If there are no proper toilet facilities on the campsite itself or if you are wild camping, you should try to relieve yourself away from the pitch as the smell from urine can linger for some time. People who pee out of the tent at night soon discover that fact and, of course, deserve to be horsewhipped.
With proper toilets on site you need only remember to carry some toilet paper rather than relying on the loo fairy to keep topping up supplies. Off site, there is usually no need for complex pits to be dug and Hessian screens erected, as in days of yore. A chemical loo and a toilet tent offer one solution; a hand trowel and a small hole about 15cms deep offer another. Biodegradable toilet paper heads off debates about whether to burn or not. I have never met any lightweight campers who have followed advice to pack out liquid and solid human waste.
- Wearing some sort of quick drying footwear in the washrooms and showers is a good move. As well as helping you to keep your footing on slippery floors, it cuts out the risk of picking up unwanted presents such as athlete’s foot or a verruca.
- Although it sounds contradictory, ‘dry soap’ that needs no water is useful on campsites as well as backpacking, picnics and walks.
- Wet wipes are really useful, especially the anti-bacterial versions, for surfaces, utensils and, of course, children.
- When you get home, give everything a thorough wash as soon as you can. It is definitely not fun to open a box on site to find mould on the contents.
- Absorbent kitchen roll is even more useful on site than at home.
- Work out how many toilet rolls you will need and then take more.
- Two sets of freezer blocks mean you can always keep one set freezing and one set in use. They are fairly cheap, but scoop up bargains when you see them as the usefulness is out of all proportion to the cost.
- Drumming dire warnings into youngsters is not the best way to reinforce sound behaviour about camping hygiene. Making it a game, with positive rewards, is far more likely to see good practice become second nature.
- Perfume and after-shave offer the illusion of cleanliness but can also attract mosquitoes.
- Work out a menu that cuts down on the need to store lots of perishable food. Similarly, cook just enough to eat rather than trying to keep leftovers.
- Try not to bring outdoor activity gear into your tent to avoid spreading muck and germs about.
- Ideal for use in showers and around the site, lightweight Crocs are easily washed and dried.
- Get the washing up done as soon as possible with plenty of hot water. Even if you do not use a washing up bowl to wash, it is handy to carry dishes.
- Leaving your tent open all day is an invitation to insects, birds and wildlife to make themselves at home and rummage around in food and pots.
- Most sites will have a sink specifically designated for washing pots and crocks; washing dirty boots in it is not fair to others.
- Mud and dirt around the tent should be washed off as soon as possible.
- Use the site bins and recycling points rather than let rubbish pile up at your pitch.
- Airtight food containers help to keep food fresh as well as uncontaminated.
- At home you will probably have loads of cleaning materials. Pack up a few key items or make sure to stock up when you can.
- Note the instructions on fly and insect sprays but do keep one handy on site.
- Keeping all your washing gear together in a hanging wash-bag is convenient and avoids leaving stuff.
- Farm sites are fun but make sure everybody washes their hands after feeding and petting the animals.
- Even simple farm sites are likely to have somewhere to wash the dishes; might be cold water though.
- Do not assume that all tap water is fine to drink.
- A first aid kit will sort out cuts and scratches before they get worse.