If you’ve ever been on a hike for more than a couple days, you’re familiar with the smells that start to emerge. If you have been on the trail for longer than that, you might identify with some of the “advanced” smells. For those of us that don’t carry heavy items like deodorant or body wash, these tend get even stronger.
Personally I love that “Hiker Trash smell”… up to a point. I look forward to it whenever I start a hike. Maybe it’s a hard work reward type thing or something, I don’t know. I’ve had discussions with other hikers that have said the same thing. Especially when they have been off trail for a long time, they tend to miss that scent. I’ll be the first to admit however, it can definitely get overpowering and isn’t fun anymore.
So here are what we have come up with as the 6 stages of stank! Individual stank timelines may vary, depending on your fitness level, body type, as well as where and when you are hiking.
STAGE 1: Innocence
You dont notice it, but others around you are starting to catch a whiff of something. You might see the double-take when you are around others, and someone might ask “do you smell that?” This is just the beginning. You’re not even considering a shower yet; in fact you might even have had a shower last night or this morning before your hike!
STAGE 2: “I think that’s me”
Now you’re starting to notice your smell. This is beyond just catching a whiff, this where you are consistently smelling yourself. You may still have a little self-denial at this point. You may tell yourself “it’s not bad”. In the morning when you change out of your sleeping clothes back into your hiking clothes, you definitely catch a little funk!
STAGE 3: The intermediate stage
Stage 3 is where you can’t deny it anymore. You stink. You even gag yourself a little when you open your sleeping bag or take off your shoes. You’re starting to think ahead about where your next opportunity to take shower may be. You’re not at the point yet where you’re eyeballing freezing cold creeks yet, but you might be planning to look up a shower spot at the next town.
STAGE 4: Blissful ignorance
At this point you aren’t even smelling yourself anymore. You’ve become immune to it. The olfactory fatigue has officially set in and it’s just part of life for you now. You may even be thinking “shoot I thought I stunk before, but I don’t really smell anything anymore!” Have you heard of paradoxical undressing? It’s something that happens to people in extreme hypothermia. They are freezing to death, but their body is telling them they’re not at all! In fact, it’s telling them that they’re hot, and they start to shed layers. I may be off, but I think at stage 4 it can be equitable Maybe?
STAGE 5: Public avoidance
Okay now you can definitely smell it. In fact you are offending yourself at this point. It’s so bad that sometimes you hold your breath when you change clothes or go to the bathroom because it’s just that bad. You might even be nervous or fell bad if you have to be around non-hiker trash… At the same time you might chuckle a little when you pass day-hikers on the trail because you know you just crop dusted them with your “essence”. If you hitch hike with someone you might warn them about your smell before you get in the car, or apologize after you do. You’re probably considering that cold creek at this point…
STAGE 6: Terminal stage
This is it. It’s so bad that you begin to plan your movements and actions around others. You may rethink standing in line with people because you don’t want to gag them. When you are in a restaurant you might even plan a walking route around the table that has the nice family, as not to make them upchuck their burgers. All you can think about is where to score a shower and do laundry. As seen in the picture above, you’ll even go spend a stupid amount of money on full sized bottles of soap just so you can feel clean.
Don’t be surprised if you get refused a hotel room at this point… Not joking- it happens!
Some people might disagree with the parts where I say you might gross yourself out, or worry about offending others. I’ve ran into other hikers that were doing a challenge to see just how long they can go without showering. I understand that they are just having fun, but in my humble opinion it’s just unsafe and rude to others. As much fun as it is to be dirty and smelly, you don’t want to get to the point where you get yourself or others sick.
I keep a small pack of wet wipes in my bag for when you get to the point where you just can’t stand it anymore. The wipes that are made of pretty much all water are the best, the others seem to leave a sort of slimy feeling. Just don’t forget to pack them out with you! Personally I don’t bury them, as I’m not sure how they biodegrade. your best bet is just to put them into your trash bag and take them to your next town stop.
Now get out there and stank!