The great outdoors may be rugged but it is certainly no place to let your personal hygiene suffer. In fact, your ability to survive in the wild is often dependent upon your strength. By not taking care of yourself physically you are at a heightened risk of becoming injured or sick. If either of these occur it would significantly impact your performance and leave you vulnerable to the hazards within.
There are certain measures you can take to keep yourself healthy while on the trail. All that is required is that you put forth a little effort. Another great thing about hygiene preparedness is that most of the products have multiple uses in survival. Below are some of my recommendations.
Protect Those Feet
In nature your feet are your mode of transportation. They lead you to water, food and safety. It is extremely important you provide protection and maintenance to your feet before and after any excursion.
> Carefully select proper boots with the help of a reputable outfitter. Be sure they are heavy duty, yet not “heavy.” Wear them in in advance to avoid blistering.
> Choose the thickness of your socks depending on the climate. Wicking socks are a good choice for an under layer as the synthetic material will pull sweat away from your feet. Wool socks also do this, which makes them a great outer layer for warmth.
> Keep your feet dry. Fungal organisms are drawn to moisture and are happy to occupy your feet if you let them. Do so by changing your socks often. Allow them to dry out by hanging on your pack or by a fire.
> Trim your toenails straight across. Rounded nails can become ingrown with hiking, or even fall off with the pressure of a downhill trek.
> Use foot powder to help with sweat absorption and also to provide a soothing relief. At camp, soak them in a baking soda and water wash for rejuvenation. Lastly, consider lathering them in coconut oil, which is a natural anti-fungal remedy.
> If blisters do form there are several ways of treating. Educate yourself with steps on how to do so. Be sure to have a first aid kit containing moleskin, bandages, gauze and medical tape.
Practice Oral Hygiene
Not giving your teeth the proper attention can lead to excruciating pain. Toothaches are unbearable and have an effect on both your physical and mental state. Because of this reason it is necessary to care for your teeth as much as possible while in the wilderness.
Always include a toothbrush, paste and dental floss in your supplies. What’s awesome about the floss is that it also doubles as backup cordage!
Recipe for simple DIY Toothpaste
- 2 Tbsp. Coconut oil
- 2 Tbsp. Baking soda
Cleansing the Body, Cleansing the Soul
It might not be a beauty pageant out on the trail but cleanliness does indeed play a role in your health. Especially with your hands it is very easy to spread germs, which can ultimately lead to illness. Along with a weakened condition, being sick can steer you into careless decision making.
Skin conditions can easily form due to the elements, insect and plant exposure, or even the rubbing of material during your physical activities. Cleaning and caring for your skin will help with the healing. Also, it is imperative that you keep all of your wounds clean to avoid infection.
Finally, cleanliness is a fantastic morale booster! Freshening up your outsides can have a positive effect on your insides. This may aid you in staying more focused on other survival tasks.
If you do not have a water source readily available, there are alternative methods for taking care of your body.
> Take sponge baths (if some water is available).
> Bathe with baby wipes.
> Use Hand Sanitizer. Being that it contains alcohol; HS can also be used as fire starter!
> Apply coconut oil, which is a “go to” in many forms of skin health. Use it for skin moisturizing, as chap-stick, for bug bite relief, deodorant (mix with baking soda), as a protectant on scrapes and cuts, and much more.
If you do find yourself sick or injured, it is vital you are able to be quickly cured. Especially in a survival scenario, you need to be in tiptop shape in order to be successful in your duties. This includes both your body as well as your mind.
Along with a first aid kit, a great way to be prepared is to become knowledgeable in natural remedies. There are countless plants, trees, roots, flowers, weeds, etc… that have the ability to work as effectively (or better) in healing as man-made products.
Some examples are:
- Willow bark/leaves: headaches and fever
- Slipper Elm bark: sore throat, toothaches, stomach issues, wounds, burns, etc…
- Aloe: burns, wounds, poison ivy, insect bites, etc…
The key is to learn what type of vegetation grows in your region. Then, study what type of health benefits each plant individually offers and how to use it safely. In the event you are out in the wilderness away from your home environment, I suggest learning about a variety of different plants. A good idea is to keep a plant identification book in your pack.
Prepare to Survive
It’s a fact that the wilderness is a place that must be taken seriously. It is necessary to be in a healthy condition – mind, body and soul for you to survive the obstacles within. But before you ever set foot outside be sure you have all of the essential tools needed to ensure this.
One of my latest innovations is the Recon 6 Survival Watch. I created it with the intention of helping every man be prepared, at all times, no matter the situation. Simply by wearing the watch you are also carrying 14 of the most fundamental tools needed for an emergency survival situation. Compacted within is a fire starter, compass, knife, cordage and more.
In conclusion, preparedness and well-thought action are two of the most important keys for surviving the great outdoors.
Editors Note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.