Hygiene on a Bicycle Tour
A question that often comes up when we tell people we wild camp for days or weeks on end is: “How do you shower?” In modern times, it’s normal and generally expected to shower every day or every other day, so people get a little freaked out when we tell them that we go long stretches without a shower.
There are a handful of ways that we maintain our hygiene while on tour, though none are quite up to the same standard as an actual shower. After awhile you get used to going a long time without bathing, and you realize that daily showering really isn’t necessary.
Comfort levels are significantly dependent on the weather and how much we’re sweating. Biking during the heat of the summer definitely accelerates the need for washing, and allowing too much sweat and dirt to accumulate can lead to painful saddle sores. Below we’ll go over our methods for keeping clean(ish) while on a bicycle tour.
Showers in Nature
The most straightforward solution is to bathe in streams or lakes, though we do this primarily when we’re in the mountains with easy access to clean water. This is also limited to the summer season in most places, unless you’re willing to brave cold water. Jenny hit a breaking point at Lago de Braies in Italy and took the plunge into a freezing alpine lake. Brutal but refreshing.
Note that you should NOT use soap when bathing in a natural water source. Even biodegradable soaps aren’t good to put into streams, so we only rinse off in these situations.
Makeshift Shower with a Water Bladder
We both have 4 liter MSR Dromedary bags for our water storage, and these are easy to turn into a makeshift shower. As long as we’re totally filled up on water and have plenty to cook with, we just hang the bladder up on a tree branch and use the hose attachment to spray down.
Baby wipes are an integral part of our toiletry kit. We use them at the beginning of every day to clean the important areas. It’s kind of amazing how much better you feel after a baby wipe shower. They’re not the most environmentally friendly, but it’s hard to beat the convenience, and we always pack them out rather than burying them.
Doing laundry is a regular chore on a bicycle tour since we bring a limited amount of clothing. We each have two pairs of underwear, which are rotated through the “wear one, wash one” cycle. Underwear is honestly the only clothing item that regularly gets washed – shirts and shorts can be worn for many days without being cleaned, though everyone has their personal preference for laundry frequency.
We do laundry at public fountains or in park restrooms. Traveling through the Alps was absolutely fantastic from a water perspective. Every little town had a public water fountain that was great for doing laundry and filling up on drinking water. We use Dr. Bronner’s for both laundry and body wash. It lasts forever and is a great multi-purpose soap, and we’ll be very sad when our tiny bottle runs out.
Neither of us carries deodorant at this point. It’s prone to melting during hot weather and just isn’t worth the hassle. The nice thing about bicycle touring is that we’re outside most of the time, so B.O. is less obvious than when we’re in an enclosed space. We sometimes get a few looks in the grocery store, but bicycle tourists tend to get looks whether they smell bad or not.
When you’re on a long bicycle tour and away from all the comforts of home, it’s important to take care of yourself and pay attention to your personal needs. We’ve gotten used to showering infrequently because we’ve dialed in a hygiene system that lets us maintain some semblance of dignity. Our routine allows us to wild camp for long stretches of time, which saves us money on hotels and gives us flexibility in our riding schedule. Leave a comment below if you’ve got any further questions!