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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?"

Aromatic Gear

Some manufacturers want to clear the air around stinky backpackers with products that don’t hold nasty aromas as tightly as typical synthetics do. Here are some products we’ve tested that have proved less odiferous.


  • The “Socks With Sole” field test (September 1999) proved that good ol’ wool socks ($9-20) stand up to stink better than the average synthetic.
  • Our editors have worn the Fox River X-Static Liner Socks ($10.50) for hundreds of days without raising a stink (“Editors’ Choice ’99,” April 1999). Fox River, (800) 247-1815; www.foxrivermills. com. Reader service #135.


  • When antimicrobial fabrics made specifically to ward off stink were put to the test, Mountain Hardwear’s ZeO2 underwear ($32-52) came up smelling nearly like roses (Outfitting, February 1998). Mountain Hardwear, (800) 953-8375; Reader service #136.
  • That SmartWool’s Next-To-SkinWear long johns ($60-74) should receive a 1999 Editors’ Choice Award became oh-so-clear when one stinky editor remarked “I couldn’t get them to smell half as bad as synthetic longies I’ve worn” (“Editors’ Choice ’99,” April 1999). SmartWool, (970) 879-2913; Reader service #137.


  • The North Face Performance Crew ($45), REI Cross-Training T-Shirt ($30), and Terramar EC2 Qwik-Dri Short-Sleeve T-Shirt ($19) earned the highest scores in the odor-control category of “The Great T-Shirt Test” (May 2000). The North Face, (800) 447-2333; REI, (800) 426-4840; Reader service #138. Terramar Sports, (800) 468-7455; www.terramar
  • The Pearl Izumi X-Sensor Short-Sleeve Crew ($50) is a wash-and-wear-and-wear-and-wear no-stink shirt (see for a review). Pearl Izumi, (800) 328-8488; www.

Deodorants For Trail Hounds

Who needs Right Guard when there’s ginger?

Once you’ve bathed, you can keep odor from returning (at least for a short while). Some suggestions:

  • Dust talcum powder on your usually sweaty spots to help you stay dry.
  • A squirt of lemon juice hides just about any scent.
  • Baking soda or corn starch dabbed under your arms acts as a natural deodorizer.
  • Patchouli oil’s distinctive scent overpowers the worst body odor.
  • Popular deodorants are available in tiny travel sizes at your grocery or drug store. Opt for the unscented ones.
  • Fresh ginger is a popular Vietnamese remedy for B.O. Chop fresh ginger and place it in

    a cloth. Squeeze the cloth to extract as much liquid as possible and apply.

  • Freesole Sport Fresh. This new “all-natural odor eliminator” comes in a pump bottle. Simply squirt clothes and body. It may sound too good to be true, but field testing by a few ripe Backpacker editors found that while the funk was by no means completely eliminated, Sport Fresh did take the edge off stinky armpits and clothes. The company won’t divulge the magic ingredients, but will say it’s organic. Price: $3.95, 2-ounce bottle. Contact: McNett, (360) 671-2227;

A word of caution: Avoid smelly stuff in bear country. It’s far better to smell bad than to smell like dinner.

Berne Broudy contributed to this story.

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