How to wash your face while camping

by | Jul 12, 2023 | Camp hygiene

This post may contain affiliate links.

When you’re on a camping trip, it’s easy to neglect certain aspects of personal hygiene.

But, washing your face is an essential part of any skincare routine, even when you’re in the great outdoors.

A woman washing her face outdoors

Camping can be tough on your skin, with dirt, sweat, and grime accumulating throughout the day.

If you don’t wash your face regularly, these impurities can clog your pores and lead to breakouts.

That’s why it’s important to know how to properly wash your face while camping to keep your skin healthy and glowing.

There are two main ways you can wash your face while camping: Going waterless, or using a water-friendly method.

Method 1: Go waterless

Daily cleansing facial wipes.

Going waterless is just what it sounds like—it doesn’t require you to use any water at all.

The main way to do this is by taking advantage of facial wipes, which come pre-moistened in their packaging.

This is the most convenient method and may be a good choice when filtered water is hard to find, or you want to save it for other purposes (such as drinking to stay hydrated).

Pros of going waterless

  • Saves water
  • Saves time
  • More convenient
  • Ideal for on-the-go use
  • Often also include makeup remover

Cons of going waterless

  • May not be as effective at removing dirt and oil from your skin as washing with water
  • May not be suitable for all skin types
  • May leave your skin feeling dry or irritated, especially if you have sensitive skin
  • Can be expensive or difficult to find
  • Requires carrying extra weight around
  • Must be packed out as trash after use

What you need for waterless face-washing

First, you’ll need a waterless face wash or cleansing wipe.

Look for a product that is gentle and suitable for your skin type.

Products we recommend include:

Simple cleansing facial wipes

These wipes effectively removes waterproof mascara and features an Aqua-lock system to keep every wipe fresh and soft.

It’s safe for sensitive eyes, and is non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic.

It’s also vegan and free from alcohol and parabens.

Neutrogena cleansing makeup remover wipes

These makeup remover towelettes are designed to dissolve all dirt, oil, and makeup, including stubborn waterproof mascara.

They’re made with 100% plant-based VEOCEL fibres and are alcohol-free to be gentle and prevent dryness.

Burt’s Bees micellar face wipes

Burt’s Bees facial wipes are a 3-in-1 towelettes cleanse, remove makeup, hydrate and nourish skin in one step, and effectively remove pore-clogging dirt and oil.

Infused with coconut and lotus water, they are free from parabens, phthalates or petrolatum.

Waterless method step-by-step process

  1. Wash your hands with hand sanitizer first, or biodegradable soap and filtered water.
  2. Grab a cleansing wipe.
  3. Use the wipe to gently massage your skin, focusing on areas that have makeup applied and then moving to areas that tend to get oily or dirty.
  4. Use a clean section of the cloth or towel to wipe each time you move to a new area of your skin.


  • Look for waterless face-washing products that are gentle and suitable for your skin type.
  • Go easy on rubbing and pulling your skin to avoid irritation.
  • Bring a light moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated.


  • Forget to wash your hands first.
  • Use harsh or abrasive products that can damage your skin.
  • Skip moisturizer, as it can help prevent dryness and irritation.

Method 2: Use water

A man washing his face outdoors

Using water is the traditional way of washing your face, but it can be trickier on a camping trip since you don’t typically have immediate access to a sink or clean, filtered water.

You can use a clean bowl, container, or cup, but you must be sure that the water is clean if you’re taking it from a water source (such as a lake or stream).

This involves filtering it through a filtration system first, or boiling it.

Pros of using water

  • Most effective way to wash away dirt and grime
  • More refreshing than using wipes
  • No used wipes to pack out with you

Cons of using water

  • Inconvenient when camping in areas with limited water resources
  • Time consuming if water filtration or boiling is necessary
  • Potentially awkward and messy without a sink and mirror

What you need to wash your face with water

To wash your face using water, you’ll need a few more items on hand.

These include a bowl or container for water, access to clean water, and potentially a clean washcloth.

As far as facial cleansing products go, we recommend the following products:

Vanicream gentle facial cleanser

This gentle facial cleanser effectively removes dirt, oil, and makeup without drying the skin, making it ideal for daily use and sensitive skin.

It’s also free from common chemical irritants, harsh cleansing agents, sulfates, dyes, fragrances, lanolin, parabens, and formaldehyde releasers.

Cetaphil face wash

Cetaphil is ideal for dry to normal, sensitive skin, hydrating and soothing while preserving the skin’s moisture barrier.

This hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic cleanser is free of fragrances, parabens, and sulfates.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost gentle exfoliating daily facial cleanser

This daily face cleanser, featuring naturally-derived skin smoothers and hyaluronic acid, effectively removes dirt, oil, and dry surface skin while moisturizing.

It’s soap-, oil-, and paraben-free, making it gentle enough for daily use.

It’s also non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog pores while it gently exfoliates skin.

Water-friendly method step-by-step process

  1. Fill a small bowl or container with clean water. If the water source is a stream or river, make sure to boil it first to kill any harmful bacteria.
  2. Wet your washcloth with the clean water.
  3. Apply a small amount of facial cleanser to the wet washcloth.
  4. Gently massage the cleanser into your skin in circular motions, focusing on any areas with dirt, oil, or makeup.
  5. Rinse the washcloth with clean water, then use it to wipe away the cleanser and any dirt or oil from your face.
  6. Rinse your face with clean water.
  7. Dispose of the used water at least 200 feet (about 70 steps) away from your campsite and any trails or water sources.


  • Use a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser that is suitable for your skin type.
  • Use lukewarm water, as hot water can be harsh and drying on the skin.
  • Rinse your face thoroughly with clean water to remove all traces of cleanser.


  • Use harsh or abrasive products, as they can irritate the skin.
  • Rub or scrub your skin too vigorously, as this can cause redness and irritation.
  • Use scented products, as they can attract bugs and wildlife.

Additional items to consider bringing

You don’t have to bring everything you use at home, but here are a couple of must-have items to consider adding to your camping gear list:

Compact mirror

A compact mirror is a great addition to your camping kit.

It’s small and lightweight, so it won’t take up too much space in your backpack.

Here’s one that that has a built-in, battery-powered ring light so you can see in the dark.

Having a mirror will allow you to see what you’re doing when you’re washing your face, which can be helpful if you’re doing it in the dark or in a dimly lit area.

Plus, if you’re wearing makeup, it will help you see what you’re doing when you’re removing it.

Travel-size towel

A travel-size towel is another great product to consider bringing with you.

It’s small and lightweight, so it won’t take up too much space in your backpack.

Plus, it will allow you to dry your face after you’ve washed it.

Look for a quick-drying towel that won’t take too long to dry out after you’ve used it.

We’re big fans of the BOGI microfibre travel sports towel:

Extra skincare tips while camping

It can be challenging to maintain your regular skincare routine during a camping trip, but there are some tweaks you can make to help keep your skin healthy and glowing even while enjoying the great outdoors.

Here are some tips for different skin types:

Oily skin

If you have oily skin, use a gentle cleanser to wash your face twice a day and avoid over-washing, which can strip your skin of its natural oils and cause it to produce more oil.

Look for oil-free moisturizers and sunscreen to keep your skin hydrated and protected without adding extra oil.

Dry skin

Dry skin needs extra hydration, especially when you’re exposed to the sun and wind while camping.

Use a gentle, hydrating cleanser to wash your face and follow up with a rich moisturizer to keep your skin soft and supple.

Look for products with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides, which help to lock in moisture.

Normal skin

If you have normal skin, you can stick to your regular skincare routine while camping.

Use a gentle cleanser to wash your face and follow up with a moisturizer and sunscreen.

Look for products that are lightweight and non-greasy, so they won’t clog your pores or feel heavy on your skin.

Combination skin

If you have combination skin, you may need to adjust your skincare routine depending on the weather and your level of activity.

Use a gentle cleanser to wash your face and follow up with a lightweight moisturizer that won’t add extra oil to your T-zone.

Look for products that contain salicylic acid or other exfoliating ingredients to keep your pores clear.

Sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin, you need to be extra careful when choosing skincare products for camping. Look for gentle, fragrance-free cleansers and moisturizers that won’t irritate your skin.

Avoid products with harsh ingredients like alcohol or retinoids, which can cause redness and irritation.

Use a mineral-based sunscreen to protect your skin without causing a reaction.

Things to keep in mind when choosing your skincare products

Skincare bottles

When it comes to choosing skincare products for camping, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First and foremost, you’ll want to opt for unscented products to avoid attracting wildlife.

Additionally, if you’re using a water-friendly method to wash your face, you’ll want to choose biodegradable products to minimize your impact on the environment.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing your skincare products:


Look for a gentle, non-foaming cleanser that won’t strip your skin of its natural oils.

A cream or oil-based cleanser can be a good option for dry or sensitive skin.

If you’re using a water-free method to wash your face, consider a micellar water or cleansing oil that can be wiped away with a cloth.


While toner isn’t strictly necessary, it can be a good way to remove any remaining dirt or oil from your skin and help balance your skin’s pH.

Look for a gentle, alcohol-free toner that won’t dry out your skin.


Even if you have oily skin, it’s important to moisturize while camping to keep your skin hydrated.

Look for a lightweight, non-greasy moisturizer that won’t clog your pores.

If you’re using a water-free method to wash your face, consider a hydrating mist or facial oil to help lock in moisture.


Don’t forget to pack sunscreen!

Look for a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

If you’re using a water-free method to wash your face, consider a tinted sunscreen that can double as a lightweight foundation.

Remember to pack travel-size versions of your skincare products if possible to save space in your pack.

And if you’re not sure which products to bring, consider consulting with a dermatologist or aesthetician to find the best options for your skin type and camping needs.

Post-camping skincare tips

Skincare mask and clay

After a fun camping trip, your skin may need some extra care to get back to its healthy state.

Here are some post-camping skincare tips to help you restore your skin’s natural glow:

Cleanse your skin thoroughly

Make sure to cleanse your skin thoroughly to remove any dirt, sweat, or oil that may have accumulated during your camping trip. Use a gentle cleanser that won’t strip your skin of its natural oils.

You can also use micellar water to remove any impurities from your skin.


Exfoliating your skin will help remove dead skin cells and unclog your pores.

Use a gentle exfoliator that won’t irritate your skin.

You can also use a konjac sponge or a washcloth to gently exfoliate your skin.


Your skin may be dehydrated after spending time in the sun and wind.

Make sure to moisturize your skin to restore its hydration levels.

Use a lightweight moisturizer that won’t clog your pores.

Apply a face mask

Applying a face mask can help soothe and hydrate your skin.

Use a face mask that’s appropriate for your skin type. For example, if you have dry skin, use a hydrating face mask.

Protect your skin from the sun

Even if you’re not camping anymore, it’s important to protect your skin from the sun.

Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.

Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water will help keep your skin hydrated from the inside out.

Make sure to drink at least eight glasses of water a day to keep your skin looking healthy and radiant.

By following these post-camping skincare tips, you can help restore your skin’s natural glow and keep it looking healthy and radiant.

Next up: 24 camping hair tips to keep your mane looking great

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How often should I wash my face while camping?

It is recommended that you wash your face at least once a day while camping, especially if you are sweating or exposed to dirt and dust.

However, washing your face too often can strip your skin of its natural oils, leaving it dry and irritated.

If you have sensitive skin, try washing your face every other day or using a gentle cleanser.

Is it necessary to filter water before using it to wash my face?

Ideally, yes.

Unclean water can contain harmful bacteria and parasites that can cause skin irritation or infection.

If you don’t have access to clean water, you can use a waterless face-washing method like cleansing wipes.

How can I prevent acne while camping?

To prevent acne while camping, it is important to keep your skin clean and moisturized.

Use a gentle cleanser to wash your face and avoid touching your face with your hands.

Also, make sure to change your pillowcase and washcloth regularly to prevent the buildup of bacteria.

If you are prone to acne, consider using a spot treatment or acne-fighting product.

Are waterless face-washing methods as effective as water-friendly methods?

Waterless face-washing methods like cleansing wipes or micellar water can be just as effective as water-friendly methods if you use the correctly, but not always.

They’re convenient and easy to use, making them a great option for camping or other outdoor activities.

However, they may be more likely to move dirt and oil around on your face rather than washing them away.

How can I protect my skin from the elements?

To protect your skin from the elements while camping, use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and reapply it every two hours.

Wear a hat and protective clothing to shield your skin from the sun, wind, and cold.

Also, make sure to moisturize your skin regularly to prevent dryness and irritation.

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Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

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