I am sure that many Scrapboard readers are interested in travelling, so I will be publishing a series of articles intended to help you make your load lighter and your travels more efficient. This article is about wash-kits.
Many years ago I was in a youth hostel in Saltzberg and an American lad asked me to pass him his daysac. It nearly wrenched my arm from its socket with the unexpected weight. This is heavier than my entire kit! I exclaimed What have you got in here? Just my gel and moose and shampoo and conditioner and... You get the general idea.
Putting a bit of thought into your wash kit can actually save you quite a bit of weight.
Over the years I have used various wash kit bags supposedly designed for the traveller. Many have been made of bulked nylon with numerous pockets, hooks to hang them up by, mesh sections to allow items to dry and even a little mirror that can be attached to a Velcro patch. One day I realised that all of these bags were way more complicated, bulkier and heavier than I needed. My current wash kit consists of a small mesh draw-cord bag and a small nylon pencil case, also of mesh construction. The mesh bag is about as light as you can get. Since it is see-through I can easily locate the item I want and the draw-cord can be used to hang it from taps or branches.
Mesh Bag Contents:-
A bar of soap in a small nylon draw cord bag. Soap can be used as an antiseptic, laundry agent and for shaving; hence no shaving brush or foam is carried. Many of the soap cases available in the shops are made of too brittle a plastic and therefore of little use. I now carry my soap bar in a small nylon draw cord bag which is not only lighter but has the added benefit that I can hang it from the taps in the shower.
A screw topped plastic bottle of shampoo. I use a 50ml container and this can easily last me a month.
A pair of disposable razors. These are brand new at the start of the trip and one will last me at least a month. The other is a spare.
A small mirror. Stainless steel shaving mirrors intended for campers can be expensive. Go to the local hardware store and find a polished steel Door Finger Plate for a fraction of the cost. Saw a small section off and file the edges and round the corners to make a shaving mirror. Drill a couple of holes and add a loop of fishing line so you can hang it up. Add a blob of Blu-tac so you can stick it to surfaces. If you wish, make an envelope for it from bubblewrap to prevent scratches.
A flannel, although half of one will do. Always give this a good wringing out before packing away. Often I don't use this and use my hand instead, so it is an item to consider leaving behind if further weight-saving is an requirement.
A fit anyhole sink plug on a length of fishing line. You often encounter sinks without plugs. This is such a useful item that I have had them stolen from me.
A couple of moist napkins in foil packets, the sort that often come with fried chicken. These are used to freshen up when washing is not possible. These dry out over time so should be fairly recent if they are to be any use. Since I have long hair I'll carry a spare hair tie in this bag.
A small nail brush (see later).
Carried with this kit but not in the actual bag is a travelling hand towel of a synthetic such as pertex. Not only is this small packing but it dries very rapidly. Add a loop of cord or string to a corner of your towel and make it big enough to pass the towel through. This lets you attach it to a rucksac band or strap to dry in the breeze when you are on the move.
I have found it more useful to keep the toothbrush and paste and the deodorant separate from the main wash kit. You tend to need these at different times to the wash kit so it is just handier to have them in a side pocket of your rucksac. The mesh pencil case mentioned earlier contains:-
A toothbrush. You can get folding travel models, but I just use a normal one.
Toothpaste. I only use a small dab of toothpaste so even a 15ml tube tends to last me ages.
Packet of dental floss. I often use this as heavy thread for repairs.
The toothpaste and brush are kept in the same place as the Deodorant/ Antiperspirant. I used to use aerosols but now use the newish gels and soft sticks. These are a lot less bulky, lighter and probably last longer.
A roll of toilet paper in a plastic bag rides in my daysac. In one of my favourite movies a character stops a truck by criss-crossing the highway with lengths of toilet paper. The signalling potential of brightly coloured (clean!) toilet paper should not be overlooked. Dry toilet paper is also good for getting fires started.
The small nail brush carried in the wash kit is just an inch or so long and was brought for a few pence in a supermarket or cosmetics shop. It has proved itself to be a very useful item. I don't think I've ever used it to actually clean my nails but uses it has been used for include:-
Brushing dried mud off my canvas and suede summer boots. This is a lot easier than washing them and scrounging newspaper to pack in them to dry them.
Used with hand soap to scrub away collar grime or food stains. Laundry is then simply done in a wash basin or shower, for free!
Brushing dried mud out of clothes. One of the most popular clubs with travellers in Jerusalem has a floor not unlike a farmyard. Every morning in the hostel my little brush would pass through a score of hands as garments were restored to a more presentable condition. So useful was this brush that someone stole my first one.
You can improvise to overcome the loss of several of the above items.
Soap is mainly a lubricant so a lot of the dirt can be removed with just water and more scubbing. In the past sand or oils have been used, and certain leaves, grass or straw may make good scrubbers. In cold dry conditions you can wash yourself with handfuls of snow. Snow is very absorbent so can be used to dry you, but should not be kept on the skin too long. Not that most of us need encouragement not to keep cold snow in contact with our skin!
The most important element of brushing your teeth is the mechanical action of brushing, so if you have lost your toothpaste brush anyway. Using a finger tip to clean your teeth is well known but chewing a stick and using the frayed end is more effective. Salt can be used as a substitute for toothpaste. At least one best-selling brand of toothpaste uses baking soda (aka Bicarb or Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate) as a major ingredient. Some hikers clean their teeth with baking soda or a mix of baking soda and salt (3 parts Bicarb to 1 of salt). Apparently this does not attract bears like flavoured toothpaste can. Adding Glycerine to Salt and Bicarb makes a home-made toothpaste. Some sources claim that brushing with a high concentration of baking soda is too abrasive for daily use and recommend this is done only a couple of times a week.
If you lack an anyhole plug plug holes can be plugged with blobs of toilet paper.
Splashing around in a river can be great fun but it is better that you carry some water away to wash with. Your soap may be biodegradable but before it degrades it is still contaminating a water supply and many creatures' environment. Better to pour it on the soil where the organisms there can degrade it more usefully.
If weight is a really major issue your wash kit can be stripped down to soap, toothpaste and a towel. You can brush your teeth with soap, and an unscented soap tastes a little better. A small tube of toothpaste and a razor are probably worth the extra weight. In many military units soldiers are required to be beardless to ensure a proper respirator seal.
If you are in a military or survival situation you may prefer to carry your mirror in a pocket on your person or on your webbing. It is then readily to hand as a heliograph or for peeking around corners or over walls.