One thing that gets commonly overlooked is hygiene in the field. Talk to any servicemember that spent time in the field and they will tell you a story about someone that failed to take care of themselves and had to be taken care of medically. Whether it be an ingrown toenail, ridiculously large abscess, or some kind of fungal issue. These things happen mostly when people refuse to take care of themselves in a field environment because “it’s the field, man”. While we may be able to swing on by the urgent care and get these issues taken care of but if it happens during a class you could be out quite a bit of money because you missed out on vital instruction. What’s that old saying, “for the want of a nail?”. Just imagine trying to handle any of those things during a grid-down emergency. “Oh but Mech, I’ve put stuff away to handle medical emergencies”, do you really want to burn through your antibiotics because Leroy couldn’t be bothered to cut his toenails properly? As with all types of medicine, preventative is always the best kind.
Field sanitation is something the military has figured out relatively well. They even have a field manual on it. Don’t just download this one, print it out, and place it in a three-ring notebook with page protectors. Make copies of the important parts and laminate them. You will want this easily accessible.
It is indisputable fact that being in a field environment lowers your immune system. Between the decreased sleep, less-than-ideal food choices, higher stress levels, and decreased hygiene all add up to negatively affect your body’s ability to ward off sickness. There are some aspects of this that we can control, the biggest is the hygiene aspect. Simple things like waste disposal (the human variety of waste) and keeping yourself relatively clean can make a huge change in your immune system. Talk to anyone who has spent time in the field and they will tell you how invaluable baby wipes are. Most won’t leave without a few packs of them in their ruck. You can use them for cleaning up after using a latrine, wiping yourself down before you climb into your sleep system, to even basic weapon maintenance.
The skin, feet, and mouth should be your biggest priorities. In that order. Your skin is the largest organ in your body. This includes protecting it from sunburn and scrapes or scratches. Sunburn can severely decrease your effectiveness, just ask anyone who has been burned from a weekend at the beach. Wear sunscreen or utilize clothing to protect your skin from the sun’s rays if you can’t limit exposure. I am not denying the positive benefits of vitamin D, but too much UV exposure can damage your skin. One thing to not forget is your major sweat-producing areas, your armpits, and your groin. Wear moisture-wicking undergarments. And change them daily or every other day. Use some sort of fungal spray if you notice jock itch starting to rear (ha) its ugly head. Castile soap(unscented) will always have a place in my ruck because I can wash myself and my clothing with it. I prefer the bar variety for ease of packing. Scrapes and scratches can cause abscesses or cysts that if left uncared for can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening infection. Cover your skin if you are going to be moving through thick vegetation and treat any scrapes/scratches with soap and water followed by some sort of topical antibiotic cream and a bandage. If no soap is available use hand sanitizer until you can wash the area properly.
Your feet are how you get around and you only get one pair. Take care of them. Wear properly fitted boots and socks. Stay away from cotton. It doesn’t wick moisture. Stick with wool, my preferred type is merino wool. Get different thickness socks for winter and summer. Use foot powder if your feet are sweating a lot. Trench foot is not something you want to temp. Neither are blisters. Always pack extra socks. Change them frequently. Wash your feet with soap and water if a full shower is not possible. Have more than one set of boots so you can change them out occasionally to allow them to breathe. Sprinkle baking soda inside of them to assist with moisture and odor removal. Apply antifungal powder to your feet if you notice or suspect athlete’s foot.
Oral care is extremely important but also very simple. Brush your teeth. At least daily. If you can use toothpaste, do so. But simply using a toothbrush and water is better than nothing at all. Your mouth is 8 finger-widths from your heart. I’ve had a few dentists in class and the consensus was to avoid oral issues rather than try to fix them. There is a reason why dental school is as long as is. Pack some floss sticks as well. Yes, floss can be multi-use, but a floss stick is easier to use when you’re sitting in an lp/op on a multi-day snoop and poop in the woods.
What hygiene tricks have learned over the years? Throw them in the comments.