How to Survive an Infected Wound

Can you treat an infection without a med kit? Can you boil water without a pot? Den Mother can.
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Can you treat an infection without a med kit? Can you boil water without a pot? Den Mother can.
hot water

Photo by John Lodder/flickr

What’s the best way to deal with an infected wound if I forgot my med kit ? – Stacey Ford

Clean that sucker out, ASAP. You probably thought you did that well enough the first time around, but if you’re approaching 24 hours post-injury and have heat, swelling, pus, and pain, bingo: infection. Fill a zip-top bag with water, nip off a corner, and squeeze a jet of treated water into the wound until it’s clean. No baggy? Sit on your hydration bladder and direct the stream into your wound. (Not that either? Well, I’ve never tried it, but pee straight from the source is sterile.)

Until you can get help, soak your boo-boo in water as hot as you can stand for 20 minutes, three times a day. Pat dry with something clean and cover with a dry, clean cloth. If you’ve got the chills or see red lines crawling from the wound toward your heart, well, it’s as bad as it looks. The infection is spreading and you need to get to the nearest hospital before your fever gets dangerous; they’ve got an IV bag of antibiotics waiting for you.

I’ve read about boiling water in a leaf. Is that a real thing? Are there any other ways to boil water without pots and pans? – Jim Trudy 

Relying on leaves? That’s a slick ultralight solution—unless you enjoy drinking more than a teaspoon of water at a time. Besides, Sigma 3 Survival School Instructor Matt Tate says if the trees around you are sprouting big leaves, you’re somewhere warm, and that’s not a good place to spend lots of time over a fire heating tiny amounts of water.

Instead, dig a small pit, line it with clay (if available), tarp, or a plastic bag and fill it with water. Heat dry rocks (never river stones, which can explode when heated) in a fire and use sticks to move them into the water until it boils.

That’ll do, if you don’t mind a little chemical leaching—and in a survival situation, you probably won’t. But those setups aren’t so portable. Better bet: Burn out the inside of a log until you’ve got a
pot-size bowl you can rock-boil in and carry with you.

Got a question for Den Mother? Email it to denmother@backpacker.com.