I got a fairly bad cut on my leg, not quite bad enough for stitches but will probably leave a scar. I have a camping trip planned this weekend at a lake where we will go swimming and kayaking. I expect the cut to be partially healed by then, but not to the point where I feel safe leaving it exposed. (I'm also a little nervous given a couple recent news reports about "flesh-eating bacteria", even though I know it's rare, and the incidents didn't happen near where we'll be!).

At home I have been wearing a fabric bandage, which allows air flow but only keeps it safe from "dry" contaminants. I did read How should you treat an open wound in the backcountry?, but it's about immediate first aid treatment for when the wound happens in the wild, and doesn't discuss what to do about water.

What precautions should I take to protect the wound before, during, and after going into lake water? What first-aid items should I pack?

Of course, simply not swimming and kayaking is an option for this situation (although it would be a bummer), but this could also be a concern if you got a cut on a canoeing trip or a hike with water crossings.

  • 2
    Shave the leg and water proof bandage.
    – paparazzo
    Aug 16, 2017 at 16:46
  • Hi whrrgarbI! This is a great question, and an important concern. Due to experience, I'd like to caution you before choosing a waterproof transparent dressing, especially Tegaderm, if that's something you're thinking about. I've written a comment under @James Jenkin's post. I didn't want to write an answer because I was afraid I'd be veering off into a discussion about a specific product rather than the subject of the question. I hope your cut gets better and you can enjoy your trip! Aug 16, 2017 at 19:49
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    Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and doing this wrong can worsen the situation! --- I like to carry superglue with me, it has many different uses. Apart from using it on any kind of equipment, it can also be used to treat wounds! You can glue small wounds shut, you can seal superficial woulds, but also cuts. I glue cuts shut ASAP, before dirt gets into the wound, and without getting glue into the wound. After the initial seal, you can glue a small piece of cloth onto the sealed cut, to strengthen it and prevent it from opening. But before doing to, read up on this topic. It is very useful!
    – Peter1807
    Aug 17, 2017 at 7:12
  • I have used super glue to close many wounds, even one that certainly needed a stitch or two! I would also recommend cleaning the wound immediately after exiting any natural water source with a sterile solution and antibiotic as swimming in natural water sources with open wounds can be potentially quite dangerous or harmful depending on the waters.
    – Nate W
    Aug 18, 2017 at 21:40

2 Answers 2


Water tight is subject to lots of variable. As you mention just staying out of the water is the least risk.

There are Waterproof Transparent Dressings, a good example is Nexcare™ Tegaderm™ Waterproof Transparent Dressing It lists among its attributes "Seals out water, dirt and germs to help prevent infection"

I have seen this stuff in use, it can stay in place for up to a week, and is not easy to remove. If there are hairs growing in the area, it may compromise the seal and make removal painful.

  • Would you recommend leaving the waterproof dressing in place the entire time? Asking since air flow seems to be important. But maybe for a weekend trip it would be worth making sure everything stays out.
    – user812786
    Aug 16, 2017 at 17:00
  • 2
    @whrrgarbl Not sure I would be comfortable making a recommendation for you. The product is clear so you can see through it. If I was wearing it and the wound looked fine, and it was staying well adhered I would leave it on myself for the weekend. If the wound was not looking well and/or it was coming off. I would not go in the water anymore, and I would consider seeing a professional about the wound. I would not put on a second dressing in the same weekend. It will either work or not. Aug 16, 2017 at 17:16
  • Good point on the transparency! Thanks, I will take that into consideration.
    – user812786
    Aug 16, 2017 at 18:24
  • 2
    James, I've been using Tegaderm for years on a prescription basis. I applaud you for not making a specific recommendation! Type, age, depth, area of the wound, use of a bandage underneath the Tegaderm, placement on the body, are just a few factors to consider. My Tegaderm is designed to peel off after 72 hours, and a new one should not be used if one falls off sooner. whrrgarbl, I'd check with a doctor first. I'm only speaking about Tegaderm, not the others mentioned in this answer. Aug 16, 2017 at 20:18

I've had this happen on trips a lot. (You take 20 teenage males into the bush...)

There aren't that many pathogens that thrive on people. Your biggest problem is not the lake, but the sleeping bag.

During the day, leave it open to the air. Wear shorts. Cover it only if it's going to be constantly getting dirt on it. When you can keep it open, keep a film of polysporin on it. Reapply 3-4 times a day as needed.

On the lake shore, expose to sun, unless you are at risk for sunburn. If you have reason to think that the lake has pathogens in it get someone to stretch the skin moderately tight, and apply a bead of crazy glue to the wound. Hold the skin stretched until the glue sets. This keeps the glue from tearing as you use your leg. while this keeps germs out, it also keeps out oxygen.

At night reapply polysporin, and put a gauze bandage on it. Wrap with 2-3 turns of vet wrap.

If it scabs over well, then just inspect it.

You may need to cover it again when it begins to itch. Try not to scratch it with the same fingernails that have been scratching your bum.

Vet wrap is a sticky stretchy wrap. It sticks well to itself. You can also buy it as sports wrap at several times the price. Available at farm supply stores in a bunch of different colours.

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