I remember my mom telling me a story about grandma’s underwear. Grandma was walking across the street in our small hometown of Weyerhaeuser when the elastic gave out at the top of her bloomers and they dropped around her ankles (she was wearing a dress). Grandma, being the practical person that she was, stepped out of the garment, tucked it in her purse to be repaired later, and kept on walking.
What does this have to do with prepping? Underwear is one of those things that most people take for granted, until you don’t have clean dry ones available. The same goes for socks. In case of emergency, spare pairs of each will go a long way towards keeping you healthy and comfortable. In this post we’re going to do a quick overview of health risks associated with wet and dirty underwear and socks, and recommendations for the best underwear and socks for health, durability and comfort.
Underwear – More Important Than You Might Realize
I remember reading about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with people being stuck in the Superdome with overflowing toilets and no showers. For most major natural disasters, power is out for an extended period, which usually means no running water because you’ve got no pumps. Couple this with high heat and humidity (typical during prime tornado and hurricane season), and you’ve got guaranteed sweaty, musty crevices that are perfect breeding grounds for yeasts and bacteria that can lead to conditions such as jock itch, yeast infections and urinary tract infections. They also smell bad. Having a change of cotton tighty-whities and some corn starch “baby powder” on hand can go a long way towards reducing health risks and increasing comfort. Going commando (without underwear) can sometimes be appropriate, but when exterior clothes are wet or damp can also lead to chaffing. See “How does poor sanitation lead to health problems?” for the down and dirty details of problems with poor sanitation.
Basic cotton underwear that breath and absorb excess moisture are better than non-breathable nylon/rayon/lace products. Another option that has recently become available (but tends to be more expensive) is wicking underwear specifically designed to draw sweat away from the body. Wicking underwear can be synthetic or natural – look for “wicking” in the description. Here’s one example of wicking underwear for women – ExOfficio Women’s Give-N-Go Bikini Briefs. I haven’t tried these personally, but they received good reviews. Check your favorite local store or online retailer and do some label reading. I tend to be a plain cotton sort of gal, preferably organic, with a non-dyed panel in the crotch area. Chemical dyes can be pretty nasty, and you do not want them being absorbed by some of your most sensitive areas.
I’d like to also note that a good pair of underwear is your final line of defense again some of the nasty chemicals currently being used in the clothing industry, which include formaldehyde, brominated flame retardants and a cocktail of other nasty things. The post “Toxic dyes, lethal logos, cotton drenched in formaldehyde… How your clothes could poison you” shares:
Dr Brian Clement, who co-authored the book Killer Clothes, agrees: ‘Over the past 60 years there has been a significant increase in health problems that may be associated with wearing synthetics.’
He says synthetic clothes contain toxins including brominated flame retardants and perfluorinated chemicals which are classified as cancer-causing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Trichloroethylene, another chemical commonly used by manufacturers, is also classified as a carcinogen.
These toxins have been linked to dermatitis, allergic reactions and can even contribute to infertility, he says.
This is yet another reason to buy used when you can and look for natural cloth, organic fabrics and “Made in the USA” labels (our environmental laws are significantly tougher than many countries where clothing is manufactured).
Socks – Keeping Your Feet Warm and Protected
I don’t know if anyone else remembers the scene from Forrest Gump where Lieutenant Dan instructs Forrest and Bubba on the finer points of keeping your feet dry, but dry feet are critical for the health of soldiers and could be critical for your health in an emergency situation, too.
There’s a condition called trench foot that is caused by exposure to cold, wet conditions (like those experienced in the trenches of WWI). It can lead to tissue damage and secondary infections, and even loss of all or part of your foot. The Survival Doctor discusses prevention and treatment in “Trench Foot: How to Save Your Feet in a Flood“:
If you have no choice but to go long periods with wet feet, the following helps prevent trench foot:
- Clean, then air dry your feet for eight out of twenty-four hours (preferably eight hours straight). This means no socks. Lying down helps with circulation.
- Wipe your shoes or boots out, and allow them to dry.
- Change into dry socks a minimum of three times a day.
- Keep the rest of your body warm.
- Move your legs around, walk, work your toes, raise up and down on your toes—anything to get the blood flowing.
Early Symptoms of Trench Foot
- Blanching or mottled skin
Treatment of Trench Foot
Gently warm the feet. Five minutes of soaking in warm, not hot, water may help. Or just air warm.
Please visit his site for additional information on symptoms that occur with extended exposure and after treatment. (You can also read my review of his e-books on treating wounds and burns, which are very good preparedness items.)
In cold weather, the right pair of socks will help protect you from frostbite, which can cause similar damage. Wool, especially alpaca wool, traps heat even when wet, and was the most recommended “keep your feet warm” sock option in a survey of Common Sense Homesteading readers. Men’s socks tend to be roomier than women’s (no surprise there). You want a not-too-snug sock to avoid restricting circulation.
Bob D., long time CSH reader, said, “I have a few years of teaching wilderness survival behind me. With that said, you want/need a synthetic base layer against your skin, then a wool, or wool blend, or synthetic for warmth. The cotton socks? Use them as rags to wash the car…”
As with underwear, there are wicking varieties of socks to draw moisture away from the skin (check the label). This is the “synthetic base layer” that Bob talks about. Men’s HeatGear® Boot Sock Socks by Under Armour appear to be one of the most recommend socks of this type on Amazon. You’re also likely to find items like this in sporting goods stores, hunting stores or possibly military surplus stores.
Make sure to prepare to keep those feet and personal areas comfortable and dry, and tell your friends about your emergency underwear and socks. 😉
Common Sense Preparedness Link Up #8
I chose the symbol of an ant for the link up because of the old fable of “The Ant and the Grasshopper“. 1. This is a preparedness link up for those who want to be more self-sufficient. We welcome posts on growing/raising/hunting food and food storage, self-reliance skills, home remedies, herbalism, wildcrafting, building and repairing, emergency medicine and all things prepping. Just use the link up tool below to enter your post. Please link directly to the relevant post, not your blog’s main page. 2. Please link back to this post from your featured content. You may use the image below as part of your link if you would like to do so. Sites that don’t link back will not be featured on the CSH facebook page or Pinterest boards. 3. Keep it clean, skip the ads. This is a PG-13 site, and I want to feature prepping posts, not ads and giveaways. Each week I’ll be adding my favorite posts to the Common Sense Preparedness board on Pinterest. 4. Leave a comment if you’d like to share a little more information about your post and/or any preparing you’re currently working on. If you are reading this post via email, click through to join in or visit this week’s links. Don’t forget to check out the Preparedness page for a list of articles already on the website.