Over the years I’ve developed a small toiletry kit that satisfies the needs for my every day ablutions. I carry it in a small Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Fiber Packing Cube (the same model pouch I use for my EDC tool kit). There’s some crossover between this kit and my first aid kit, but that is to be expected. Health and cleanliness are closely related.
If I know I’m going to be gone overnight, I’ll grab another MLD cube that I keep packed with a toothbrush, a small bottle of toothpowder, and floss. If I know I’m going to be gone multiple days, I’ll add a bar of soap and shaving supplies. The following is just what I find it worthwhile to carry in my backpack everyday.
I use hand sanitizer infrequently, always preferring soap and water, but it is still a critical tool to carry.
I carry hand sanitizer in a 15 mL Mini Dropper Bottle with a Streaming Dropper Tip. I don’t have a specific product recommendation here. My all time favorite hand sanitizer was the All Terrain Hand Sanz Gel. It was effective, did not dry out my hands, and did not stink. But I went through the last of my stash last year, and the product has been discontinued. Next I went with Elyptol, which has an EWG rating of 1, but the eucalyptus scent is too overpowering. If they made an unscented version I’d buy it. Currently I use Pipette, which has an EWG rating of 1. It leaves a bit of sticky residue behind, but otherwise seems fine.
These days it seems like everybody carries hand sanitizer, but few carry soap. I don’t get it. Soap is pretty useful stuff to have when out and about in the world. A good, versatile soap will clean tools, clothes, and body.
Protecting the meatsuit from ambient radiation is important. For much of the year my sunblock goes untouched, but if I take it out I’ll forget to put it back in when the seasons change. Or I’ll find myself on a snow field and think “Gee, it sure would be nice to have some sunblock right now.” It’s easier to just leave it in the kit year-round.
I rarely have a problem with chapped lips, and thus rarely use lip balm as a moisturizer. My only interest in lip balm is as sunblock.
I use All Terrain Lip Armor SPF 28. All Terrain has been steadily discontinuing all their best products, including this one. I recommend stocking up. This product used to have a high EWG rating, but it seems to no longer be listed.
Before I started dosing myself with omega, a good skin balm was critical to keeping my hands operational in the dryer months. Now its criticality is diminished, but I think it is still important tool to address small cuts, scrapes, burns, and bites. Balm is best thought of as an artificial scab: it encourages healing, and provides a protective barrier. A good skin balm coupled with some soap, clean water, and bandaging material is going to take care of the vast majority of minor first aid issues. (Throw in a syringe and some steri-strips, benzoin tincture, and a semi-permeable dressing and the world is your oyster.)
climbOn is my favorite skin balm. I find it to be highly effective. It is available in two scents, both of which I find unoffensive. Most important for something that is to be used on the hands, it does not feel greasy. I hate applying a balm on a finger and then feeling like I’m leaving residue on everything I touch. climbOn does not have an EWG rating, but its ingredients are few, easy to understand, and food-grade.
I carry the 0.5 oz climbOn Lotion Bar. I generally find that my happiness is inversely proportional to the amount of cardboard in my life, but I make an exception here. The tube is a more convenient carry format than the old tins.
I have tried using (non-SPF) lip balm as skin balm, since the form-factor of lip balm tends to be great for EDC, but I’ve not found any lip balm that I like as much as the climbOn skin balm. (I have tried the climbOn lip balm and do not like it for this application.) The stuff made for lips tends to have a softer consistency and be too greasy for me to want to use on hands. A good skin balm, however, is perfectly serviceable as a lip balm if you’re not looking for sun protection.
I carry the titanium version of Uncle Bill’s Sliver Grippers. Tweezers are something I almost never use, but when I need them there is no substitute. The titanium offers no functional advantage over the stainless steel variant, but titanium is cool.
That from NIOSH. When pandemic masking started last year, I thought it was idiotic that I was asked not to wear my normal valved N95s, but was told that a single layer Buff gaiter was totally kosher. The CDC has justified my feelings:
As source control, findings from NIOSH research suggest that, even without covering the valve, N95 respirators with exhalation valves provide the same or better source control than surgical masks, procedure masks, cloth masks, or fabric coverings. In general, individuals wearing NIOSH-approved N95s with an exhalation valve should not be asked to use one without an exhalation valve or to cover it with a face covering or mask.
In 2021, equipping anything other than an N95/KF94/KN95, or other equivalent, in an attempt to protect oneself or others is just ritual.
Bottles of Clorox bleach are stamped with a date code which when properly decoded will indicate the date of manufacture. The first 7 characters in the label on one of my bottles are A819275, indicating that it was manufactured in plant A8 on the 275th day of 2019, or October 2nd. The previously mentioned dateutils proves its usefulness here.
$ datediff 2019-275 now
$ datediff 2019-275 now -f "%m months, %d days"5 months, 17 days
I like RADIUS toothbrushes. I use the Source at home and the Tour elsewhere. Both utilize the same replaceable brush head. Anytime you’re dealing with tools that have replaceable, consumable parts – whether those parts are batteries, magazines, or toothbrush heads – the compatibility of those parts across the different tools is critical to user sanity. Replaceable toothbrush heads are convenient in that they decrease waste and allow you to stock up on multiple years worth of tooth cleaning supplies in a smaller space than would be required by the same number of toothbrushes.
I find the RADIUS heads to be effective at cleaning, and my dentist seems to approve of the results. I use both the “soft” and “flossing” heads, with no real preference between them. My experience is that bristles of both last an unusually long period of time when compared to other toothbrushes. To fully take advantage of the potential service live, the bristles must be periodically cleaned. I do this by soaking the head in a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide for 20 minutes, which has been proven effective by multiplestudies. I do this every other week or so.
I have a few travel toothbrush cases similar to these left over from before I found RADIUS (the Source handle is too chunky to fit in these). Each case consists of two parts. One half has a small hole for ventilation. The other half has no hole. I fill this hole-free half with 1/2 oz of hydrogen peroxide, shove the toothbrush in head first (the fat part of the Source handle that doesn’t fit in the case sits above this half, so it isn’t a problem), and then place it in a mason jar to hold it upright on my counter. Of the random assortment of containers around my home, this half of a travel toothbrush case is what I found allowed me to completely soak the head using the least amount of hydrogen peroxide.
The Source handle can be sterilized in my kitchen autoclave, but the replaceable heads and the body of the Tour become deformed if exposed to these high pressures. I usually just wash the Source handle by hand with my normal dish soap when I think of it. Mold can grow in the socket of the handle that the head is shoved into, so this does need occasional cleaning. I clean the body of the Tour the same way when I return home from a trip.
The Tour toothbrush (complete with head) tips my scale at 20 grams (0.7 oz). It is neither the lightest nor the most compact travel option, but the convenience of the form factor combined with having the functionality of a full-sized toothbrush when deployed and the commonality of the replaceable head with my home solution makes me uninterested in lighter and smaller options that invariably sacrifice convenience.
I’ve found that when purchasing 16 oz or 32 oz bottles of hydrogen peroxide the necks always have 28-400 threading, regardless of brand. This allows me to replace the lid with one of the sprayers I use for my all-purpose cleaner, turning the hydrogen peroxide bottle into a convenient tool for disinfecting things like counter tops and my toilet cleaning brush.
Sport bottles lids often have small nooks and crannies that are excellent for growing bacteria and difficult to clean by hand. I occasionally throw these lids into my pressure cooker with a steaming basket or trivet to sterilize them. Multiplestudiesshow that a standard pressure cooker can be an effective alternative to an autoclave in austere environments. The general rule of thumb seems to be about 15 psi for 15 minutes, though 30 minutes may be a safer bet for medical instruments.
I’ve taken advantage of the recent fires to perform more respirator trials. I use the respirators when getting around town on my bicycle, which provides a good analog for any aerobic activity, allowing me to evaluate things like breathability, humidity within the respirator, and how well the seal performs when contaminated air is being blown over the respirator at high speeds. I’ve found there are certain characteristics that I desire in a respirator.
The standard respirators that are most worth considering are N95. The “N” designates that it is not resistant to oil. The “95” designates that it filters 95% of particles 0.3 microns or larger.
After the BP oil spill in 2010 I purchased a P100 respirator. These respirators filter 99.97% of particles, and are “strongly resistant” to oil. They are large, bulky cartridge respirators that are great to keep at home, but you are not going to carry them around.
Recently I purchased a box of R95 respirators. These are more similar to the N95 than the P100, but are “somewhat resistant” to oil. They have a service life of 8 hours in environments with airborne oil particles, which is long enough for me to get to my P100 respirator. Unfortunately the R95 respirators are quite a bit thicker than the N95. They could be easily carried in a bag, but they are too thick to fit in my PPE kits (without moving to a larger aLOKSAK). I’m splitting the R95 respirators between home and work, but will continue to carry N95 respirators in my kits.
Back in 2007, when I first started researching respirators, I came across an adhoc study comparing these ratings against common household materials:
I recently assisted in a study to determine how available materials compared to P-100 respirator cartridges. Cartridges were opened, the contents removed, and a series of different materials were attached to the cartridges. The cartridges were installed onto standard North full-face respirators. A Certified Industrial Hygenist performed fit testing on the mask assembly using a standard quantitative fit testing machine, the one that compares particle counts inside the mask to ambient air particulate counts.
The materials tested were:
coffee filters, 1 layer;
t-shirt fabric (knitted fabric), folded into 8 layers, wet, dry, and oiled with petroleum jelly;
bandanas(woven fabric), folded into 8 layers, wet, dry, and oiled with petroleum jelly;
a HEPA vacuum cleaner filter, dry.
We boiled the cloth to shrink it before testing.
The performance of the coffee filter, HEPA filter, and the dry fabric was terrible. Abysmal. Worthless. Bad.
The wet fabrics were a bit better, but still bad. Why firefighters use wet bandanas to filter smoke is beyond me. They are practically worthless.
The HEPA filter was so moisture-resistant that the mask fogged up to where you couldn’t see out. And it didn’t perform that well. Perhaps its stiffness made the seal leak, it really should have done much better.
But the 8-layer oiled bandana and oiled t-shirt performed about 80% as well as the P-100 filter, and in fact passed about half the tests. This makes it equivalent to about a N-90, which is 90% as good as a N-95 filter. It was nothing short of amazing how well the oiled fabric filtered air.
Now it’s interesting that there is a report (page 1, page 2) from WW1 that a doctor on a troop ship made everyone wear oiled gauze masks, and did not lose a single person on the trip across the Atlantic.
Using an old-style cloth surgical mask and oiling it with petroleum jelly increases its filtration efficiency something like 1000 times. And oiled cloth filters actually filter better the dirtier they get, until they clog up. They are used in high-perforance cars.
Oh, and I suppose I ought to admit it was my kid’s science fair project.
Most respirators either have a single continuous harness that goes around the crown of the head and back of the neck, or two separate straps. I’ve not noticed a significant difference between these two options, though the single continuous harness can easily be adjusted for smaller heads with a single knot.
When staple punctures tear holes in the filter medium, the concentration of particles leaking through those openings is considerable and resembles face seal leakage… The findings of this study suggest that stapling head straps directly onto the filtering material of a respirator has the potential to create leaks in amounts similar to that of face seal leaks.
I look for a textile harness. Cheaper respirators use thin rubber bands. For single use these are adequate, but they snap if you are frequently donning and doffing the respirator.
A valve to vent exhalation is critical. Non-vented respirators are useless to me. Even if all you’re doing is sitting around not moving, the non-vented respirator will build up humidity over time, making long-term wear quite uncomfortable. Add in any physical activity and the process is accelerated.
At a minimum the vent should be closed at the top of the respirator. This prevents the warm, humid air from moving directly up and fogging your eyewear. On some respirators, the vent is closed on both the top and sides, forcing the exhaled air to escape downwards only. This is desirable.
If you’re worried about keeping your operating theater sterile, get a respirator without a valve and embrace the suck. Otherwise don’t.
I want to carry the respirator, which means I need to be able to fold it flat. There are two variants of fold-flat respirators: those that fold vertically along the center, and those that fold horizontally.
A center fold respirator provides more volume across the front of the face. When a respirator fits properly and provides a good seal, it should collapse slightly due to suction when inhaling during aerobic activity. When wearing a center fold respirator, this collapse happens along the cheek area. I find I tend not to notice it. With a horizontal fold respirator the collapse is more likely to happen across the front. The respirator touches my lips with each heavy inhalation, so I constantly notice it. I do not think there is a functional difference here, but it is a factor in long-term comfort.
A horizontal fold respirator can be more comfortably pulled down below the chin. A center fold respirator can not (unless perhaps you have an unusually long neck). If you need to temporarily remove the respirator – perhaps to take a drink – it can still be pushed down, such that the nose clip rides on the chin. I find this uncomfortable for more than a brief period of time. When the air quality index (AQI) is red or worse (151+), I generally want to wear the respirator whenever I’m outdoors. When the AQI is orange (101-150), I don’t feel I need a respirator if I’m just walking or standing outdoors, but I do want it when I’m breathing heavily. It’s in these conditions that I appreciate the ability to wear a horizontal fold respirator pulled down on my neck. I can easily (and quickly) pull it up when I begin breathing more heavily (ie, when I get on the bike). With a center fold respirator I’m more likely to temporarily store the unused respirator in a pocket, increasing the time requirement to don it.
Horizontal fold respirators place the valve in the center. On center fold respirators, the valve is offset to one side. When using horizontal fold respirators, I find that close-fitting eyewear is more likely to fog if I’m not moving (when moving more than a few miles per hour, air flow across the eyewear eliminates any fogging). I experience less fogging with center fold respirators. I’m not sure if this is due to the position of the valve – perhaps the offset valve encourages the warm, moist exhalations to be vented to the side, rather than immediately up to the lenses – or due to the seal. A center fold respirator, I find, provides a superior seal across the top of the face because the respirator naturally wants to pinch the bridge of the nose and hug the cheeks.
Most disposable respirators are white. Some come in gray. The fashion market offers respirators in dark colors and patterns. These look cool, but I prefer white. White shows dirt, encouraging me to replace the respirator more frequently than I probably otherwise would. Despite the lack of a NIOSH standard for respirator reuse (including those labeled “single use” by the manufacturer), particle build up on the surface of the respirator will increase pressure, which will increase leaks. If you’re using the respirator out of concern of influenza or flu, the color of the respirator is probably irrelevant. For smoke and other pollutants that leave visible residue, white may be better.
3M has a large, sprawling product line that seems to have a lot of redundancy and overlapping offerings. The 3M Aura 9211+/37193 checks most the boxes and is the nicest horizontal fold respirator I’ve used. The material is about 1.5mm thick, and the valve sits about 15mm off the face of the respirator at its tallest point. The wings easily fold in, allowing the respirator to fit in a small aLOKSAK for one of my PPE kits. Because of how the respirator folds, when the wings are folded in, the thickest part of the respirator excluding the valve is 13mm. I feel the respirator is a bit loose around my chin and jaw, but the seal still seems effective. Condensation becomes visible on the outside of the valve, which shows you it is working. The material that makes up the upper portion of the respirator has a perforated layer between inner and outer shells, which I imagine contributes to the respirator’s breathability, but this upward facing exhaust causes the respirator to fog eyewear a bit more than it otherwise would. The center portion of the respirator has some sort of stiff interfacing that feels a bit like a thin foil. This stiffness seems to prevent the suction collapse I usually experience with horizontal fold respirators (although the perforated upper portion and the loose fit on the lower portion of the respirator could also contribute to this). The harness is two pieces, textile, and stapled.
The Dräger X-plore 1760 is a vented, center-fold R95 respirator. It is the highest quality respirator I’ve tried. Being an R95, it is too thick to fit into my PPE kits. The material is 3mm thick. Folding along the center line, and then folded again such that it would be the right dimensions to fit in my desired aLOKSAK, it ends up being 18mm thick (excluding valve), which doesn’t work. The valve sits about 11mm off the face of the respirator. If you want some oil resistance, and don’t need to fold the respirator more than once, this is an excellent option. I stay significantly more comfortable underneath this respirator than others. It has a tight seal on my face that provides good suction on inhalation, and you can hear and feel the valve flutter on exhalation. Condensation becomes visible on the outside of the valve, which shows you it is working. I have attempted to fog the lenses of my Rudy Rydons while wearing this respirator, and failed. They only fog when I break the seal of the respirator to adjust its placement. It has a single-piece, continuous, textile harness.
After discovering how great the 1760 was, I purchased the Dräger X-plore 1750, hoping that it would be the same thing but thinner. That ended up being exactly what it is. This respirator is the N95 variant, which explains the difference in thickness. It is just under 2mm thick. Folded to fit in the aLOKSAK, the thickest part of the respirator excluding the valve is 7mm. I find myself leaning toward center fold respirators, and this is a perfect center fold N95. If you just want to buy a box of respirators and be done with, I’d recommend getting these.
Dräger also produces a version of the 1760 with activated carbon that I would like to try. If it isn’t any thicker than the standard 1750, the extra odor protection provided by the activated carbon could be a nice bonus. My respirator budget is depleted for now, and I have more than I need for a while, so you’ll have to wait until a future fire season for a review of that one.
My P100 respirator is a 3M 6391. It has not seen much use, as I’ve yet to be in an environment where it is needed. I’m as happy as I can be given the limited wear time I’ve logged with it over the past 8 years. You’ll have to wait until the next oil spill before I can give a meaningful review. One consideration worth keeping in mind when shopping for a respirator like this is that the height of the nose piece can interfere with some eyewear.