Contact lenses are easy enough to apply and remove when you have access to modern amenities like a full-sized mirror, indoor lighting, and running water and soap.
But when you’re out backpacking or camping, it can be a lot trickier.
I often wear my glasses just out of personal preferences, but there have been trips where contact lenses were the better choice.
Here’s what I recommend based on my own experience.
Daily disposable contact lenses are the way to go
I used to get monthly disposable lenses, but since I often choose to wear my glasses for days or even weeks on end, I’d find that I’d never get the full use out of my monthlies before they’d expire.
My optometrist recommended I try daily contact lenses, which were much more cost-effective and allowed me to switch between glasses and contacts easily.
It turns out that many other camping enthusiasts swear by them.
Daily contact lenses come individually packaged, can be worn for about a maximum of 12 to 16 hours, and are meant to be thrown out after removing them.
That means no need to bring contact lens solution or a contact lens case.
And best of all, no need to waste time or energy cleaning your contact lenses every night.
I find that the hassle of carrying solution and cleaning my monthlies every night far outweigh the extra weight/bulk and waste of dailies.
Sure, you have to bring one pair per day of your trip (plus an extra pair or two just in case), but the packages are small, lightweight, and airtight.
In comparison to a travel size bottle of solution and a contact case, the weight and bulk of bringing dailies often turns out to be less (depending on the length of your trip).
Pros of bringing daily contact lenses camping
- Super lightweight and compact
- Airtight packaging ensures zero contamination
- Affordable and comfortable to wear
- No need to bring a contact lens case or solution
- No need to spend time cleaning contact lenses every night
- No need worrying about where to store the case with solution and lenses at night
- No need to worry about whether your contact lenses are clean enough to reapply in the morning
Cons of bringing daily contact lenses camping
- Need to bring at least one pair for each day of your trip
- Creates extra waste to pack out
- Clean hands still required for application and removal
Dailies may be the first choice for myself and many other campers, but that doesn’t mean you absolutely must make the switch.
It’s possible to bring your monthlies along—you just have to be willing to carry your solution and your case, and be willing to spend the extra time and energy making sure they’re cleaned properly every single night.
Dailies, in my opinion, are just so much more convenient.
How to wash your hands before applying or removing contact lenses while camping
You need your hands to be as clean as possible before applying and removing your contact lenses.
If you don’t, or you don’t wash them properly, you could risk introducing bacteria or other contaminants into your eye, which could lead to an infection.
This is why your first choice should always be to use soap and clean, filtered water—not water straight from a nearby stream, river, or lake.
One way to sterilize water is to boil it for 15 minutes.
Of course, you’ll have to let it cool before you use it to wash your hands.
Your other option is to use a simple water filtration device.
One of our favourites is the Katadyn BeFree water bottle with built-in filter.
Just squeeze the bottle to get clean, filtered water.
This is a concentrate, so a little goes a long way—all you need is a drop or two to wash your hands.
A good rule of thumb is to sing the Happy Birthday song while you lather up to ensure your hands are properly clean.
Once you’re done, be sure to rinse with filtered water and dry with a clean cloth or towel.
What about using hand sanitizer or wet wipes?
I almost always make sure to wash my hands with soap and filtered water before handling my contact lenses because it’s the most effective way to wash away dirt and bacteria.
However, if you don’t have access to soap and clean water, then using hand sanitizer or wet wipes is your next best bet.
Hand sanitizers and wet wipes are designed to kill bacteria, but they don’t necessarily wash away dirt and debris, so this may not be a great option if your hands are visibly dirty.
Wet wipes may have a slight advantage over hand sanitizer since you can at least use them to wipe away as much dirt and debris as possible.
Keep in mind that because most brands of hand sanitizer and wet wipes contain alcohol, you may experience a burning sensation or irritation if touch your eyes after using them.
To prevent irritation and increase your chances of washing dirt off, it’s best to rinse at least your fingertips with filtered water after using hand sanitizer or wet wipes—before you touch your contact lenses and/or eyes.
Bring a compact mirror
You might not realize just how much you rely on using a mirror to apply and remove your contact lenses—until you don’t have access to one.
My wife Elise always brings a compact mirror on our camping trips, which I borrow whenever I need to put in or take out my contacts.
If you’re going to get one, I highly recommend getting one with a built-in ring light so you can see what you’re doing in the dark.
Elise has the wobsion LED travel makeup mirror, which works swell.
If you need both hands to apply or remove your contacts like I do, you can open the mirror and set it on a flat (or semi-flat) surface—like a pack or camping table.
You may need to sit or bend down, but at least you’ll be able to see what you’re doing and have your hands free to do it.
Extra tips for camping while wearing contact lenses
Contact lenses are great, but if you’re not careful, your eyes can get into serious trouble.
Here are a few final tips I have to help you keep your eyes safe while camping:
Set reminder to remove your contacts. I do this on my phone or stopwatch so I remember to give my eyes at least an hour to breathe before hitting the hay.
Bring 1 to 2 extra pairs in case you drop them on the ground while trying to insert them.
Bring an old pair of glasses (and glasses case) if you can afford the extra weight, which will make seeing in the early morning and late night a lot easier.
Now you won’t miss out on any of that beautiful scenery while you hit the trail!
Or lake, or mountain, or wherever!
Camping with contact lenses FAQ
If I decide to bring monthlies, where do I store them in my case at night?
Probably not in your tent given how little room there is.
And even though contact lens solution typically doesn’t smell very strong, its subtle scent can still attract animals.
This is why, if you do opt to bring monthlies where you’re required to store them overnight, we recommend placing the case in a watertight container or sealable bag and then placing it on a flat surface—away from your tent.
If possible, place it on the very top of your food bag before hanging it in a tree.
Can I just wash my monthlies in my hands with solution in the morning instead of using the case overnight?
This is possible, but risky, because there’s a high chance that your hands won’t be as clean as they need to be.
If you decide to try this, refer to the section above about washing your hands with soap and clean, filtered water.
Do contact lenses freeze in cold weather?
They won’t freeze while you’re wearing them.
If you’re thinking about your dailies freezing in their packages, or monthlies in your case, don’t worry too much.
The solution they’re stored may freeze in extreme cold, but the lenses will remain protected and can be used as normal once brought back to room temperature.
Now, if you’re worried about being able to use your contact lenses without them being frozen in the first place, consider storing them in a way that insulates them (like wrapping them in your clothing) to protect them from the cold.
Can I wear contact lenses around a campfire?
It’s generally find as long as you keep a safe distance from the flames and don’t stand or sit in the way of the smoke, but you may find that the heat and smoke irritates your eyes, which could cause you to want to rub them.
If you’re enjoying some time around the campfire at night and aren’t planning on doing any more tasks that require you to have perfect vision (such as cooking or processing firewood), consider removing your contacts and using this time to allow your eyes to breathe.
Ross is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. He loves looking at maps, planning new routes, sport fishing, and developing his nature photography skills. He’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).