I thought this piece was going to be about what to bring into the woods to help you feel beautiful and clean despite the permanent scent of campfire in all of your clothes, the prickle of hair on your cactus legs. But I threw a lot of that out the window during my last “vacation' to the woods—and so should you. Mainly because of the bugs. Before I left New York, my well-bearded Ron Swansonite friend Justin warned me: “Perfumey shit just attracts mosquitoes and bears.” He also recommended a great little dimmable lantern from REI that I now can’t live without (ambiance in the woods is very important).
Justin was certainly right about the bugs. By the end of day three, my skin was poisonous. If you’d have licked it—you’d be dead *. I was coated in DEET, the blessed chemical in OFF Deep Woods Sportsman that keeps mosquitos away. You can be as high and mighty as you want, but no all-natural alternative comes close, as Consumer Reports reported. Embrace the chemicals. And the skeeters were swarming.
And the skeeters were swarming from the moment we arrive at the Platte River Campground near Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan. There had just been a devastating thunderstorm and the governor declared a “state of disaster.” Our plan to crash for the night at my sister-out-of-law’s place in Traverse City was derailed by the falling of a tree onto the corner of her tiny house on the Old Mission Peninsula. Power was out in every surrounding town; hurricane-force winds had knocked down creaky old trees on every block as well as the local film festival’s lineup of porta-potties. It was a mess. So we headed into the woods, where you don’t need power anyway.
Of course, that also meant that the campground’s impeccably clean restrooms and showers (the one thing I requested when we picked where to camp) were dark. So I let go, got down to the basics, put my phone on airplane mode even when there was a smidge of service, and breathed in deep, because nothing smells as good as camping.
Things I’m really really glad I had, though:
Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castille Liquid Soap : Predictable, I know. But when the only shower option is Lake Michigan—a shocking, beautiful color like blue moon ice cream—Dr. Bronner’s is your friend. I’d jump in the cold water, lather my hair up, wash away the day’s DEET, and feel minty clean, finally. I read that no soap, no matter how all-natural, can be 100 percent biodegradable, but I still wanted to use one of the most natural options. In lieu of conditioner (bug bait), I let my hair get a little coarse, doing that sexy beach wave thing.
Nathan Power Shower Wipes : Before I bundled up like a sweaty mummy in a sleeping bag, I’d do a quick wipe to show some sort of effort of hygiene, hoping bears wouldn’t sniff me out for a soapy midnight snack (for face, Korres Greek Yoghurt Cleansing & Makeup Removing Wipes are a lightly scented option). I was forgoing deodorant for a while because my Secret CLINICAL GRADE stuff is pretty froo froo fragrant, but I didn’t want to reek like our 3-day old leftover hot dogs in the cooler. So I was casually wiping my pits (nature ain’t so bad!) when a group of bros on some sort of church group camp outing hiked by.
Muji Sanitary Wipes (which I've only been able to find in store): Remember what I said about licking me? I was serious, those chemicals are no joke. So when your significant other is grilling a steak over the campfire (I know, I know), and when you're sneakily peeing behind a tree, praying you won’t get poison ivy on your parts—things like that—you need to wash your hands. These wipes, which had the scent of rubbing alcohol, are perfect.
Lancome Définicils Waterproof Mascara : This was my special treat. One morning in the campground bathroom, I ran into a group of three older women. One, washing her hands next to me, watched as I powdered my roots with SkinnySkinny Rose and Black Pepper Organic Dry Shampoo. I preached the dry shampoo gospel, combing it out to show the results like an infomercial host who hasn’t showered in a few moons. When her friends left the restroom, she said to me, “ Finally they’re gone and I can put on some makeup.” True story! I could have hugged her. I proceeded to curl my eyelashes, apply mascara, and a slap on a quick coat of Make Face Primer SPF 30. If we were headed into town for corned beef hash and eggs at Art’s Tavern (heaven; brought back a pint glass), I used Kiehl’s BB cream with SPF 50 to make me look less like a mountain woman who has a herd of pet goats.
Fancy toothpaste plus those cheap plastic toothbrush caps : Ricky’s saved me with their reliable supply of every flavor of mini Marvis Original Classic Toothpaste, which somehow seems more affordable in mini-form, though we all know it isn’t. But it’s nice to have a little luxury! Don’t forget a toothbrush cap, because you’re most likely throwing your toothbrush in your hoodie pouch at some point, and God knows what’s been in there. It just seems clean somehow to be capped.
Not Messing Around Bug Spray : Aromaflage makes delicious essential oil bug repellant perfumes and tiny travel candles, which are pleasant on my deck in Brooklyn, but not the woods. Ultrathon Insect Repellent is powerful, army-grade stuff. Bugs will hover around you, a mosquito aura, but you won’t get bitten. I was a little intimidated by it—I'm pretty sure the “if swallowed' disclaimer says “PANICCCCC.”—so I stuck with sprayable OFF! Deep Woods Sportsmen (the smell is not as bad as I remembered the OFF! of my sticky childhood), though I’m far from a sportswoman, myself. In fact I spent most of the camping trip sipping 1800 on the rocks (in a plastic cup, that is), plowing through a fat novel by the campfire. Sorry Jonathan Franzen, but Purity makes a great daddy longlegs killer.
Fanny pack : I hear these things are making a comeback. I didn’t bring a purse with me, so my Mokuyobi banana fanny (nicknamed the banana hammock), was my sidekick. It perfectly fit my phone (for pictures only!), lip balm, backup bug spray, and toothbrush + toothpaste, plus a little something rolled in a plastic tube we’ll call “the night sky enhancer.”
But I’m not as outdoorsy as some, and I’m not ashamed to admit it felt pretty damn awesome to take a 36 minute shower when we returned to civilization. I could shave my legs, layer the scent of shower gel, shampoo, lotions, and perfumes, and sleep without waking at every possible bear rustling. And a quick scroll through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook made me realize: I didn’t miss a thing.
*OK, maybe not dead, but very vomity.
Headed outdoors? Check out these tips for protecting your feet from the summer elements.