July 19, 2024

Dealing with Foot Odor on a Backpacking Trip

Whether you’re an experienced backpacker or new to multi-day hiking trips, dealing with foot odor can be an unpleasant nuisance. After miles of hiking with your feet confined to boots and socks all day, it’s no surprise that some pretty pungent smells can develop. Foot odor on the trail not only creates embarrassment when removing your shoes around others at camp, but it can also lead to blisters and other foot problems if too much moisture and bacteria builds up. Luckily, there are some effective ways to prevent and treat smelly feet while backpacking.

Start with Proper Foot Hygiene
Basic cleanliness goes a long way towards preventing foot odor on a backpacking trip. Be sure to thoroughly wash your feet with soap and water before hitting the trail. Use an anti-bacterial soap to kill germs and odors right off the bat. Bring a small travel-size bottle of soap just for washing your feet each night of your trip. Also let your feet air out as much as possible when sleeping in your tent at night and whenever you stop to take a break during the day. Switching to clean, dry socks daily is also key.

Choose Breathable hiking Socks and Boots
The most important gear for battling foot odor are your hiking socks and boots. Choose lightweight, breathable socks designed for hiking to wick moisture away from your feet. Always carry an extra pair so you can rotate each day. Make sure your hiking boots aren’t too tight, allowing space for your feet to breathe, and have moisture-wicking linings. Break boots in by wearing them frequently before your trip. New, stiff boots that rub on your feet will make them sweat more.

Use Antiperspirant and Foot Powder
Just like your underarms, applying antiperspirant to your feet can go a long way towards cutting down on sweat and odor. Find small travel sticks made specifically for feet and apply it thoroughly before hiking each morning. Reapply halfway through the day or anytime your feet get wet. Foot powder containing zinc oxide or baking soda also helps by absorbing moisture and inhibiting bacteria growth. Shake it into your socks and boots every morning.

Manage Blisters ASAP
Blisters from heat, friction or moisture provide the perfect environment for bacteria to grow, making them a common cause of foot odor on the trail. Always hike in properly broken-in boots and socks to avoid blisters in the first place. But if you feel any hotspots while hiking, address them right away before they turn into large blisters. Apply moleskin or blister bandages as soon as you notice trouble spots on your feet. Keeping your feet as dry and blister-free as possible will minimize unwanted odors.

Let Feet Air Out When Possible
Whenever you stop to take a break on the trail or make camp for the night, be sure to remove your socks and boots to allow your feet to air out. Alternate between wearing sandals or flip flops around camp to give your hiking boots and feet a break. And consider setting up a bucket or tub of water to soak your feet in at camp. The cool water feels great after a long day and can help remove bacteria. Don’t forget to thoroughly dry your feet afterwards.

Change Socks at Night
Rotating to a fresh pair of hiking socks each night after cleaning your feet helps minimize odor buildup. Consider packing a third pair reserved just for sleeping if you’ll be backpacking for multiple days. Be sure to fully air out your sweaty socks overnight so they’ll be fresh for the next day’s hike. Hanging them on your backpack or tent goes a long way towards keeping odors down inside your tent.

With preparation and diligent foot care on the trail, dealing with annoying foot odor doesn’t have to ruin your backpacking adventure. Employing this combination of hygiene, moisture management and anti-bacterial treatments will keep your feet smelling their freshest. Pay attention to your feet, and you can focus on enjoying the beautiful backcountry. Proper foot care is all part of the fun and challenge of backpacking off the beaten path.