Wild camping sanitation

Most wilderness environments have fewer germs than our homes having done the spring clean. However, hygiene shortcuts in camp can lower standards to frankly urban hygiene levels.

Kitchen hygiene is of utmost importance when campfire cooking for a group in the wild.

Washing hands

It’s important every group member washes their hands before handling food for this is the most efficient way of stopping the spread of germs. Octane expeditions use a hung dromedary water bag with a bar of soap handy.

Unfortunately the recent fad for anti-bacterial soap results in harmful chemicals entering wilderness environments. Furthermore, research shows antibacterial soap is no more effective than standard soap in killing germs due to the excessive time period required to be in contact with the skin in order for it to take effect.


Soap kills all the germs on hands if used with an adequate amount of scrubbing. Antibacterial soap is good if… a). left on skin for a 5-minute period and b). if performing brain surgery imminently

For those insisting such chemical and man made approaches are necessary for a clean pair of hands, alcohol wipes are best and must be packed out of the wilderness for disposal in the urban areas from whence they came. Wipes do not biodegrade and, if they are to clog up the environment, it is probably best the wet wipes clog up city drains.

Washing food

It is efficient if food is washed before embarking on an expedition, as clean water on a remote wilderness island can be a valuable commodity. If food is to be cooked it can be rinsed in untreated water. If food is to be eaten raw it must be rinsed in purified water. Knives and surfaces that have been in contact with raw meat and fish should be cleaned with purified water before being used for other purposes.

Washing dishes

The most efficient and hygienic method of washing dishes in the wild is in warm soapy water, rinsed and left to air dry. Scrap and leftover food should be burnt on the fire and used dishwater should be poured into a grey water hole.

A grey water hole should be located at least 20 metres from the high tide mark and should be dug no deeper than the active layer of soil. The food particles will biodegrade here more easily. Used dishwater should not be poured directly into the sea or water courses even if the detergent used is biodegradable – just because Unilever call it biodegradable, put a leaf icon on the box and use some eco prefix, it does not mean it kills less fish.

Managing waste

Nothing can spoil a wilderness more that seeing waste left by previous campers. If litter is spotted it should be collected, stored in camp and packed out to be disposed of correctly. As annoying as that may sound, one feels better as part of the solution rather than being part of the problem.

There are three types of waste a wilderness expedition creates: rubbish, food waste and human waste.


If one packs well before setting out it’s possible to minimise rubbish created in the wilderness by first removing the plastic nonsense supermarkets wrap around our food.

However, it is virtually impossible to avoid carrying out any rubbish at all. Wash all empty food wrappers so that they do not start to smell. Wash empty cans, place their lids inside and crush flat to pack out and dispose of when home. Take spare and sturdy plastic bags on the trip to pack out all rubbish.

Food waste

Liquid food waste such as soups and stews should be sieved, with the food particles burnt on the fire and the liquid poured into a grey water hole.

However, the disposal of food on an expedition is a pain and members should taste before they try or otherwise finish their meal. Larger types of unfinished food such as pasta or porridge must be packed out and, although this remains Octane’s ultimate responsibility, those who leave food are expected to pack it out.

Human waste

According to international Leave No Trace guidelines, human waste in western Scotland should be deposited in the intertidal zone. The huge volumes of water moving between the zones create something referred to as the intertidal flush.

Despite increasing traffic through wilderness areas, education and environmental awareness has resulted in a reduced impact by campers. However, any contribution made to local environmental groups pays for a trip in many ways.

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