Hygiene whilst in the woods

Laundry day

As I have just completed over a month out in the woods I wanted to look at how I stay clean and do my laundry and personal hygiene whilst in the woods. I quite often get asked how I go about staying clean and washing my clothes and many other general personal and kit maintenance tasks when I’m away from home so often for extended periods. It is a very important subject and one that is not often discussed on courses. This is one of the reasons why on our longer period courses such as our five day survival course and our ten day survival course we not only touch on the subject but we actually talk in-depth about the subject and demonstrate methods for keeping yourself and your clothing clean. So I thought in this blog I would share some of the tips and hints that I found help me greatly whilst in the woods to stay clean.

A well stocked wash kit
A well stocked wash kit.

First of all you do not need a massive wash kit. The wash bag I use is a Snugpak deluxe wash kit. In this I can fit everything I need to meet my hygiene needs. Of course it contains the usual items such as a toothbrush and toothpaste and soap as well as a selection of vitamins and mineral tablets that I take on a daily basis. It also includes items I have found to be very useful such as a nailbrush. For the nailbrush I prefer the plastic body type rather than Wood. This is because you can use it for several purposes not only cleaning your nails and scrubbing laundry. But with having the plastic body I can put it in boiling water and bleach if it needs to be sterilised. I have found that the wooden bodied nail brushes tend to break up if put them in boiling water with bleach. I also have a good pair of nail clippers which obviously are used to maintain my finger and toenails. I also have a disposable razor and spare razorblades for shaving my face and head. I also carry a couple of small plastic bottles containing various liquids that I have found to be very useful. These include a small bottle of laundry detergent, a small spray bottle of Dettol, a small bottle of Aloe vera gel and a small bottle of alcohol hand gel. I also carry a small bottle of foot powder, a small bottle of pink Himalayan rock salt and a small ointment stick called Snow fire which is very good for rubbing on chapped and cracked skin. There is also a small roll on deodorant stick and an alum Crystal which can also be used as a deodorant and to stop bleeding. I also have a small tube of Vaseline intensive care moisturising cream.

Useful tools to consider
Useful tools to consider.
Essential liquids for a range of uses
Essential liquids for a range of uses.

In the bottom compartment of the wash bag I have a large face cloth which can also double as a small towel and I have a pack of anti-bacterial body wipes. I have a Snugpak full body quick drying towel as well that I keep in my main bag. The bar of soap I tend to use is a birch tar soap from Russia. I find I can use this soap for washing but also it forms a good lather so I can use it for shaving as well and it has a natural unperfumed smell. To wash I carry a small washing up bowl that I can put hot water in and then add cold water until the correct temperature is reached using this I can wash my whole body and shave and keep myself clean and smart for the next group of customers. I have previously had a full body wash and shave just using water in my billycan. However I find the washing up bowl makes things a little easier. There is something special about the liberation of stripping off in the woods and having a damn good clean and if the weather is nice, no better way to dry off than walking in the sunlight until you are dry. (Or maybe I’m just weird?)

Home from home
Home from home.

Each night before getting into my hammock I will usually have a wipe down with either the face cloth or body wipes. Paying special attention to my armpits and groin area to make sure they are clean. Just before getting into my hammock I will usually clean my feet and then powder my feet with the foot talc. A really handy tip for talcing your feet is to have a small dry bag just big enough to get your foot in, put foot talc in it and then you can clean your feet, pop them one at a time into the talc bag and give them a good dusting of talc without losing all the talc on the floor. The socks and underpants I have worn during the day I will hang them on my ridge line underneath my tarp to air out. These will then go into a laundry bag the following day, I find that airing them out reduces the smell that can build up in the laundry bag. Every morning I will put on clean fresh underwear and socks.When it comes to doing laundry I normally do this in the main camp where I have access to a large kettle for hot water. I will do this by using a 35 L Really Useful box or similar plastic container. I will add a small amount of laundry detergent to the box and then pour in hot water followed by cold water until the correct temperature is achieved. If there are any stubborn stains on my clothing, this is usually things such as blood from the game prep sessions I will squirt some laundry detergent directly onto the stain and give this a scrub using my nail brush. I will then wash my items of clothing in the box and hang them on a guy rope in the Sun for them to dry. I normally carry a small zip lock bag with clothes pegs and additional cordage to use as a washing line should I need it.

Laundry day
Laundry day.

If I’m on an expedition I carry a tough dry bag that I can use to wash my clothes in. My wife bought me a brand called Scrubba that make wash type dry bags with a bobbled surface on one side to use as a washboard. Using these methods allows me to stay out for extended periods of time without the need for launderettes or shower facilities to keep myself and kit clean on expeditions. Don’t forget to always take advantage of downpours of rain! Whilst in Kenya this year with the Maasai the heavens opened and we had torrential rain. Whilst everyone was heading for cover, I grabbed my wash kit and had a lovely shower in the hot rain (I kept my boxers on). On the Yukon trip I made full use of the river and lakes by bathing and doing laundry in them. Remember it’s important to only use eco friendly biodegradable soaps in these cases. But obviously it is always very nice to have access to a laundrette or shower facilities. And I have an amazing group of friends who are more than happy to help me out when it comes to allowing me to nip to their house and use their showers or for them to do laundry for me and bring it to the woods. Sometimes I am blackmailed into collecting my laundry from their house with the promise of a shower and food too.

So I hope these little tips and hints have helped you and if ever you are out for a long period of time you are able to maintain your personal and kit hygiene standards. It is extremely important, in fact it cannot be stressed enough, just how important personal hygiene and kit hygiene is on extended period out in the wilderness or the woods. I can never understand the mentality of roughing it where someone goes without washing or cleaning themself whilst in the woods or in the wild. Not only is it unpleasant for people that are around them but it is unhygienic and can lead to illnesses and infections which is the last thing you want whilst in a wilderness environment – so keep it clean people. 👍🏻

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