Once, while I was in Saltzberg, an American lad asked me to pass him his daysac. It nearly wrenched my arm from its socket with the unexpected weight.
“This is heavier than my entire kit!” I complained “What have you got in here?”
“Just my gel and moose and shampoo and conditioner and…”
You get the idea
Choice of wash kit is personal, but I'll describe mine as a guide.
Like many travellers I used to use a washroll or zippered bag for my wash kit. The last one I used was quite an ingenious in that it had lots of pockets and compartments, a hook it could be hung up by and a little mirror that attached to a pad of Velcro. One day it occurred to me just how much unnecessary bulk and weight all those thicknesses of condura contributed. Now I just use a mesh drawcord bag.
- A screw topped plastic bottle of shampoo. I use a 50 ml plastic screw-topped tube. I’ve taken trips of a month or more and never managed to use up all this shampoo. Older I get the less hair needs washing!
- A flannel, though half of one will do. Always give this a good wringing out before packing away. In actuality I seldom use a flannel so this is an item that could be omitted. I mainly use mine for scrubbing stains on clothing.
- A bar of soap. Soap can be used as an antiseptic, laundry agent and for shaving. Hence I have no need to carry a shaving brush or foam. Many of the soap cases available in the shops are made of too brittle a plastic and therefore of little use for travelling. Nowadays I keep the bar of soap in a small PU nylon drawcord bag, which is simpler and lighter.
- A disposable razor or two, depending on the length of the trip. I have a beard these days but still pack a couple of razors.
- One of the most useful things I've carried on my travels is a little nail brush, just an inch or so long and brought for a few pence in a supermarket or cosmetics shop. I think my second one was from Body Shop. I don't think I've ever used it for my nails. What it has been used for includes:
- Brushing dried mud off my canvas and suede summer boots -a lot easier than washing them and scrounging newspaper to pack in them to dry.
- Using with hand soap to scrub away collar grime or food stains. Laundry is then simply done in a wash basin or shower, for free!
- Brushing dried mud out of clothes. One of the most popular clubs with travellers in Jerusalem has a floor not unlike a farmyard. Every morning in the hostel my little brush would pass through a score of hands as garments were restored to a more presentable condition. So appreciated was this item that someone stole it from me!
- A “fit anyhole” sink plug. You often encounter sinks without plugs. This is such a useful item I have had them stolen from me by other travellers.
- A small mirror. The one that came with the wash roll broke, being glass. My current one is made from a piece of polished door finger plate –brought from a hardware store. Add a short length of fishing line so you can hang it up.
- A spare comb.
- A packet of dental floss. I have mainly used this as heavy thread for repairs. If you look at my self-built rucksac you can spot some dental floss repairs!
- A couple of moist napkins in foil packets. These are used to freshen up when washing is not possible.
These are the contents of my mesh bag. Also in the same rucksack pocket is a travel towel. A thin cloth such as a bandanna or shemagh can be used instead.
Travel towels made of Pertex are not only small packing but dry very rapidly. I think I acquired my actual towel on a trip. It seems to be something like polyester. Not as fast drying as Pertex I expect but still quicker and less bulky than cotton. Add a loop of cord or string to your towel and make it big enough to pass the towel through. This lets you attach it to a rucksac hand-loop or strap to dry in the breeze.
I find it is more useful to keep the toothbrush and paste and the deodorant separate from the rest of the wash kit. You tend to need these at different times to the wash kit, and it is just handier to have them in a side pocket of your rucksac. I use a mesh pencil case to hold the toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant.
- Deodorant/ Antiperspirant. I generally use gels or soft sticks. These are a lot less bulky that aerosols and probably last longer.
- A toothbrush and paste. You can get folding travel models of toothbrush, but I just use a normal one. I intend to replace this with a child-size brush.
In addition to these items my daysac has a toilet roll in a plastic bag.
You can improvise to overcome the loss of several of these items. Soap is mainly a lubricant so a lot of the dirt can be removed with just water and more scrubbing. In the past sand or oils have been used, and certain leaves, grass or straw may make good scrubbers. In cold dry conditions you can wash yourself with handfuls of snow. Snow is very absorbent so can be used to dry you but should not be kept on the skin too long. It is cold so you wouldn't want to do this!
Salt has been used in place of toothpaste but in fact it is the mechanical action of brushing that is more important for cleaning. Using a fingertip is well known but chewing a stick and using the frayed end is more effective.
Some hikers clean their teeth with baking soda or a mix of baking soda and salt. Apparently this does not attract bears like flavoured toothpaste can.
Plug holes can be plugged with blobs of toilet paper.
Splashing around in a river can be great fun but it’s better you carry some water away to wash with. Your soap may be biodegradable but before it degrades it's still contaminating a water supply and many creatures, environment. Better to pour it on the soil where the organisms there can degrade it more usefully.