It has been nearly two hours since we left camp. The aspen trees rustle in the ravine below us as we walk in the shadow of a desolate rock ridge. There are no brushwood or trees on this barren trail. It will be another mile before we are cloaked by the forest. The rest of the crew are coming up behind us with more equipment. I think my bladder shall burst.
Lessons from the field
A simple event like this can find you on the horns of a dilemma, easily solved by the addition of a poncho to your repertoire. A long Army type is best, and it is waterproof, windproof, and guaranteed to maintain your woodswoman dignity. This provides full and complete cover for road-side stops, hiking, or any situation where there are no foliage or terrain features for concealment. In the Army, I also used the poncho as a bathing stall.
With two aluminum canteens of water (one used for heating), a small propane torch, and my steel pot (helmet) used as a washbasin, I could wash my hair and have a total body bath. This method can be adapted for most situations with limited water availability, replacing the helmet with a lightweight aluminum pan, large enough to stick your head in.
First, heat about one quart of water, then add enough cool water for a comfortable temperature. In a kneeling position, put your head into the pot of warm water and get your hair wet. Lather up with shampoo, then dunk it back into the pot and swish your hair around. Squeeze the excess water back into the pan, and wrap your hair into a T-shirt or towel or whatever is available. Your hair will have some soap residue, but you will not notice it because our modern shampoos leave no scummy soap feeling.
Second, hold your head over the pot of soapy water and wash your face and neck, then dry off. Thirdly, put your poncho on and remove your clothing, but leave your shoes and socks on, that way you will not get your feet muddy. Bring the pan of soapy water under your poncho. Lean over the pot and splash your armpits, and finish your top half with a washcloth. (A clean sock makes a good substitute washcloth.) Then squat over the warm water for a splashing sitz bath. Dry off and get dressed.
Related article: How To Deal With Laundry In Survival Or Primitive Situations
The last step, take off your poncho and sit on a log or something. Remove one shoe and sock, dip your foot into the remaining soapy water and slosh it around, dry your foot and put your sock and shoe back on. Then do the other foot. This eliminates the annoying pine needles, sand, and grit that will attach themselves to the bottom of your freshly cleaned feet.
This is what I call phase bathing. This method leaves you at all times covered and able to move quickly, you will not become chilled, and you have the luxury of bathing as frequently as water and heat sources allow.
Bathing in comfort
For fewer hardcore conditions, I have devised a portable bathing unit, which includes a small inflatable children’s swimming pool that squishes down to the size of a deflated air mattress, used for bathing in a tent. You will also need a large aluminum pot (for heating bath and dishwater) and a plastic bucket used for bathwater, washing dishes, and hauling water.
I prefer a five-gallon bucket, although a smaller one works fine. Your bucket should be about one-third full of cold water, pour in the hot water until it is an acceptable temperature.
Have your little swimming pool in your tent inflated, set the bucket of warm water next to the pool, with a dipping cup, shampoo and towel handy. Get undressed and squat or kneel in the pool. Cupful at a time pour the water over your head and body (at this time put your underthings and whatever you want to be washed in the bottom of the pool and stand on them), lather up and rinse.
Stomp on your clothes a bit, then ring them out and, no rinsing necessary, set them aside for hanging up to dry.
Get dried and dressed. Then pour the water from the pool back into the plastic bucket and discard, lean your pool outside against your tent for storage. This routine takes about twenty minutes.
I have never gotten chilled from wet hair, even in freezing temperatures. I simply added more clothing to my lower body and kept active by chopping wood or hiking up a hill. Medium-length hair will dry in about half an hour, more quickly with a heat source or a good breeze. I do not recommend wet hair at night: dampness, cold, and inactivity can result in a wretched evening, unless, of course, it is midsummer at a low elevation.
If you are uneasy as to the origins of the bathwater, you are using, put in two tablespoons of liquid bleach per five gallons of water as a remedy. Or use only filtered or boiled water for washing your face and brushing your teeth.
If the water is silty, add a few tablespoons of baking soda to the murky bathwater, and thanks to our dirt lifting shampoos, you will feel remarkably clean. I did this in Alaska, while camped on the South Fork of the Forty Mile River, when it swelled, so heavily laden with silt that I was unable to see my hand when I submerged it into the water bucket. I boiled and filtered it for drinking, but it was perfectly adequate in its natural state for bathing.
Your deodorant, hair care products, and make-up should be as unscented as possible. Odoriferous items make you particularly attractive to buzzing creatures. Also, for the occasional trip to town or for the amusement of your fellow campers, you can steam heat your hair rollers over a campfire or wood stove (as if you were steaming vegetables). It works just as well as electric curlers.
As for other less glamorous elements of the woodswoman’s life, have a small fold-up type shovel for burying waste. If the ground is excessively rocky, pile rocks on top, like a miniature grave mound, don’t skimp on your digging or rock piling, otherwise, the camp dog or other critters, with palates for the unmentionable, may leave the embarrassing toilet paper trail.
How about your period
As for our menstrual cycle, change often and bury. I prefer feminine hygiene articles without applicators for compactness. If you were happily camping and forgot your absorbent products, or they were ruined in the last rainstorm, rip up a cotton T-shirt into strips and use the pieces exactly as you would your favorite feminine hygiene product.
Related article: Prepping For Your Period – A Sensitive Topic For Preppers of 2020
After use, rinse in cold water, wash, hang to dry away from camp, and reuse. For pants protection use a piece of cotton cloth backed by a plastic baggie and safety pin to your underwear.
A woodswoman and her business
Another problem facing the woodswoman is the humbling experience of having to drop our drawers for a simple, natural thing done so easily by men. Our belt laden with pistol, knife, and canteen are then found laid out at our feet. Remedied, perhaps by wearing a belt that is not attached to the pants. Even so, a quick get-away in this position is akin to participating in a gunny sack race.
Therefore, I experimented, and field-tested a pair of pants with the zipper extended, creating a bifurcated garment. The additional zipper length is easily added to any pair of pants, the fly flap is cut on the bias to give the curve needed. Along with the pants, I made underwear with overlapping crotch hems, much like men’s briefs, except the opening is lower and extends farther. If this sounds complicated for you, you can try some of the new products designed for the woodswoman, such as the SheWee.
In the late 1800s and into the 1950s, bifurcated garments were used for pantaloons, full-bodied corsets, and girdles. Except for long johns, this design has not been used much recently. I found the experimental pants comfortable and the zipper virtually invisible, and I delighted in the freedom from over-exposure, particularly useful as an additional feature on women’s bib overalls, cold weather suits, and coveralls.
If your work, hobbies, or survival drills take you for extended periods of time into remote areas, comfort, privacy, and cleanliness will boost your morale and staying ability. I hope a few of these ideas will entice you to develop your own techniques for exhilarating freedom and independence in wild places. The inventive skills that we learn today will be the key to survival in the days to come for the woodswoman.