I'm a big fan of being out and about in the wild, but after a day (or two) of hiking, stomping and sweating up the trails, you are going to be of desperate need of a shower. Yes, even if you don't think you need to, your hiking buddies will thank you for it.
Personally, I know I'm a bit of a clean freak. Which is strange considering we live off the grid and water is a hard to come by resource. But I can't help it. I bathe twice a day, once when I wake up in the morning, and again once I return home after a day of work. The second one is a must do, to get the dirt, grime and grease off after working our homestead.
But when I'm camping, I try to follow a similar routine.
Plus, the more you shower the better you'll fight off chafing and all the other issues that plague us when we spend more than a day or two in the wild. Being clean is a good thing, and with the right approach you can still stay clean, even while you're camping.
Choose a biodegradable soap
The first step is to realize that showing in nature is vastly different to showering at home, and all of the soapy chemicals and phosphates that miraculously disappear down your drain can do massive damage to a local ecosystem. You simply can't use the same products as you do at home when you're showering in the wild.
Normal soaps will offset the delicate balance in the water they're introduced to, potentially causing harmful algae blooms and wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem. You need to make sure that any soap you're using when you're in the wild is biodegradable. That way, it'll do the least possible damage if any of the chemicals happen to find their way into a local waterway or stream.
Don't introduce any soaps to the water
Which brings me to my second point. Even with a biodegradable soap, you need to do everything you can to avoid introducing the chemicals into the water. In fact, you should be about 200 feet from the nearest water source.
Yes, even if you're washing your dishes, take the time to grab a bucket of water and walk back to your camp and wash it there. Don't wash it in the stream. Because biodegradable soap isn't perfect, and being this far away from the running water lets the ground act as a natural filter. Soaking up the soap and stopping the chemicals from ever reaching the water, so they can break down harmlessly.
Right, now it's time for the shower.
Get your sponge bath on
The quickest and easiest way to get clean when you're in the bush is a good, old-fashioned sponge bath. I prefer these as you can heat up the water on your campfire before getting stuck into it, which is far more comfortable than jumping into a brisk mountain stream.
Simply strip down, and using your soap and the water you've warmed in a pot or a cup, use a wash cloth or your bandana to give yourself a good scrub. I usually start at the top and work down, getting a good lather up, especially on your underarms and your groin. Then scrape away as much soap as possible, and use fresh water to rinse off. It normally takes me one decent pot of water for the scrub, then two or three to completely rinse off.
Get yourself a trail shower
A trail shower is as close as you're going to get to your shower at home, as it operates with a very similar set up, except of course, you're showering in the wild. It works by filling a thick vinyl or rubber bag with water, (some hold up to 10 liters), and then setting it in the sun. The warmth from the sun is absorbed by the bag, and heats the water inside. Working on the same principle that heats the water trapped in your garden hose at home.
Within an hour or two it gets nice and toasty, then all you need to do is string the camp shower up in a tree with some paracord, and use the connected shower head to get yourself clean. One of these usually holds enough water for a quick 2 to 3-minute shower, and you will feel wonderful afterwards. Trust me. There's a reason I'm happy to carry the extra weight for this in my hiking kit. It's worth it once you get to day two, and every day after that is a blessing.
Get clean in the river
Depending on where you live the temperature of the streams and rivers may be a prohibiting factor, but bathing yourself in any natural body of water is a great way to stay clean if you're able to jump in for a dip. Just remember, you can't use soap (even biodegradable soap), when bathing in a natural water source. You risk doing too much damage to the fish and other inhabitants of the water.
What you want to do instead is take the sand from the bottom and using it to give yourself a good scrub, kind of like the exfoliation treatments you will get at a fancy spa. Washing away the grime and sweat, without the need to get a good soap up. It's not quite as effective as a full-on soap scrub, but it's definitely the fastest of the three solutions, getting you refreshed and clean so you can get back on the trail fast.
Showering while you're in the wild doesn't have to be a chore, the trick is to be smart. Pack biodegradable soap so you're making the least possible impact, and then go to town with either a sponge bath, a camp shower, or a trusty river scrub. You'll feel great once you're a little cleaner, and your hiking buddies will thank you too.