Do I want to bathe every night? Of course I do. But I don’t always get the opportunity. Last year, when the right mix of personal and professional circumstances allowed it, I spent four months living out of the back of my truck as I drove across the country. My goal was to spend as much time as I could in the woods, riding my bike, and hiking in spots like the Grand Tetons and the Grand Canyon. When I couldn’t find a buddy’s couch, which was most nights, I camped in National Forests and Walmart parking lots, where a fresh towel and hot shower were not often within reach.
Truck-stop showers might seem like a good solution, but they are prohibitively expensive. (Also, waiting in the parking lot, or inside next to a rack of $5 DVDs, for the announcement “Trucker number eight, your shower is ready,” is a strange experience that I don’t miss.) At $12 per shower, I could indulge myself only about once a week. For the other nights, I needed an alternative. It was actually my mother who suggested Duke Wipes. She saw them in line at a travel store when she was out buying me an atlas. They’re like baby wipes, but tougher, bigger, and without that terrible smell.
One side of each 7”-by-9” field towel has a rough, stippled texture that’s great for scraping off caked-on dirt or scrubbing your face clean in the morning. Unlike most wipes, which push dirt around, field towels pull it off and hold onto it — like a wet Swiffer for your body. The other side of each towel is smooth and good for smaller messes and more sensitive areas. Which brings up an important note on best practices: Order is everything. I start with my face, then cover my arms, legs, and chest before moving on to armpits and other danger zones you don’t want dirt and sweat to stew in. The texture helps get dirt and salt off, and the little bit of aloe soothes your skin after all that rubbing.There’s no alcohol in field towels, so you don’t have to worry about drying out your skin, but they do have menthol, which provides a pleasant cooling sensation.
Over those four months, whenever I was in a remote campsite, coming down from a hike, or had finished putting my mountain bike back on my truck, the first thing I did was grab a field towel and change into a fresh set of clothes. Although I was never as clean as I would have been with a real shower, I avoided developing any dangerous funk, and did at least have the appearance (and lack of scent) of someone who is not unfamiliar with them.