Chafing. You know, that rash you get after a long sweaty hike. With every step your red, raw skin burns. It’s one of the most painful issues you can run into while hiking. The good news is with a little knowledge about how to stop chafing you can avoid it or at the very lest minimize its effects.
In this guide we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about chafing from its causes and how to stop it. We’ll also go over what to treat your burning rash and treat it on the trail.
Learn how to plan & prepare for your own overnight hiking adventure.
WHAT IS CHAFING?
Chafing is the result of a combination of bare skin, clothes, shoulder and hip straps, sweat and/or a heavy backpack. It’s an irritating, superficial skin injury caused by friction.
It happens after repeated rubbing of your skin against wet or sweat-soaked clothing or gear. This leads to a combination of redness, irritation and itching. Sometimes, after prolonged periods of rubbing, the wound can be deeper. This might result in bleeding and blistering…ouch!
You’re most likely to chafe in body areas that are in constant motion. Think butt cheeks, inner thighs and armpits. These body parts are particularly vulnerable because you have skin rubbing against more skin, with some clothing between. Other problem areas are feet, nipples and hips. Pretty much anywhere clothes or gear may rub against your skin.
Needless to say, everyone can do without chafing while hiking, especially on long-distance hikes. So, let’s take a look at how to stop chafing.
SIDE NOTE: Chafing is also a common nuisance when cycling. Chafing while cycling typically happens on the butt and is known as “saddle sores.” Ask any long-distance cyclist or professional road cyclist. If you’re planning a bicycle tour make sure to take the necessary steps to prevent saddle sores.
MULTI-DAY HIKING PACKING LIST
Don't forget important gear at home!
Print out this free hiking packing list to prepare for your next adventure.
* You will get weekly emails with practical hiking advice that complement the information contained in the packing list. You can always opt out of these emails.
7 TIPS ON HOW TO STOP CHAFING
Even though chafing might seem like a minor issue, it’s no joke. Sure, many hikers might be more inclined to worry about how to keep bears away or how to prevent blisters. However, chafing is a common condition. It’s also something that, once it happens, is quite hard to get rid of. So, you should make it a priority to learn and apply everything you can about how to stop chafing.
1. MAKE SURE YOUR CLOTHES AND GEAR FIT
One of the tips from Backpacker.com about how to prevent chafing is to ensure your clothes and outdoor gear fit you properly. Baggy shirts may wrinkle or fold, which can cause them to rub against your skin. Backpack straps that are too long might cause unwanted friction as well and can dig into your shoulders. Hiking boots that are too small will unquestionably do the same.
If you can feel some of your clothes or gear starts to rub against your skin, you can solve the problem by adding extra padding or foam. If your backpack straps start digging in try putting one of your layers in between your shoulders and the straps. Another good tips is to remove all the tags from your clothes to help reduce skin irritation.
2. DON’T WEAR COTTON
One of our top tips for beginner hikers is do not wear cotton in the outdoors. Why is that? Simply put, if cotton gets wet it takes a long time to dry. As Section Hiker says, it soaks up water and sweat and sticks to your skin. It is especially important not to wear cotton underwear. It would tear your butt and other delicate areas apart during long-distance hikes.
So what are the best fabrics to wear while hiking? Synthetic and wool clothing are great choices because they wick moisture away from your skin and they are quick drying.
To protect your inner thighs, you can also consider wearing leggings. We call this going “kiwi style” because the leggings with shorts on top is a favorite among hikers in New Zealand.
3. NEVER TUCK YOUR SHIRT IN YOUR PANTS/SHORTS
This tip applies to hiking in summer. Hikes on summer afternoons are typically sweaty. You don’t want that sweat to run down your back and into your underwear. This is precisely what would happen if you tuck your shirt in your hiking shorts or pants.
4. WASH YOURSELF REGULARLY
Keeping your body clean is one of the best things you can do on the trail to avoid chafing. Chafing is often caused by the salt in your sweat, which rubs against your skin. For obvious reasons, washing yourself on a regular basis helps prevent this. Focus on vulnerable body parts, such as armpits, butt and crotch.
If you’re not able to enjoy regular showers, swimming in a river or lake will do the trick just as well. You can also try wipes such as Trailblazer Outdoor Wipes.
Are you a lady hiker? Check out our female hygiene guide (Insert Link Female Hiking Guide) to learn more about what you can do to stay clean on the trail.
5. KEEP YOUR CLOTHES CLEAN
Aside from keeping your skin clean, it’s vital to wash your clothes as well. Cleaning clothes might seem like it’s common sense, but some people tend to neglect it.
Try to wash the sweat and dirt out of your clothes every night. At the very least, always make sure to have a clean set of clothes available. This can be a real challenge on the trail. So how do you wash clothes while hiking and camping? The Scrubba Wash Bag is a popular choice among long-distance hikers. Just put your clothes in with a bit of soap and water, shake it up and you’ll have clean clothes.
6. USE OINTMENTS OR POWDER TO KEEP YOUR SKIN DRY
You can also pro-actively treat sensitive areas while hiking. Ways to do this range from slopping on a lubricant to eliminate friction to powdering your skin to make it drier.
7. STAY HYDRATED
Drinking plenty of water will help minimize the salt concentration of sweat. Salt acts like sandpaper on the skin.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/michaeljung
3 STEPS TO TREAT CHAFING
Even if you apply all the tips on how to stop chafing above, you might still have the misfortune to experience this painful rash. Chafed skin should be treated, so don’t ignore it!
How can you treat chafing while on the trail? These three steps will make things more comfortable and help heal your wounds.
STEP 1: CLEAN AND DRY THE AFFECTED AREA
Runner’s World recommends cleaning the affected area immediately after you’re done hiking (or cycling or running). Wash the chafed area with lukewarm water and antibacterial soap. Then, dry the area by gently patting it. Do not rub it dry, as this might be quite painful.
STEP 2: APPLY LOTION AT NIGHT
Apply generous amounts of lotion or ointment to help your skin heal while you sleep. Stuff such as zinc oxide cream, coconut oil and Vaseline work quite well for this purpose.
There are also a few more unorthodox treatments. Those include applying udder ointment, which is used when milking cows. Horse ointment used to treat saddle sores on horses works on humans, too.
STEP 3: TAKE IT EASY
Chafed skin needs time to heal. So, take it easy before being active again. Continued rubbing will make it worse and could cause an infection.
Taking a full day off might not be possible on a multi-day hike. In this case, do your best to keep the area clean and lubricated. Take breaks often. Wash up with soap and water when you get to camp.