Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Managing Bad Odor

Rivers and other water sources could give one an opportunity to bath or wash.  Freezing water is sometimes a big challenge though so quick, spot-washing could do the trick. (pic: 2007. Hiking in Baksan valley, Caucasus Range).

If there’s something sure about someone who’s about to go on a long hike or climb – it’s that he/she will stink!  One may use an arsenal of preventive or masking solutions, but like a virus, our body’s smelly parts will find its smelly ways to be.. ahm.. smelled.  Unpleasant smell!

We are all ‘odor-programmed’ in different ways – some will have more issues with their underarms, or feet, hair, crotch or just any other body parts or areas that sweat or get dirty. 

What causes it?  Nature designed us to stink more than other animals.  I read from somewhere that the combination of our sweat, plus microbial organism using our skin ‘output’ creates this pungent odor.  This may be ‘appealing’ to our pre-historic hominid ancestors (that’s why they ‘invented’ it?), and of course to insects especially mosquitos; or maybe – a human adaptive capability to shoo away predators like the lowly skunk.  Rather, smelly skunk!   But in today’s society, we of course try to be at least tolerable, if not – attractive - to be more accepted, and physically and figuratively embraced in our modern civilized communities.  

Doing long hikes or climbs or other physical activities will definitely challenge our capability to stay good-smelling.  Long hikes and climbs dictates LOTS of sweat, on top of dried up sweat, sometimes with added external elements like mud or other organic and dirty substances.  Long trips also dictates re-use of soiled, smelly shirts, socks, gloves, bonnets, underwear – well everything we wear in the mountains!  It would be ideal to bring 30 fresh sets of wear for a month trip but practicality dictates otherwise.  If lucky, I’ll mostly have 3 sets, sometimes even just 2 for trips lasting 3-4weeks!  Laundry would be ideal, but sometimes inconvenient or not an opportunity.

Use of boots, waterproof shoes, layers of clothing – will definitely aid sweating, so the only question is how to combat the bad smell.  It’s obviously not advisable to prevent sweating altogether as this is a prime adaptive capability to regulate our body temperature.  Better stinky than dead!

So what are some ways (or at least my own suggestions) on how to manage this challenge…

1.     Use of Deodorant.  Obvious, but doesn’t always work.  There will be days that your deo will lose, defeated, humbled by your now-stronger ‘kili-kili’ power (underwarm odor).  I believe bad smell ‘can adapt’ like a virus mutating, so one best approach is to use 2 or 3 different brands (using different formula), and used them alternately.   Of course there will be days that bad smell is a bottom priority (ex. high-camps, summit day), so just let it be, but fix the problem once you’re back in a nice camp.  Just like some endurance athletes, I also tried using petroleum jelly (you read it right) but I personally didn’t like the ‘warming feeling’.  I do think it prevents sweating (which could be bad), maybe useful if one is super cold and wanted to keep the heat.  The only good side of it is that it prevents skin chafing. 

2.     Use of talcum powder.  I only use this in super cold, winter weather since talc doesn’t freeze.  Doesn’t even get cold.  Unlike liquids that is both heavy and ‘freezable’.  My use of neoprene for my bad knees adds to the nuisance smell.  Neoprene support, even those with wicking layers, doesn’t allow your skin to breathe and hence will keep all the heat, sweat and multiply the bad odor.  Use of talc can mask the bad smell, and smoothens the roughened skin.   I also use talc for my smelly feet.  Typical hiking with one layer of socks can already produce a heinous odor.  Imagine if your boots is plastic (non-breathable) and you’re using double layers of socks, the stink is tripled if not quadrupled!   The remedy is to pour generous amount of talc (or alcohol-cologne), then change to clean (or relatively clean) pairs of socks.  I normally dedicate a pair of ‘camp socks’ and just use it either for emergency or for the last days.   Cotton socks, although not ideal for hiking/climbing use, will be a good, permanent camp socks as it absorbs more odor as well as sweat that you produce during the night. 

3.     Alco-logne.  This used to be popular among youngish, maybe still used today.  It’s basically ‘flavored/fragrant alcohol’ albeit low in strength.  I find it useful to both clean and mask, if not kill, the bad smell.  It gets cold however if the temperature is freezing.   This one is very versatile, I’ve used this on tents, mattresses, sleeping bags, jackets, smelly feet or other skin parts (except anogenital and armpit areas).

4.     Clothing technique.  There was a time that I completely abandoned cotton-based wear in my climbs.  But I realized that they’re actually better for camp use.  Lately, I am even favouring a 50/50 cotton-poly for my trek shirts, a balance between wearing pure plastic (poly), and sweat-soaking, long-to-dry cotton wear.  When camped, I believe one should let his/her body clothed with something natural (i.e. cotton, wool, etc.) and let the skin breathe, let the sweat and odor be absorbed by clothing.  Poly wear ‘seems to absorb’ sweat, but plastic is really just that – a plastic that ‘pretends’ to be clothing.  It is still useful as quick-drying wear, but when resting – we can opt to use something natural. 

5.     Wet wipes.  Not practical for long trips, but 2 small packs reserved for critical uses should not harm.  What’s critical?   As poopoo wipes,  once in x-days “spot washing” (in this case, wet-wiping).  Spot washing means targeted area cleaning (the worst parts like armpits, crotch, feet or whatever other especially smelly parts of your body).

6.     Wash.  If lucky, long hikes or climbs may give you an opportunity to body wash in small streams, small pool of waters.  Even wash dirty clothes.  Just mind the eco impact.  A well-planned trip will determine if this is an opportunity, and if so, can be integrated in your hygiene plan.  A small biodegradable soap would be a nice add in the pack (ex. Ivory, Perla).  Use the soap both for bathing and washing, will save you space in the pack. Oh, and be careful with those hovering crows and ravens – they love (to eat) soap!

There could be other things that one might bring or do, but sometimes – it’s also about tolerance, a change in paradigm, and bigger focus in one’s objective.   Not minding the stink, or letting it ‘explode’ is at times liberating!   Just don’t let it distract you, or let your colleagues ‘suffer’ badly – and prioritize on the more basic needs….  Your safety, and your objective.  And just have fun along the way.  Yes, even if everybody is laughing on how bad you stink! 

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