What is Field Sanitation?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Field sanitation is the practice of safe hygiene in field conditions to maintain environmental health. It is used by traveling militaries, field workers harvesting crops, campers, and other people who spend time outdoors in environments which lack urban sanitation. The goal of field sanitation is to keep everyone healthy while also making sure that the environment is not compromised. Numerous manuals for field sanitation are available through environmental health agencies, military public relations offices, and camping supply stores. Many governments have laws pertaining to field sanitation for people such as field workers and campers, spelling out the steps which must be taken and the penalties for failing to observe sanitation safety.

Field sanitation may include filtering water to make it safe to drink.
Field sanitation may include filtering water to make it safe to drink.

Sanitation involves the control of waste and the maintenance of a clean environment to prevent people from getting sick. It is designed to address diseases passed between people as well as diseases carried by flies, dirty water, rodents, and other pests. One goal of field sanitation is to create an isolated safe latrine to dispose of human waste such as urine and feces, keeping the waste well aware from water supplies, eating areas, and locations which might be frequented by people.

It is important for people with exposed wounds to cover them.
It is important for people with exposed wounds to cover them.

Another aspect involves keeping food and water safe, and meeting the water and nutrition requirements of everyone present. This can include checking natural resources to confirm that they are safe, filtering water to drink, or bringing in potable water, along with keeping food at safe temperatures, cooking it thoroughly, and observing other food safety precautions which will prevent the spread of disease.

Outdoor sanitation also includes personal hygiene. Lack of access to running water can be a challenge, but people should be able to observe precautions such as cleaning the hands after using the latrine, and cleaning hands before eating or handling food. Personal hygiene can also include providing people with changes of garments, making sure that people with exposed wounds cover them, and taking other necessary steps to prevent person to person transmission of disease.

Groups often appoint someone to be in charge of field sanitation. This person supervises the implementation of sanitation measures, and keeps an eye on members of the group to ensure that they conform with the sanitation practices being used to keep everyone safe. The person in charge is also responsible for monitoring food and water supplies, identifying potential sanitation threads, and reporting on sanitation measures taken to superiors, in organizations like the Army.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


After reading this article, I was thinking it would be a real challenge to be out in the swamp area in Louisiana. If you were with a group investigating animal life in the swamps, you'd be hot and sweaty most of the time. How would you take a bath?

With so many insects, including those that bite, you would need to bring some netting to put over you when you sleep. It would be wise to bring a medicine bag to treat insect bites, cuts, etc.

In a hot humid place like this, keeping food cold and safe is very important, and water would need to be treated.

If the group is moving around, everyone would have to take turns with latrine duty!


@SZapper - I've never thought about field sanitation in the context of scientific research but it makes sense!

My own first experience with field sanitation was with Girl Scouts. We used to take camping trips, which I loved. We would usually go tent camping on a campground. Usually the campground had latrines but that was it. No running water! This was also in the days before hand sanitizer.

We were taught how to set up a hand washing station and also to use a bleach and water solution to clean our dishes. Our troop leaders stressed the importance of clean drinking water as well and made sure we knew it wasn't safe to just drink out of a stream!

I really treasure my memories of Girl Scouts and I'm glad to know my field sanitation training is still with me.


One of my cousins is a scientist and she goes to a lot of remote locations to study different varieties of ants. She told me that keeping up with field sanitation is one of the most important aspects of a successful trip.

You can't get any science done if the whole team gets sick with food poisoning! So keeping the water supply safe is of the utmost importance. Also, advanced medical care isn't available in the field. They may have a medic on site but the medic usually has limited resources and isn't equipped to deal with serious medical problems.

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