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(How) Does a Bear Shit in the Woods?

February 15, 2014


(One of the recent questions asked was if I would pen an article on camp hygiene. Here ya go….–J.M.)




Hygiene (noun)



1: A science of the establishment and maintenance of health.


2: Conditions or practices (as of cleanliness conducive to health.



–Merriam-Webster Dictionary (from



Hygiene (noun)



1: The science that deals with the promotion and preservation of health. Also called hygienics.


2: Conditions and practices that serve to promote or preserve health: hygiene in the workplace; personal hygiene.



–Oxford English Dictionary (from





(One of the recent questions asked was if I would pen an article on camp hygiene. Here ya go….–J.M.)



Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad: and though shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee.


–Deut 23:13-13, King James Version, Holy Bible



Further, there shall be an area for you outside the camp, where you may relieve yourself. With your ear you shall have a spike, and when you have squatted you shall dig a hole with it and cover up your excrement.


–Deut 23:13-14 Jewish Study Bible



(According to the JSB, this rule is covered in greater detail in the Dead Sea Scrolls’ War Scroll and Temple Scroll. –J.M.)



But it will come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statements which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee; and overtake thee…


…The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew, and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.


–Deut 28:15-22 King James Version, Holy Bible



But if you do not obey the Lord your God to observe faithfully all his commandments and laws which I enjoin upon you this day…


…the Lord will make pestilence cling to you, until He has put an end to you in the land that you are entering to possess. The Lord will strike you with consumption, fever, and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew; they shall hound you until you perish.”


–Deut 28:15-22 Jewish Study Bible





Regardless of your faith, or lack of faith, in Divinity, the fact is, modern science has pretty well demonstrated that the Mosaic hygiene laws are a pretty good place to start when considering what hygiene in primitive conditions should look like. One of the “interesting” (?) historical side notes of the schism between Christianity and Judaism, following the life and death of Christ, is the belief of Christians that defilement comes from within, rather than from external sources. While this is undoubtedly true from a moral standpoint, one has to wonder why, if the external defilements were unimportant, God spent so much time in the Laws of Moses spent so much time emphasizing them…



The hygiene consequences of this aspect of the doctrinal schism between Christianity and Judaism were not immediately apparent, since Christianity developed during the the Roman Empire, with highly developed sewer systems, aqueducts that brought water to the Empire’s cities, and a near-religious emphasis on bathing. With the collapse of the Roman Empire however, we see that the decay of the Roman infrastructure lead to a serious decline in the hygiene—and thus the health—of people throughout Christendom. Bathing was no longer emphasized. On the contrary, it’s pretty well-established in the historical record that for medieval Christendom, bathing was a once-a-year event, if that. Combined with sewage being simply dumped in the streets of large urban areas, dead bodies sometimes being left to rot for days or even weeks, and other normal practices that both we—as a modern, largely scientific culture—and the ancient Jews—for thousands of years—consider not only unhygienic, but also pretty much totally fucking disgusting, this inevitably resulted in a somewhat steep price that we now know as yersinia pestis: The Black Death.



One of what I consider the most interesting scenes in contemporary cinema occurred in the 2010 Russell Crowe rendition of Robin Hood. When Crowe’s character, Robin Longstride is sitting at the table with Sir Walter Locksley, the scene opens with a couple of “cute” little mice crawling across the food on the table. While obviously disgusting to most modern Americans, what many people fail to realize is—this was the NORM at that point in history. Yet, anyone who had actually read (granted, not a common ability at that point in history…but you’d think the priests—as one of the educated classes of European society at the time—would have at least considered it…) the Books of Moses would consider this an abomination.



Had people remembered and practiced the Mosaic Law of considering rodents “unclean,” they might have spent more time and effort making sure there weren’t mice and rats running wild through their homes, and across their food. This would have—if not prevented the Black Death—at least seriously reduced the effects thereof. Yersisia pestis, you see, is spread from rodents to humans through two vehicles: being bit by an infected rodent…or being bit by a flea that was infected by previously hosting on an infected rodent.



These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind.


Leviticus 11:29



The point of this is not that I’m Jewish, nor that I’ve suddenly discovered “that ol’ time religion.” It’s certainly not to denigrate Christianity or any other faith. Rather the point is…good hygiene, even in primitive living conditions, is not some obscure, specialized skill known only to special operations soldiers.



While hygiene, when considered in light of the definitions that began this article, can cover a very broad spectrum of considerations, for our purposes, we’re going to look at it in one consideration…how to stay alive, at least long enough to die from enemy action, rather than from illness.



This means, a) how can we prevent the propagation and spread of disease, and b) what can we do to protect ourselves specifically.



One thing that must be considered, in the context of this blog, preparedness, and post-SHTF, grid-down scenarios, is whether by “camp hygiene,” we mean life on patrol, living out of rucksacks in a patrol base, or the more general primitive living to be expected with grid failures, while still living “indoors.”



First Things First….Drop Your Preconceived Notions


The first thing that must be done (and this is probably becoming a tiresome refrain by now, if you’re a long-time reader of this blog) is that you have to get rid of any preconceived notions. The fact that you intend to “bug in” and stay home does NOT mean you’re going to be able to comfortably use your toilet and bathtub. The fact that you live alone with your family on an isolated mountainside in the American Redoubt does not mean that you won’t have to deal with many of the same hygiene issues and crises that urban and suburban dwellers will (as an example…I’ve been told by several medical professionals, ranging from M.D.s to 18Ds, that the highest concentration of giardisis can be found in area where Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada meet).



One benefit of living in the modern world, even in the event of total socio-economic collapse, is that while technology may go away, or retreat in accessibility, knowledge won’t. You may not be able to go to Cabela’s and buy a new Katahdin water filter, but if you know that boiling water is a scientifically sound method of water purification—and you practice it religiously—then not having the cool-guy gear doesn’t matter…you can work around it, because you’ve focused on software instead of hardware.



Cleanliness is Next to Godliness


While modern Americans—especially amongst some of the neo-primitive, dirty, smelly, hippie types—sometimes debate the health benefits of NOT bathing every day, I’d say it’s fair to claim that the vast majority of modern, middle-class Americans do not subscribe to the medieval belief that bathing robs the body of natural protections of diseases. I shower at least once a day, and generally twice a day—once after PT, and once before bed. If I don’t do PT until shortly before bed, then I might only get one shower in a day (yesterday, I took three, but that’s because I spent an hour laying in the mud and snow in the middle of the day changing brake pads). One of the more disturbing concerns I hear voiced by many people in regards to preparedness, is the fear that they won’t be able to shower twice a day…or even once per day.



Remembering that I’m not a scientist, and certainly not a biologist, here’s my take on it….while bathing daily can do a damned fine job of killing off micro-organisms on your body that might be harmful, it’s equally effective at killing off micro-organisms on your body that are beneficial. Additionally, there is the fact that most soaps dry your skin out. While that’s not a major issue when you have lotions and balms readily available with a quick trip to Wal-Mart, dried, flaky, itchy skin can cause health issues in itself.



While we all spend lots of money stockpiling things we believe we might need post-crash, and hopefully include lots of hygiene items amongst them, unless we’re totally fucking deluded, we have to acknowledge that there is a finite amount of material goods we can stockpile. Instead, we have to look at ways to deal with primitive living when the modern conveniences run out (and in many ways, they are conveniences). Our ancestors, from the pioneers that fulfilled Manifest Destiny, all the way back to the pre-Christian Jews (and most other pre-Christian tribal cultures, for that matter) had a way to deal with these issues…in the Jewish faith, this was the Mosaic prescription for bathing before Shabot (the Sabbath).



If you’re living in primitive conditions, but have the facility to allow it, bathing even once a week can provide many of the benefits of daily bathing…as long as you follow some other prescriptions for cleanliness.



The simplest method of preventing the spread of disease is one we learn as young children—assuming our parents are even moderately intelligent: wash your damned hands. Before you eat, after you eat, after you urinate or defecate, before and after you handle food…and certainly before and after dealing with bodily fluids from someone else (“modern” science caught up to the Judaic law on this subject in the mid-nineteenth century, when a Hungarian physician, named Ignaz Semmelweis noticed a particularly vast difference in infant mortality between two different birthing wards in the Vienna General Hospital. The ward with low mortality was dedicated to birthing with mid-wives. The other, run by physicians, was adjacent to a morgue. Apparently, the Doc noticed that doctors would conduct an autopsy, then immediately go deliver a baby…without even washing their hands…Sadly, I’ve actually heard of this…and read more than one report from .gov sources, that this kind of utter stupidity still goes on. Not that doctors are performing autopsies, then births, but doctors and nurses not scrubbing in before going to work on pediatric cases…I’ll leave it to health care professionals to address that).



Obviously, there are limits to how much soap a person can stockpile….except, even in Moses’ day, people knew that animal fats, hardwood ashes (lye), and water made soap. Worst case scenario, even simply rinsing your hands off in clean water is better than nothing.



One of the biggest health care issues we in the preparedness culture have to deal with is the apparent ability of common illness pathogens to develop immunities against “antibacterial” soaps and cleaners. This has led some people to abjure cleaning or washing as frequently, and others to actually promote exposing themselves to minor pathogens intentionally, in the hopes of developing a resistance to them. I certainly don’t get my knickers in a twist when my kid gets muddy, or even when she plays in cow shit. I’ve been known to giggle like a schoolgirl when I see a kid (yes, including my own), eating dessicated animal shit, like a dried out cow patty in the pasture, and go into my “Ah, she’s just building immunities!” spiel.



My kid still bathes once a day. I still bathe once a day. My wife still bathes once a day. When we lived primitive, on the side of the mountain in Idaho, last winter, in the uninsulated shed? We bathed once a week. Hauling water from the creek, in quantities large enough to take even a decent sponge bath, was a pain in the ass. None of us got sick.



I’ve gone weeks without bathing or showering, out of necessity. At the same time however, I always made it a habit, if I were going more than a couple of days without an actual full-submersion bath or shower, to wash the grungies out by using a wet rag and soap to wash those areas of the body most likely to harbor and encourage bacterial growth. What do bad bugs like in a home? Warmth, moisture, and darkness.



So, where do we wash up to take care of those, when we don’t have the luxury of a full-on bath? Places that are warm, moist, and dark, duh. Your armpits, your crotch, the crack of your ass, and your feet, are good places to start. I would hope it goes without saying….wash your face first, and your hands after, preferably with clean water.




And, in the spirit of levity….


A working-class guy is using the urinal in the bathroom at a restaurant when a distinguished looking fellow, in a tailored suit walks in and uses the other urinal. As Joe is walking out, without having bothered to wash his hands, Mr. Hoity-Toity looks aghast at him.



Didn’t your mother teach you to wash your hands after urinating!?”



Naw…but my daddy taught me not to piss on my hands!”



It’s not piss on your hands I’m worried about, when you’re cooking the camp stew (okay, it IS, but not solely…). WASH YOUR DAMNED HANDS!!!



Next to washing your hands and bathing, one thing that infantrymen and backpackers should learn from the very beginning, but all too often don’t, is the importance of dry, preferably clean, clothing to hygiene and survival.



There are a couple of considerations here:



1) If your clothes are dirty and wet, and it’s cold outside, you’re begging for cold-weather injuries, ranging from “mere” immersion foot/trench foot, to full-on hypothermia and death.



2) If your clothes are dirty and wet, and it’s warm outside, your clothing is a breeding ground for bacteria and other do-nasties.



3) If your clothes are just dirty, but dry, they will be wet and warm as soon as you start sweating from exertion. On top of this, is the fact that the dirt fills in the air spaces in between the fibers of the material, robbing it of insulative value. On top of this, what is often overlooked is the fact that dirt molecules in the cloth cut, tear, and abrade the fibers of the clothes. This reduces the life-span of the fiber and clothing.



Ideally, in primitive conditions, washing your clothes means using a washboard, soap, and hot water. Somewhat less ideal, but still acceptable? Washboard and water, period. The old-time backpacker’s remedy of rubbing and beating the clothing on stones while alternately dipping it in the running water of a creek is hard on the environment, and pretty effective at getting the clothing clean. Unfortunately, in a grid-down situation, where replacing your clothes is going to labor-intensive and expensive, at best—if not impossible—it should also be pointed out that it’s really, really, REALLY fucking hard on the clothing itself.



In the short-term of a patrolling situation, you can get away with a lot of unhygienic practices—not washing, wearing dirty clothes every day, not washing your hands before and after you eat, and a host of others—as long as you have the ability, when you return to a more permanent base of operations, to get cleaned up, put on clean clothes, and dose up with antibiotics if necessary. In a grid-down scenario, these may not be as readily available as options. Your “patrol” might be a two or three-month “bug out” evasion. Your “base of operations” might be a pretty primitive encampment in the woods, because your house and neighborhood was burned to the ground by bad people. The veterinary antibiotics you stockpiled in anticipation may not be available, either because you didn’t stockpile enough, they ran out or expired, or they got stolen.



What is the lesson? Hygiene isn’t some sissy concern of soccer moms, that tough-guy supermen can ignore. Simple solutions of course, are not readily available.



In Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TC3), we have a saying, “Sometimes good tactics are bad medicine and sometimes, good medicine is bad tactics.” We have another one too though, “The best medicine on the battlefield is fire superiority.”



The decision of how much hygiene you HAVE to practice, in order to maintain good health must be balanced and weighed against the need to maintain good tactics. So, taking a full-submersion bath, once a week may not be possible. Washing your clothes regularly, so you always have clean, dry clothing to put on, might not be an option. So, we make compromises. We wash what we can, when we can, in the form of “combat showers,” washing the nuts, butts, feet, face, and hands. If we can’t wash our clothes, we lay them out in the sun to dry, allowing UV rays from the sun to help sterilize it and destroy/kill microbes, recognizing that the risk of disease and illness is a more grave concern than the damage to the clothing. It might be difficult to replace your bad-ass multi-cam ACUs, but it’s a lot easier to replace clothes than it is to replace a trained shooter, let alone a husband and father.



Shittin’ and Grinnin’


The first verse from Deuteronomy cited at the beginning of this article lays out the rule of shitting in the woods hygienically. If you shit, bury it. This is simple woods-living 101 (and for the record….to whatever student it was that shit on the ground during the Colorado patrolling class last year, and DIDN’T bury it, then wouldn’t own up to it? Fuck you). This doesn’t necessarily mean that every swinging Richard needs a tri-fold entrenching tool, or the Cold Steel Spetsnaz shovel in his ruck. One for every two men is arguably enough. If you’re with your Ranger buddy, you can take turns using it. If you end up separated from your Ranger buddy, and don’t have the shovel? It sounds heinous, but use your fucking knife to dig a hole, if you have to (although, personally, I recommend cutting a stick and digging with the stick instead).



Dig the hole, squat and shit, wipe thoroughly, and then bury it all. If you don’t have toilet paper? There are probably ten times as many brown shirts rotting away in landfills, with the bottom one-third missing, than there are experienced infantrymen in the US Army. Alternatively to cutting your t-shirt off, you can do as my brother-in-law did on a hiking trip with his girlfriend, and end the trip missing a sock…(in the interest of intellectual honesty, I’ve done this too…..)



One alternative I have used, for trial purposes, is to keep two one-gallon ziplock bags, one of them crammed full of scrap cloth, cut into handy sizes. Shit goes into the empty bag, until it can be buried somewhere more secure, along with used rags that I wipe with. If I’m camping in a well-used populated area, with lots of other campers, but no Porta-Johns, this is actually my preferred method. In classes, I just carry some toilet paper, because I’m a lazy fucker like that…and my wife gets pissed when I toss the feces-filled ziplock in the trashcan at home.



When you’re done burying your crap? WASH YOUR HANDS!!!!






John Mosby



From → Uncategorized

  1. Pineslayer permalink


    That was a mouthful, my jaw hurts from laughing and smiling.
    This is getting copied and shared.

  2. QuietMan permalink

    Coffee on keyboard funny.

    IIRC, Dial Soap (antibacterial) and Noxzema Cream (If shaving is important.) were developed for troops in WWII. Both work but, unless they make unscented Noxzema now, leave that at home.

    Worth a post, if only to raise Max’s blood pressure:

  3. Brian Black permalink

    Thanks for the timely post!

    Wash before intake and after out-put. It really is as simple as that.

    I’ve never had to use the whole sock but I have used the top portion as TP. That way I at least had ankle socks to get me out of the woods. Oh and if you see a redneck wearing jeans that once had back pockets, those back pockets were the casualty of field hygiene.

    Thanks for all you do!

    Brian Black

  4. Jim permalink

    Don’t forget about engineer tape!

  5. SplitHoof permalink

    Several small packages of baby wipes, and an old K-Bar for digging will get you through those congressional visits to the woods.

  6. edintx permalink

    As a former caver (spelunker), one of the first things one learns is that “what goes into the cave, comes back out of the cave.” We were educated early-on about “cave burritos,” that is, a quart-sized ziplock bag packed with one 13gal kitchen trash bag (to serve as a terlet) and one flattened-out bundle of TP. It doesn’t take up much room, at least in its pre-utilized state, so would be a good addition to a rucksack. Could even pack a few of ’em without taking up too much space or adding weight.

    Lastly, here’s the answer to that age-old question we’ve all been curious about:

  7. A small garden trowel weighing just a few ounces carried in the ruck fits the bill for cat holes and other small tasks (such as digging a small fire pit). They’re light, cost very little (especially from garage sales or flea markets) and will do the job in most places. A shot or two of Krylon takes care of the wild colors they’re found in.

  8. Woodsman permalink

    One thing I have found to help with the hygiene issue is what I refer to as hippy soap. Anything with Tea Tree oil in it is good for cutting down on the normal smells that develop from exertion (i.e.sweating), etc. It is fairly easy to use this and conserve water by every other day bathing or slightly more, if pushed to expand the timeline between trips to the car wash. A small packs of wet wipes goes a long way also.

    • I use Dr. Bronner’s exclusively, and love that stuff, but when it runs out and I can’t get it or wet wipes anymore, life is truly going to suck.

      • Woodsman permalink

        That’s the stuff right there. Tried this several years ago and never went back. Sort of like the old Brylcreem commercials; A little dab will do ya! Damned stuff lasts almost forever.

  9. Reblogged this on Endure: A Novel and commented:
    Field & Grid-down Hygiene. Read and consider.

  10. RobRoySimmons permalink

    For all of you who train or try to instruct people and you are quite convinced of the brilliance of your rendition of the facts, logic and reason will shine brightly upon your students or audience, Semmelweis was committed to a mental institution because no one at the time would listen to him. They preferred the AUTHORITY of some ancient Greeks instead.

  11. The scumbags that show up around here in the summer shit along the banks of the Au Sable-a “National Scenic” Blue Ribbon Trout River and just leave it laying there. Even worse, they leave the soiled asswipe hanging on the bushes. Typical downstate city folks from michigan. Is it any wonder I’m always bashing them?

    • Bill Harzia permalink

      The same with dog walkers. Carry a plastic bag, for crying out loud! Some of the people around here are too prissy to touch their dog’s shit even through plastic.

  12. On a positive note, by day three of not bathing in the field, the bugs will bug you a whole lot less.

  13. H. E. Foster permalink

    Here is a basic Lye soap recipe.

    I recomend a kettle just for making lye soap.

    Save your hard wood ash and make your own lye.

    It was done by my Grand Mother years ago. I’ve done it a few times to just learn the primative way to do things. (If you do not follow the recipe, it does not set and it is a mess)

    I am getting to where I will not be a good war fighter any more, age and injuries are catching up to me fast. That does not mean I can not be a key part in the fight. I can still train people, make needed supplies, and build a good weapon from junk yard scrap.

  14. lost patrol permalink

    Good post. And don’t forget Mullen leaves (if it grows in your neck of the woods). Mullen is good for you and the leaves are soft enough to use as wipes.

  15. Attack Company 1/75 permalink

    John, remember the “Five F’s” (fingers, feces, flies, food, and fluids) we were quizzed on by Ranger SP4’s and Team Leaders (they always loved to quiz us when we weren’t doing anything, just to smoke us). Of course we also had to know this for the E-5 board and Soldier of the Month board. That shit sticks to the inside of your brain walls (pun intended).

  16. Ryan Short permalink

    Awesome post On Feb 14, 2014 9:48 PM, “MountainGuerrilla” wrote:

    > mountainguerrilla posted: ” (One of the recent questions asked was > if I would pen an article on camp hygiene. Here ya go….–J.M.) > Hygiene (noun) 1: A science of the establishment and maintenance of > health. 2: Con”

  17. Northwoods Yetti permalink

    Personal preferences and tips on shitting in the woods from a self-proclaimed woodsman:

    1) Don’t try to use a tree as a squat backer. You can’t dig the “cat hole” deep enough without hitting tree roots (True. –JM)

    2) Don’t ever light your shit tickets on fire after throwing them in the hole so they take up less space when buried. No one like feces particles in their lungs and I once started an island on fire that I was camping on by doing this. (Not sure if I should laugh or shake my head in sympathy. Definitely true about not burning it….–JM)

    3) Dig the hole, shit, and then bury. Doing those steps out of order can be a big mistake.(Unless you like smelling your own waste products clinging to your shovel the rest of the day, as it rides on your ruck, this is also true. –JM)

    4) Always carry some hand sanitizer in the same bag as your toilet paper. (Not a bad idea, but doesn’t mean you shouldn’t figure out a way to WASH your hands too. –JM)

    5) Find a small sapling away from large trees or rocky ground. Give it a firm grasp about waist height, squat, and note the spot directly below your ass. That is where you will dig your hole and then take a long leisurely dump while hanging off that tree.(This is a good idea of epic proportions. I can honestly say, I never thought of this. –JM)

  18. JoshtheMedic permalink

    I always think of George Carlin’s stand up joke, “Armpits, Asshole, Crotch and Teeth.” Good way to remember it.

    Sorry I missed your courses in AZ as I was doing a TCCC course. Come back soon for more classes.

  19. Bob permalink

    Nitrile gloves can help when you’re away from running water and want more protection than hand sanitizer.

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