Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Remaining Stylish Whilst Roughing It: Skin, Guts, and Miscellaneous

This is the last 'non clothes' post in this series. i have two or three more posts to come and they'll be all about clothes, clothing capsules, accessories theory and practice, example camping/outdoor outfits, a recap of my camping outfits and the items i took to put them together. Outfits! Tops! Bottoms! Shoes! Hats! Clothes clothes clothes!!!

But i do encourage you all to become savvy about these other outdoor travel topics. After all, you want to enjoy yourself as much as you can, and staying in top form makes that possible. And the sad truth is that no one will notice your adorable, up to date ensemble if your shivering, welt-covered, wincing-with-every-step face gives away the fact that you are actually a clueless outdoor noob. Get smart and let your style shine!

The skin and the gastrointestinal tract are both notorious for running into problems during travel. Camping is no exception - in fact, camping poses additional hazards to these 'vital organs'. Here's an overview of what i've found to be useful for prevention and amelioration of problems.

Your Skin
The sun, bugs, and rash-producing plants are the biggest culprits in skin aggravation. We'll take 'em on one at a time.

Sun: Keep it off your skin as much as possible. Higher elevations or lower latitudes both spell stronger sun rays, so my best advice is to not risk sunbathing at all. (What a spoilsport!) It's just too easy to misjudge and end up miserable and spoil the rest of your vacation (who's sport is spoiled now?). With proper protection you can spend a lot of time out in the sun and feel fine and frisky afterwards, so take a few precautions.

Wear a hat. i discussed hats in this post. If you can see through your hat, it's not protecting against sun. The same is true of your clothes - if you can see through it, the sun can get through it and burn you. Either wear something denser or wear sunscreen underneath the see-through garment. You can even get sunscreen that washes into your clothes. Wear sunscreen over every exposed part of your body, and re-apply after swimming, sweating, or a couple of hours out in the sun. Sunscreen comes in lotion, cream, spray, gel, and wipes - just pick whatever form you like. Allie of Wardrobe Oxygen suggests taking along a little chapstick-like container of stick sunblock wherever you go to make re-application super convenient.

Bugs: Yikes. I recommend that you apply bug spray before you think there is a bug problem, because they descend upon your defenseless body so quickly. A leisurely hike spent admiring the exquisite Calochortus species you've never seen before can turn into a bloody nightmare of mosquito eradication before you realize what is happening (the whirling clouds of dozens of white-throated swifts - who eat bugs for a living - should have clued me in). This confirmed Buddhist became a mercilessly efficient killing machine, smacking skeeters to death between my bare palms, in the space of fifteen minutes. And i still ended up with twenty-plus itchy welts.

To avoid bug attacks, wear close weave fabrics that close tightly at your wrists, neck and ankles. Tuck your pants into your socks. If you are very concerned about ticks, light fabrics will make them easier to see and destroy. Long-lasting bug repellent spray is available for treating often worn clothing - it will retain its power through six washings or six weeks.

DEET is the most effective bug repellent ingredient and is available in a number of different concentrations - the higher the percentage, the stronger. Spray any exposed skin as well as your clothing (don't forget hats, socks, shoes, wrist opening and waistbands - places where bugs can get closer to your skin). Don't spray directly onto your face. Spray the juice onto your palms or your knuckles, then apply to your face with your hands. Off! makes a spray can that works upside down, which i find makes it easier to get a good application. You can also get DEET based repellent in towelette form for face or when you want to carry less weight.

In addition to creating itchy welts, bugs can carry diseases. Familiarize yourself with the local possibilities by talking to a ranger, checking out the posted warnings at your campground, and doing web research. The Centers for Disease Control has a whole section on vector borne disease, highlighting Lyme, Dengue fever, West Nile Virus, Yellow Fever, and the ever-popular Plague. Find out what diseases occur in the area you will be visiting, precautions recommended, and the symptoms of which you should be aware. Here's a good link on tick bites. Avoid leaving food uncovered as this can attract yellow jackets and flies. Benadryl can be helpful if someone is having a lot of itching from bug bites.

Rash-Producing Plants: The biggee around these parts is poison oak. Poison oak is truly phenomenal - not only can you get a rash from contact with the bright red leaves, but touching the dead-looking sticks on the ground, contact with clothing saturated with so much as a tiny drop of poison oak oil which has survived several washings, or breathing the smoke from burning the innocent seeming poison oak twigs as kindling can result in a skin rash or, in the case of the smoke, severe lung trouble. Learn what the plant looks like and DO NOT TOUCH. Don't touch any plant unless you are certain that it is not poison oak. Don't burn wood unless you know the plant it came from.

The Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac Information Center website has a wealth of information on everything to do with these plants. Absolutely worth reading before you trek out of doors.

If, despite your best efforts, you do get a poison oak rash, here's some tips as to what's helped me in the past. Sadly, these tips may or may not help you. If you're miserable or uncertain about what you're seeing, go see your doctor. They have some very potent medications that can help you feel better quicker and possibly avoid scarring. 'Band Aid Anti-Itch Gel' (formerly 'Rhuli Gel') works the best of any over the counter anti-itch gel i've tried. Benadryl pills seems to be the most effective over the counter med against the itch, as it fights the allergic reaction which causes the itching. It will make you sleepy so don't drive or operate dangerous machinery. On the other hand, you probably won't be able to sleep because of the outrageous itching from the rash, so at night the Benadryl could be a big help. Finally, the running hot water method has given me great relief from itching.

Your Guts
Okay people, if you thought How To Use Moleskin was brutally graphic, you ain't seen nothing yet! No one wants to hear about gas, heartburn, constipation, barfing out the door of the car from 'motion sickness'. But guess what's even worse than hearing about it? Right, living it out if full color. So i'll go over a few common-sense pointers for avoiding as much of this unpleasantness as possible.

'Motion Sickness': I love the view from a twisting road on the west shore of the Pacific. But the last few years i've become prone to car sickness.`Quelle bummer! The trick with all of the gut troubles, and with most chronic conditions, is to admit that you're prone and have a few tricks up your sleeve.

The first line of defense on motion sickness is to stay hydrated (no skipping water so you don't have to use the can) and to keep some mild food on your stomach (nothing too spicy or acid). Sitting in the front seat and looking out towards the horizon can help. I've found that chewing gum or sucking on dried fruit settles the tum. Ginger root, fresh or dried, is great against nausea. Of the over the counter meds, i've had the greatest luck with Bonine. It doesn't make me drowsy and works against the nausea. Remember to take it 30-45 minutes before you're getting in the car and don't drive if you are taking any new medication. If you have a lot of trouble, ask your doctor if they can help you with a prescription. With any medicine you're planning to use while traveling, i would suggest you try some out beforehand to see how you react and to make sure it seems to work.

Heartburn and Gas: I don't have a lot of personal experience with these two. But the principle holds - if you know you're prone, prepare. Make sure you have a decent supply of whatever prescription or over the counter medicine, herbs, devices, etc. help with your trouble. If you think you might need something more, ask your doctor and try it out beforehand to make certain it will work for you. For at least a few days before you leave, pay special attention to doing the things that calm and avoiding the things that aggravate your condition. If sleeping propped up helps you avoid gastric reflux, make sure you sleep propped up (and take a pillow you can use for this purpose on your trip). Stay away from whatever foods make things worse for you. The same with alcohol and or caffeine if they apply. Stay hydrated. Stick to your regular exercise regime - now is not the time to go blasting forth with a new, stressful plan , now is it time to completely slack off. Get adequate rest. Eat the proper amount of fiber (more on this in the constipation section).

Make sure that you have any 'rescue medicines' (whatever you would take for a sudden attack) with you at all times. This may sound a bit extreme, but it's easy to be an hour or so by car, or even longer by foot, away from your campsite when you're on this type of trip. You don't want to be suffering for hours on the trail when taking along a pill or two is so easy. I recommend having a little 'go-pack' with my essentials (ID, keys, meds, cash, moleskin and bandaids) that i take with me everywhere when i'm on a trip so i don't lose anything vital.

During your trip, just do your best to avoid anything you know will aggravate your condition, and treat any flare-ups sooner rather than later.

Constipation: i know, everyone on all the style blogs is doing a 'constipation post' these days. You can't turn around without running into another post on the topic in the style blog world. But i just HAVE to put my personal point of view out there on this, even though everyone else has already pounded this topic into the ground......

Travel seems custom-made to induce constipation. Long periods of immobility, dehydration, less fiber, less exercise - it all adds up to being bound up. Unlike gas and heartburn, this one has been my travel bugaboo since i was a mere slip of a girl. Every family has their own in-jokes, and my colon was happy to oblige by seizing up on cue. Fortunately, my mom just brought along prunes for every trip and stewed 'em on up for me. They lived up to their reputation and i was able to spend time with the family again (instead of reading Bullwhip Griffin for hours in 'the library'). Mom had a plan, she was prepared and followed through! So can you.

A few days to a week before you leave, up your fiber intake, water intake, and your amount of cardio exercise. Avoid any garments that are tight around your middle. Make certain that you will be able to get enough fiber when you're out camping. Fiber supplements come in powders, capsules and wafers these days, so pack whatever works for you. Dried fruits are packed with fiber and easy to pack as well. Don't count on being able to get the fiber you need at restaurants, be sure to have your own supply. Take along whatever over the counter meds , prescription meds, or supplements you can depend upon for 'relief'. Continue with getting enough water, fiber and exercise through your trip. I've also found that tightly fitting waistbands 'impede the normal activity of the bowel'. Try loose fitting, elastic, or roll down waistbands to see if they help you with this trouble.

You Body In General: if you have any chronic condition - asthma, diverticulitis, gout, arthritis - take along any medicine you may need for a flare-up. It's much easier to treat a flare before it gets bad, and you don't want to spend your vacation getting a prescription filled at an out of town pharmacy. Avoid anything that you know may cause a flare up in the few days before and during your trip, if possible. Get proper rest and exercise (especially any exercises that help keep your back in shape). If you need certain pillows or pads to be able to sleep or ride in a car comfortably, take them along and use them. You'll be in better shape when you want to be able to hike, row, or swim. Try not to overdo it on the booze or junk food if you know that you'll pay for it later.

Miscellaneous: Here's a few items i've found to be generally useful when camping. An insulated travel mug keeps beverages hotter longer and the cap keeps bugs, leaves, etc. out. Take a hard case for glasses or sunglasses and put your specs in their case whenever they are not on your head. Petzl headlamps are fabulous and so important for safety in unfamiliar territory. I wear mine around my neck starting a couple hours before sundown so i have it whenever it gets dark. The elastic strap kind are comfy enough to wear while you're in bed, for reading and 'just in case'. Speaking of 'just in case', scope out a good spot to pee during daylight hours. Make sure the footing is sound, no rashy bushes lurk nearby, and urine will flow downhill between your feet (if one foot is uphill and the other downslope the downslope foot will catch the flow).

As i said, i like to carry a 'go-pouch' with my absolute essential items everywhere (while sleeping, shower, etc.). This can be a wallet on a string, little fanny pack, or a waterproof hard case. I carry ID, keys, cash, credit/debit card, essential medicine, band aids, moleskin, safety pins, Benadryl and a few pain pills (tylenol and ibuprofen). Think of what would really screw up your trip if you didn't have it or lost it - put those things in and keep your 'go-pouch' with you at all times.

Safety pins, extra batteries, extra zip loc bags, plenty of stormproof matches all come in very handy. A notebook to write down what you did, saw, etc. is fun to look back on later. Field guides of birds, trees, wildflowers or whatever interests you can lead to a closer relationship to the land you're visiting. And take some little luxuries! A special music mix, gourmet meat and cheese spread, bottle of fancy wine, chinese lanterns to decorate your campsite.....whatever appeals to you and yours. These things are fun in everyday life, and in the great outdoors after a long exhausting day, looking at all those stars and sitting by the campfire really makes you appreciate them all the more. And you don't have to go overboard - any extra luxury stands out when you're camping! Be really classy and take enough to share with your neighbors.

I know i sound like a little girl scout with my constant harping on 'Be Prepared!'. But you don't want to spend half of your time in the gorgeous out of doors in some skeevy pharmacy waiting on a scrip, or nursing a queasy hangover in your tent, or worse in the emergency room, or trying to find a locksmith at 11pm Saturday night, when a little consideration beforehand could've headed these things off at the pass. Enough crazy delays will come up on their own. So do a little thinking ahead and have more time doing the fun stuff you want to do.

Now ladies - on to all clothes, all the time!!


  1. My dermatologist recommended 'Itch X' for itch relief, and it is wonderful. It comes with and without cortisone, so if you can't handle cortisone, look closely at the package. Cannot recommend it highly enough.
    My best tip for camping is if you are close to a washer/dryer place, put your sleeping bag in the dryer for 10-15 minutes right before you hop in at night. Finally, a warm sleeping bag! I think Steffi remembers the trip (so cold!) where I discovered that one!

  2. One word of caution with the Permethrin, which is the active ingredient in the long lasting Sawyer repellent. It is the Atom Bomb of insecticides. It will kill flies right after contact. Like, within seconds. Don't get it on your skin or you'll have children with six digits and missing teeth.

  3. Both excellent points! re: Sawyer clothes treatment. when i used it i found they had very good, comprehensive safety precautions and safe use directions. Read them and follow them if you decide to use any similar product!!