*To keep up to date on my current writing and articles, please visit my page at GuerrillaCamping.Blogspot.com*
So Fresh and So Clean – Guerrilla Camping 101.11
Somebody asked me for a hygiene blog. I’m not a neat freak by any means, but I do try to keep my fingernails clean when cooking. I’m not really as anal retentive as this blog implies. I was going to include a bit on foot hygiene, but it realized the subject to be worthy of an entry of its own, especially so I can tell the trench foot story…
Thanks for all the feedback I’ve gotten. I am trying to collect these into a pamphlet or book of some form, so if you get any questions wile reading it, please ask them in the comments, I have mentioned that I am often guilty of skipping important parts by thinking faster than I type, leaving stuff out in the process.
— — –
Wash That Ass
Please, don’t stink. It doesn’t just bother me, it bothers everyone. I don’t care if you’re keepin’ it real, you don’t even need to keep it clean if you don’t want to, but for the love of everything good, don’t make me everyone else bask in your putridness. Dogs sniff each others asses to say hello, not guerrillas.
Where to wash: You should NEVER EVER EVER wash in a stream or water source. This leads to the spreading of the waterborne diseases discussed in the Dying of Thirst blog. Like cooking, washing should be done 200 feet from any ground water. I like to find groves of trees that offer privacy. Gnarled out hollow oaks make amazing shower stalls and wind breaks. In suburbs, grocery store bathrooms are still great places to wash up, just go up to the customer service desk and ask them to hold your pack, then find another employee and ask where the bathroom is. In most places, however, asking with a pack on is asking to get hassled. Please, don’t leave a mess and if you splash water all over the place wipe up a bit. I’d hate for them to start locking them up like they have in coffee shops and gas stations. Keep in mind also that Grocery store workers are one of the last strong labor groups in America before you go making some poor worker clean up your muddy drippings. In rural areas, I tend to take cat baths or hustle barn space.
Cat Baths and Guerrilla Showers:
I carry a wash basin with me. It’s made from the bottom of a gallon milk container and straps against the bottom of a cookpot to keep it from getting wrecked. It’s about three inches deep, and stands up well with warm water in it, allowing you to wash without fumbling around with a bottle to rinse off. Before putting my dinner on to cook, I heat a pot full of water to a comfortable temperature and fill the basin. I then put my water on to boil for dinner as I wash. I wash my armpits and face with small amounts of liquid castile soap, and rinse off. I then wash my arms and hands with enough soap to make a lather. I dig at my finger nails a bit while doing this and scratch the palm of my hands to loosen dirt. I then wipe the soap off from the elbow to the hand with flicking motions, instead of getting my rise water all soapy. I then rinse the remaining soap off in the warm water, finally pouring the water down each arm for a final rinse and to rinse away any suds that might leave residue on the ground. I use micro-fiber towels I got at a restaurant supply store for a dollar a piece. These same towels sell at outfitter shops for 3-7 dollars. By the time my hands are dry, my water is just starting to boil and I can sit down to prepare dinner, assured that I won’t contaminate my food with dirty fingers. After dinner, I boil water to wash my cookware, and use the opportunity to wash my armpits and crotch with a towel soaked in warm, lightly soapy water. The dry corner of the towel suffices for a rinse.
There seem to be a few common drives in any group of men living outdoors, one of which is the drive to create wilderness showers. While in the 101st, the motorpool in my company constructed a six man, gravity fed shower using recycled pallets and old immersion heaters. A guy I met once had rigged up a water bag on two ropes allowing him to turn his shower on and off by pulling or releasing a rope. I’ve painted five gallon water containers black and melted holes in the cap to make a simple solar shower I could hang off the top of a truck. The easiest method I’ve found is to take a junked plastic bottle and punch small holes in the cap. You can often find HUGE water bottles in the recycling bins at developed campsites, and if you can’t find a two liter bottle in the city or suburbs, you aren’t looking. Don’t forget that you can also buy plastic bottles from urban scavengers, many of whom will take the time to dig through a dirty pile of bottles and cans to find that three gallon water bottle they scored at the nearby park only to ask for the five or ten cents they would get at a recycling depot.
The hardest part of making a bottle shower is getting the hot water into the bottle. The simplest way to do this is to create a cord funnel. Take a foot or so of cord and tie one end to a rock, and the other to a stick. Feed the stick into the bottle and once the water is warm enough for your shower, drop the rock in the cook pot. Lift the cook pot high enough that the cord falls straight into the bottle and slowly pour the water into the bottle. If there is enough tension on the cord, it should guide the water into the mouth of the bottle with very little spilling. The trick is to pour just slow enough that the water doesn’t spill over the lip and just fast enough that it doesn’t run down the side of the pot.
The Bug Check
When I change into my sleeping clothes, I take the time to check my body for ticks. I quick once over is enough, especially if you’ve gotten a few ticks in your time, they are obvious. I gently check my back by running my hand down each side of my back. I figure that if I have a tick in that spot I can’t scratch, he’s brilliant, and deserves to live. A better alternative though, is walk up to a buddy and say, “hey, I got ticks?” then turn around and lift your shirt. It separates the men from the boys, especially if you do it in church.
If you need to “freshen up” before walking into town, putting a bit of rubbing alcohol on your fingers and wiping it into your pits is enough to kill odors since it kills stinky bacteria. I always carry a fair amount of rubbing alcohol for first aid and hygienic use. I get the strongest concentration I can, figuring value to weight is worth something, and in a worse case scenario, 90% isopropyl is a decent fire starter. Don’t use denatured alcohol unless you have burn proof skin, the stuff does cause irritation.
Use that Ass
There is a common discussion the first time a soldier is out in the field and looks at the five neatly folded pieces of toilet paper that come with an MRE. “What are we supposed to do with five sheets of paper?” The common response? “Use it to wipe your hand”.
A lot of people are freaked out their first few times shitting in the woods. A friend of mine, dropping a squat in the Kentucky wilderness was so jumpy that he shot at a wild dog running by in the night. His reasoning was simple. “My pants were down!” But after a while, it becomes old hat and returning to toilets seems a bit difficult.
The human body, by design or the honing process of evolution is a finely tuned machine, attuned to use tools, but also to exist without them. The toilet is one of those tools that many feel we could do without, claiming that the undue stress on stomach and glutinous muscles leads to abdominal distress. I choose to disagree, in my case, the most common source of abdominal pains while sitting on the porcelain throne is reading the New Republic. But even I concede that squatting is a much more natural position. So it’s time to shit AND get off the pot.
Picking a place to poo is perplexing in places. You should do it 200 meters away from ground water. Yes, meters. This isn’t hand cooties, this is it, the real honest stinking deal, and there’s no way that should run into anybody’s canteen downstream. You should dig a hole, between 6 and eight inches deep. Any deeper and it won’t decompose, if it’s too shallow it will get dug up by animals. Often you will find places too rocky of waterlogged to dig. In these cases the proper course of action is to pack it out, although I will admit to never doing this. It’s true that human shit contains many contaminants not present in animal equivalents, but truth be told, it’s still poo, and if every other animal can do it under a bush, I figure mine should be okay there too.
To dig a hole, you will need a digging stick or a trowel. I opt to carry a trowel, since it was a gift. Amy entrenching tools are too heavy and usually useless to carry. There are smaller flding varieties to look neat and include a pick, but the model I carry is a U Dig It. It’s constructed out of stainless steel, and has a five year guarantee against torking the handle or rust. It’s pretty heavy duty and only slightly heavier than the small folding shovels. There are also the standard bright orange plastic trowels, which many of my friends have complain about being weak and bending. Prior to receiving the stainless shovel, I always just used digging sticks, sharpened quickly with a pocket knife. Pop the stick into the ground at an angle less than 45 degrees, then push down. Repeat until you have a decent sized toilet. Then, when done, break it up a bit to speed decomposition, cover it and go.
TP is another matter. The arguments for and against toilet paper are endless. You shouldn’t burn it, it doesn’t decompose (Actually, there are toilet papers that claim to biodegrade), it’s unsightly, and if you wish to be traceless you have to pack it out.
Regardless, I carry a roll with me always. By yanking the cardboard tube out of the middle, you can cram a roll of toilet paper into a ziplock baggie. DO NOT use regular sandwich bags. When (Not if) your pack gets soaked, a sandwich bag will let water in, the toilet paper will turn to pulp and you’ll be wearing and sleeping in pulp covered gear. Some people advocate carrying it in a cookpot or coffee can so it stays soft, but since my cookpot contains my stove, and a coffee can is as heavy as the roll of paper, I opt for mushed toilet paper in a baggie.
For years burning TP was the accepted method to dispose of toilet paper. Unfortunately, the destructiveness of campfires on public lands led to the adoption of fire regulations that prohibited this method. The official word came to pack it out. I don’t. I pack it to the next fire or trash can and dump it immediately. The biggest issue with burning toilet paper is the occasion when burning embers start blowing around, igniting everything around you. Toilet paper is as safe to burn as wood if done properly. I generally push wads of it under burning logs, and watch the fire for any drifting bits. Since prevailing winds will always deter me from starting a fire, I am usually able to avoid shit flares.
I carry another ziplock baggie to carry the TP out in, if I have no way to dispose of it. I keep both baggies in a plastic grocery bag with the trowel, tied shut to keep it from “getting out”.
Going without is quite simple, although it requires a bit of experimentation and if you can’t recognize poison oak, poison ivy, sumac or stinging nettle stick to rocks and bark, I’ve had a thousand cases of stinging nettle and one run in with poison oak, and can’t imagine the agony that either would inflict if used as toilet paper. Fortunately, stinging nettle’s effects are immediate, so if you’re dumb enough to use it on your butt, it’s not my problem.
My favorite TP substitute is the hanging moss you find draped from trees. It’s soft, clumps well and being natural, it’s safe to bury with the poop. You can also use tree bark, leaves, stones and seashells. Avoid grass and sharp edged foliage, since they can cause cuts and be sure to check the leaves before you use them, they can be sticky, thorny or otherwise unsuited to your derriere.
Washing your rags
A small kitchen trash bag is a sufficient washing machine. Put about two gallons of water in it, then add your clothing and about 2 teaspoons of castile soap. Tie a knot in the top of the bag then shake it and flip it over in your hands for a few minutes then let it rest and soak for a while. While it sits, find two trees and tie a length of cord between them to serve as a clothesline. Repeat the agitation again, and let it rest a short amount of time. At least 200 yards from any water, dump the soapy water in an inconspicuous place, spreading it out avoid flooding any plants. Shake your clothes out a bit to release excess soap then drape them over the clothes line and put a small bit of water into the trash bag. Use a water bottle for this to avoid polluting the stream with dirty wash water. Squeeze the neck of the bag shut and shake it to loosen dirt and soap. Pour the rinse water out of the bag then turn it inside out and flap it around to get rid of any remaining soap.
Once again, you’re going to collect two more gallons of water in the trash bag then put your clothes back in. I shake them off a bit first to get rid of as much soap as I can. This time, let the bag sit for about five minutes to loosen soap and dirt, then shake the hell out time to shake them out, since this allows you to get more dirt off them than if you dumped out the water.
Truth be told, washing your clothes is easy. Drying them, on the other hand is a bit more difficult. Most clothing, especially cotton and wool take notoriously long times to dry. Care must therefore be taken to make sure your clothes dry. Tie your clothesline so it faces south, and has the most amount of sun exposure. Since you will have to drape your clothes over the clothes line, and won’t have hangers or clothes pins, you will need to flip them a few times to make sure they dry evenly. I try to do laundry right after breakfast, using left over hot water to warm the initial wash water, and assuring that I have a full day of sun to make sure the clothes dry.
If you clothes fail to dry before it is time to move on, put them back in the trash bag to keep from wetting your other gear. You will need to be diligent to remove them from the bag as soon as possible, re-hanging the clothes at the earliest opportunity. Otherwise they will mildew and stink, defeating the entire purpose of washing them in the first place.
I love to shave as much as I hate to shave. The steam from a basin of hot water warming my face as I lean towards a mirror in a nicely tiled bathroom takes on an air of ritual when done in anticipation of your first shower in three weeks. The slow strokes revealing fresh clean skin beneath road grime, so imbedded to have become a simple part of your complexion. Watching your face reappear, young and rejuvenated makes this a sublime moment, where I find myself naturally predisposed towards introspect. Socrates once said that a man does his best thinking in the bath. If this is so, then the best subjects are discovered while shaving.
That said, trying to splash cold water on your face from a hep-c ridden sink in the Jacksonville greyhound station while some junkie is puking in the next bathroom over is something one should only do in the spirit of adventure. That’s why I don’t use a razor. And why I don’t shave often, unless necessary. Instead, I use a battery operated electric shaver. It uses two AA batteries, which I pilfer from my flashlight when I need to shave, and can be recharged using a solar battery charger. (If you want to go ghetto, you can get a cheap solar powered garden lamp and pilfer its guts to improvise one. There are instructions floating all over the web on how to do the modification, which simply involves cutting a few wires. I will do a blog on this later and remove this non-sequitor)
I picked up the razor at a truck stop a few years back, having originally used one bought at a PX while in the army. The casing broke a few months ago, and is held together with a wrap of duct tape, but it still works fine. The blade cover contains a mirror, which is usually the only one I have with me. It has two rotary blades and does not shave very close. This is a benefit when you are in the woods, getting dirty as it reduces ingrown hairs. When the batteries aren’t charged, it slows down and starts pulling hair, but all in all it works okay, and allows you to dry shave as you sit at the side of the road waiting for a ride.
Before shaving I rough up my beard, to lift the hairs from the surface of my face. All I do is rub my hands against the grain of the hair for a minute, occasionally lightly running my finger nails along my face to dislodge any ingrown hairs. The razor works easily, and I o a once over blindly, before knocking out the cut hairs and using the mirror to touch up the rough spots. It’s quite embarrassing to find out that you have a neck mohawk five minutes after getting flirty with the Australian girl working the desk at the hostile.
If you do manage to pull a hair or cut yourself with a razor, use some of that rubbing alcohol on it. You can mix a bit of water and a bit of alcohol to make a primitive aftershave if you have a recurring issue with ingrown hairs or infected follicles, but I never bother, opting instead to wash my face with light soapy water afterwards.
Tampons and pads are difficult to dispose of. Burning them is ineffective, since it requires a very hot fire to completely consume them and they are plagued with even more decomposition issues than toilet paper, so burying them is defiantly out. They can be packed out in ziplock bags, or alternatives can be used. The keeper cup, available at keeper.com is used by a number of women I know. It is a reusable device that looks a bit like a long stemmed acorn. It works kind of like a tampon, but is washable and reusable for up to ten years. Reusable cotton pads are a good alternative, since if you have to pack it out anyways, you might as well be able to wash and re-use it, although the difficulties of washing them by hand are obvious.
Many places offer coin showers. Most notoriously, truck stops and some overdeveloped camp sites in the more populous states. The trick to a fifty cent shower is to use one quarter to soak yourself, soap and lather without, then use another quarter to wash. Some truck stops have shower tokens you buy for a few dollars that are good for a five or ten minute shower. For information on fake tokens, check out Abbie Hoffman’s masterpiece Steal this Book.
If you carry a water bag or hydration bladder, buying a replacement cap to turn into a shower head is an obvious choice. Choosing a dark color water bag will allow you to heat it with the sun. Solar water heaters are nifty, but redundant if you use a water bag or hydration pack.
Ocassionally in big cities, you will find exhaust vents beside high rise buildings, that spew warm air out of the sidewalk. Setting up a simple tarp tent over a grate like this makes a great place to take a late night scrub on cold night, almost like deep urban hot springs. If you use construction warning signs to hold up the edges and use a utility tarp, you should be invisible to police.