It's not that my routine becomes outrageous on trail, with rollers and curlers and make up and expensive lotion imported from France. It's just that everything is relative. And my hygiene routine is relatively elaborate for the trail.
It all eventually comes down to weight. Everything does. The more you put into hygiene, the more you have to carry. The more you have to carry, the more your pack weighs. The more discomfort you can put up with, the lighter your pack can be. My discomfort tolerance is much lower than many others on the trail.
Take, for instance, Danger Pants. I hiked with Danger Pants for 1 to 2 weeks as we transitioned from Tennessee to Virginia. She is very ultra-lightweight. I believe her entire pack weighed 16 pounds! Less weight, less stress on the joints, and the faster you can go. (Although let's be honest. We hiked together for almost 2 weeks. How much faster was she really going than me?)
Danger Pants had one set of clothes. She hiked all day in them, cooled down at the shelter or campsite, and then pulled on a fleece and long pants over her clothes she had hiked in all day, and slept in them. In the morning, she would take off the fleece and long pants and hike all day again in the same clothes she had slept in. She did this day after day until she went into town to do laundry. And though she wasn't really pulling bigger miles than I was with her light pack, she took far fewer zeroes. So while I went into town, got a hotel, washed my clothes, took a shower, and resupplied; she went into town, resupplied, and got back on the trail. Still wearing the one set of clothes. So she probably showered and washed the clothes every three weeks or so.
I just won't do that.
(I mean, if somebody was going to pay me 1 million dollars to do that, I bet my tolerance for discomfort would increase exponentially. And quickly. I'd get used to it and tell everybody the story from my beach house. But nobody offered me 1 million dollars. So- I just won't do that.)
I had hiking clothes and sleeping clothes. Never did the two meet. I did not hike in sleeping clothes, I did not sleep in hiking clothes. And keeping the sleeping clothes dry was paramount. (Thank goodness for ziplock bags) Plus, I had more than one set of hiking clothes. I had three pairs of socks and three t-shirts in the summer (2 when it was cooler) Because sometimes it took 2 days for the clothes to dry out, be they soaked with rain or with sweat. Putting wet socks or a wet t-shirt on in the morning just sucks. I can only imagine how sleeping in a wet t shirt and socks felt, because they certainly did not dry out overnight!
In addition to my gigantic wardrobe, I also carried baby wipes. Baby wipes are heavy. Baby wipes are so worth it. (Though I did eventually switch from baby wipes to hand wipes. Much lighter, just as effective) Each day, after reaching the campsite or shelter, rather than just "cooling down", I took a baby wipe bath. I called it my "prima donna routine". (Subaru, who also did the baby wipe thing, called it the "hygiene routine". I can't imagine why he didn't adopt MY terminology!) Sometimes I was wiping mud off, sometimes I was wiping sweat away, sometimes I was cleaning up blood. But always, I felt way better afterward. And then I changed into my completely separate, dry sleeping clothes.
I came to learn that this wasn't just diva-like. This was actually very smart. Because in the summer, after walking through the woods and fields of tall grass, hikers have the tendency to acquire ticks. And when did I find and pull off ticks? Why during prima donna time! I also noticed if there were areas where I was getting chafing or a rash or some other skin thing and could take care of it. (I carried small bottles of powder and vasoline, as well. Prima Donna!) I was a skin natzi at work with my diabetic and SCI patients, it only stands to reason that I would be a skin natzi to myself on the trail.
When the heat wave hit in July, an interesting thing happened: I started passing ultra-lightweight backpackers with my heavy pack. Hikers who had to take time off the trail for Lyme disease. And infected chafed areas. (perpetually wet, dirty shirts rubbing on the skin for 12 hours per day. Yuck) So many people were in the emergency room or health clinics for IV antibiotics or other medications. Not me! I had my prima donna routine to keep me healthy!
But I think the best outcome from my anal retentive hygiene regime occurred at a shelter in Virginia. We stopped in for lunch and Acorn was sitting in the shelter already. As we dropped our packs and got settled in for lunch, she said "How do you guys do it? Whenever anyone else comes in, all I can smell is hiker funk. You guys come in and I smell...soap." It was just about the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!
Prima donna, indeed!