Register | Log in

Bush Craft: Bush Hygeine


It amazes me how disrespectful some people are. I use the bush for my work, and I can’t believe how many times I come across human waste lying on the surface. Much of this is obviously a result of the ignorant belief that ‘no one will ever come this way’. Yes, we do!

Soggy lumps of used toilet paper strewn all over the place are one of the most disgusting sights you can find in the bush or at a wild campsite; I’ve even encountered these in campsites with toilets.

They are a mecca for flies, which land on these dirty piles, pick up innumerable bacteria (did you know that a fly can carry up to two million bacteria on their grubby little feet?) and then deposit them on your hands, face or cheese sandwich. Your enjoyable excursion into the bush can then be spoilt by a bad case of the runs − all because someone couldn’t be bothered to dig a hole, do their business in it and then cover it up, or burn it. I teach everyone who attends one of my bush-craft courses to ‘bury or burn’ their waste.

When nature calls, move well away from the campsite; 50-100m at least, and downhill of the camp. Nobody wants to smell or hear you making a deposit.

Be careful not to pollute water sources. It could be used downstream by other people.

In addition, do not defecate or urinate near a source of water. Someone downstream may be taking their drinking water from the source you are polluting. And your camp mates also won’t be very happy if they find that you’ve contaminated their water source. In many locations, water can be hard to find during the dry period, and to deliberately pollute it is an act disrespectful to others, and to animals which may need it. Make sure, then, that the latrine is far enough away to prevent seepage into the water source.

Dig it, do it, and bury it… come on, now how hard is that?

When you are far enough away, dig a hole around 15-30cm in depth and then do what you need to do in this. When you are finished, either fill it in, or, if it is safe to do so, burn the paper first and then fill it in. Be aware that some animals with a good sense of smell may take a liking to your deposit and dig it up, so the deeper you bury it, the better. On a further note, particularly for the ladies, when you wipe after peeing, take the paper and put it in the vehicle’s rubbish bag. Don’t chuck it in the bush.

Don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards. Just because you are on holiday, it doesn’t mean that personal hygiene is unnecessary. There’s no excuse, nowadays: with wet wipes readily available, you don’t even need water.

It’s human nature that we all must drop our pants at some time or other. But it is common courtesy to leave the campsite in the condition (or better) than you found it. Don’t advertise that you’ve been there.

Washing up
Keeping your cooking utensils and plates clean is important, but don’t just wander down to the river/stream and wash them there. The soap you are using probably isn’t friendly to anything living in the water. And, before polluting the water with human waste, remember that someone downstream could be using it for drinking. Rather take a bucket, and collect water that can be used to wash the utensils. When you have finished, dispose of the water in a hole dug in the bush, not back in the river.

Personal hygiene
It is important to maintain personal hygiene when camping out, to prevent disease and infections. Soap is a rather strange thing. On the one hand, it keeps the skin clean, but because it washes away natural oils, it reduces the skin’s natural waterproofing and leaves it vulnerable to germs. Then again, it is antiseptic; it kills germs. Bit of a double-edged sword, really.

So, if soap is available, use it. Wet wipes are an alternative to soap; these are usually gentle on the skin. If you only have wet wipes, pay particular attention to your face, armpits and groin – the areas which suffer most from a lack of washing.

If you feel Industrious, why not have ago at making your own soap


If you feel industrious, why not have a go at making your own soap? For that, you will need an oil and an alkali. The ash from the camp fire will provide the alkali, and a vegetable or animal oil will provide the oil. Don’t use mineral oil, as it won’t set, and doesn’t work properly. If you really want to go primitive in soap-making, a tree that provides a good type of oil is the Lance-leaved waxberry. Put some cut-up sections of a branch in water and bring it to the boil. As the water boils, the oil will be released from the wood, and can then be scooped off the surface.

Mix leaves of the Sickle bush with the ash-oil mix to give the soap anticeptic properties.

If possible, put the ash in a clean sock or any similar porous material, and either dunk it repeatedly in a bucket, or rinse through with clean water. When the water runs clean, mix the ash and the oil with the leaves of the Sickle bush (these will give your soap antiseptic properties) and gently simmer until the excess oil has evaporated. Making soap is a case of trial and error, as you do not want too much ash in the mix: it will make it very alkaline, and dry the skin. If you can’t clean the ash, it just means that the soap will have a dirty appearance; it will still work.