Hygiene is one of the most understated aspects to wilderness living and survival. Modern chemistry has offered a plethora of tools for sanitation purposes from soaps to bleach. Yet the most primitive sanitation tools can come from a simple campfire. It has been used for generations for the purposes of of curing meat to that of cleaning clothing and the body when on the move or before a hunt.
Smoke from hardwoods are typically preferable. The smoke from a fire is antibacterial. It will kill the bacteria within clothing and on the skin. While this is not the same as the finer soaps which we today are accustomed to using, it is effective for this use. In more ancient times this was often used to eliminate odors from clothing and the body. In those times they did not possess the chemicals for removing scents from their body and clothing as we can purchase today.
Within the hunting community of our modern world many argue that the use of wood smoke is not at all effective at masking scent and the smell of the smoke would alarm animals to a persons presence. Yet history would prove this view wrong. Smudging the clothing and body with smoke was once a common practice, and in some parts of the world it still is today in more primitive cultures. Yet the material used for this smudging may be different as in some parts of the world dried dung from grazing animals can often be used.
For the purposes of hunting the argument should not be whether or not it is effective, but rather for how long is it effective. Animals are quite accustomed to the smell of smoke and the scent alone is not alarming to them. Rather the concern should be how long will this mask last. As time goes by and the body begins to sweat the smoke alone is not enough and the body scent will begin to return. This is due to bacteria returning to the surface of the skin.
An additional way to handle this issue is with the use of the ash which is left behind from a campfire. Hardwood ash itself is a critical ingredient to making soap. When ash is added to water and then boiled down lye is extracted from the ash. When this process is repeated and the lye is more concentrated animal fat, or tallow, can be added and mixed to then solidify into soap. Yet for the purposes of hygiene on the move the simple hardwood ash can be used alone.
This ash when added to water it is sufficient enough to clean clothing and bathe with. It can also be used to clean hair, and brush or wipe ones teeth with a rag, or rinse the mouth by gargling. Hardwood ash can also be used in its powder form as deodorant when rubbed into the skin. This also is a mild exfoliate to the skin.
The ash left behind from a campfire can be the best sanitation method while in the field and on the move. Whether as a powder or added to water for cleaning cloth or clothing and even the body, its properties can only be better matched by actual soaps. Yet the one addition ash brings to the table over modern soaps for the purposes of hunting is its ability to remove scent from the body just the same a hardwood smoke.
When this is used in conjunction with smudging by the campfire smoke, it allows for an added element which can get into the skin and last for a longer duration of time. Furthermore wood ash is portable. It can be collected and then later added to the skin as time goes by to retain the ability of removing scent from the body. Additionally it can be used as an application of a general deodorant so that you can live with yourself in the field.
Note that charcoal left behind by a fire can be used in the same way as hardwood ash. Yet charcoal in its solid state is often more difficult to work with or apply. For most applications it must be broken down into a powder form. Once broken down it can be applied in the same ways as wood ash. Due to this process ash is the easiest to use as it is already in the proper state needed for all applications.
Modern society has removed our primal knowledge of these most basic elements. In fact the smell of wood smoke being on our bodies today is revolting to many. Hunters today often avoid a campfire like the plague out of fear that the smoke will deter their ability to hunt as they favor modern chemicals to do the job. Yet what is left unexplained to them is how natives for years ever managed to get wild game without having their local hunting supply store sell them those expensive chemicals. The idea of rubbing ones body down with ash seems counter intuitive in a world where we wash everything off of our bodies in order to become clean.
The facts behind hardwood smoke and ash have not changed since its use at the beginning of time. It is our perception and dependency upon modern chemicals and technology which has changed us. These primitive skill sets which we have forgotten due to our favor of other things has in time eroded our trust and ability to depend on ourselves alone.