Smoke Bath - Hygiene in the Field

Overall hygiene in the field

One of the main questions I often get asked is around some form of hygiene in the field. Whether it is my teeth, hands, body, or hair, there are solutions that are quick and easy fixes while you are out camping, hunting, or just spending time outdoors. On a short, day trip it may not be as important, but hygiene in the field needs to be in the back of your mind at all times.

In World War I, soldiers found out quickly just how important hygiene in the field really was. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot they could do about some of it. Spending countless days in a wet, germ-infested trench led to many of the men dying from illnesses that by today’s standards could have been prevented.

During World War II, leaders had learned of the catastrophic results and started implementing a few requirements for hygiene in the field. These changes made a huge impact not just on the mortality rate but on the overall morale of the men.


Why should I worry about hygiene in the field

Outside of natural cleanliness, there are several things you may encounter during your trips in the woods. These can cause you difficulties later if they are not tended to now. 

  • Trench foot/necrosis – wet, soggy, feet
  • Parasites – microscopic hitchhikers that like to live in warm dark places
  • Bacteria – odors, illness-inducing 
  • Open cuts and scrapes – caused by briars or general tasks
  • Skin dander – dried out and flaky skin usually in hairy areas
  • Nasty Teeth / foul breath – you may not care but it’s rough

While we aren’t walking in trenches during our outdoor excursions, trench foot can still happen if not tended to. Our boots or shoes become literal coffins for our feet because we just let them sweat and do nothing about it. Without care, your sweaty feet can deteriorate and eventually let you down.

The number of parasites, bacteria, and germs that are in the woods would surprise even the most novice of campers. While all of them seem to be naturally occurring, our “civilized” bodies are not used to the impact of them. This causes our bodies to react which can be positive but can also have negative effects.

Benefits of hygiene in the field

  • Overall health
  • Longer lifespan
  • Get to stay outside longer

This is a short list but you can see a pattern. It’s all about getting more minutes or hours added to our lifespan. People that are being introduced to the outdoors may not see these as an adverse effect. But when you’ve spent as much time in the woods as I have, you want to add more time to every adventure. 

How can I stay clean when outdoors

  • Smoke
  • Ash
  • Charcoal
  • Leaves / Mint
  • Sticks / toothpicks
  • Moss for cleaning (astringent properties)
  • Change Socks daily

Please understand that I am not stating you need to take a shower with soap and water every day when outdoors. There are some things that you can do to prevent the smallest scrape from becoming the one thing that kills you.

A fire is one of the most basic and primal ways to stay clean. The smoke from the fire itself can kill bacteria and more importantly, odors. The ash from the fire can be used to wash your hair and even skin to reduce dander and keep the natural body-protecting oils intact.

Charcoal, sticks, and even a little mint can ensure that your mouth stays clean and healthy. Using charcoal to brush your teeth may sound gross, but it actually does work. It can also be used on those smelly armpits as it is naturally odor absorbing.

The biggest recommendation I can give you goes back to the story from the beginning of this article. Give your feet a chance to breathe and change your socks. These two things will keep your feet happy and prevent you from being carried out of the woods. 

Often in the evenings at camp, I have a little routine. I pull off my socks and shoes and hover my feet in the smoke from the campfire. After my feet have completely dried and I want to keep them warm in the winter, I will put clean socks back on. However, around camp, I usually go barefoot.


Hygiene in the field is often an overlooked area in many of the survival schools or outdoor workshops. But this one thing can add hours and even days to each outdoor adventure. It’s easy and quick and the benefits will outweigh the small amount of time it takes to implement. 

Comment below on what your hygiene practices are and keep it…clean.

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Bill Reese

Author Bill Reese

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