Dave's Poison Oak Protocol
Saw your post on getting poison oak, and you have my sympathies. I’m a Northern Californian who is very allergic to poison oak, so I’ve had some experience with the dreaded shrub. There’s a TON of poison oak in Northern CA – if anybody could figure out a way to monetize that plant, BLM in California would have more money than Elon Musk.
I feel like a third of my childhood was spent with some kind of hellish rash on me. As I’ve gotten more into hunting I’ve developed some protocols and thoughts on how to avoid getting it.
Dave’s Poison Oak Protocol
Everybody knows the urushiol oil is the culprit. Here are some practical tips on dealing with it in poison oak country.
Wear ultralight cloth gloves when hunting. The Aerowool gloves in the First Lite line would work great, I use some cheapo gloves from Cabelas. Gloves can be removed for eating food, taking a leak, etc.
I keep two pairs on me. If I know for sure that one set has been compromised, I’ll swap to my second pair. If you grab a harvested animal or if a gun gets laid down in the oak, or you just have to dive into a bunch of bushes to avoid getting busted, you won’t be stuck with a pair of gloves that will mess you up.
If you need to scratch your face, wipe some sweat, etc. taking off gloves is a bit of a hassle. I’ll just remove my hat, and use the inside of my hat to do anything like that. It’s very unlikely that any oak will end up on the inside of your hat.
Trim your fingernails before heading out! If your nails are at all long, it’s easy for that urushiol to get in there and get spread to anywhere you scratch.
Most oak will end up on your shoes and pants.
A. Wear gators. Either the big ones that go over the pants, or small gators that go over your shoes. Shoes won’t untie as easily. But mostly, I think a lot of rashes begin when we tie or remove our shoes and the oil gets on our fingers. If it gets on your fingers, the battle has been lost unless you wash your hands right away. By using gators, you've got a prophylactic on your laces, or potentially lower legs that can be easily removed.
I used to wonder how I’d get the oak on the inside of my forearms. From reaching down and tying my shoes, where my arms would contact my pants! So now wear a long sleeve shirt all the time.
B. When removing hunting clothes, take off your pants first. Keep your socks on so the pants can’t touch your feet. When removing the pants, let them roll inside out so the outside of the pant legs can’t touch anything.
After that, the shirt gets pulled off so that the sleeves roll off safely, like a sock. Then socks go last.
5. Keep a small vial of dishwasher soap on you. One of those tiny bottles from REI works great. Dishwasher soap is designed to break apart oil. Works great if you think some skin has been compromised, or you just want to be extra careful, especially if you don’t have access to a shower.
6. I do really well with all that I mentioned. But lastly: when taking a shower after braving the oak, keep the water cold. Cold water keeps your pores closed and you won’t get as bad of a case if there’s some urushiol on you. Warm water will encourage your pores to open up, and it really gets into your skin with a hot shower. I’ll start off with a cold shower, use some dish soap, then warm up the water after because I’m a wimp.
7. Epilogue: If you do get a rash, pop those little blisters as they arise. Everything heals much quicker. Assuming you don’t have any urushiol under your nails, I think scratching the rash is the best thing to do. And it feels good. Almost as good as super hot water on the rash, which can feel really great; it’s known as an Oak-gasm.
8. Afterward: I’ve heard you and Steve Rinella talk about the three folks on the front of the Mountain House packets. Incidentally, I grew up with the standard-issue Caucasian dude in that group. He’s the kid brother of one my best friends from high school! If you want me to get in touch with him, that’s easy enough to do. He’s an interesting cat, specializes in foraging natural herbs and essences for fancy cocktails, amongst other things.