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Staying Healthy in the Backcountry

Keeping Clean in the Backcountry

Campgrounds and recreational areas often provide washing and bathroom facilities. If there are no facilities, then follow these backcountry procedures.


For bathing or washing clothes and dishes, collect a pot of water from a lake or stream. Move 60 m (200 ft.) away from the water's edge and wash with biodegradable soap. When you’re done, strain the water to catch all the food. Then spread the water on the ground, spraying it far away from campsites and water sources. Staying far from the water's edge will let the soap break down and filter through the soil before reaching the lake or stream.

Wash your hands in a tub of water away from all water sources. If the water hasn’t been boiled, then use hand sanitizer after washing your hands.

If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing more than 60% alcohol. Remember that hand sanitizer doesn’t work if your hands are greasy or dirty.

If you don’t have biodegradable soap, you can use no-rinse bath and shampoo products or wet wipes (which must be packed out).

After going to the bathroom and handling any toilet paper, always be sure to wash your hands before you touch any food.

Brushing your teeth

Brush your teeth with clean water that you’ve already treated. Never put untreated water in your mouth or on your toothbrush. Brush your teeth at least 60 m (200 ft.) away from all water sources.

Current as of: July 12, 2019

Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services