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Camping hygiene

The physical and mental health benefits of enjoying the great outdoors are well attested.

But to make sure you enjoy all the benefits you should observe some basic hygiene practices when camping – otherwise it’s all too easy to pick up some form of stomach bug.

To prevent a more serious infection concentrate on stopping flies, birds and other animals moving infection from human waste and food scraps to fresh food and food containers, to plates or cooking pots.

Great care should be taken not to encourage rats, especially where these are living near livestock.

Image courtesy of Lorne Gill/SNH

NB: camping in even the remotest parts of Scotland, you will attract mice to your tent. They will eat through a tent and rucksack to get to open food, so keep it securely hidden. However, mice do not carry the same infectious diseases as rats.

  • Crowded campsites
  • Popular wild camping sites
  • Areas around bothies (unlocked mountain shelters)
  • Highland shooting estates' agricultural buildings
  • Roadside picnic areas – particularly where there is evidence of rubbish or other human waste being left.

Care should be taken when camping in areas around bothies and shooting estate buildings

  • Pollution of water by human waste or cleaning cooking pans directly in water sources. This is not often a real problem if the water volume is high but is more serious in dry conditions and when using minor water sources.
  • Areas where livestock are concentrated and faecal matter is concentrated and more likely to leach into fresh water.

  • Collect water from upstream of all habitation and don't drink untreated water from farmland or ‘inbye’ land with intensive livestock around
  • Collect from a source of running water with a reasonable volume or an obviously clear lochan fed by a running stream
  • If in doubt, boil the water before drinking or use sterilising tablets, solutions or filters
  • Always wash vegetables and salads in boiled water
  • Don’t be casual about toilet functions – do it away from water sources and camping/bothy areas. See the Mountaineering Scotland advice leaflet on sanitation Where to ‘GO’ in the Great Outdoors

  • Store food carefully and keep fresh food and stored water in covered containers
  • Dispose of waste food and water in a small pit cut out of the turf, well away from water sources. Cover the pit with the sod of turf after each use to keep flies off. Or better, carry waste food out and dispose of at home.
  • Foods such as sausages, bacon and eggs should be cooked well as preserved meats go off quickly. Scramble eggs and cut sausages lengthways to ensure complete cooking.
  • Have a set of personal cutlery, bowls, plates and cups. Always ensure they are adequately cleaned. Try not to share them communally.
  • Clean cooking pans quickly after use so food scraps do not develop infectious germs as it is difficult to ensure they are removed after they have developed. Also food scraps attract flies, birds, rodents and other animals, which can act as vectors for disease.
  • Empty food containers should be washed out, crushed and stored in a sealed poly bag until disposal.
  • Hang up your food in a strong, sealed, poly bag where rats cannot get to it.

For advice on other aspects of camping, check our Wild camping page in the Hillwalking section of the website.