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December 2000

Backcountry Body Odor: What’s That Smell?

Body odor can get pretty bad on the trail. Here's how to make sure you never again hear the words, "What's That Smell?"

A Lofty Di-stink-tion

A survey of Backpacker staff, friends, and family revealed that former Rocky Mountain Editor Mark Jenkins (above) holds the dubious honor of going the longest without bathing-75 days.

According to Jenkins, who’s spent his longest unwashed periods in the Himalayas, “Your body reaches a state of stench equilibrium after about 3 weeks. You won’t smell any worse after 9 weeks in the wild than you do after 3.” And “as long as your comrades smell as bad as you do, no worries. It’s only when some sourpuss can’t take it anymore and decides to use a bar of soap that everything goes to hell.”

Avoid A Soiled Reputation

A wipe is all it takes.

Smelling like corpse hasn’t killed anyone-not that we know of, anyway-but there are some basic hygiene practices that Doc Forgey says health-minded hikers should follow. “Everything else,” he says, “you can pretty much let go.”

1. Clean those loins. Unscented baby wipes are the easiest way to stay clean, or designate a special bandanna to use with water.

2. Wash your feet. Actually, washing isn’t as important for avoiding stink and blisters as keeping your feet dry.

3. Brush your teeth. Your mouth is a haven for bacteria, and a few days spent without brushing leads not only to a serious case of doggie breath, but all sorts of dental problems.

4. Wash your hands. And do so religiously after every bowel movement and before food

preparation. Not only is this a smell-squelcher, it helps prevent the spread of disease.

5. Wash your wounds. Dirty skin isn’t okay when you cut yourself, because opportunistic organisms will jump into an open wound. Irrigate the wound with filtered water, clean it and the surrounding skin with antiseptic or soap, and then apply a sterile bandage.

Note: If you’re traveling abroad, especially to tropical climes, check with the World Health Organization (202-974-3000; for advice on hygiene practices.

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