Personal hygiene might not seem like a huge consideration when surviving in the wilderness or just bugging out, but if you believe that you are making a critical error. Hygiene is much more than a social nicety and is in fact a critical component to health in a long-term survival situation.
Failing to account for personal hygiene means that your body is going to be much more vulnerable to illnesses and diseases inside and out, and can lead to second and third order consequences in the form of infection.
Not for nothing, no one likes being around smelly, nasty people, not even themselves. Bad hygiene has a deleterious effect on group morale, especially when forced into close quarters for any length of time.
Taking care of hygiene one in the middle of the wilderness or underway during a bug out does not have to be hard, but you have to have a plan and the right supplies, whether or not you brought them with you. And the rest of this article we will give you everything you need to know for taking care of this pressing issue.
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A Lack of Hygiene Can Stop Even an Army
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of personal hygiene in austere environments, it might be helpful to contextualize the seriousness of the issue.
I have talked to entirely too many people who buy admission or by tacit fact to plan on abandoning their personal hygiene regimen more or less entirely for the duration of a survival scenario.
Though it is true that sometimes you’re going to get dirty and nasty and it will be entirely unavoidable, you should never be content with remaining that way longer than is absolutely necessary.
There are a vast number of processes and systems in place to keep our dirt, trash, waste and debris centralized. Literally, armies of people whose job it is to clean up the mess of humanity. After a collapse those systems will come to a screeching halt.
You need only look at soldiers in the field in our own military. Sickness and hygiene issues sideline a large chunk of our soldiers in the modern world.
It might shock you to learn that some of the hardest of the hardest people throughout history, particularly militaries and explorers of remote and hostile regions, have seen their missions fail utterly or have been incapacitated to the point of uselessness, even died, because of poor or entirely lacking hygiene.
It’s true. Since recorded history began we have been exposed to tales of professional soldiers and guerilla fighters alike falling victim to a variety of bacterial and viral ailments resulting directly from poor hygiene.
One such well-known instance occurred during the First Gulf War. A unit of scouts allowed their hygiene protocols to lapse so badly that several platoons were completely waylaid by dysentery. That is a life-threatening ailment under the best of times and especially lethal in desert conditions!
Another well documented story comes from America’s own Revolutionary War. George Washington lost so many troops at Valley Forge due to personal hygiene and disease. At its peak the death rate of men was up to 10 a day.
This was from things like dysentery, influenza and typhoid. If not for the efforts of latrine utilization at the camp and moving these areas away from kitchens it could have gotten much worse.
While you will not be a warfighter on the road or in a bugout situation, you will fight the same hygiene battles. Trash and mess will be strewn about this world like nothing you could ever imagine. You may stumble through human waste or drink water that is contaminated upstream.
The point is, if hardcore and hard living soldiers can fall prey to the maladies and affects attendant with a lack of hygiene, you had better believe that you and I can as preppers. If you have already planned for proper personal hygiene when bugging out and have packed accordingly, good on you. If you haven’t, it is time to correct that deficiency. Good personal hygiene will keep you safe and your family as well.
Hygiene is Especially Critical for Long-Term Survival
So why is hygiene so important for survival, why am I harping on it this hard? Simply stated, you will grow increasingly more vulnerable to disease, bacteria in particular, and so will everyone around you.
A lack of good hygiene practices means that germs are going to be able to multiply and spread on your body, directly affecting you in the form of rashes, ulcers and internal infections, but also affect everyone else due to spreading those germs to other items, food and surfaces and also by degrading morale.
It is difficult to concisely explain just how destructive and how certain a killer pestilence is over time, particularly during times of scarcity, lack and societal upheaval. one needs only to crack open a history book to see just how bad diseases like typhus, tuberculosis, polio and others can really be.
Many of these historical plagues that are truly worthy of the name have been rendered inconsequential or trivial only through the advances of modern medicine and the on-demand access to the same.
Think of the context. if you’re in the middle of a desperate struggle to survive in the immediate aftermath of an event that has set you off on a bug out into the wilderness or a long journey through the wilderness to your destination on demand access to medical care is just about the last thing you’re going to have at your fingertips.
So, yes, the standard survival necessities of air, shelter, water, food and security are certainly more pressing and likely to preoccupy your thoughts during such an event, but for going hygiene in a misguided effort to save time and energy in the Long haul can do me as surely as dehydration, exposure or a bullet from a gun.
You’ll need to make sure your bases are covered in this regard, but luckily keeping the things that you need on hand for the job won’t take up hardly any room or space in your pack. We will break down these requirements and the special considerations for bug out hygiene in the next section.
Consider a Hygiene Kit a Mandatory Part of Your Bug Out Bag
I get it. Every pound and every ounce of weight that we put in our bug out bags must be accounted for according to what hazards we are likely to face and what our objectives are.
I and other riders have preached time and time again that everything extraneous must be eliminated ruthlessly. Sadly, too many Preppers choose hygiene items to be cut free as ballast. This is a terrible mistake.
A good hygiene kit takes up very little space and weighs very little, meaning it is easy to justify its inclusion. And even if it does add a pound or so to your pack, it is weight well spent in the long run.
As we will learn later, there are natural resources that we can use as improvise hygiene supplies, but almost none of them work as well as our modern day equivalents.
Consider this shortlist below as a well-rounded hygiene kit, or the core of an expansive hygiene kit.
A toothbrush is a fundamental part of most folks morning and evening self care routines, and with good reason.
Failing to take care of your teeth and gums means that bacteria will flourish, leading to irritation and lesions up front and eventually progressing to full blown gum disease and tooth decay, either of which can prove to be show-stopping painful and debilitating.
Not for nothing, one of the worst odors that anyone will be subjected to is bad breath! You don’t need a special survival or camping toothbrush for this, as a standard manual one that works just fine although you can save a little bit of space by trimming down the handle if you wish.
Toothpaste is the natural accompaniment to a toothbrush, and helps clean your teeth and mouth by scrubbing away plaque and germs and freshening breath. Certain toothpaste might have actual germ killing properties in the bargain.
Again, you don’t need any fancy or special survival-centric toothpaste assuming such a thing is made. A couple of small travel size tubes of toothpaste used sparingly is all you need.
Deodorant might seem like a luxury or nicety item, and it is, but it will help cut down on the amount of bacteria flourishing under your armpits over time and it will keep everyone downwind of you that much happier.
Considering that your armpits are one of the big four trouble spots on your body, meaning one of the nastiest and most bacteria laden, it pays to have a specialty item with you for taking care of them.
Good, plane, old fashioned soap is a literal godsend for personal hygiene. Lathering up with soap and water will take care of 95% of your hygiene considerations. You can even use soap on your hair, as shampoo and conditioner are not strictly necessary and we’ll just take up valuable space.
Soap helps get you clean by loosening and lifting dirt and germs off of the skin and most of our modern soaps smell really nice to boot which can be a great morale booster under current conditions.
You can use a liquid body wash if you prefer, but for travel I like traditional bar soap carried in a moisture proof container. Make sure you take care to dry out your bar of soap before stashing it so it will last longer.
The use and efficacy of toilet paper should be obvious to everyone reading this. Although there is a vaguely romantic notion of using leaves, pine cones or other natural materials for wiping your backside after doing your business this is nothing to be envied or aspired to.
Aside from the discomfort, the risk of irritating or damaging sensitive tissues is entirely real, and if you ever have the misfortune of wiping with a toxic plant or other material it will subject you to a level of misery you won’t soon forget.
A large quantity of toilet paper removed from the roll and pressed flat is nearly weightless and easy to carry. Make sure you keep it dry!
Baby wipes are a prepper’s best friend when it comes to hygiene in the field. Most of us probably think of baby wipes as an item used for its intended purpose, but they are absolutely ideal for quick, waterless sponge baths when time permits or when water is unavailable.
In fact, you can do a lot worse than taking a baby wipe to hit each of the problem areas on your body when you have just a few minutes to stop and rest. This will go a long way towards staving off the worst bacterial maladies until you can take a proper bath. Get a big pack and keep them in your Bob.
Hand sanitizer is the ideal hand washing solution when soap and water are unavailable or in precious short supply. A strong concentration of alcohol will absolutely obliterate any lurking germs on your hands before they can contaminate other surfaces and items or sneak into your body.
Whenever you handle something gross or relieve yourself, give your hands a good shot of hand sanitizer followed by a thorough and brisk rubbing of the hands and you should be good to go.
Foot and Body Powder
Foot and body powders are one of those old fashioned hygiene items that have seemed to go out of style for most folks.
They are slightly messy and this is probably contributed to their declining popularity, but they are undeniably effective at controlling moisture and odor, and if you can get rid of moisture you can go a long way towards minimizing the presence of bacteria.
In addition to helping you cut down on rashes and blisters, body powder can serve as a great option for cleaning and freshening up in between baths.
Let Nature Help
For most of us the bugout will take us through some sort of wooded area, field or wilderness. There are little gems hiding all over the nation that can help you out with personal hygiene.
While it may sound primitive, and it is, oral health can be assisted by using a chewing stick throughout the day. These sticks can be used to pick food from your teeth as well as to strengthen them. Look to use sticks that come from fragrant woods as well to get more out of your chewing stick.
Fat and Lye
Using only animal fat, water and wood ash you can make your own soap. You will first need to soak the ash in water and have a way to drain that ash after about 24 hours. This liquid will then become lye. When the lye is mixed with the animal fat it will create soap.
You will use about 2oz of lye for every lb. of animal fat in your mix.
Another power house for oral health and even some stomach care is licorice. You will find that the root of the plant can act as an incredible toothbrush. It’s a fibrous and anisette flavored root. IT can be used to get between teeth as well.
Tea Tree Oil
An incredibly powerful antifungal and viral warrior, I would recommend tea tree oil become part of your kit for sure. Look for the essential oil and it may be called by other names like Melaleuca. It can be used topically as well as diluted and used internally.
Personal Survival Hygiene Tips
Although it may not be pleasant to discuss in polite company, personal hygiene is going to come to the forefront in a post collapse situation after the basics of food and shelter.
Keep your fingernails and hands clean. Nurses can’t have fingernails past the tip of their finger for a reason. The finger nail beds harbor bacteria and get wedged in there so soap and water may not be able to get to it.
When you think of all the things the hands will touch, including nether regions when you are taking care of business or composting piles when gardening or harvesting, there can be some deadly microbes there.
Keeping infection and bacteria at bay will be of utmost importance. Water has a pH that kills many bacteria strains, so just rinsing if you have no soap is good too. Be sure to also clip you toenails.
Oral care one of the biggest practices you can start now is taking care of your teeth. If you consume acidy or sugary drinks, be sure to brush or at least rinse afterwards.
Anything you can do now if you have a small cavity or loose tooth, it would be smart to have it fixed. Dental work that is needed of any kind does not get better or heal. It only gets worse.
Any hole, pit, crack or chip and harbor food and bacteria and within days you can get a serious infection that can go septic and your organs fail. In the bush or post collapse, you may not have the luxury of a dentist.
So, taking care of your teeth by flossing and brushing after every meal will help avoid any dental problems (in my opinion).
Things like onions, cloves, lime, garlic and peppermint are natural antiviral and antiseptics. Use them in your meals and it can help provide care from the inside.
Remove extra hair this one may sound silly. As microbiologist studies show almost all neckbeards and beards of any length have some degree of fecal matter in them, it may be a good idea to trim them.
The reason pits are smelly, and people manscape and wax is that hair retains bacteria. If you smell anything like BO. It’s bacteria entering your nose from the source.
Smell is activated by inhaling particles, so think of that when you smell anything. You are inhaling essence of that person. Yuck. But seriously, microbes and bacteria are protected by the hair when you wash it so it’s better to get rid of it.
Cloth as a TP Alternative
Many people who go green decide to use different methods to wipe now, so besides healthier living and saving cash, it can be an option for hygiene post SHTF.
Due to paper having to decompose and the dangers of using human waste around food bearing plants and livestock as we discussed in our SHTF sanitation article, there may be some weight to choosing cloth over paper.
- Cloth removes more waste per wipe than paper, paper leaves particles behind
- Cloth is cost effective, as you can use scraps of cloth
- Cloth is ecofriendly
Alternative to cloth can be:
- Pine needles and leaves
- Crumbly moss
- River stones
- Plants, watch out for sumac, poison ivy and poison oak
I am not talking shampoos, but you will need to take care of your hair and scalp. Combing will remove dust, dander and loose hair. It will also massage and stimulate the scalp, getting blood flow going and promoting healthy hair.
You can use baking soda sprinkled in it to soak up the oils and then brush it out. Cornstarch would work well for this too. A vinegar rinse will level out the ph. balance and then rinsing with water will help restore shine.
Shampoo is not a necessity, but regular rinses and combing is. Many people just stop shampooing, and initially your body will react with an overabundance of oil. But it will level out and then maintenance will be a breeze.
Proper foot care with your feet being a much needed tool, as long hikes to hunt, working in your garden, or just working in the yard needs healthy feet.
Any kind of blisters or sores need immediate treating or they can develop into major problems post collapse. Blisters affect many layers of skin, so it’s important to treat them quickly so you do not get an infection subdermally.
Wearing properly fitting boots that you keep in good repair, with a few pairs of socks is what I suggest. Even when you are out for the day, take a few pairs of socks and then switch them out to keep things fresh and dry in there.
Freshening the boots and feet for that matter at the days end with baking soda mixed with some essential oils can kill any bacteria and keep things smelling good.
Dealing with Waste
Good personal hygiene is not just a matter of keeping your body and mouth clean. As it turns out, humans generate quite a lot of waste every day. I’m talking about body waste, specifically urine and feces.
This waste must be disposed of one way or the other, and though we are fortunate to have use of modern plumbing, sewer and septic systems to handle this with the convenience of flicking a lever, you won’t be so fortunate when you’re out in the field.
But handle this waste you must, and you must do it with an eye towards best practices especially when you are camping.
Improperly disposing of body waste while at camp is a surefire way to set off an outbreak of pestilence, and it will also attract rodents and animals to say nothing of flies and other insects by the thousands which can readily contaminate food and other surfaces.
Generally speaking, while in the field you want to dig a small cat hole for single or few uses and a larger pit or slit trench for multiple uses or used by multiple people.
A cat hole is exactly what it sounds like, a hole that is about 6 in wide and twice that in depth that you can urinate or defecate into before covering your leavings with dirt and then moving on. Larger pit or slit trenches are designed for longer term use and larger quantities of waste.
Either should be situated far enough away from your camp that users will have some privacy and also in an effort to keep offensive odors to a minimum while at camp.
Also take great care to ensure that overflow and seepage will not move downhill towards your camp or else you’ll be facing a proper disaster.
Lastly, if you are able you should collect ash from campfires to use as an absorbent agent for treating your latrine periodically and finally before covering it with dirt and moving on.
One System to Rule Them All
Our soldiers have a secret weapon in the field that is taking hold with special ops and growing in popularity. The best part, it doesn’t require a drop of water to work. This waterless hygiene system is called Combat One.
Using the power of colloidal silver as part of their full spectrum hygiene system you will be able to stock your bags and survival caches with a shelf stable hygiene option that won’t require your precious water to use.
Combat One offers sprays, foams and something they call the tactical bath which contains eight cloths to essentially take care of your whole body. These are my personal favorite.
A very close comparison to the challenges we will face is highlighted in this blog post on close quarters camping with limited access to facilities. Find out how to master hygiene in bad scenarios using this technology.
Don’t Neglect Hygiene…
Hygiene has been a problem in the past, it will be a problem in the future and it remains a problem in places that don’t have the services we do. We are all watching the scenario unfold on the coast of Africa as a new plague emerges.
The spread of this plague is due in large part to the poor hygiene and sanitation methods used in this part of the world. You must always remember we are but one great disaster away from living in just the same way.
Hygiene in an American home is a science. We have everything we need and more. I have soap bars that smell like the woods and my wife has soap with loofas built into the bar. We have lotions and creams and antibiotic soaps of all kinds.
Once you hit the road due to evacuation or a bugout situation, you will see a drastic change in your ability to bathe and care for yourself.
Experiment with nature and learn how you can leverage wild resources in your fight to maintain personal hygiene. Make this a priority today and be sure you have the tools you need to keep yourself and your family going.