American Bushman

"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing." —Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Good hygiene is essential to long-term health when out in the wilderness and some people find the ritual of a morning or evening wash and shave to be very therapeutic.

Now at Briar Patch last summer the only "bathing" I did was in an icy lake. Since then I've come up with a simple routine to keep the cooties away if I'm out for more than a couple of days. It requires no extra gear that I wasn't already bringing, it can be done in any season and any weather, and it takes only a couple of minutes from start to finish.

I choose to wash up just before bed as it keeps the oils, dirt, and stink I carry to bed to a minimum.

First, put a pot of water on the camp stove and bring it up to a nice warm, almost too hot, temperature. Once it's hot you throw your bandana/rag/wash cloth into the water with a drop or two of soap and give it a good swirl. Now I like to carry one of these from Lee Valley and it does a fantastic job of scraping off the layer of crud without also taking a layer or two of skin.

I give myself a once-over with the hot, wet bandana and then use the nail brush to exfoliate and open up the pores, and then another swipe with the bandana after I've dunked it again.

After the scrubbing I will either air dry (if no one's around) or just towel off with a t-shirt.

While the water's still hot I can use my signal mirror and have a shave if I'm really motivated. Now my facial hair seems to grow about an inch every ten years so shaving isn't ever a priority but a clean washed and shaven face can really bring back the "civilized" side of me.

If it's available, I like to rub down a bit (you know the key areas) with spruce needles as they both smell good and are (I believe) anti-microbial. This'll help keep the cooties from coming back so quickly and, when combined with a bit of wood smoke, will really remove the smells of civilization without reverting to a more primitive; more stinky self.

Thanks for reading,



At 8:50 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Two words Brian: baby wipes!

Obviously if you're out long or really weight or space conscious that isn't always an option. Although for a weekend trip enough to get you through really doesn't take up much space, even for a week if you don't bring the whole package of wipes.
Otherwise though baby wipes are a god send for keeping clean in the outdoors.

At 8:51 AM, Blogger Mungo said...

Good post. I definitely have found that having a 'smoke-bath' works well, especially in the winter when there isn't much water to bathe with. I wonder if throwing some juniper branches on the fire would be good... the anti-microbial effect of the berries seem to be good for cleaning the mouth.

Hope all is well!



At 9:18 AM, Blogger American Bushman said...

The problem I have with baby wipes Tim is the extra garbage they become once they've been used.

I'm sure they work just fine but if I can minimize the amount of garbage I have to bring out with me then my overall impact will be less.

I know those things can't be flushed so they must take some time to break down. I could burn them but then I'm starting a fire anyway and could just heat up some water to bathe.

Different strokes for different folks I suspect.



At 11:31 AM, Blogger Tim said...

True, you would have to pack them back out if you didn't burn them but the weight is negligible, especially once they dry out and its less bulky than packing even a camp towel or washcloth, especially if they're wet.

But, as you say, different strokes. Good to have options too. Especially on a longer trip. Either way good hygiene stuff no matter how you manage it!

At 12:19 PM, Anonymous said...

After you shave a couple of times without a mirror you may find you do not need one. Every day I shave my face and head while in the shower, with no mirror.

I agree with not using baby wipes and the like; not only would I have to lug them around before using them, I would have to lug them around afterwards. Too much bother especially on an extended outing.

At 1:31 PM, Blogger sam_acw said...

Do you have horse chestnut over there? I know it is an introduced species here but I can't remember where from.
The leaves have a soap like substance and are also disinfectant. They are easy to find as at the moment they have big cones of white blossoms and their distinctive clawed hand shaped leaves.
I also shave without a mirror sometimes, your face tends to be in the same place after all ;-) The closer to a real razor you get the harder it is to do though.
What's this smoke bath thing?

At 8:24 PM, Blogger Mungo said...

Well, this is a lively conversation! Thanks American Bushman for the forum... :-)
Smoke Bath: What I do is when I want to freshen up a little in camp, I'll brush my teeth and splash water on my face - and if it is cold or I don't want to jump in the lake, I will pile some juniper branches or evergreen onto a fire to get a dense smoke. Then I'll open my clothes and step into the smoke and 'smoke' myself. It seems to kill off some of the body odour and I find I feel fresh afterwards. Additionally you can chew on a couple of juniper berries or even spruce needles and you'll get a fresh clean taste in your mouth.

I would think too that if you put a damp cloth into the smoke, it would get some of the smoke on it in a liquid form and then you could wipe yourself with that... the antiseptic qualities of the smoke would be better applied. Haven't tried this, but why not?


Mungo the Smokey.

At 11:49 AM, Blogger sam_acw said...

I remember when I was a reenactor we used to travel in uniform so we could fit four people in a car.
When we stopped for a burger on the way back once people thought we were on fire!
I usually used to take a cake of hard soap with me as I can't stand having dirty hands. I use the stuff called "grey" soap here. Not scented and really hard. It is ok for lathering up for shaving with too.

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Jason Lancaster said...

I'm not sure if Tim meant this in his above comment, but you can actually let baby wipes dry out to save some weight and then pour some water on them again to re-activate them. I'm not sure this works on all baby wipes, for example some might contain alcohol or something that would evaporate and never be able to be returned, but in my tests this seems to have worked pretty well with whatever the standard baby wipe you buy at the store is.

At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good topic. I was going to post something on the same topic, so I'll save my comments til then. Well done Brian.
Pablo's Woodlife

At 9:06 PM, Blogger Tim said...

That wasn't what I was thinking Jason. I was just thinking that they dry out fast and make for light packing if you do need to lug them back out with you. Interesting idea to reactivate them though! I'll have to try that.


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