Girl dancing in the mountains

Dude, you stink!


Whether you’re hiking, biking, climbing or rafting, if you adventuring hard for multiple days without access to a shower, you’ll build up the pong.

This indescribable smell clings to the trail-weary traveller. Is it the cumulative effect of the hundreds of miles they have put under their boots? Is it the bird that pooped in them? Perhaps it’s that green stuff they sat in a few miles back? Whatever that stench is, it seems to be an occupational hazard.

I’ll be honest: Sarah and I are both partial to building up quite a funk when we’re working hard. And because of that, we’ve had to work out a few tips and strategies to counter that noxious smell. So, no matter how much of a trail rat you turn into, we’ve got some advice we can share!

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Man cycling in hot climate
Working up a proper cycle funk

Why You Stink?

Your first reaction might be to blame your funkiness on accumulated sweat. That is not the case because sweat does not stink. What causes the bad smell is the concentration of bacteria breaking down proteins into acids. It accrues on your body, clothes, and footwear until you can no longer stand the smell of yourself. There’s some science for ya!

While it is difficult on the trail to combat this abominable backpacker syndrome, there are some steps you can take to become a less toxic presence to others.

Where You Stink

Adventure stink is not an issue confined to one or two areas like armpits or feet. It manifests in various regions of the body for different reasons.

1. Body Odour

Body odour is linked to the apocrine gland. These are glands in the skin located at the eyelids, armpits, ears, breasts, and genitals. In fact, they are human scent glands, and they are primarily responsible for body odour (now you know what to blame…).

2. Foot Odour

The other area that can become nasty on the trail is your feet. This can happen due to feet sweating and not getting enough air. Over long periods you can develop a fungus problem that does not smell good.

Merrell MQM Flex 2 Hiking Boots
The usual suspects

Steps to a Sweeter Smelling You

Step one – Hygiene

Certain places on your body will accumulate more bacteria than others—armpits, feet, belly button, behind the ears. Basically, areas that are not as readily exposed to air and light.

Here are a few tips to keep you smelling fresh as a daisy.

Make use of those water sources: Carry a bandana and some biodegradable soap. Use these to give yourself a quick wipe. Remember to pick a spot at a minimum of 55yards from the water source to avoid contaminating it for others. And, if you find a spot to swim, take advantage of it.

Always wash your hands: When mother nature calls, we all listen. You may not be near a water source or be able to spare the drinking water at the time. Carry hand sanitizer. It will do in a pinch.

Give your feet a break: Having your feet stuck in sweaty or wet shoes for long periods can be the beginning of a hard-to-cure problem. Foot fungus is no laughing matter. It can be the cause of uncomfortable itching or even infection.

Here are some ideas for keeping your feet healthy on the trail:

  • Bring a light pair of flip-flops to put on at the end of the day. This will help your feet air out and decrease your chance of developing a foot fungus or odour problem.
  • Clean and dry your feet well before bed; get between the toes. (Tip – pack a little vinegar or rubbing alcohol for this.)
  • Put aside a pair of socks just for sleeping in.

A few to explore later…

How to Get Started Hiking

Picking Wild Camping Spots Like a Pro

Different Types of Hikers You’ll Meet on the Trail

The Complete Bike Touring Packing List

Adventure Essentials & Planning Resources


Backpacker overlooking alpine lake
“Do I spy bathing potential?”

Step Two – Your Gear

Nowadays, you’ll find lots of odour-resistant clothing made specifically for athletes and outdoor enthusiasts. There are also antimicrobial items infused with minerals that absorb body odour.

Most importantly, you want to opt for breathable and loose-fitting baselayers which wick moisture away from your body and dry quickly. This is also important for your underwear, socks and potentially midlayers.

You’ll find lots of options for this from the likes of Cotswold Outdoors in the UK and REI in North America.

These gear tips can also help:

  • Dress for the seasons – make sure you don’t overdo your layers and be sure to wear summer hiking gear for warmer conditions.
  • Sleep at the right temperature – if you’re wrapped up tight in a sweaty sleeping bag and a hot tent, your body odour is going to suffer. Opt for a suitable sleeping bag and tent, depending on the time of year.
  • Don’t carry more than you need – any excess weight is going to make that trail harder and probably cause more sweating. Cutting down pack weight is a crucial backpacking tip!
  • Change your clothes out – if you’re on a multi-day trip, try and rotate your clothing so you don’t wear one item until the point of no return. Where one item for a few days and then switch. Even if it’s not possible to wash them, it’ll give them the chance to air.
  • Airing your garms – if you’re camping, you can leave dirty clothes on top of the tent to air. If you’re camping or bike touring, nobody is going to judge you strapping some pants to your backpack/pannier.
  • Be smart in hot weather – don’t go busting your balls in the middle of a hot day. Time your day so you’re working hardest in the morning or late afternoon when it’s cooler.
  • Make sure your gear is clean before you hit the trail – pretty obviously, there’s no point hitting the trail with clothes that are already funky.
  • If you get soaked, don’t leave your clothes to swamp out after – if your bag gets wet through, try and dry it out along with the contents. A damp bag can smell super bad!
  • Clean out your bag and compartmentalise – a filthy bag is going to make your clothes pong. You can also bring another bag to keep dirty clothes rather than throwing them in with the fresh stuff.

In Hot Weather: the adventure stink is much more common in summer conditions. You’ll find lots more tips in our Guide to Hiking in Hot Weather.

Man sleeping in a tent
Keep that tent ventilated!

Footwear

You never know what you might face along the trail, whether it is a day of rain or snow or just water crossings; the fact is that sometimes feet get wet. Making it a habit to dry out your footwear every day will help keep the nasty smells to a minimum.

Steps to drying out wet hikers – FAST

  • Remove soles and laces.
  • Dry out the interior with a super-absorbent shammy.
  • Pack hand warmers and stick them in your footwear overnight.
  • Dry out soles and laces by a campfire if possible. Careful not to burn them.

Some Final Funky Words

Staying clean in the wild may seem like an impossible task. It is also true that deodorants and the like can help with trail stench. But I think the best weapon is picking the right gear, having a little forward prep and adopting some of the tactics we mentioned when you’re on the road.

Here’s to some fresher adventures!

How to stop stinking on outdoor trips - adventure stink pin

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