Even if it is difficult and uncomfortable to take care of your personal hygiene during your winter trek, it is absolutely necessary. When you sweat, moisture gathers on your body and forms a breeding ground for bacteria. In addition to their bad odour, bacteria also affect the outer layer of the skin and decrease the skin’s resistance to external influences. Common problems that arise as a result of not washing are blisters and “jock itch”.
While it might not exactly be easy to get a really good wash at minus 20 degrees Celsius, you can take care of the simplest areas using a wet washrag in the tent at night. Here is a check list of the basics:
• Wash your hands every time you go to the bathroom.
• Wash your feet and change into dry, clean socks every day.
• Wash your face, hands, armpits and groin every day.
• Brush your teeth. Being lazy about brushing your teeth, when combined with dehydration, can result in inflamed gums, which in a worst-case scenario makes it difficult to eat and drink.
• Wash and shave before you go to bed. This will give your skin time to regenerate a new layer of protective fat.
• Sometimes you might need to take a snow bath. Take a handful of snow and wash yourself in places where sweat and moisture usually gathers, such as your arm pits, feet and groin. Then dry yourself as normal.
On days when the weather is clear and the sun shining, it could be a good opportunity to wash yourself more thoroughly. Heat water on your camping stove, stand on your ground pad and wash yourself from head to toe.
Do not forget your basic needs
It is not always so appealing to take care of your basic needs in the bitter cold when the wind is howling, but you still need to do it. “Waiting until you get home” is not an alternative, even on shorter treks, since this almost always leads to constipation. If you have a base camp, it is a good idea to set-up an area that is protected from the wind to serve as the outhouse.