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Chafing and How to Prevent It

Don't Tuck your Shirt into Your Pants in Hot Weather
Don’t Tuck your Shirt into Your Pants in Hot Weather

There’s nothing worse than chafing on a hike – chafing between your thighs or butt cheeks. It is absolute agony when you can’t stop because your schedule or a limited supply of food requires that you keep hiking.

Here are a few tips to prevent chafing or worst case, how to treat it, while you are hiking or backpacking.

Hiking Underwear

The most important way to prevent thigh chafing is to wear synthetic underwear that will not absorb moisture. This means NO COTTON underwear. Cotton absorbs your sweat when you hike and sticks to your skin. The seams of cotton underwear will then scrunch up between your thighs and rub your skin raw.

You should also avoid wearing underwear made of modal, rayon, viscose, tencel, lyocell and bamboo. All of these materials are made of wood fibers and behave very similarly to cotton when they get damp or wet. I don’t wear wool baselayers because they absorb too much sweat and are slow to dry, but YMMV.

I recommend that your hiking underwear have at least a 6″ long leg to protect the top of your thighs from friction. In cooler weather, wearing a 9″ long leg will also keep you warmer. I prefer Under Armour Mesh Boxer Jocks in hot weather and have never had any chafing while wearing them.

Pre-Treat Your Skin

Many hikers pre-treat their skin with an anti-friction lubricant like Body Glide which is a mixture of zinc oxide and antiperspirant. If you take this route you need to apply Body Glide before your skin is rubbed raw or else it will sting like hell when you apply it.

I prefer using generic zinc oxide because it is far less expensive and can be used for prevention as well as a cure. I also use it as sun block on my nose and ears. Zinc oxide is the white cream your mum used to put on your bum when you had diaper rash. It immediately soothes and protects raw areas and lubricates them. I carry a tube with me on every hike I take, in the same bag as my TP. You can also apply it before you go to sleep to help promote healing at night. It’s amazing!

Don’t Tuck in your Shirt

If you’re wearing a backpack in summer, you are going to be sweating. That sweat is going to drip down your back and soak your underwear if you tuck your hiking shirt into your pants. So don’t tuck your shirt into your hiking pants. This works very well. It also explains why I always look like such a slob in my summer hiking photos. :-)

Washing and Clean Clothes

This is common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to wash or rinse their nether regions if they’re on a backpacking trip.

  1. Rinse the salt off your skin at night. 
  2. Put on a clean pair of clothes – top and bottom – to sleep in at night – even if it’s hot.
  3. Rinse the salt and sweat out of your clothes every day. This is a good way to cool off in the heat too. If you wear thin synthetic clothing, it will dry off very quickly after you put it back on.

How do you prevent chafing?

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  1. I have been wearing ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxers. They’re a bit expensive, but keep me feeling cool and dry all day. I also splash a little unscented talcum powder into my underwear and shoes each morning.

  2. Amen! Chafing can make you a miserable little camper, instead of a happy little camper. I’m a huge fan of Body Glide! That Stuff has saved my butt more times then I can count.

    • I carry cotton balls soaked in vaseline as a fire starter, they also come in handy for butt chaffing best applied prior to hike, saved my butt too (lol) The vaseline keeps the skin from absorbing moisture it is also good for your feet before crossing a stream in cold water. My brother coats his body with vaseline puts his wet suit on and dives for lobsters in Maine. I never tried the body glide but will pick up some at REI next trip. Glad to know I’m not the only one too have this problem. I would feel awkward an embarrassed having to ask someone on the trail I don’t know a question like, What do you do for butt chaffing?

  3. I found body glide works, but it does give your clothing a rather peculiar smell after a bit (and peculiar after a week backpacking has to be pretty bad).

    I am very meticulous about cleanliness – always rinsing underclothes – and find that does the trick. Hiking with clean & damp beats hiking filthy.

    I wonder what people did before washing was routine – they must have either been awful. But then I suppose you could get used to it.

  4. Loin Cloth Solution (some details have been withheld to protect the innocent).
    I’ve been backpacking for over ten years and have never experienced chafing. That all changed this past June on a solo Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) thru-hike. It rained off and on for the first two days of the twelve day trek. The trail was overgrown in many sections and the wet undergrowth (often times shoulder high) further saturated my clothing. If I wasn’t wet from rain, I was wet from sweating with or without the rain poncho. Water was basically soaking through and down my pants to my socks, gators, and into my boots. Everything was soaked from heat to toe and would not dry in the hot humid Arkansas climate. I knew I was in trouble after my extra skivvies and socks were also soaked. On day three I began getting blisters and then chafing hit my privates created by the wet underwear and long days of hiking. I was ill prepared for a solution and thought I would have to abort the thru-hike. Since I never had chafing I did not carry any prevention. I used what I had – Carmex. That and a folded bandana helped to cushion the equipment until I made it to camp. The following day I went commando, which was a huge help to where I was hurting; although it created a frontal rubbing issue with the zipper that had to be addressed. A band aid was used to get through the day (I know, desperate times cause for desperate measures). Along with all this I was still battling blisters on my feet, which I rarely get. My final fix on the chafing, after three days, was to cut my UA underwear between the legs creating a “loin cloth.” This modification worked perfect for my situation (I was totally healed w/ the Carmex and the loin cloth). I continued down the trail with a few twenty mile days and completed the 165 mile thru-hike. I must say it is very interesting what you can come up with when you’re out in the backcountry.

  5. Good air circulation helps as well. It is why I have switched to a hiking kilt for most of my hiking now. (And before you ask, I wear the UA boxer briefs under the kilt)

  6. For the ladies: if you have plump thighs, the same solution works well. Men’s long boxer briefs in wicking fabrics worn under a skirt. Men’s undies are thinner, dry faster, and are much cheaper than women’s compression shorts. I use ex officio for longer hikes, but Target sells some that are only twelve bucks which work well for shorter hikes (the seams eventually give out on long treks). The front opening makes for easy use of a Freshette if you use one.

  7. Good topic, agree on your choices. Bag balm works well. I carry small tube of Vasoline lip balm in my TP bag. A few squirks works wonders.

  8. I’ve been section hiking for the past seven years and all I’ve ever worn were my bathing suits. I’ve never had chaffing problems. I use Columbia bathing shorts as they really don’t look like typical bathing suits and have lots of pockets. I also dislike anything that requires a belt that interferes with my pack belt. I always thought if the webbing in the bathing suit became a problem, I’d just cut it out. So no underwear to pack or worry about

  9. On longer trips I bring olive oil to add to whatever I’m cooking. That’s for the calories, but I find it also works wonders with areas that are chafing or sunburned. Extra virgin, of course. :-)

  10. I am a big fan of runner’s shorts that have the built in support like a bathing suit. Not only does this provide better circulation and support, but you can then go commando and save some weight!

  11. For thigh chafing, cut off nylons work well, too. Not just for us gals, a male backing friend told me this advise :-)

  12. Chaffing is a very miserable thing to go through. I love using Bandelettes, I wear them all the time. I wear them when I exercise, running, wearing short, and skirt. Bandelettes do a wonderful job preventing pain from chafing.

  13. I use Hüppo Powder Pocket. It is motion released powder that goes right into the fly pocket of your underwear. It lasts all day with no mess.

  14. Blue Steel Sports Anti-Chafe Cream is another excellent product, a direct competitor, I guess you’d say, to Body Glide. It makes sense to try both, I think, to see which you prefer. It comes in a tube; I purchase mine at my local bicycle & running store here in California. The label says it’s manufactured by Lee-Chem, in South Africa, and distributed by Carina Products, Redmond Washington

  15. also keep yourself well hydrated as dehydration is a big cause of chaffing in the first place.hydrated skin wont dry and cause friction

  16. I section hiked through Shenandoah last year and after 2 nights had severe thigh chafing due to sweaty, cotton underwear. On the third day I hiked with no undies, just air under my shorts. It worked so well, and felt so light and breezy, I threw away my undies altogether. I realize not wearing underpants isn’t for everyone, but it works great for me!

  17. In the Infantry I learned just not to wear underwear at all. There’s a reason they call it going commando.

  18. Definitly wash the salt off your skin and if no water is around to use, then use baby wipes (unscented). I also wear bike shorts under my hiking pants. I’ve been doing it for years and so far no chafing. My husband on the other hand is a different story, but he has more um “parts” down there to deal with! For that reason, I always have desitin and baby powder when we hike.

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