Protecting your skin is important, always. I’ve got a specific skin care routine in place for most situations and carry a go bag with me in case of an emergency. Just as you take care of your skin at home, you should take care of your skin while hiking or backcountry camping.
That being said, there are some definite differences between my daily routine and my backpacking routine. It’s a smaller list of items, with emphasis on a certain few. In this article, I’ll break down what I do and don’t bring with me on a backpacking trip, and why. Let’s begin.
WHAT NOT TO BRING
Before we get into the items that ARE included in my backcountry skincare routine, let’s cover the products I choose not to bring. Here are the six types of items that I never take with me on a camping trip:
1. Fragranced Products
Fragrance and I don’t get along. I have sensitive, dehydrated, acne-prone skin, and fragrance tends to leave my face looking irritated and inflamed. As a result, you won’t find many smelly products in my skincare lineup. This is especially true for my backcountry skincare routine.
Fragrance, both natural and artificial, attracts wildlife. This isn’t always a terrible thing, but when you’re in bear territory, it is. Bears have the best sense of smell out of all terrestrial mammals on our planet, so you better believe they’ll be able to smell that peach-mango body butter. To err on the side of caution, I choose minimally scented products. The blander they smell, the better.
2. Facial Wipes
There are two reasons I don’t use facial wipes in any of my skin care routines.
The first things I take into account when choosing products are sustainability and eco-friendliness. I strive to only buy products that meet these criteria, and the large majority of facial wipes do not.
Most wipes contain single-use plastic. As I’ve made clear many times over, single-use plastic is one of the banes of my existence. While I love brands like Burt’s Bees, Neutrogena, Aveeno, and Cetaphil, none of them offer biodegradable face wipes. This doesn’t come as a surprise, as the beauty industry has always been slow on the adoption of sustainable practices.
2. Skin sensitivity.
My skin gets angry easily, particularly on my face, neck, and décolleté. Because facial wipes are perfect for camping, hiking trips, long flights, and post-workout cleanses, I’ve tried many of them.
I want to like them so badly. They’re convenient, and if you get the right ones, aren’t too terrible for the environment.
Despite their ease-of-use, I’ve yet to find one that does not irritate my skin. I think it’s a combination of the physical exfoliation you get from the wipe itself, and the cleanser that the wipes are soaked in.
I am a lifelong advocate of hydrating toners. They’ve saved my dehydrated skin more times than I can count, and I use them as often as I can. That being said, I just can’t justify them having a place on my backcountry skincare routine.
They’re too messy, and they take up precious space that can be used for more important items, such as my campfire stove or an extra pair of socks. I’ve also found them to be unnecessary, so long as you’re taking care of your skin during your trip and aren’t letting it fry in the sun.
When used correctly, serums work better than almost anything to fix skin care concerns. Discoloration, hyperpigmentation, enlarged pores, or uneven texture? Get yourself a serum created for that issue.
Be that as it may, serums are entirely unnecessary for a backcountry skincare routine. They work slowly over time, so a week or two of discontinued use will not destroy your skin. Serums are also more expensive than other skin care products. Using them during a backpacking trip is a waste of money.
While they play an important role in keeping our skin healthy, and our complexions clear, exfoliators do not make the cut for my backcountry skincare routine. I camp without them because I don’t want to damage my skin barrier while out and about in the wilderness.
By nature, chemical and physical exfoliators expedite your skin’s natural shedding cycle by removing the outer layer of dead skin that clogs pores. This removal of dead skin cells leaves your skin looking less dull and helps prevent/treat acne. But if this process is performed too often, too aggressively, or is combined with other external factors that could damage your skin, such as strong wind or sun exposure, your skin barrier could become compromised.
When that happens, your skin becomes much more vulnerable to its surroundings, and its ability to store water is impaired. This leads to dryness, irritation, and inflammation – none of which I want to deal with during a hiking trip.
6. Retinols & Retinoids
I skip retinoids during backpacking trips for the same reason I skip exfoliators – my skin barrier.
Retinoids and retinols work by increasing our skin cell turnover. This helps our pores stay clear and keeps our skin looking and acting younger. Because of this process, though, the skin’s outer layer of cells is perpetually thinned. This decreases the skin’s protective capacity, leaving it more sensitive to the sun. Whenever I know I’m gonna experience tons of sun exposure, I skip retinols/retinoids.
BACKCOUNTRY SKINCARE ESSENTIALS
Now that you know what I don’t take with me on a camping trip, let’s look at the items I do include.
1. Micellar Water
Whenever I’m traveling somewhere I know I won’t be able to bring my traditional cleanser, I reach for my handy bottle of micellar water. It’s easy to carry, easy to use, doesn’t have to be rinsed off, and is gentle on the skin. It is perfect for backcountry camping, and I never leave for a trip without it.
And interestingly enough, I’ve found it does a much better job of removing oil, dirt, makeup, and sunscreen than the many facial wipes I’ve tried. They also don’t leave my skin looking like a tomato, which is a definite plus.
I use Bioderma’s Sensibio H2O Micellar Water and have nothing but great things to say about it. It’s cheap, cosmetically elegant, and I recommend it to everyone.
2. Reusable Rounds
Instead of using a single-use product, I reach for a more sustainable alternative – reusable facial rounds. A single reusable facial round is equivalent to roughly 2,000 single-use cotton rounds. They perform the same job, while producing less waste, which makes me feel better as a consumer.
I’ve also found that if you get the ones made of bamboo velour, they cause less friction and, overall, do a better job of skin cleansing.
I don’t care where I’m going, when I’m going, or what I’m doing – you will not find me without a moisturizer. I carry one with me everywhere, and I use them religiously and generously. Therefore, it would only make sense for a moisturizer to be included in my backcountry skincare routine.
I use many types of moisturizers, and while I’m backpacking, I tend to look for ones that:
- Contain humectants (Which simply means they’re going to draw in a lot of moisture – I love me some glycerin.)
- Contain a balanced amount of occlusive ingredients (I want enough to block water loss, but don’t wanna feel sticky all day.)
- Contain ceramides (They help protect and repair our skin barrier, which is essential when exposed to the elements for long periods of time.)
- Contain antioxidants (There’s a reason they’re considered the fountain of youth by skin-care professionals – they do a killer job of protecting, preventing, and limiting free radical damage. This is especially important during backpacking trips, when sunlight is hardly scarce to find.)
My favorite is iUNIK’s Centella Calming Recovery Gel Cream. It has a killer ingredient list – niacinamide, licorice root extract, centella asiatica extract, and sodium hyaluronate, to name a few. It’s also paraben free, sulfate-free, alcohol-free, EU allergen-free, and both hormonal and fungal acne safe.
This is crucial. I cannot express to you how important it is to bring sunscreen on a backpacking trip.
Throughout my entire childhood and early adult life, I didn’t use sunscreen. And not because of a lack of sun exposure – I had a permanent tan caused by sun damage. I just hadn’t learned its importance, and didn’t consider it necessary.
For those of you who don’t already use sunscreen, I recommend you start now. It’s never too late to prevent sun damage, and never too late to reverse its signs. Protect your skin, so you can avoid skin cancer later in life.
The sunscreen I use on backpacking trips is the same one I use every day – I love it that much. MyChelle Dermaceuticals Replenishing Solar Defense is a mineral only, reef-safe sunscreen that contains zero ingredients that conflict with sensitive skin.
It’s formulated with red algae extract, barley extract, and honeysuckle extract to help prevent free radical damage, and kukui and macadamia nut oils, which restore moisture balance. It’s good for virtually any skin type, and I’m not the only one who raves about it.
5. Lip Sunscreen
Your lips are just as prone to skin cancer as any other part of your body, and perhaps even more so due to so few people wearing SPF on their lips.
Skin cancer prevention isn’t the only benefit you get from lip balm formulated with SPF – you can also prevent a very uncomfortable sunburn. Lips are not a fun place to get burnt. They’re a delicate area and are very susceptible to damage from UV rays. For me, that’s reason enough to use lip balm containing SPF.
My go-to lip sunscreen is Vanicream’s Mineral Lip Ointment. It’s broad spectrum SPF 30, water resistant for up to 80 minutes, and fragrance-free. It also does a great job at preventing moisture loss, contains no chemical sunscreen ingredients, and doesn’t leave a white cast on my lips.
My favorite tinted lip sunscreen is Brush On Block’s Protective Lip Oil. It contains nourishing ingredients such as Vitamin E, argan oil, castor oil and sunflower seed oils. It’s also a mineral only sunscreen, and adds a nice pop of color that is surprisingly long lasting.
6. Biodegradable Wipes
I know what I said earlier – no face wipes! But ah, these aren’t for my face. They’re for my body.
I sweat. I sweat a lot. When I’m hiking, I sweat even more than I normally do, and the smell can become unbearable. While I’d love to be able to use bar soap, that’s not feasible on a backpacking trip, so body wipes are the way to go. I make sure to choose a biodegradable option, and as always, pack it in, pack it out.
Rawganic’s Anti-aging Hydrating Facial Wipes are the ones I usually take with me. They are made of 100% organic cotton, are cheap, and don’t irritate my sensitive skin in the slightest.
7. Sun Hat
This is a stylish extension of sunscreen. It gives additional sun protection and does a great job of keeping my head cool during direct sunlight hours. Look for ones that are easily packable, and provide an ultraviolet protection factor of at least fifty.
Here are a couple of affordable ones I found on Amazon. Both are foldable and have a UPF rating of 50. This one is more focused on style, and this one is geared towards being more outdoor activity friendly.
Skincare is important, but living life to its fullest even more so.
Less is more. No matter what you choose to include in your backcountry skincare routine, remember the reason you’re camping in the first place – to have a great time. Don’t spend too much time worrying about what skin care products to bring with you. Just enjoy the ride and have fun.
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Hi, I'm Ash!
I’m a travel blogger who loves experiencing new things and deeply connecting with people. My missions are to help others around the world realize their travel dreams, and to spread the word about sustainable travel. Feel free to send me a message here.