Is “stink” from sweating while backpacking bad?

A common complaint and an ever-ending search for many backpackers is the elusive clothing that will minimize body odor.



For many species body odor is an evolutionary survival mechanism, and many scientists believe this is also true for humans. Unlike my dog, who pants to stay cool in warm weather, humans sweat to keep cool by evaporation. Sweating produces more body odor than sitting at rest in a temperature of, let’s say, 78F.

Should you join the search for clothing that minimizes body odor? Should you constantly purchase the latest and greatest piece of clothing that miraculously won’t stink after a week in the backcountry, or would your time spent for the Great Search be better spent on more productive ventures, not to mention the money saved by using what you already own?

It is estimated that we spend over $16 billion a year on antiperspirants and deodorants; products designed to prevent or mask a natural body function. Why do we do this? Mostly because we are controlled by deordorant manufacturers and their Madison Avenue advertising partners. The advertising companies are creating a need for a product to solve a problem that does not exist, and consumers accept the need and spend their money on the product. Marketing genius!

Most backpackers who have a focus on lightweight gear aren’t willing to lug around the extra weight of a container of deodorant, but apparently they are willing to spend a lot of money for clothing that might miraculously reduce or eliminate body odor. Really, spend $80 on a shirt or base layer that might reduce odor; odor that really shouldn’t be considered a problem, especially when you have several shirts or base layers in your closet that will work to keep you warm and dry in cold weather, or others that will keep you cool in hot weather?

If body odor is a problem, the we can probably deduce that it is a social problem. If someone tells you, you stink, then perhaps it is their problem not yours. That seems like a rational conclusion to me. Actually, it is almost a universal fact.


I have been married nearly 40 years. My current marriage is my second. When one is married, a man quickly learns that any problem your wife perceives or has will become your problem. If you come home from a backpacking trip and your wife thinks you stink, then you indeed do stink, and if she thinks your body odor is a problem, then it becomes your problem.

Consider what happened earlier this summer when I spent several days in the desert wearing the same pair of shorts. Of course in triple digit weather, you will sweat — you will sweat a lot. Even if you are sitting in the shade you will sweat. And any clothes you wear will absorb the salt and mineral deposits that are left behind as the sweat evaporates. These along with other biological factors will result in body odor. Now a man might be proud of this fact. I was pretty doggone proud that my salt encased shorts could literally stand up on their own


But to a wife this is a problem. The first problem is the perceived problem. Second problem is the washing machine, which has been purchased with community money and is perceived as hers by her. And she doesn’t want you to wash really dirty backpacking clothes in her washing machine. Another problem you may find is the desire of the wife for the husband to discard dirty backpacking clothing, which has performed and will continue to perform well in the future, into the trash — and we often are not talking about the trash can in the house, but the outdoor trash can. If your wife has a truly serious problem with your stinky clothes, she might encourage you to take your high performance clothing to a certified hazardous waste facility.

So here are the two most important theorems to a happy marriage for your consideration

  1. Your wife’s problems become your problem by default
  2. Happy Wife = Happy Life


Don’t waste your time and money searching for clothing that will eliminate stink. Stinky clothing isn’t a problem.

Concentrate on clothing that will keep you warm and dry in cold weather, and clothing that will help keep you cool in hot weather.

If someone thinks your backpacking clothes stink, it is their problem not yours.

If your wife thinks your backpacking clothes stink, they do and you have a problem that only you alone can solve.


You only need a solution if your wife thinks you stink. Best method, which I have practiced for many years is to simply throw any offending clothes into the outside trash can if it makes your wife happy. When she leaves the house, retrieve the clothing from the trash, wash them in her washing machine, and then dry them. You should use her dryer if it will not damage the clothing. Fold the dried items and store. She will not notice if you kept an item. Wives don’t pay attention to a man’s clothing at all, unless the husband wears something she thinks is unacceptable. For example, my wife thinks that Patagonia Baggie shorts, a white cotton T-shirt and Chaco flip-flops are inappropriate for weddings or funerals. She is wrong, but life is better if you just get out that black suit and tie and make her happy.

Note: I have never created an ecological disaster by washing my backpacking clothes in her washer, and no animals have ever been harmed by said washing.


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