Do you ever think about skincare when out hiking and backpacking?
Probably not. At least not the men among us.
Other than maybe a quick slather of sunscreen as we leave the car, most of us don’t give our skin a second thought when hitting the trail.
But whether you’re spending just a single day out in the nearest mountains or attempting a weeklong section hike of the Appalachian Trail, proper skincare is vital.
This goes beyond sunscreen and preventing sunburns. Hiking for long, sweaty periods can lead to a lot of chafing and discomfort, as well as blisters. And going days without cleaning your skin can lead to irritation or rashes, when your skin simply isn’t used to it.
(Yeah, we sound like a beauty magazine. Stay with us).
Here are some tips and essential items for taking care of your skin on your next adventure – and ensuring it’s a comfortable one. Not a dirty, scratchy one.
Keep It Unscented
Scents attract animals. Bears, for one, are known for their extremely capable sense of smell. So leave the perfumey, fragrance-filled skincare products at home, and be sure to choose unscented hand sanitizers, wipes and sunscreens.
Whenever Possible, Go Biodegradable
If you’re hiking out in the wilderness, you’re going to be leaving traces of soap and skincare products behind – even if you don’t plan on it. So, always choose a biodegradable product – whenever possible. Traditional Camp Suds makes a perfect hand soap. Dr. Bronner’s Organic Liquid Soap is another excellent choice – Certified Organic and gentle on the environment.
If you don’t want to carry around such a large bottle…go ahead and package your biodegradable soap into a smaller, more compact bottle. Many people choose to put in into a bag instead, as a plastic bottle may stiffen on a cold morning and leave you hanging.
Leave No Trace
Even if the camp soap and other daily products you bring with you are biodegradable, and made of organic ingredients, that doesn’t mean you can just leave them behind. Be sure to pack up any wipes you use and carry them out, just like you would any other trash.
When dumping soapy water, be sure to do so at least 50 yards from any standing body of water or streams. If possible, bury it, so that the organic compounds can be broken down by the organisms within the dirt.
Start With Sunscreen – And the Right Clothing
Sunscreen is still the first item you need to pack before a camping trip. The sun can cause nasty burning and damage at any altitude and at any time of year; when you’re thousands of feet in the mountains, that damage can become almost unbearable.
All the basic sun protection tips apply here. They just apply double. Wearing long sleeves and pants can keep the sun off when hiking in the desert or mountains, and a wide-brimmed hat (or at least a baseball cap) is useful for protecting your face and your neck.
We like to carry a wrap or bandana for covering our neck or face when necessary. Draping something loosely over your skin will also keep you cooler.
Aside: (I never understood why people always wear shorts and t-shirts when active in warm weather. Keeping the sun off your skin is the most effective way to stay cool – and leaving your skin exposed for long periods at high altitudes is just dangerous).
For sunscreen, choose one with SPF30 or SPF50. Returns diminish greatly above SPF50. I find that everyone has their own preferences for what kind of sunscreen they prefer. I’m partial to thicker Zinc Oxide offerings, as they are most effective and contain the least chemicals.
Most people I know, however, hate the thick, white pasty stuff – and will go with whatever sunscreen they can find.
Even more preferable to wearing lots of sunscreen, however, is investing in UPF-rated hiking clothing – especially if you live in a hot and particularly sunny locale (like the Southwest), or you’re hiking at particularly high elevations.
The sun’s strength can be quite deceiving when you’re in the mountains, even when its cold out. Sunscreen can easily sneak up on you if you aren’t well prepared.
These items aren’t skincare exactly, but proper hygiene will go a long way to keeping you – and your skin – as comfortable as possible when spending time outdoors.
Washing your hands in the backcountry is a tricky thing – making hand sanitizer a total necessity. A small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer will keep your hands clean and safe after bathroom breaks and before meals. And remember – be sure it’s unscented!
Unscented Baby Wipes
Like hand sanitizer, unscented baby wipes are a necessity when backpacking. Use them to wipe off your hands before eating or after nature calls. If they’re anti-bacterial, great! If not, top off with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and you’re good to go.
Facial Cleansing Wipes
We like Burt’s Bees fragrance-free facial wipes. Made from gentle and natural ingredients, they leave you feeling fresh – not dried out – and they’re gentler on the environment than your typical drugstore options.
Chafing sucks. Don’t let it ruin your next trip. Bring some non-petroleum-based anti-chafing ointment, or talcum powder for keeping your skin dry in chafe-prone areas. Make sure whatever product your choose is sweat-resistant, too; you’re going to need it.
If you’re prone to blisters, you may want to bring some Moleskin along. Moleskin can be applied to the inside of your shoes before the hike begins, to prevent chafing and blisters from forming in the first place. Small pieces can also be gently applied over your heels when those blisters do popup.
(As always, the best treatment for blisters is preventing them – so wear thick, comfortable wool socks, make sure your boots fit properly, and try to break them in ahead of time).
In case of bad blisters, your FAK should always include antiseptic – preferably an ointment you can rub on to help not only protect from infection but also speed up healing. A top-quality ointment we really like is Brave Soldier. It contains soothing tea tree oil to keep your skin cool and help it heal faster while also warding off bacteria.
If a nasty blister pops up on your next backpacking trip, putting this stuff on once you setup camp for the night will help cool things off.
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