Camping is all about getting away from the amenities of our everyday lives: electricity, central air, running water, and WiFi. Going without it is part of what makes the experience so special; it’s a chance to experience life at its most primitive. However, this spartan mindset turns some people off camping, believing it to be a cold, wet, dirty adventure.
If you’re like most people, hygiene isn’t always at the top of the priorities list for camping trips. Most of us pack a bottle of hand sanitizer and call it a day. It doesn’t need to be this way; you can have a similar hygiene standard at your campsite to the one you have at one.
The first hygiene practice to go out of the window is handwashing. It gets replaced with hand sanitizer, which kills the germs but doesn’t clean your hands. A camp sink provides clean running water, which you can pair with good ole soap to disinfect everything.
The second practice involves cleaning your food. Fruits and vegetables need to be washed before eating and a sink with a drain plug does wonders for cleaning them. If you like to fish on camp trips, cleaning your catch will be a top priority. Look for models with deeper sinks and integrated shelves for a more comfortable experience.
Why You Need a Camping Sink
There are several reasons you want to have a high-quality portable camping sink, but they all boil down to one thing – it makes camping a much more hygienic experience. Sure, you could get away without one, but why would you want to? However, different sinks have different purposes, so it pays to figure out how to use them before making a big purchase. It is also a great way for the environmentally conscious – which I assume is all of us – to conserve water by reducing the amount of water running away while washing up.
Preparing a meal at camp is certainly more difficult than doing so at home; there’s a lack of counter space, usually some inferior cutlery, and no running water. A portable sink in your camp kitchen is a must if you like to cook.
If you don’t have running water, your best option is probably the three-bucket sanitizing method. You need a wash bucket (soapy water), a rinse bucket (freshwater), and a sanitizing bucket (water with a small amount of bleach added). Obviously, this method requires a lot of water, bucket capacity, and effort. A portable sink is a far simpler and less time-consuming option. Portable sinks designed for camping usually have two washbasins. You can plug both and set up a wash and a rinse station. Better yet, hook up the portable sink’s faucet to the water supply at your campground, and now you’ve got running water to clean your dishes.
Counter space is another critical feature for your camp kitchen; you need ample space to chop ingredients and organize them for cooking. Nothing is more annoying (and unsanitary) than crowding your vegetables and raw meats together on a tiny cutting board. The entire countertop can be used as a cutting board with a camp kitchen.
Camping Bathroom / Portable Hand Wash Basin
Handwashing is one of the first things to go on a camping trip, which is pretty disgusting when you think about some of our toilet habits when toilets are nowhere to be found. We might rub a dab of sanitizer between our hands and call it a day, but that only kills the germs. Our hands are still dirty until we wash them with soap and water, while a portable handwashing basin is critical to a hygienic camping experience.
Portable hand wash basins typically have their own supply of water and some form of pressurization, whether a pump or a gravity feed. Running water is necessary for handwashing as stagnant water is a breeding ground for bacteria.
Collapsible or Space Saving
Volume and weight come at a premium whenever you’re camping. If you’re hitting the backcountry, you only have what can be carried on your back, but even front-country camping has its limitations. If you drive anything less than a full-sized pickup with a trailer, everything needs to fit in the trunk or bed of your vehicle. That’s not a lot of space, so the portable sink isn’t on everyone’s packing list.
That’s unfortunate because plenty of camping sinks pack small, like a cutting board, and are easy enough for one person to carry. Admittedly, packability seems to vary accordingly with durability and features. The more times you can fold your table, the less it will do and the fewer outings it can take before failing.
If you’re not an angler, this probably isn’t something you’ve considered, but cleaning a fish is a dirty job and one that’s impossible to accomplish hygienically without a sink. You must drain blood, scales, and guts to prevent meat contamination. You’ll also require ample workspace that allows you to competently wield your knife without obstruction.
How to Dispose of Your Camping Sinks Greywater
Since it’s just soapy water with some food particles, you might be tempted to let your camp sink drain out on the ground. That doesn’t mean it’s harmless though, soap isn’t a natural product, and it’s not good for plants and animals to come into contact with it.
That being said, it’s not as harmful as something like motor oil, and the occasional soap spill isn’t that detrimental after filtering through a few layers of dirt. The same can not be said for draining your camp sink into a body of water. Soap and detergents break the surface tension of the water and deplete it with oxygen, which is why you should always camp at least 200 feet from a water source. Even at this distance, it’s not ideal for draining your greywater onto the ground and may be against area rules.
If possible, you should collect the greywater from your sink in a bucket, which you can dispose of in a campground bathroom, greywater disposal area, or RV dump. Check your campgrounds’ regulations to be sure that such disposal is not prohibited. Whether you collect your greywater or drain it near the campsite, you should filter out food particles. These can attract animals and make them more habituated to humans.
Use Biodegradable Soap
Several camp soaps market themselves as biodegradable, which leads people to believe that it’s okay to dump their sudsy water anywhere convenient. Their claim is only half true;
Biodegradable soaps lack some of the harsher chemicals found in a regular dish or hand soap, but they are still soap. Some are better than others, so it pays to check the label.
Avoid soaps with words you can’t easily pronounce, like phthalates – they’re unnatural and will persist in the environment longer. It would be best if you also chose an unscented camp soap, as the scented variety has the potential to attract bears and other wildlife. Finally, look for a multipurpose soap: shampoo, hand soap, toothpaste (maybe). Dr. Bronner’s soap is popular, and the company claims it has up to 18 uses.
Maintenance and Aftercare of Your Portable Camping Sink
Camp sinks are designed to be almost maintenance-free, but a little care goes a long way. These are just a few helpful tips that’ll make your camp sink last longer and work more efficiently.
- Be careful with the water you put through it. Some campground water is barely potable and laden with minerals. These could show up as scaling and hard water deposits over time.
- Wipe down all surfaces. This is basic hygiene, but it’ll also prevent your table from getting hard (and difficult to clean) deposits or discoloration.
- Check that your drain hoses are free of food particles and other debris. These bits and pieces can rot or grow mold in storage.
- Empty your wastewater buckets in a safe place.
- Never store your sink at below-freezing temperatures. Any remaining water could solidify and cause damage to the sink.
Ryan is an outdoor enthusiast and gear expert originally from Montana who spent four years living in Boston, after stints in India, Rwanda, Senegal, and elsewhere. He and his wife are on a new journey to travel the world and blog about their adventures at Passions and Places.