Dirty Laundry

Long-distance hikers have a dirty little secret. Unlike day hikers, we wear the same clothes day after day after day. Laundromats are in short supply out in the woods, which means those hiking clothes get sweaty, smelly, and stiff. “Acceptable” and “normal” are different on the trail!

We carry a set of hiking clothes which we put on every morning–wet or dry, clean or smelly. (Synthetic t-shirt, capris or hiking skirt, bra, shorts-style undies, and hiking socks.) We also carry a set of camp clothes–dry items that keep us from getting chilled when we stop the heavy, sweaty exertion of hiking. Obviously, these camp clothes get less grubby than the hiking clothes! (Synthetic tank top, leggings, thin undies and camp shoes. Plus a long-sleeved synthetic shirt in case it gets cold.) As soon as we get out of our hiking clothes at the end of the day, we hang them up to (hopefully) dry. Sometimes we adorn nails around the shelter. Other times we decorate a nearby tree. At nightfall, we often shove the clothes in our sleeping bags. Even if they are still damp in the morning, at least they won’t be cold and clammy! When we get to town every 4-7 days, we wash all of our clothes. Some hostels have “loaner clothes” to wear while doing laundry. Otherwise, two rain jackets work like a mini-dress while I stuff all the grubby clothes into the washing machine. (Andowen wraps up in her sleeping bag while I do laundry if there are no loaner clothes…) While we are hiking, we rarely notice how smelly we are. After all, everyone stinks! Occasionally, if we get to camp early on a sunny day, we might wash out a few of the most offensive clothes. We use the most basic of laundry facilities…

We dig out the “washing machine” from my pack: a gallon size ziploc bag and tiny bottle of biodegradable soap. Fill the bag partway with water from a stream or spring. Move a few hundred feet away from the water source. Squirt some soap on the clothes and put ’em in the bag. Shake and squeeze the bag, mimicking the agitation of a washer. Dump out filthy water. Add clean water and repeat until water stays clear of dirt or suds. (Yes, it is time consuming. This is why most hikers don’t bother…) We only go to this much effort if our clothes are particularly nasty…and if there is enough sun and a breeze to hopefully get the clothes dry by morning. A short line strung between trees helps. Obviously, we prefer to hike in dry, clean clothes. Sometimes after washing out clothes on the trail, we have to put on still-damp (but clean) hiking clothes in the morning. Ugh! Smaller items can be hung on the outside of our packs to dry by the time we get to camp that night. This dirty little secret of long-distance hikers might sound terrible to you. It’s really not so bad once you get out there. In-town standards of fashion and cleanliness give way to realities of weight and space available in the pack. We might not look or smell like day-hikers…but we hike with a smile on our faces. We love living in the woods…and that’s no secret!

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4 thoughts on “Dirty Laundry

  1. Thanks for the info. The subject has never come up when I talk with hikers on the AT at the Washington Monument State park Visitors Center.

    Tom Ruhf

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    • Glad to hear you are still telling stories at that park! We enjoyed our time there….

      I realized awhile ago that this is not a topic hikers talk about…or that friends ask about!

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