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

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

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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.

Itchy And Scratchy

Men who backpack are prime targets for fungi that thrive on unwashed, sweaty groins. An infection similar to ringworm and athlete’s foot, “jock itch” takes up residence in warm, wet, dark places. It’s highly contagious: One infected hiker can pass the fungus through casual contact, such as shaking hands after scratching himself. The problem can begin with a mild scaling in the groin area and progress to burning pain and intense itching. Infected skin may crack, blister, and smell.

Prevent and treat jock itch by keeping your nether regions clean and dry. Wear loose-fitting clothing, opting for boxers over briefs (or nothing at all). Apply over-the-counter antifungal lotions or sprays. Or, for unbearable itching, try a thin layer of 1 percent hydrocortisone cream.

A Painful Twist

A young guide we met on Mt. Rainier experienced an outdoorsman’s worst nightmare: He woke up to a twisted testis high on a mountain. The condition occurs when a testicle twists within the scrotum, cutting off the blood supply, causing excruciating pain, and threatening the life of this vital gland. Unfortunately, torsion of the testis can result from seemingly innocuous movements like rolling over in your sleeping bag or from physical strain, such as hoisting a heavy pack. Early symptoms include pain and a red, swollen scrotum. The testis may also appear slightly elevated on the affected side.

Treatment options in the field are limited, but pain medication such as ibuprofen and a cold compress may help. If rescue will be delayed for more than 24 hours, try to rotate the affected testicle back into position. Most testicles rotate inward, so rotate outward. If you must walk out, build an improvised jockstrap to elevate the scrotum and increase blood flow. And our friend on Rainier? His girlfriend reports he’s made a full recovery.

Balls Of Fire

If you’re a sexually active male, your epididymis-the first part of the excretory duct of each testis-may get inflamed now and then. Causes include prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate), urethritis (inflammation of the urethra), gonorrhea, syphilis, tuberculosis, and mumps. Symptoms tend to develop slowly over several days and include a painful, red, swollen scrotum as well as a fever. Take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen to reduce the fever and pain, and evacuate to a doctor for diagnosis and antibiotic treatment.