The Hand Washing Station

Keeping Little (and Big) Hands Clean in the Backcountry

by Auntie Shelley

I just finished reading this article by Kevin Callan over at explore magazine.  As always, Kevin has some great advice.  His suggestions about kitchen clean up are spot on and our kitchen hand washing setup is pretty similar to what he describes.  Kevin’s suggestions for a toiletry bag are great, if you’re camping with adults, however with kids I’m not sure that it’s the best solution for a couple of reasons.

First of all, undoubtedly the kids are going to forget to take the toiletry bag with them.  This will lead to cries for help from the bowels of the forest.  Which means that, more than likely, mom is going to have to stop whatever she’s doing in order to run it out to them.

Second, if by some miracle the kids remember to bring the toiletry bag with them to the toilet, the chances of it making it back to the where it’s supposed to be stored are slim to none.  Best-case scenario is they will forget it out at the toilet.  That’s not so bad.  More than likely, however, they will wander off with it, set it down somewhere, and then promptly forget about it.  This will lead to a camp-wide search for the toiletry bag while some poor soul (who didn’t think to take it with them when they went to the can) waits while being frozen, drenched, and/or eaten alive by bugs.

So what’s a family with kids to do?  A few years ago Uncle Dave introduced The Hand Washing Station and we’ve been using it ever since.

Uncle Dave's hand washing station.

Our hand washing station consists of a bag full of water with a spigot attached to it.  Using a webbing strap we hang the bag from a tree trunk and then wrap a towel through the webbing.  We put a bottle of hand sanitizer, a bottle of camp suds, and a surgical scrub brush on the ground at the base of the tree.  It turns out that younger ones really like to turn the spigot on and off and play with the water, so hand washing becomes something fun rather than a chore.

Dave’s family uses the Sea to Summit Pocket Shower.  We use the MSR Dromedary Water Bag with their spigot attachment.  Personally, I like Dave’s setup better, but we already had the Dromedary when he introduced this and I’m too cheap to replace something that isn’t broken.

We set up the hand washing station at the start of the path that leads to the toilet area.  It’s usually in an area that’s in full view, so when parents see kids returning from the washroom we can remind them to wash up.  We can also send them over to the station to wash their hands before they eat.

We keep a Ziploc bag with toilet paper and hand sanitizer right at the toilet location.  Kids are taught to sanitize their hands as soon as they’re done.   That way if someone runs off without using the hand washing station, at least they’ve sanitized their hands at the toilet.

We also hang up a tarp at the toilet location.  It keeps whoever is on the toilet dry, with enough space for us to help little ones back into their rain gear and so on.  When it’s raining, sometimes even kids who are normally independent with toileting need help getting in and out of their rain gear.

Our toilet tarp as shown on one of our previous blog posts.

This is the system that works for us.  If you have any suggestions based on your experiences camping with kids we’d love to hear them in the comments section or send us an email at!