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May 2002

Healthy Hiking For Men: Preventing Jock Itch And Other Problems ‘Down There’

A wilderness guide to proper care and maintenance of the family jewels.

Hiking in the wilderness can bring out the “tough guy” in any man. We’re not afraid of grizzlies or raging rivers. We leap bottomless crevasses in a single bound and haul packs twice our weight. But there’s one thing that makes even the manliest man cower like a frightened puppy–a threat to the family jewels. When you’re deep in the backcountry, miles from medical care, the danger is doubled.

Here is a guide to treating the male hiker’s most common below-the-belt maladies, based on the advice of wilderness medicine experts. If you have a for-guys-only question we missed (sorry, we can’t cure snoring), write to us at

Don’t Be Rash

When skin-on-skin chafing leaves you wobbling bow-legged down the trail, put aside your foolish pride. According to dermatologist Vail Reese, M.D., chafing is caused by friction and exacerbated by the warm, sweaty, bacteria-friendly environment in your pants. Try one of the following treatments, all trail-tested by our freelance guinea pigs. If pain or discomfort persists for more than 2 days after your trip, see your doctor.

  • The bandanna harness. You’ll stop laughing as soon as you try it. Fold a bandanna into a band, hook the middle of the band under your genitals, lift up, and tuck the ends into the front of your waistband.
  • Powder. Baby powder or Zeasorb powder are always good for drying and temporary relief. Powder works best in the prevention stage and doesn’t last long in sweaty conditions.
  • Proper dress. Reduce friction by wearing boxer briefs or Lycra tights. Limit moisture build-up by choosing synthetic materials or shorts with built-in mesh briefs.
  • Lubrication. Dr. Reese recommends over-the-counter skin protectants such as A&D Ointment, Vaseline, or Preparation H cream. Apply every few hours during hiking.
  • Tape job (last resort!). Duct tape or medical tape can be used to cover both chafed surfaces. This may bring days of relief (if it sticks), but some tape adhesives can cause an allergic skin reaction. Then there’s always the excruciating prospect of removing tape from a sensitive, hairy patch of skin.
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