Historical Trekking – Hygiene

Recently, a member of this site posted a question in the open forum about hygiene while trekking.  There were no responses given so I thought I would address the question the best that I could in this post.  If anyone has any different opinions, please give them in the forum.

As with anything else, I think it is important to have good hygiene while out on the trail.  I also think it is important to remain as historically authentic as you can.  After all, that is one of the main reasons for trekking in the first place.  (Living life in the 18th century)  This post will cover what I would consider to be the bare essentials for hygiene.  I like to pack as light as possible by only taking what will be needed for the trek.

Lye soap was certainly a popular item for colonists in the 18th century and before.  Lye soap was easy to make and easy to carry in a pack or haversack while on the trail.  Not only can lye soap be used to clean one’s body but I have found it to be beneficial for other things while on the trail.  Details of how lye soap is/was made is readily available on various internet sites.

Documentation indicates the toothbrush was being used during the late 18th century.  The toothbrush handles were made out of bone and the bristles were made out of wild boar hair or sometimes horse hair.  There is some documentation showing that colonists were using their fingers to clean their teeth with as opposed to any form of a brush.  Personally, my trekking haversack is never missing a toothbrush.  Just be careful, they are not gentle on the teeth and gums.

There is some documentation indicating tooth powder (dentifrice) was used in the 18th century to clean your teeth with.  I have found various forms of tooth powder and I am not exactly sure which is more historically authentic.  The ingredients in most of the powder during the 18th century contained some very abrasive substances such as brick dust and crushed china.  The base of the tooth powders was bicarbonate of soda or what is now commonly referred to as baking soda.

Lye soap and bone and boar toothbrushes are readily available in many stores selling re-enacting supplies.  James Townsend and Son, Inc. offer both items at very reasonable cost.  Townsend’s toothbrush is an authentic copy of an early original.  The tooth powder is a bit harder to find.  I found some on Amazon.com made by Country Gent.  The powder comes in a 2 ounce tin can and is relatively cheap but I can not speak for it’s authenticity.

Hope this helps at least a little and maybe we will cross paths while out on the trail.

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