An Inquiry Into Odor

Why do I smell so bad?

This is not a rhetorical question, pondering my spiritual stench as I hike by my lonesome. I literally wake up in my celibacy tent (No joke: I switched to my old one-woman tent and there’s not even enough space to move an arm from side to side!) and fly to open the rain fly because it smells a little like death inside. All I did was doze. My brand new sleeping bag (which I purchased on my phone in a frozen frenzy at the top of Glastenbury Mountain and now am truly regretting, as it hasn’t dropped below 65 at night in over two weeks) is putrid. I checked to see if Enlightened Equipment sent me a bootleg version with, like, a decaying mouse carcass inside, but it was me. What goes on?

I know: I’m hiking.

I have one set of hiking clothes, it was 89 degrees yesterday with 75% humidity, and has been hovering around there for the last few days. I’m doing physical activity on loop. A mild miasma is par for the trail.

But let’s be real: I’m just walking. Yeah, there are hills and shit, but according to Unofficial Studies, hiking is the number one past time of retired people – also know as The Elderly. It is not, as far as I know, so intense as to warrant a gas mask. Have you ever been in a bar in downtown Manhattan and gotten wet overhearing someone say: “I hike a lot”? No. Triathlons? Yes. MMA fighting? Fuck yes. Those are hardcore activities that evoke images of lithe human beings dripping with sweat, breaking records and ripping through their tight tank tops. Hiking? You think flowers, tweeting birds, the Sound of Fucking Music.

But the hills are alive with my rankness, and I need to know why.

Seriously – Why?

I’ve gone running back and forth over the George Washington Bridge – read: no shade, New Jersey, exhaust fumes – in the summer, and I didn’t smell like this. I’ve worked fifteen hour shifts in a restaurant in a muggy August haze, eaten calamari from strangers’ plates and inadvertently wiped the double-touched fish oil on my visage, and still been clean enough to touch parts with my boyfriend in a beer-fueled frenzy. Hell, I’ve probably spilled actual garbage on myself and not been so nasally offensive.

Is it the plastic food?

I know they say diet affects your personal stench, and I’ve definitely had rough, booze-soaked nights where I’ve woken up emanating well tequila and the faint odor of someone else’s vomit. But I essentially just eat various forms of processed salt and sugar – Ramen, Snickers, Fast Breaks, Knorrs Sides – and none of those foods have a significant scent. Seriously, if you can sniff out a Snickers, you have a food addiction and there are places that can help you.

Is it the occasional bag of Fritos? Am I a toned version of the pudgy, pimply kid in the back of the classroom who smells like corn chips and plays those dress up games? Is that me now?

But I don’t really smell like Fritos, not usually.

Now that I think about it…

Is it the vague aroma of urine that’s bothering me? Because I wipe with toilet paper a good 50% of the time, and I grab a wide leaf another 20%. Sure, I sometimes do a half-assed drip dry, squatting anxiously off the side of the trail, hoping that a Girl Scout troop doesn’t come traipsing up the hill. Is there a badge for catching thru-hikers mid-stream?

Side note: Can we address the fact that men constantly have a little bit of pee in their underwear? Why isn’t this something we’re working to remedy? Men should wipe.

The time frame of my fetid stench is also concerning. It’s not like I’ve been out hiking for a month without showering or going into town. I literally showered yesterday. I used shampoo! Conditioner! Shampoo as body wash! Imagine how disgusting supermarkets would be if fruit rotted in the same timespan that my body seems to be rotting? They’d get the strawberry delivery at 9 am, and the store would be on lockdown by midnight. Foul.

As I watch the sun rise over the Delaware Water Gap and I eat the most caloric Honey Bun I’ve found yet (700 cals), I can only do my best to breathe through the dough, averting nostril inhalations, channeling brighter time in the future when I’m on the uptown 1 train, there’s a drunk passed out in his own feces, and I’m not the grossest person in the place.

It will be December. It will be cold. It will be beautiful.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 6

  • Avatar
    Stan Stasiewicz : Sep 26th

    The urine smell of which you speak may indicate a lack or protein in your diet. Your body is literally consuming your muscle for want of protein and releasing the nitrogen. I seen this before in other posts where people talk of smelling like cat pee. Since you don’t go into details about your diet, this may be something to consider. If in fact your diet is low on protein, try adding some (lots) for a while and see if it makes a difference.

    Good luck and happy trails.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Rhinestone : Sep 26th

    Don’t worry about the smell, it’s probably just body parts that were liquidated earlier in the day. A great blog post on urine. Good funny stuff !!!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    TBR : Sep 26th

    I seem to recall that I smelled the worst (to my own judgment, anyway) a day or two after a town visit and shower.

    I also remember one hiker, whoa … he cleared out the shelter.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Jason P Dumke : Jun 17th

    you slept with bastien who is now layla, you slept with a he/she. lol

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Jason P Dumke : Jun 17th

    I have photos of him/her now via seth. [email protected]. yeah you ate that, you liked that, and now that is a woman #notreally. lol

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Jason P Dumke : Jun 17th

    Really, just let me send you the photos, you might like it.

    Reply

What Do You Think?