Camp Hygiene - Dirty Post Horseback Riding

You may take for granted that you are going to be a filthy beast while camping, but camp hygiene is important. Many times people think they get sick from drinking contaminated water, but the culprit is actually attached to the end of their arms. Just washing your hands is the most important thing you can do, but there is nothing like getting that all-over clean feeling. Here are five easy steps to feeling human after horseback riding, kayaking, hiking, and setting up camp.


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Easy Camp Hygiene – the Bucket Bath

What is a bucket bath? It is also known by other names, such as bird bath or, more commonly, a sponge bath. At camp, you can bathe out of small buckets. If you are backpacking and do not “embrace the stink”, you can scale this down from buckets into smaller containers, like your cook pot.

I prefer the bucket bath method over a baby wipes bath. The wipes leave me feeling sticky and I cannot get off enough dirt. You also do not have to carry as many baby wipes and can shave a few ounces from your pack.

Step One – Gather Your Tools

Bucket Bath Set Up

You will need water, containers for soapy and clean water, a way to heat the water, and a way to apply the bath water to your skin. My setup includes:

You can use buckets instead of dish pans, but the dish pans do double duty when I car camp or horse camping at the trailer. I also wash dishes in these tubs. Backpackers can substitute their buff for two wash cloths and their cook pot for the dish pans. Backpackers also get to air dry; no towels for you. If you are hardcore, you can skip heating the water to save fuel.

Step Two – Heat Your Water

Bucket Bath Water Heating

You can skip heating the water, but there is something about a warm bath that makes the world right again. Start by mixing equal parts boiling water and cold water until you find the ratio that works best for you. There are other factors to consider, such as air temperature and just how cold your cold water is. You need very little water, but the dirtier I am, the more wash water I like to use.

Use your cook pot to heat the water. Although the above photo shows a full size pot from the kitchen (because I was horse camping at my trailer), I usually use my Snow Peak mug. You can use a very small amount of water if you are using the one bucket method. Backpackers can use the water directly from the pot and just heat to the desired temperature instead of boiling and mixing with cold water.

Step Three – the Actual Bath

The Bucket Bath

Use one bucket for your soapy water. Squirt a bit of biodegradable soap in the water. Use the second bucket as rinse water. Keep the wash cloths separated to minimize the soap in your rinse water.

You can use any container you like to hold the water, such as:

  • Dish pans
  • Buckets
  • Cook pots
  • Water bottles

If you are using the one bucket method, or the cook pot method if you are a backpacker, add soap sparingly to the wash cloth as you apply to your skin. Rinse the wash cloth between each body segment in your clean water. Do not squirt soap directly into your rinse water.

Wash your hair outside the bath process. I usuallyu wash my hair first under a faucet or pour water over my head from a bucket. When backpacking, baby powder in the hair will absorb oils, so there is no need to use water until you get to town.

Squeeze most of the water from the wash cloths before applying to your skin. You do not want to drip. The wash cloths should be just a bit more saturated than damp. Use the following method to start at the top of your body and move down.

  1. Wash your face and neck with one cloth and rinse with the other.
  2. Wash and rinse the lower part of your arms and hands before removing your shirt.
  3. Remove your shirt. Wash and rinse your torso and upper arms. Dry yourself with a towel or you can stay slightly damp. Replace with a clean shirt. Backpackers are probably using the same shirt.
  4. Remove your pants, shoes, and socks.. Wash and rinse from your waist to below your knees. Dry off or leave skin damp. Put back on clean pants or backpackers can wear the ones they took off.
  5. Sit down and wash and rinse from your knees to your toes. Dry off or leave damp. Replace your socks and shoes.

By not removing all of your clothes at one time, you prevent the chilling effect of being naked and wet outdoors. This also gives you more control over keeping each article of clothing clean and your feet in good condition before you put your shoes back on.

Step Four – Rinse Your Wash Cloths

Bucket Bath Rinse

Now that you are the winner of the camp hygiene award, it is time to put the tools away. Throw both wash cloths in the soapy water and add your dirty socks and other clothing that will fit. Give them a good cleaning in the soapy water and then a turn in your rinse bucket. If you are using the one bucket method, you can wash them out in your bucket and then refill with rinse water. Backpackers will not have room for more laundry in their cook pot with their buff. Squeeze the remaining water from your laundry.

Remember to use leave no trace principles when disposing of the used water. I was fortunate to have an actual drain to a sewage system at the campground in the photos.

If you bathed out of your cook pot, you may want to consider washing it well and boiling some water in it before your next meal.

Step Five – Dry Your Equipment

Bucket Bath Drying

Now that you are clean and so are some of your clothes, set your laundry out to dry to prevent mold and mildew. Obviously, a sunny spot is best, but sometimes we have to use the ridgeline of our hammock tarp or the divider in our horse trailer. If you have the room for a clothes line, you double and twist your cord between two trees. The twists in the line act as clothes pins to save some weight. Backpackers will likely just want to hang their items to dry on the bushes.

In Conclusion

And there you have it: an easy way to get cleaned up without using a lot of water, needing a water heater or an elaborate shower system. You also didn’t swamp camp with 5 gallons of gray water. Horse campers clean up without having to install tanks under their trailer.

Please share this with your non-camping friends. They may need this method during an outage from a hurricane or ice storm. I have had friends tell me the worse part of an outage was not having a hot shower [insert my perplexed look here]. Encourage them to invest in a small camping stove for such emergencies. They can even use a bottle shower if they have access to a real tub.

If this was helpful to you or you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below. Subscribe to this site for notifications when new articles are available.


Leave No Trace

Never forget to leave no trace. We enjoy the great outdoors; let's keep it pristine.
  • Pack out what you pack in.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Respect the wildlife, including the plants.
  • Keep you campfire impact low.
  • Use biodegradable soap at least 200 feet from camp, the trail, and water sources when cleaning up or bathing.
  • Strain and scatter your dishwater.
  • Do not bathe in water sources.
  • Keep your feet and your campsite on durable surfaces.
  • Visit in smaller groups.

2 Thoughts on “Camp Hygiene – How to Take a Bucket Bath”

  • Wouldnt it just be easier to hang a solar shower bag? Fill partly full, add cold water to reach desired temp, hang up to shower.

    • It’s much harder to regulate the water temperature, uses much more water, the water is harder to collect for disposal, and you are a lot more likely to get chilled with a shower. But that has been my experience with them. It really is a matter of preference. If the solar shower works for you, I say go with what works. 🙂

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