Sunday, March 11, 2012

Survival Hygiene

In a survival situation, having a method that allows you to wash up is a good thing. Filth attracts disease, so no matter what has placed you in a survival condition, it's important to give due diligence to hygiene.

Years ago, folks just squatted down beside the creek, lathered up and rinsed off, but that wasn’t too good for the fish or anybody else downstream. We know better now, so the best practice is to establish a wash station a couple hundred feet from any water source. 

An expedient washbasin can be made by loosely draping a small tarp, a rain poncho, or even a plastic garbage bag over a ground-level framework of cut branches or stones. If a framework is not available, make a basin by digging a shallow hole and lining it with the plastic. The water can be heated by placing into the basin a few hot rocks that have been warmed by the fire. To avoid a grenade effect, don’t heat rocks taken from an active stream, as the moisture trapped inside might turn to steam and shatter the rock.

It’s amazing how little water it takes for a wilderness spit bath. With a little practice, you can do a satisfactory job with about a quart of water. While standing on a bit of tarp or some leafy ground (to keep your feet from getting muddy), use a wash cloth and soap (if you have it) to bathe yourself from top to toes. The process goes like this:
  • Use a small bit of soap and a rag full of water to wash your hair and face first, then rinse out the cloth in the basin and rinse off those clean areas. Recapture the water from the cloth, wringing it back into the basin. Go easy on the soap or the water in the basin will become too soapy. You can actually do this whole bath with no soap at all and still get fairly clean. 
  • Move down to your neck, shoulders, chest and arms, and repeat the process. 
  • Continue down your body to your waist, washing small areas at a time, and then rinsing. By now, your basin of water is becoming somewhat grungy. 
  • Wash your legs and feet next, then rinse. 
  • Finish up by washing the parts that normally hide beneath your underwear. 
  • When you’re finished, dry off, get dressed and dispose of the sludgy water a comfortable distance from your camp. 
A solar shower makes bath time so much easier than the aforementioned spit bath technique because it delivers a flow of water from a showerhead. There are several versions of solar shower, so do a Google search and find the one you like best. None of them are very expensive, generally costing from $10 to $25 or so. They all consist of a flexible plastic bladder that holds anywhere from a couple gallons to 5 gallons of water. Keep in mind that the larger the capacity, the longer it will take for the sun to heat the water. In nearly all cases, the container is black to aid in the capture of solar radiation to warm the water during the day, if it is laid out where it enjoys full exposure to the sun. A plastic tube is fitted to the bottom of the bag, and a small showerhead is affixed to the end of the tube. 

To take a shower, suspend the bag from an overhead support, such as a tree limb, stand under the bag, open the valve to allow water to flow down the tube and out through the shower head. Wet yourself down and then go through the spit bath procedure described above, opening the showerhead occasionally to rinse off. A solar shower works well if there's strong sunshine during at least part of the day, but without the sun you’re out of luck. 

There is a way that you can enjoy a nice hot shower no matter what the weather is doing. Coleman ( makes a portable water heater called Hot Water on Demand. It can use a 16.4-ounce propane canister to heat as much as 40 gallons of water. For long-term use, a 20-lb bulk propane tank and a special adapter can be employed. This unit will heat cold water to a temperature of 100ยบ F. in 5 seconds, delivering the hot water through a sink-type faucet or an optional shower head adapter. Water is brought into the unit from a collapsible 5-gallon container, or you can use a garden hose and an adapter for a constant supply of hot water from a water spigot. For safety, there’s an automatic system that shuts down the unit if it tips over or if the water temperature exceeds 160 degrees. The internal water pump is operated by a 6-volt battery that can be recharged from a vehicle cigarette lighter or household outlet.

Yeah, being clean is a good idea. It might sound like a frill in a survival situation, but it will help keep you healthy. There's no need to live like a dirt clod just because there's no functional civilization. 


  1. I'm an old country boy and do a spit bath everyday, I may or may not get six showers a year.

  2. Being as you are a pro would you want someone coming to look for you at the end of your line?

  3. That's a good question. It would depend on who I had in my life at the time that would give me a reason to fight for my life. I have a hard time giving up and quitting, but …

  4. If you die out there and they find you they drag you back to Monkeyville and do all kinds of weird things to you.

    I would just as soon return to nature.

  5. I have one of those black solar shower water bags, it doesn't work so great in this area.