The Dish Washing Thread


Expedition Leader
Late again, we use sand too whether in the desert or the beach,then a rinse or wipe down

The dog is also historically used for finishing up the main leftovers

food particulates in the enviroment- fully biodegradable and usually seen being carried off by the local insect community 10 mins after being dropped

I have no quarms about small particles, anything larger gets burnt, eaten by the dog or packed out.

teflon....all our cooking gear is plain old stainless.

We recycle the ice cooler water both for washing and the dog...

1off 20ltr for cooking and washing is usually enough for a 4 day trip, any longer then a second container would be required.
I'm with you. Sometimes I think it's much ado about nothing. Every day in our regular lives we're doing MUCH worse things to the environment than spilling a few Camp Suds. Sure, you'd like to think you could leave wilderness areas "pristine", but I think that's a bit of an fantasy.
Frankly, I can't ever bring myself to dump even the smallest amount of food particulates onto the ground. Just not right.
Yet you don't seem to have any qualms about taking a car into an pristine area. What about all of the particulates coming out of your tailpipe? Are those environmentally neutral? What is worse: backpacking into the pristine zone and leaving a few crumbs of food or driving your Land Rover into the pristine zone and leaving zero food crumbs on the ground?

This environmentalism is getting out of control.


Day walker, Overland Certified OC0013
I have rules that I expect myself to live by, but most of them I don't expect everyone else to live by. There is nothing wrong with that.
Dish washing

Take it from one who was on KP "Kitchen Patrol" as a private in the Saudi Desert. I spent many moons washing dishes in the field. Like everything else, it comes down to using the correct toos for he job. I have a sweet campming dish rack and wash basin setup from that is extremely convenient.

Ramble on......





Day walker, Overland Certified OC0013
That's a nice sink set up.

We have mesh bottomed camp chairs, so we usually use that for the drying rack.

Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
Yet you don't seem to have any qualms about taking a car into an pristine area. What about all of the particulates coming out of your tailpipe? Are those environmentally neutral? What is worse: backpacking into the pristine zone and leaving a few crumbs of food or driving your Land Rover into the pristine zone and leaving zero food crumbs on the ground?

This environmentalism is getting out of control.
Well, to be frank, I don't actually use my vehicle too much in the backcountry. Scott and I have had short discussions about this. My overlanding is really just transport to the backcountry where I usually begin my prefered adventures on foot or on bicycle wheels. That's just my preference. I not only approve of people who travel exclusively by vehicle, I think it's pretty cool...or necessary for some. So, in the context of how I like to travel, I try to limit that tail pipe ugliness as much as possible and then take that same approach when I'm on foot with things like food crumbs.

It's probably over the top, but it's a standard I hold only myself to.

Mike S

Sponsor - AutoHomeUSA
I use a set of teflon coated cookware. This saves most of the dishwashing hassle - just wipe out with a single paper towel, hit it with a sponge and soap, rinse with 1/2 pint of water and done. I do not use paper plates or plastic cutlery, prefer the real deal, and they can be cleaned the same way as the teflon pots and pans. Shouldn't take more than a couple pints of water to do all your dishes. Clean them immediately after using and it is pretty easy.

The only disposable stuff I use is paper towels. Then they burn or are packed out.
This thread makes me appreciate the abundance of fresh water in the places where I travel. I rarely even think to bring water with me except for a few bottles for drinking. Even then I generally refill the first one over and over at mountain streams. I prefer the taste of "fresh" water and, thus far, have managed to avoid any unfriendlies. Perhaps growing up drinking untreated lake water helped. I occasionally struggle to find places far enough from water courses to use camp suds. It is pretty hard on fish.

On our first Moab trip the trail leader was barking out instructions about crypto biotic soils and the three bounce rule and I was frantically making mental notes and then he got to the part about drinking water and said he expected us to have consumed three bottles by lunch. I shrugged and looked at my GF who was driving that day, we only had one bottle for the both of us for the day. It simply wasn't something we really thought about. We did have a tarp though, in case we had to make repairs in the rain.

This is what the area where I grew up looks like from satellite.
Chalk me up as another fan of using dirt.

I worked at a wilderness therapy program for "at-risk" youth for a number of years and we would never use any water, at first it was a little weird but now it's just second nature.

Stainless steel is the best, any teflon coated pan or dish won't be a good candidate because the dirt is obviously abrasive.

I used to also burn out my pot when I was finished eating by just simply putting it upside down in the fire. This was awesome for a few reasons. First, it was ready to just be wiped out in the morning. I would just wake up and get it out of the fire and wipe it out with my bandana. Second, putting my pot over the fire saves the coals overnight during the fall/winter. (or anytime really, especially during rain) That way, I just had to dig a couple inches in the coals in the morning and get some dry bark and we had a fire going again.

I still use my burnt pot, but as you can imagine, it's pretty hard on the finish. it's not stainless steel anymore. So when I bought another S.S. pot I told myself I was just going to use dirt and I saved my burnt pot for making bread or as a coal-saver.
when backpacking, i don't use dishes. i just eat straight out of the pots. if i need another dish, i'll use the lid. then i wipe it with a bandana and rinse it good w/ some scalding water.


Expedition Leader
I've never really been able to decide on the non stick vs ss or aluminum. Pros and cons of each seem to even out. I suppose it depends on where you go. Most areas I go have water. If I were doing more desert areas I'd definitely go aluminum and use sand/dirt to clean.

I'm a big fan of tortillas. Works great for breakfast and a lot of dinners. I go back and forth on paper plates. Definitely go paper though if its a large group.
one of tricks i used growing up hunting is eatting the cup-o-noodles. you eat the noodles for dinner with usually beef jerky, then in the morning you use the cup for oatmeal. i'm usually a pretty light eater when out on the trail. my usual menu is oatmeal and a bagle with coffee in the morning. sandwhiches/ granola bars/ gorp during the day. night is soup/ dried meat/ cheese sometime sub with a freezedried dinner bolstered with extra rice or noodles as necessary. needless to say i hate doing dishes. bout the only thing that i need to wash is the coffee pot. and really thats just a quick rinse.


I think part of using less water is meal planning.

I like to cook most meals (for shorter trips) before the trip, freeze, and just reheat in camp.

For example, I'll make and wrap burritos in foil (or not at all if I expect to have a grill) and freeze them and then just put them in the coals of the fire (or on the mainfold, depending on travel time). Or, for another example, I'll cook spaghetti and put it in a freezer bag or other liquid-tight container, freeze it, and then put the container in a small pot of water to re-heat. The water can then be used for beverages or washing, depending on needs, and if I'm solo, all I dirty is a fork and the container. If the container is a freezer bag, I'll re-use it to seal up the dirtier trash. If not, it's washed as below.

For long trips, I like to eat all day in the form of snacks. I'll have a breakfast of oatmeal (in my mug used for coffee/cocoa, without cleaning, rinse with water that I drink), some fruit, maybe a bagel, and a hardboiled egg or some similar protein. By 9:00 or 10:00, I'll have a large snack, usually trail mix, a piece of fruit, and some jerky. Have a sandwich or two for lunch (knife needs cleaning, but not with water), another snack mid afternoon, and a light meal for dinner. Very little that requires water to wash, and the dinner meal will be as above for the first few days (I only have a cooler) and then something that needs cooking for the last part of the trip.

Hot water does clean better because the higher temperature lowers the surface tension of the water, which makes it a better solvent. That's the same thing soaps/detergents do. When I'm solo, I don't use soaps at all to wash, just water that's almost too hot to put my hand into--no need for rinsing but scraping before washing is essential. My wife likes soap.

If I'm in the desert, I'll use the sand method, but tend to stay away from using organic materials: I don't know what kinds of molds or other microcritters are living on it. I do not use the sand method on beaches, especially near civilization. I know that there is still the possibility of finding microbes in the desert sands, but I think it's a lot safer where it's drier. If I'm concerned, I'll wash with water instead.