Nothing can spoil a wilderness outing quicker than illness. Failure to adequately wash your hands is a major cause of infectious diseases. You can spread germs directly to others or onto surfaces that other people touch. And before you know it, everybody around you is getting sick. The important thing to remember is that some pretty serious diseases—like hepatitis, meningitis, and infectious diarrhea—can easily be prevented if people make a habit of washing their hands.
Hand washing is one easy but often forgotten method of staying healthy while camping. Think about you and a group of 10 people living in the woods for several days enjoying a wilderness adventure. Now think about those same people fetching water, cooking meals, going to the bathroom, treating blisters, blowing their noses; all without the convenience of modern bathroom facilities. Group members can protect themselves and their fellow hikers by washing their hands often. You owe it to the group to keep your hands clean; and the group owes the same courtesy to you.
Always use biodegradable soap and never allow soap to enter a lake or stream. Make sure that you select a site at least 200 feet from shorelines or other water sources. Hands should be washed by scrubbing with soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Make sure to rub the tips of your fingers to allow soap to get under your fingernails. Rinse thoroughly and repeat the process.
You can clean your hands with an alcohol-based gel if you don’t have access to soap and water. If you are using a gel, rub the gel all over your hands and continue to rub until your hands become dry.
When should you wash your hands?
- Before preparing or eating food
- After going to the bathroom
- Before and after tending to someone who is sick
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After handling garbage
- Before and after treating a cut or wound