Liberating oneself from the social norm of regular hygiene maintenance is one of the beautiful things about going into the wilderness. To embrace your own scent and salt is to be free, and being miles away from the nearest spigot is as good an excuse as you’ll get for “letting things go.”
But if you (or others) can’t take your brand of au naturale, that’s okay. While no soap is clean enough for shampooing in the river — not, not even the ones labeled “biodegradable” — some, concocted using only natural ingredients, can be safely disposed of on land. These are the soaps that are good for you and safe for the environment.
Juniper Ridge Timberline Trail Soap
Best Liquid: One way for a manufacturer to ensure that a soap is wilderness-friendly is to use whole ingredients sustainably harvested from straight from nature. Juniper Ridge does this and more. Its crew operates a movable Field Lab that allows them to cook and concoct their pickings trail-side, capturing the essence of a region in a small, liquid-filled bottle. Timberline contains hints of pine trees, summer wildflowers, oak catkins and a glacial breeze.
Noteworthy Ingredients: subalpine fir, spruce and pine, spring water, charred firewood, late-summer wild berries, glacial silt
Mt. Mazama Rogue Soap
Best Bar: United By Blue has stewardship at its core. For every product sold, the brand commits to removing one pound of trash from the ocean. That sentiment extends to its line of Rogue Soaps, which are crafted using all-organic materials that won’t harm the natural environments they are inspired by. This bar, in particular, is named for the stratovolcano whose collapsed caldera now holds Crater Lake, but will leave you smelling like French clay and newly picked geraniums.
Noteworthy Ingredients: organic saponified palm, coconut oil, olive oil, essential oils, french green clay
Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash
Best Concentrate: Sea to Summit’s Wilderness Wash has been a backpacker staple for years. That’s probably because a little goes a long way — one small capful of the concentrated liquid soap is enough for a single shower. The biodegradable formula is safe for use on cutlery as well as skin, and the bottle lid has a sound design that won’t leak in your bags. Traveling in the front- or backcountry can be a clean and easy experience.
Noteworthy Ingredients: Not Listed
Leave No Suds
Soap makes you clean, but unfortunately there is no such thing as a totally clean soap. Even biodegradable soaps, while free of harmful ingredients like parabens and phosphates that hurt wildlife and cause unnatural algae blooms, can damage natural ecosystems if used improperly. They can also affect water quality. (Just ask the guy filling up his water bottle downstream.)
There are a few things that can be done if you want to reduce your impact. Use all soaps sparingly when in the backcountry. Move at least 200 yards away from lakes, rivers and streams before using any soap. Dig a hole six to eight inches deep for dumping soapy water — the bacteria in soil break down the biodegradable ingredients. Pack out all packaging and waste. Shooting for zero impact? Leave the soap at home entirely.
Ursa Major Essential Face Wipes
Best Face Wipe: Even for purists who never bathe on the trail, cleansing the face of sweat and dirt can be a spirit booster when times get tough (or when you’re walking back into town on the final day of a multi-day thru-hike). Ursa Major saturated these individually wrapped bamboo face wipes with its 4-in-1 Face Tonic. The formula cleanses, exfoliates, heals and hydrates with 100 percent naturally derived ingredients. Just remember to pack away the wrapper and used wipe when that face is washed and free of dirt.
Noteworthy Ingredients: aloe, witch hazel, willow bark extract, rosemary, apple, green tea, birch sap, radish root
Best Body Wipe: Action Wipes has taken the face wipe to the next level with its line of cleansing products. Each wipe is 9 x 10 inches and has enough juice to clean your entire body. The California-based company was inspired by the state’s historic drought and came to find that showers are often superfluous and wasteful, especially when all that’s needed is a rinse. Each wipe can save 25 gallons of water (roughly the amount used in a 10-minute shower), is infused with certified organic ingredients and can be washed and reused as a rag, bandana or whatever else you deem fit.
Noteworthy Ingredients: water, frankincense oil, eucalyptus oil, tee tree oil, ylang ylang oil
Dr. Bronner’s Baby Unscented Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
Best Do-Everything Product: The Bronner name has its roots in a 19th-century German soap-making family and has endured the years to become an icon of the 1960s counterculture movement, not to mention a clean-everything solution in the home and on the trail. This soap washes hair, beards, skin, dishes, floors, dogs and more. The company supports regenerative agriculture projects, utilizes 100 percent post-consumer recycled packaging and works with biodegradable ingredients. Plus, the label is packed with Dr. Bronner’s infinite wisdom on how to unite humankind across faith and geography on this, our Spaceship Earth.
Noteworthy Ingredients: water, organic coconut oil, organic palm kernel oil, organic olive oil, organic hemp oil, organic jojoba oil, citric acid