When hiking a long distance, you could smell like a burnt trashcan or a diaper full of Indian food. Just because you are working hard during your adventure, does not mean your nose flavor needs to work hard on others!
Do not think this refers to hiking only. These tips, tricks, and humorous comments are for nearly all extended adventures.
Who Cares About Hikers Stench Anyways?
There are actually several groups of thought on the essence of the wilderness beast. Which ghastly group do you belong to?
Many people do not give a crap about smelling like crap.
They say, “Do Nothing! If you want to smell fresh, just give up and go home.” If you believe that there is no such thing as body odor in the backcountry, I do have a few items that will help you smell a little better to others.
There really isn’t much purpose to fight the essence of the trail, so why try?
Although this isn’t entirely true, there are many that subscribe to simply covering up the smell with essential oils so they don’t assault your nose.
This is like spraying perfume in a stinky bathroom. It probably smells worse when you mix fragrances.
This group subscribes to the philosophy of heavy washing and going overboard to smell like a fragrant flower covered in a sweet spring dew.
This group does not last long in an adventure without turning into one of the other groups.
Really… what is most likely to happen, is the adoption of a multi-step approach to beating the backcountry bouquet.
When you travel in the wilderness, you sweat. You sweat a lot. Besides turning into a human salt-lick block for local animals, it has other effects that you should be concerned with.
Sweat doesn’t stink! It really doesn’t. But your body also excretes fat with the sweat.
Bacteria munches on this fat and leaves a miserable musk as a byproduct. If you don’t clean it away, the bacteria can grow to ridiculous proportions.
When you are playing adventurously with high exertion and prolonged mortal terror, for those of us who like to live dangerously, you sweat more and excrete more of this delicious fat.
It is actually reported that during times in civilization where the population didn’t use soap, the bacteria could actually grow to the point that it was visible to the naked eye as nodules hanging from armpit hairs.
The problem with poor sanitary and cleanliness practices isn’t the smell. It is the ability for bacteria to enter your body through orifices or wounds.
When you travel for a long time, you also succumb to chafing which is also a wound that bacteria can enter through. You have to keep ALL wounds to a minimum, including blisters on your hands and feet.
The best people to ask for advice is those already doing it! (why else would you be reading this?)
I decided to bring you a collective knowledge of at least 50 thru-hikers that each has their own take on getting rid of the odor.
If you want to know what to do to cover up the smell you will acquire on the trail, try some of these out!
Use Patchouli or Tea Tree Oils: These cover up the smell and tea tree has antibacterial properties.
Wear Merino Wool: Or the new wool blends on the market. This doesn’t hold the smell like synthetic fibers. Wool is also great for wicking sweat, where cotton fails.
Rub with Pine, Spruce, or Fir Needles: If you want to feel one with nature, why not use nature for covering up the smell?
Smoke your Body and Clothing with a Campfire: Smoke will kill bacteria and mask the smell. It has been known to help mask scent when hunting also.
Lemon or Lime Juice: These juices smell fresh and the acid kills mold, bacteria, and germs. It isn’t enough for disinfecting stuff, but it is enough for deodorant.
Air Dry Your Clothing Every Night: This won’t mask the trail spice, but will help air everything out instead of stewing in your funk all night.
Apply Vapor Rub: Using a vapor rub, such as Vick’s Vaporub, is a great way to get the strong scent of eucalyptus and peppermint, to cover your smell. These items also attack the bacteria.
Don’t Forget Your Deodorant: You can use deodorant on the trail, but it isn’t a miracle cure.
Covering up the emanation that comes from your body during a long distance thru-hike is just not enough. If you simply cover up the smell, you aren’t doing anything for prevention.
Short of surgically removing your apocrine glands, cleaning your body is the best way to reduce the bacteria growth and hit reset on your smell. Here are a few tips for keeping clean.
Visit Town: Let’s say that you get a chance to hit the town after 120 miles on the trail. DO IT! You can bathe or shower, eat some great food and have great conversations.
Bathe Daily: You aren’t going to be able to take a shower, but you can wash daily with a bandana, backpacker’s cloth, or PackTowl. Just a dab of soapy water goes a long way.
Antibacterial Moist Towlettes: Baby Wipes, Moist Towlettes, or a name brand, such as Actionwipes or Yuni Beauty Shower Sheets, are great ways of wiping away extra dirt. You can buy antibacterial versions of these that will help control the odor, and disease, or even make your own.
Camping Showers: Many camping showers are on the market. Many use the sun to heat up the water while using gravity to provide some shower pressure.
Buckets of Soapy Water: REI has the Sea To Summit Foldable Bucket that will hold 10 liters of water and weighs 2.8 ounces.
Focus on Your Nether Regions: When cleaning, or wiping, you should focus on your groin, backside, feet, and armpits. You should also focus on your hands when you poo.
If you want to keep clean, and you want a bath or shower to do so, you could carry the following items.
Baking Soda Wash: Mix baking soda with a tiny amount of essential oils in order to clean yourself. It absolutely works, just rinse thoroughly. You can also brush your teeth with it.
Dr Bronner’s Soap: I use this at home even. It is a Castile (plant-based) soap. Bronner’s cleans in small quantities and like baking soda, can also be used to brush your teeth.
Sierra Dawn Camp Suds: Camp Suds is a biodegradable camping cleaner.
When you are above 12000 feet in elevation, water can become scarce, but there are ways to clean yourself.
Use Dry Deodorant: Keep half baking soda/half cornstarch (2/3 cornstarch for sensitive skin) with a couple drops of favorite oil. Shake on each use. Baking Soda will clean as well as deodorize.
N/R Labs No-Rinse Body Wash and Shampoo: This isn’t actually for a bath, but you can clean yourself when no water is available (such as high-altitude hiking).
Wipe with Alcohol: applying a small amount of Everclear, Rubbing Alcohol, or Hand Sanitizer to a cloth and wiping down will keep you pretty fresh.
Washing Your Clothing: You can use a 2-gallon ziplock bag, and place clothing, soap, and water for a shake and wash.
If possible rinse your clothing EVERY night (especially socks and underwear), even when you do not wash them. Then hang them up for airing out and drying.
You can also apply gold bond powder to your socks and underwear every day.
Daily Wear and Nightly Wear: You can have 2 sets of clothing, daily wear and nightly wear. The daily wear will get most of the funk, while the nightwear will be a nice change for when you are sleeping. Anytime you transition, you are naked, so why not clean your body at that time?
Take Care of Your Boots: Dry boots out every evening, and then overnight, you can place stockings filled with baking soda in them for freshness. You could also use talcum powder, or gold bond powder in your boots daily.
Keep Your Pack and Sleeping Bag Clean: Every Morning, the first thing you can do is turn your pack and sleeping bag inside out. Hang the sleeping bag to air out while you are doing your morning routine.
Fall into Every Spring You Cross: Don’t injure yourself, but if you decide to go for a dip, don’t do it naked. Instead, use this as an opportunity to rinse your clothes off as well.
Keeping dry will not only reduce bacteria growth but will also keep you from getting chafing and sores that could lead to infection.
Use Talcum Powder: Use talcum or gold bond to keep everything dry and reduce friction. Use on your groin, backside, feet, and armpits.
Always Dry Out Everything: Everything that touches your skin needs to be dried out at frequent intervals.
If you simply could not keep up with this exhausting list or decided that you prefer to go the sweaty, smelly route, just remember a few humorous things.
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