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Bathing etiquette

Is it acceptable to skinny-dip/take a shower naked while camping in the backcountry?

Yes.  But it all depends on the situation.  I have been reprimanded (MANY) years ago for doing this by a ranger.  But the solution is to choose an isolated location....

By the time you are on the far side of the lake, most people don't care.  If you are within 20 yards of their campsite, maybe not so good. 



Of course.  One of the great places to bathe is under a bridge on a highway.  We used to hike naked in the 60s and 70s but only in quiet places. 

You mean people actually bathe in the back country??

Realistically, please don't pollute the water source and be reasonably discreet...

Don't be nude within eye shot stranger's kids.  As for adults they can look the other way.  Our society is sooo puritanical, to the point I can't respect this specific boundary much.  Enjoy, but no soap in or near surface water sources.


Generally it isn't the bathing nude that might offend someone, it's when you're getting in and getting out.

No need for soap in order to bathe in the backcountry. Though you might kill some fish just with your body bacteria and BO alone...

Agreed about the soap.  But for those of you who are worried about body bacteria, my guess is that you have never been close to a bear...and yes, bears bathe in the creeks and lakes all the time.  As do lots of other animals.  Mmmmm.

Yeah keep any soap on shore.  One of the best ways to convince some women to spend more time in the backcountry is to give them opportunities for bathing.  I like to bring a solar shower. 

River trips provide ample opportunities for swimming and staying clean.  A solar shower really helps on cold water trips.  On a trip to the BWCA in MN the lakes warm up to around 70 degrees. We had 4 couples and started the Polar Bear Club. Every morning after coffee, all 8 of us jumped in the lake. Clothes were not necessary. 

balzaccom, true...I've sometimes smelled black bears before I saw them...stinky beasts

but of course they are far outnumbered by hikers in my local areas

I don't see anything wrong in nude bathing so long as others are not offended. If complete privacy is not possible, then covering anything that would have merited a fig leaf is, imo, a best practice. Men can swim and bath in hiking shorts easily enough. Women when hiking probably wear undergarments that are less revealing than many swimsuits. 

Let's face it, once we pass a certain age, our nudity is a better contraceptive than an enticement. If your wilderness flashing is more likely to induce shudders than shivers of delight, remember the old saying "Keep the backcountry beautiful, keep your pants on." :)

Americans are uncomfortable about nudity for some unexplanable reason. I grew up in the 60s and 70s when it was common place. Some people should not be in the back country. 

I visited Baden Baden the famous hot springs in Germany that was first developed by the Romans.  No one wear clothes there or bathing suits. There are 20 stations to go through. On Tu, Thu, and Sat it is co-ed. The rest of the week men and women are separated. No big deal. 

I think it's better to wear something while swimming in the backcountry. There is no way to know for sure that no one is near. And there is no way to know for sure that "this someone" will not be offended by your sudden beauty. :D

Swimming naked in the backcountry is the best. I just make sure nobody's around and go for it. If we're camping by an alpine lake, I'll jump in in the early morning or evening so I'm sure no day hikers will come suddenly show up.

In the old days we all skinny dipped in mountain creeks thruout NC and TN and VA etc.  Then things got Gotcha in American culture and so now I'm very carefull to never get naked and instead I always wear my patagonia hiking underwear when bathing/swimming.

A buddy of mine was caught skinny dipping in a lake near Greensboro NC and he got cited and was put on some predator watch list.  It's absurd. 

Walter brings up an important point: the effects of visible nudity in the backcountry can remain long after the unfortunate observer finishes his round of trauma therapy.

Cell-phone cameras are ubiquitous. A gentle hiker, quietly recording the wonders of nature with his camera, glances toward a pristine lake at the exact moment a hirsute septuagenarian staggers ashore wearing nothing but a smile. Is that image something you wish to see trending on youtube? Will it be well-received when pasted to the staff refrigerator at work? Just some thoughts.


Upon the rare occasion said gentle hiker may stumble on beautiful people doing the same. A friend of mine showed some really funny cell pics the other day: the first picture was a nude and well developed young woman emerging with a big smile from an alpine lake. The next was his wife in front of the camera extending her middle finger with the young woman still visible in the background. :)

But it's a good point: some things you just can't un-see. Years ago I was finishing a long hike at a forest road trailhead. Granted, it was a somewhat obscure location but I came around a bend to a very graphic display of late middle age copulation. They were no more than 100 feet from the trailhead and right on the trail. Not beside the trail, on the trail (on a blanket). I hated to disturb but I had to reach my car and the rhododendron was too thick to crawl through and avoid them. I backed up quietly, made a lot of noise, waited two minutes and walked through. They didn't even bother to get fully dressed so it was still awkward. 


I'm sure two minutes was long enough. :)

There are a few lake destinations in the Sierra where I make it a point to be noisy when not on the main trail, not for the bears, but for the amorous couples who find these spots as wild and remote as they desire to trek.  In actuality they are among the most congested venues outside Yosemite Valley.  I had my own surprise visit back in the day.  My paramour and I were recreating in the tent, when someone strides into camp, pauses, then goes straight to the tent and opened the flap.  WTF! (or something to that effect).  The intruder apologized stating the noise emanating from within compelled him to assure no one was in distress.  A simple "are you ok?" would have sufficed, don't you think?  I guess hard core bird watchers feel compelled to confirm specie mating calls with an actual visual confirmation. 


It's acceptable as long as you do it right. Realistically though, I'd only ever see myself bathing while backpacking if I had done 3 or 4 gruesome days of backpacking in a row, to the point where even I can smell my stink.

But if you feel the need, do it! If you feel the need to use a soap, go with a biodegradable soap, or some sort of camp soap. These soaps are made to not affect the environment AS much, and biodegrade quicker. NOTE that you should not use any sort of soap in or near a body or stream of water. You'll kill the fishies and the lake if you do so. Its recommended using them 100ft away from any sort of water. 

If you decide to not use soap, then great! If you don't have a body of water to take a dip in, I'd recommend packing a Sham-wow or whatever overpriced backpacking towel you may want, and then just a water bottle. Then just scrub as needed.

Other than that, definitely follow what everyone else says about isolating yourself. You wanna make sure you're far away from a trail or anywhere else a person might go. When car camping, I've always bathed in my quick drying underwear so no one has to face the horrors of my junk. 

The best places to be in the outdoors are where no one else is around. Ettiquette becomes irrelevant and you can do what you want. 

Bathing in the outdoors is a great idea.  I am a big fan of it. In hot weather it is a natural.  I distinctly remember coming home from an elk hunt out by Elko, Nevada a few years ago. Hunting requires some hiking in steep country, and sometimes some sweat.  I stopped to see a friend at his ranch out in O'Neil Basin to take a shower. After 8 days it was a blessing. 

ppine said:

Bathing in the outdoors is a great idea.  I am a big fan of it. In hot weather it is a natural.  I distinctly remember coming home from an elk hunt out by Elko, Nevada a few years ago. Hunting requires some hiking in steep country, and sometimes some sweat.  I stopped to see a friend at his ranch out in O'Neil Basin to take a shower. After 8 days it was a blessing. 


Regardless I wash up daily on a hike, hitting the shower is the first thing I do when back in civilization.  If bath facilities are far from the trailhead, I'll cache a bulk container of water, towels, and clean clothes in my truck, and wash up before driving off.  My hiking buds think I am obsessed, but once forced to join me they are glad to be fresh and clean of trail grit.  Then it is on for a pizza or burger.  And if possible, digest the meal while indulging in a relaxing hot soak.  I'll eventually get around to driving home, but one needs to first relax after a week of hard relaxing.  


How about natural hot springs?  Nevada and eastern California are full of them.

There are some perfect ones at odd locations that I will not name. 

My favorite was 15 miles from the nearest road in the eastern Sierra.  Someone brought in a cast iron bath tub on a mule.  The water is around 103 degrees.  One of the best baths of my life.

Another favorite is in central Nevada. I had a consulting job near it at a mine site. A friend and I camped there for several days and pocketed the per diem allowance. We would wake up in the fall chill below freezing, and get out of the sleeping bags into the hot spring.  Standing waist deep in hot water I could fire up the stove and make coffee. Just another day at the office. The commute to the mine was 20 minutes instead of an hour and a half from town.

I bathe every night on the trail.  I hang my camelbak and have a usually very cool, invigorating, and so-o-o refreshing shower.  Best practice is to bathe at least 100 yards from a water source or river, and if you can use a plant based soap all the better.  I have never understood the appeal of being unclean after a full day of backcountry hiking, let alone not bathing days on a multi-day hike or long trail.

Just wondering, guys, what do think about biodegradable soap? 

As long as you are doing your bathing/showering/clothes-washing about 200 feet from water (lakes, streams, etc) or carrying the wash bucket 200 feet away, the biodegradable soap is ok. Main thing is keep the soap, degradable or not away from water sources that you and the local critters might drink from. Yes, it is true that the critters will enter the water and relieve themselves plus carry bacteria, etc. But that's their natural shedding of microorganisms.

No one has mentioned pulling sweat lodges on backpacking trips.  Such lodges are easy to build and use minimal materials---I once built a single person lodge using dental floss, saplings and a tent fly on a trip into Pisgah NF.  Just dig a small hole for the hot rocks and have some pour water.  It's a great way to bathe in the outdoors, especially in the winter.

When I lived at my NC ridgetop tipi I always had a sweatlodge nearby---the frame can be seen in this pic.

ppine said:

How about natural hot springs?  Nevada and eastern California are full of them.

There are some perfect ones at odd locations that I will not name. 

My favorite was 15 miles from the nearest road in the eastern Sierra.  Someone brought in a cast iron bath tub on a mule.  The water is around 103 degrees.  One of the best baths of my life.



I am a REAL aficionado of hot springs.  I have amassed quite a collection of literature documenting the hot springs of the Sierra and Western Nevada.  Oddly no single publication documents the complete roster of springs in any given region.  It is also noteworthy that the dynamics of geology and climate have caused some documented springs to go dormant, while others have sustained changes in water temps that make them amiable in some instances, and unsafe for humans in other instances.  As a result of the various dynamic influences, there very well may be a few new, undocumented, springs awaiting discovery.

I research areas I visit for the first time to see if one fits into my itinerary.  I believe I know of the bathtub soak you describe, there are three bath tubs soaks in the general vicinity that fit your description.  One is noted to have the temp your describe, which I consider the perfect soak temp.  But thus far I haven't been able to convince my travel companions to make the detour necessary to visit it. 

Many know of the soaks that are along several trails in the remote Sierra, for example Iva Bell, located just off the Fish Creek Trail, and Kern Hot Spring in the Kern River Trench.  These springs have been loved to death, despite their remote locations.  There are a few additional hot springs in the Sierra interior not documented for some reason, thus spared the loving abuse.  One such spring is located less than a mile from the JMT somewhere east of the Kern River.  It is small, but since very few know its whereabouts, its size suffices.  Limited use, and minimal modifications to reduce human caused erosion has kept it in relatively good condition.  It is almost the perfect hot soak temp, but somewhat sulfurous.  I happened upon it by serendipity, spotting a telltale steam cloud rising in the still air, while doing a winter season traverse that passed through the area.  I will not get more specific, however, because rangers I have since spoken with indicated it is a spring privy only to the few BC rangers manning the station in that region, and a few outfitters and guides that work the area.  I am told even paying clients are not indulged with a visit as part of their trips.  But I imagine someone with a good understanding of geology and access to certain USGS maps can narrow the location of this gem.  'Nuff said...


The hotsprings sound good with these 8 degree temps were having.The only hotsprings I been to was hotsprings ark for a soak on a car trip,

Listen to Bill when it comes to soap and keeping it out of natural waters. 

I was at New Year's Eve party last night with a sweat lodge on my friend's 42 acre farm with a large fire. Clothing was optional and there were about 75 people there. Maybe the West is a little different. 

Feliz Ano Neuvo mis amigos. 

October 24, 2020
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