Hygienic Hiking: Gear Up Against Germs
We’ve reviewed the best ways to integrate gear that can keep you and other safe on your hike, often by using the items you already have. With a few tweaks, you can streamline your packing list to include a few new essentials.
When hiking during a pandemic, we need to pack face coverings and supplies to manage bathroom breaks. We know hikers love a good gear review, so we put together some tips and suggestions for gear to keep you and others safe on your hike. Bonus: Many of these suggestions can be made from supplies you already have.
face coverings: Wear Them
Cover your nose and mouth when passing within 6 feet of someone or if you find yourself in a crowded area. Please reserve medical-grade face masks for healthcare workers, opting instead for one of these other options. Here's our analysis of the pros and cons of each style.
- Cloth mask with elastic straps: The loops that hook around your ears make it easy to take these on and off. It's the most sanitary option since doffing it only takes two fingers. But it can be tricky to get the right amount of tension in the straps, which might mean the mask shifts as you talk or breathe.
- Cloth mask with ties: These masks tie at two points behind your head, so they fit snugly and won't dig into your ears. But they can take longer to put on and for hikers, this procedure might grow tiresome over the course of a day. If you plan to leave it on for a while though, this might be the design for you.
- Bandanna: This a great option for hikers, since you probably already have one. They're easy to take on and off, but they do tend to fit loosely. And if you end up taking it off, you could forget which side was closest to your face. You don't want to accidentally put the dirty side against your mouth. To wear it, fold a clean bandanna into a triangle, creating two layers of fabric, and secure it behind your head with a knot.
- Buff: Similar to the bandanna, the buff is an option hikers already know and love. This tubular neck wrap is made of stretchy fabric; you can pull it up over your face and it hugs the contours of your nose and mouth, making a good seal. It's also easy to pull it down around your neck and then up over your face when needed. For added protection from more layers of fabric, fold the buff in such a way that you can thread ear hooks through each side.
Don't forget — it's still important to avoid touching your face, even while wearing a mask.
Face coverings: Storing them
Now that you’ve picked your mask, here are some tips to keep it handy and clean.
- A clean stuff sack: Before you stash it, fold it so the side facing your mouth part is folded in on itself.
- Clip it to your pack: Use a big binder clip or carabiner to attach your mask to your backpack strap and it will be easy to grab when you need it.
- Wear it around your neck: A bandanna or buff accessorizes your outfit as a stylish scarf when not in use.
- Waist strap pocket: That little pocket on some backpack waist straps makes a great place to stash your face mask when not in use.
look, but don't touch
Normally, when you're out hiking you can get dirty without a care in the world. In our current times though, you'll want to avoid high touch surfaces. Which, on a hike can be harder to spot. Handrails, signage or kiosks, benches or rest spots, privies and obstacles along the trail — all these are potentially high-touch surfaces.
You may have to adjust to avoiding surfaces you normally consider harmless. The following gear will help with these situations.
- Hand Sanitizer: Use it prior to drinking, eating and after touching any surfaces. Portion it into a small plastic bottle that you can keep within arm's reach. Some of these come with holders that you can hang off your pack. You can make your own holder with duct tape and string.
- Trekking poles: Poles will allow you to pick your way through difficult terrain without having to rely on your hands for support.
- Sitting pad: Cut an old foam sleeping pad into a square and give yourself a little cushion while providing a protective barrier. Fold it so the dirty side faces outward, and don't get the sides mixed up.
Think of ways to pack your food so you don't have to touch it while eating. Plan your meals ahead of time, and portion everything into a container that will make it easy to eat. These tips aren't just useful during a pandemic, they're good habits for a lifetime of healthy hiking.
And don't forget to pack everything out, including apple cores, orange peels, sunflower seed shells and the like. Food waste can decompose slowly, and it's bad for the animals who live out there.
- Use utensils: The simplest way to chow down without contamination is to use a clean utensil. The spork is a favorite for hikers, since it's multi-purpose. Carry it in a clean bag to keep it sanitary before eating.
- Pour it out instead of digging in: When hunger strikes, it can be tempting to plunge your hand into a bag of trail mix. Instead, pour a small amount into a cup and shake it into your mouth from there, or scoop it up with that spork. We know it's silly, but it works!
- Cut fresh fruit ahead of time: Cut the fruit at home and pack the pieces to go. Pick the slices out of a tupperware with your favorite utensil (like perhaps...that spork?)
- Wrap it up: Sandwiches, burritos and wraps are a hiker standby because the food wrapper is edible. Scooch these items out of a plastic bag and enjoy your feast without having to worry about germs.
- Hydration: Camelbaks are convenient, but the mouthpiece also hangs out in the open air. The simple water bottle, especially the kind where the lid threads onto the lip, is a good option right now.
Taking care of business
Facilities like restrooms are still closed on many of our public lands, so plan to bring everything you'll need to go to the bathroom in the great outdoors while following Leave No Trace principles. For a full rundown, check out our tips for how to poop in the woods.
- TP storage: Truly leaving no trace means packing out your used toilet paper (yes, seriously). Bring two watertight plastic bags, one for clean TP, the other for dirty, and clearly mark which is which. Wrapping the "used" bag with duct tape before heading out helps keep things discreet. Go the extra mile: Go with a sustainable option like a Kula Cloth (it's for pee only, though).
- Make a kit: When you gotta go, you gotta go, and the last thing you want to do is dig through your pack to find what you need. Make a kit with everything you need: clean and dirty TP bags, a small spade for digging a cat hole and hand sanitizer. Grab and go.
- Pack it Out: Pack out all toilet paper and hygiene products. And remember don't just pack it back to the trailhead; take it all the way home with you since trash pickup is suspended at many trailheads right now. To keep everything contained, consider double bagging your trash or use a hard-sided container with a secure lid.