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Backpacking with contact lens

contact lens

If you wear contact lens, chances are you have bad eyesight and dislike wearing glasses. So, is there any reason you should give up wearing your contact lenses when backpacking?

No. It is possible to successfully wear and sanitize your contact lenses in the wilderness. You’ll just need to pay attention to maintaining lens hygiene. Bring along your normal supplies that you use at home for cleaning your lenses, plus a spare set of contact lenses and glasses.

Are Glasses really Necessary?

Just think how confident you can make your way around if you lose your contact lenses for any reason. Bring glasses if you can’t see clearly enough to recognize if that thing nestled inside your shoe is your sock or a snake. Likewise, you never know when you might develop an eye infection and it becomes too painful to wear your contacts. If you have allergies, your eyes may tear up and swell more. If you have astigmatism and wear toric lenses, you may have more difficulty with the lenses staying correctly centered to your eye in a drier climate, or at higher altitude. So, yes, glasses are probably an essential item to bring backpacking.


Contact Lens Supplies

Get a small travel size bottle of solution and refill it as needed. Bring along your normal lens case. We recommend using the screw on type of case as they tend to be more durable and less likely to accidentally tear your lenses or leak. Fill up your lenses case with solution before leaving for your trip and seal tightly.

Tip: The next time you are in for your eye exam ask your optometrist if they have any trial size contact lens solution. Sales representatives for the makers of major brands of contact solution often give eye doctors free samples to give out to patients.

Clean contacts with Clean Fingers

You’ll need a method to wipe grime off your finger tips to avoid the transfer of pathogens into your eye, which can lead to infection. The last thing you want is an eye infection, or a speck of dirt scratching or tearing your contacts.  A few tips and suggestions that you might not have considered –

Soap & water

This is the obvious choice, but depends on water availability. What we find works best is to place a very tiny drop of concentrated soap, such as Dr Bronners on your dry bandanna, pour some water on it, and wipe your face and hands thoroughly. Now splash a small amount of water directly on your fingers and face to rinse. Soap and water is the cheapest and most effective way to remove both dirt and bacteria – neither of which you want in your eyes.

Hand sanitizer

A waterless sanitizer may be your best option in areas requiring extreme water rationing. Just keep in mind sanitizers do not clean. They simply kill any present bacteria. Because dirt is a migration path for microbes, start with clean hands prior to use.

Make sure you rub the sanitizer on your finger tips. Be careful because your fingers may burn your eyes due to the alcohol. To prevent burning your eyes after sanitizing, dip whatever fingers you use to remove your contacts with in a small amount of water or lens solution. We find filling the lenses caps with water works perfect for this. No water at all? Dip your index and thumb into the lens solution before removing your contacts. Even better: plan ahead and always leave old solution sitting in your lens case for the purpose of removing alcohol off your fingers. After cleaning off your fingers with the old solution, dump, and insert fresh solution.

Tip: Avoid sanitizers containing Triclosan, a chemical that is very toxic to aquatic life and is linked to thyroid and liver toxicity in humans. Whatever is not washed off the skin will be absorbed into the body.

Wet wipes

Some people prefer wet wipes because they serve multiple purposes, are lightweight and compact. They can be used to wash up and tossed into the fire when done. The alcohol content makes them useful for starting a fire. Plan on using 1 wipe per day. At night, wash your face with the cloth followed by your hands. In the morning your fingers should still be clean, so no need to wipe down again. Look for unscented versions to prevent attracting wildlife. If using scented wipes, keep them stowed with your food. Carry out any properly dispose of any used wipes if you don’t burn a fire. Look for alcohol-based wipes. You do not need antibacterial wipes.

Tip: To avoid burning your eyes from the alcohol residue of wet wipes or hand sanitizer, always leave old solution sitting in your lens case for the purpose of removing alcohol residue off your thumb and index finger (or whatever digits you use to remove lenses). After cleaning off your fingers with the old solution, dump, and insert fresh solution.

When using contact lens solution

Use the solution sparingly. Use enough to keep them moist or just immersed in solution rather than sitting beneath a pool of soaking solution. We recommend using the no-rub, all-purpose solution, which can also be used as eye drops during the day. Always use fresh solution to properly disinfect lenses. Never use tap water or untreated water to store or rinse your lenses with.

If you run out or forget your solution, salt water can be used as an emergency substitution

Mix a packet of salt (about ¼ tsp) with about ¼ cup of water and boil for 10 minutes. Allow the water to cool before using as heat can damage many of the newer “hydrogel” soft lenses made from silicone. Soak and rinse contact lenses with the homemade saline solution as needed. The protozoa acanthamoeba is common in fresh water (and soil) and can cause a severe eye infection referred to as Acanthamoeba keratitis. The virus cannot survive after boiling water. Boiling straight water without salt is not recommended since the addition of salt acts as an analgesic to fight any bacteria present on the lenses and inside the case.

Other thoughts

  • Can you take your contacts out and in without a mirror? Make sure you practice taking and putting contact lens in at home without one, otherwise you’re going to need a carry out small mirror too.  Packing a mirror is a good idea, regardless. It can also be used as an emergency signal device and to help start fires.
  • Can you sleep with contact lenses in? If you have extended wear lenses, try sleeping in them. You might get by OK by leaving them in up to a week and using drops in the morning.
  • Your contact lens can freeze in the soaking solution. Store the lens case in your sleeping bag. If the lens solution happens to freeze, soft contact lens will shrivel up and harden. They can usually be saved by warming up the case. Rub the case back and forth in your hands to allow the heat from the friction to thaw out the solution. Your lens should then uncurl. Once you put them in, your body warmth should form them into the correct shape.
  • Eyes often dry out faster at higher altitude where there is less oxygen. Keep extra solution or eye drops handy. Bring your glasses in case something happens to your eyes/contacts.

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7 thoughts on “Backpacking with contact lens”

  • Wearing specs and handling them is one side of the story. Shifting to the contact lenses and maintaining them is a whole new side of the story.
    But there are solutions to these problems too. Acuvue provides the disposable contact lenses, which you can use for a day and dispose. Along with other contact lenses with different life span.
    Price might be a issue here but it is solution to the difficulty of maintaining the contact lenses nonetheless.

  • Hi there,

    I came across this post while looking up backpacking blogs and noticed a few inaccuracies.

    Firstly, you should always wash your hands before touching your contact lenses. The eye does not have any extra defenses against foreign bodies like dirt, bacteria, viruses, etc aside from tear production and eyelids/lashes. Relying on your hands to still be clean from removing the lenses previous is impractical, as there could be dirt and bacteria on your clothes or sleeping gear that you’ll touch and then transfer into your eye, resulting in an eye infection.

    Secondly, sleeping in your contact lenses is quite harmful to the eye, as the lens will create a barrier that the oxygen in the aqueous humour cannot penetrate. It essentially suffocates the cornea.

  • I find daily disposable contact lenses the best option too. They take away the pain of carrying around the contact lens solution and are actually not that expensive. If you go on a price comparison site like Visioncompare you usually get them for a reasonable price.


  • Certainly a few good points here and few misunderstandings.
    Very good idea to test out your cleaning regime and handling in different circumstances before you go. Time spent in planning is never wasted.
    Daily disposables are a good option.
    Extended wear for a week or continuous wear for up to a month are also good options. See your eyecare practitioner well before your departure date so they can try out various options.

    Some boring points
    Acanthamoeba in a nasty protazoa and not to be underestimated. It is not a virus and will not be killed by boiling, that is what makes it so nasty! Lenses dry quicker at higher altitudes due to lack of moisture not lack of oxygen although the higher you go the less oxygen you will get.
    Contact lenses have been to the North Pole, South Pole, top of Everest, bottom of the ocean, across deserts and into space. With some careful thought there is not reason why contact lenses cannot be used safely in most environments.

  • Hi, I don’t think you can boil a quarter cup of water for ten minutes. In the scenario describe in the article, I think you will end up with very hot salt. Perhaps boiling two cups of water with salt for ten minutes would make a better substitute for a saline solution product. I mean to waste a little water is better than risking

  • Regarding “At night, wash your face with the cloth followed by your hands. In the morning your fingers should still be clean, so no need to wipe down again.”
    It would be a better idea to clean you hands again in the morning before applying contact lens. People tend to scratch, rub or other wise touch themselves during sleep in place that might not be crystal clean.

  • My husband and I are thinking about going on a backpacking trip this summer. I wear contacts everyday, and I’m thinking about taking them with me. Your suggestion to clean contacts with clean fingers, in order to prevent spreading pathogens into the eye, is important to remember. I’ll make sure to try your suggestion to use hand sanitizer on our trip.

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