Cleanliness means different things to different people. Some people need a shower everyday. Some people shower every three-four days, that’s me. Some people like my father only shower maybe every two weeks. Love you dad.
So we’re going to talk about everyone’s favorite thing, staying clean while camping and travelling on a motorcycle. Finding alternative places to shower while you’re on the road, a few hygiene essentials when motorcycle camping or travelling on a motorcycle in general, and how to get your clothes clean while you’re on the road.
Let’s get the Common Sense stuff out of the way first.
KEEP YOUR HANDS CLEAN
Use hand sanitizer, Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes, or Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash and some Water from your Watercell. Whatever you need to do to keep those hands clean.
Obviously you should be cleaning your hands after you go to the bathroom, or dig a hole in the ground whichever. You should also clean your hands after you pull those gloves off, and before you start making that awesome camp food. There’s a lot of dirt and grime that ends up in your gloves, let alone what else you touched before you decide to make food.
Got it? Cool.
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If you’re going to be on the road for more than two-three days you should be thinking about your bathing plan.
There’s the obvious option of getting a Hotel room, an Air BnB, Friends and Family homes, or KOA Campgrounds to use the showers. I’ve heard quite a few State Park Campgrounds across the US also have Showers a lot of the time if they have other facilities. Sometimes those things aren’t an option, whether it be budget restrictions, or just being in the middle of nowhere.
Another option is find yourself one of the nice big Truck Stops that are equipped with showers, there are also a few small town gas stations that have nice clean showers in the back. Times are changing and a few larger truck stop chains now only allow truck drivers to utilize the shower, so this will require a little bit of research or maybe a phone call to check what their policy is.
Truck Stop Showers are often timed, and in the bigger ones you may want to consider getting a cheap pair of sandals or flip flops just for showering in to protect your toes from any bacteria hanging out on the floor.
Option 2: Gyms. A lot of van lifers love Planet Fitness, since they’re all over the US. That could be a good thing to look into if you’re planning a long trip across the country, however they tend to only be in more urban areas. There are also small local gyms that sometimes allow you to pay a day use fee to utilize everything the gym has to offer without having to sign up for a membership.
The Simplest Option: The Camp Shower
Not to be confused with a wipe down with Wet Wipes. There are a few ways you could go about this.
A great option is to utilize the shower head that comes with the Sea to Summit Watercell , hook the watercell onto a tree, or potentially a motorcycle handlebar, and wash your body. You need to be conscious of your water usage, so let some water run over your head and body, then close the valve. Soap up one part of your body at a time (ie soap up your hair/head, rinse, then move onto your face, or your arms, rinse, and move on to the next body part and so on.) Working like this will ensure you use the least amount of water, and makes sure you don’t miss a soapy leg in the process of rinsing quickly. If you wanted to get real fancy you could warm up some of the water on your stove then add it to the water in your watercell to have a nice warm shower.
You could also keep it really simple and just get yourself a hand towel or a washcloth and a bit of warmed up water (could be from a sink, could be heated up in your pot). Now this makes it a little harder to get your hair clean, but if you’re just looking to get the sweat off your body this works pretty well actually.
The most important part of Showering at all while you’re on the road:
Dry off all your underbits thoroughly after you wash your body before you put your clothes on to avoid infections!
I know we can get in a hurry, especially if your time in the shower is timed, or if it’s a bit chilly outside and you’re trying to get your clothes back on as fast as possible. However, as I’m sure you’re familiar with when it comes to your boots; Trapped Moisture breeds Bacteria. Bacteria that smells, and Bacteria that can lead to infections. Remember the golden areas of stink and grime: Pits, Feet, Nether regions, hands and face, and if you’re a girl and it’s a hot day underboob.
Laundromats are everywhere. I’ve even found a laundromat in a town with less than 200 residents. There’s also laundromats in many KOAs, and some Hotels will have a place to do laundry. You’ll need quarters!
When you can’t find a laundromat, or you don’t have a sink to do laundry in, you need to keep those undies clean. A small dry bag can offer a great solution to keep your base layers and underwear a little cleaner than they would be otherwise. Put a little water in, a drop or two of your biodegradable soap, and your undies and socks. Squeeze the air out, roll it up, beat the ever living crap out of it -I mean- massage the clothes a few times to work the sweat and dirt out of your clothes, dump the water, put fresh water in to rinse, maybe a couple times to make sure you get the soap out of your clothes.
I’ve got a trick for you once you’ve rinsed your clothes out: Ring out your clothes, then lay them in one layer on top of a towel. Now roll the towel up, while putting pressure on the towel after ever fold/roll, either with your knees, hands are feet. The idea is to press the water out of the clothes and allow the towel to absorb that moisture. This will leave your clothes just damp instead of dripping, and will make the drying process a little quicker.
This is one of those times that it’s important that your underwear and base layers are made of synthetic materials or merino wool to make cleaning and drying easy. Exofficio make some fantastic underwear for travel that are easy to clean and super fast to dry. If you take jeans or cotton clothes on a trip, you really need to find a laundromat to get those clothes clean and also dry. Jeans can take up to two days to dry out after a wash if you try and air dry them.
The worst thing about trying to travel with normal hygiene products on the road is that your bike vibrates the heck out of anything that’s going to be living in your bags, and lord forbid if you’re riding off-road, 9/10 any flimsy flap caps or whatever are going to pop open or explode. So I’ve got a few alternatives for ya.
- A Toiletry Bag something nice and easy to grab and take into a bathroom with you without having to struggle with a bunch of different loose pieces.
- Toothbrush and Toothpaste, think small, think things that won’t explode, alternatives like powered toothpaste or toothpaste tabs are a fantastic option for motorcycling!
- Hairbrush or a Comb
- Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash , this doubles as body wash AND laundry soap. Their sturdy little bottle that has survived many a bike dump, and is one of the few liquids I carry in my toiletry kit.
- A Washcloth or a cotton bandana Essential for spit baths.
- Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes For all of those times in between Spit Baths and Showers. Keeping in mind that we’re still living by leave no trace principles, so even though they’re biodegradable please do not burry these in your cat hole, pack them in your trash ziplock just like you would with your toilet paper alright. Speaking of Cat Holes.
- Toilet Paper or a Pee Rag - If you haven’t heard of a Pee Rag before, it’s a thing a lot of thru-hikers use so they don’t have to carry the extra weight of used toilet paper just from peeing. The less trash you have to pack around the better. Kula Cloths specifically have a waterproof side, and a antimicrobial absorbent side. It can clip to itself so nothing is rubbing off on your gear.
- A Microfiber Pack Towel - kind of self explanatory, it’s important to have a towel just for drying off your body, and a separate hand towel or washcloth for cleaning yourself with.
- Shampoo - Find yourself a Shampoo BAR, it’s so much more compact, and doesn’t risk the explosions that you can get when you pack a liquid shampoo bottle on the bike.
- Deodorant, big bars of Deodorant can take up a lot of space on the bike. Powdered Deodorants can double as foot powder, or monkey butt powder and can be repackaged to take up less space.
- Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizer- Like I said earlier, always use it after you take your gloves off before you touch anything that’s going to go in your mouth. Just a note that you can also disinfect eating utensils with Hand Sanitizer as well.
- A little Dry Bag - specifically for wet clothes, and washing clothes when you can’t find a laundromat, there’s specialized dry bags on the market that have little ridges on the inside made particularly for doing laundry, however I find that a regular dry bag works just as well.
- Optional: A Packable Clothes Line to hang your clothes from to dry.
- For the Ladies: don’t forget your menstrual cup, I have the Diva cup. It’s just so much nicer to not have to pack out tampons if and when you inevitably start bleeding while you’re comfy in your sleeping bag.
One last tip for you.
In the Summer make sure you take more than one pair of socks, and your feet and sleeping bag will thank you when you get to slip on FRESH socks to sleep in at night that aren’t full of feet sweat from the day. Make sure you give your feet a nice wipe down with those wet wipes or a damp washcloth before you slip those sweaty feet into your nice fresh socks. This also allows you to hang your riding socks up to dry. Bonus points if you carry a couple extra pair of riding socks so you can wash a pair every other day and never put on a pair that’s still stiff with sweat from the day before.
Remember that everyone needs different things to feel clean! This is just a place to get started, and hopefully open some options you didn’t think about before.
Stay Clean Everybody!