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How to Cure and Prevent Butt Chafing on Backpacking Trips

Butt Chafing on Backpacking Trips

There’s nothing worse than chafing on a hike or backpacking trip between your thighs or butt cheeks.  Often called monkey-butt or baboon ass, it is absolute agony and gets worse with every step you take.

Here are some trail-tested ways to prevent chafing and cure it quickly if you have the bad luck to experience it.

Hiking Underwear (No Cotton)

The most important way to prevent butt and thigh chafing is to wear synthetic underwear, compression shorts, or lined running shorts 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. Wool baselayers also absorb sweat and are slow to dry, but many people prefer them because they stink less than synthetic underwear when they accumulate sweat. On the other hand you can easily rinse out synthetic underwear and it will dry a lot faster than wool.

I recommend that your hiking underwear have at least a 6″ long leg to protect the top of your thighs from friction. That means no bikini underwear or thongs! 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. Never ever. Many people also like Ex Officio Give-N-Go Boxers, which are available for men and women.

Dermatone Mini Tin

Lubricate 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. Vaseline is also an inexpensive lifesaver and a great fire starter, too

Protect and Soothe Your Skin

If you’ve got the chafe, you need the cure. I think Zinc Oxide Ointment is by far the best treatment available for chafing. It’s the same white cream your mum used to put on your bum when you had diaper rash and is the active ingredient in Desitin, Anti-Monkey-Butt Cream, and Boudreaux’s Butt Paste Diaper Rash Ointment. If you put it on at bedtime (be sure to wear some underwear to avoid getting your sleeping bag/quilt dirty) it is a VERY EFFECTIVE cure, and immediately soothes and protects raw areas, healing most overnight. Zinc oxide is also the active ingredient in Dermatone Z-cote sun block and is easily carried in a little 0.5 oz tin. It doesn’t take much to make you feel better.

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 and will keep you crack drier.

Ventilated Backpacks

Using a ventilated backpack, one with a suspended mesh back, can also cut down on the amount of sweat dripping down you back. You’re still going to sweat, just not quite as much. See Top 10 Ventilated Backpacks, for some ideas about good ultralight and lightweight backpacks with mesh backs.

Polish That Hole

Make sure you clean your butthole carefully and completely after using the privy. It’s common sense, but you want your toilet paper to come back lilly white and clean after a deuce. Dried excrement can be a nasty skin irritant, especially when it’s mixed with your perspiration and constant friction. Yuck! Prevention is key.

Stay Clean

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.
  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 or cure it?

See also:

Written 2018.

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19 comments

  1. These are all great tips. For women, especially, it’s important to be careful with this stuff — hiking with a yeast infection is awkward and miserable. I carry a pair of loose-fitting (at least 1 size up) baselayer leggings for sleeping in, and wear those commando so that everything can dry out. If things are particularly swampy, it’s worth the weight of carrying feminine wipes (and packing them out) to use in the evenings.

    Also: do not fall for ultralight advice in this area. I’ve dine it; most of them are men and don’t realize that telling women to use rocks and leaves for wiping is setting women up for a miserable hike. I carry at least two extra pairs of underwear and turn them inside out to double the clean surfaces. Don’t wear dirty underwear if you can help it. Also: using pantyliners is not a good idea if you expect rain. They just won’t stick.

    • No doubt Birthday Girl!! When guys look at me funny for carrying wipes or extra gear to keep my vajayjay clean, I kindly ask if they’ve ever cared for one??
      Understand they are delicate and maintaining that delicate balance of ph levels is required. Not only do I clean that spot twice daily, or more if…required…with women’s wipes, I carry backup meds for UTI, which are not fun to walk to my couch with, and women’s vitamins that help balance those mentioned ph levels. AZO brand makes both, be sure to eat before consuming the UTI pills especially. I’m prone to these especially because of some of the meds I’m on. If you have to take a zero day to lay back and let that rest up, do it, you don’t want anything in your nether regions getting more irritated ?

  2. I carry and use a small, travel size stick antiperspirant for the nether regions. It’s like Bodyglide on steroids.

  3. nice to get good, clear, matter of fact experience based advice. after the LONG TRAIL end to end in 2017 with lots of mud and rain I cannot emphasize strongly enough daily cleansing of total body, special attention to feet and cleaning butt and genitals every use. I used a mix of alcohol and dr. bronners as an antiseptic/soap with good success and no irritation (folks had said it would dry/irritate). a light dusting of z-absorb powder after washing for the butt/crotch, clean sleeping shorts and a t shirt and it was pyschologically boosting as well. Bonnies Balm from Skurka applied to feet post wash and sleeping socks as final touch kept the contact patch with the ground that is so key in good shape, especially with constantly wet feet. it can also be used on any irritated skin. I kept 2 small pieces of bamboo cloth for soap and rinse wipes and a small mircofiber towel in separate baggies for the sponge baths. i do carry zinc oxide in first aid kit as a back up but never needed it. Since sun on summit day on Ranier, even with precaustions, I have been susceptible to lip inflammation from sun and zinc oxide is the prevention/treatment. also a little vasoline in emergency kit with a couple of cotton balls privides fire starter and also can be used for first aid and weighs an ounce. After first week using under armor and pants, (ticks proved non issue) I switched to shorts with mesh liner. also an ultralite silk sleeping bag liner is effective in keeping sleeping bag cleaner. I hope the same stategy will be as successful this summer when I celebrate being 73 on the Colorado Trail!
    keep up the generous and veru useful sharing of your experience

    bill

    • Just packed my Vaseline fire starter. So many uses. Great lubricant protectant for feet too. Cheap and easy to resupply.

      • Just so folks are aware, there’s a plant-based alternative to petroleum-based jelly products. There can be some health concerns with the stuff.

        See: www (dot) huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/21/vaseline-petroleum-jelly_n_4136226.html
        (Petroleum Jelly May Not Be As Harmless As You Think)

      • Petroleum jelly is neither hazardous, nor dangerous to human health. Unfortunately, it appears that Nick has been had by the sort of shenanigans that so many “journalists” love to pull on readers these days — the sorts of shenanigans that HuffPo is notorious for, unfortunately.

        The only sources in that article are, at best, dubious. Dr. Dattner’s website promotes the standard spectrum of pseudomedicine nonsense, and while that does not mean he can’t be right about that, that, or the other, it *does* mean that any assertions he makes need to be thoroughly confirmed with multiple outside sources before they are accepted. And the other source is not authoritative in any way; she’s a markup artist, not a scientist or medical researcher.

        Further, if one reads the article critically, they’ll see that it is an alarmist piece that adds up to nothing. For example, they note that production of petroleum jelly *removes* toxic/carcinogenic compounds. Removes. Why should one be concerned that something harmful that *used to be there* has been removed? By definition, this should ease concerns, not promote them! The good doctor goes on to say “there probably are” things that *might* be harmful out there, and if you use them, you might have health problems. Sure; unhealthy things are unhealthy. No argument there. But what does that have to do with petroleum jelly? And so on, and so forth.

        Petroleum jelly is a GRAS (“generally recognized as safe”) product, a status that reflects the consensus of experts in the relevant fields. Could it cause/exacerbate/confound some health conditions? Sure, so could every other substance you might examine. But until there is high-quality evidence that petroleum jelly is harmful — evidence that can overturn the decades and decades worth of data attesting to the substance’s safety — is is unreasonable and illogical to regard it with suspicion.

        If you are afraid of petroleum jelly, you literally have no good reason to do so.

    • Wow 73! I am just getting back into backpacking after doing so when I was in college 1971-77. When I had five children and three jobs to support them the backpacking was over. Now that I am 65 I am near retirement and with only two jobs, I plan on hiking and backpacking again. I have kept myself in good shape with weight training and officiating high school basketball (running up and down the court) so I am not particularly worried about health. I do have osteoarthritis in my knees from aging (normal wear and tear). Your age and activity has renewed my will to challenge myself. THANKS YOU ARE THE MAN!!
      Jake

      • At 82 when he finished, Dale Sanders (Graybeard) was the oldest person to have hiked the whole AT last year. I met some through hikers around Garfield Ridge in New Hampshire last September who told a few stories about him.

        I think the oldest women to do it was 71 or 72 a couple of years ago. I was surfing the You Tubes recently, and there’s a new crop of through-hikers who have just started out from Georgia in the last month or so. One duo of thirty-something (i think) women, Wheezie and Duck, met 87-year-old Pappy, who was setting out last month.

        With not quite enough training, at 63, i managed to hike a winter overnight with a 50-pound-ish pack in January. I’ll try to get in better shape for next winter and get out more. Three-season is less challenging, since pack weight doesn’t suffer under all the extra crap you have to schlep for winter. Fortunately, : : : knocking on wood : : : i’ve managed to avoid any chronic or debilitating joint problems.

        Hike on, fellow geezers!

  4. I have had good luck with merino blend underwear.

  5. Another vote for Body Glide. I bought it for long runs but the stuff lasts forever and is ideal for preventing chaffing around the cheeks and thighs. Much better to prevent then to cure…

  6. Also for daily clean-ups and #2, I use these “dehydrated” towelettes.

    https://www.amazon.com/Towel-Durable-Tube-Packaging-Pieces/dp/B005JWQY40

    They are the size of a quarter, stacked three high. Add a drop of soap and then some water and they are perfect for wiping down feet, butts, and anything else. VERY light and convenient.

  7. I would recommend people buy Gold Bond Friction Defense over Body Glide, because it is much cheaper and readily available in drug stores. But personally, I love Lanacane Anti Friction Gel, which is also available at drug stores. This is a superior product to glide sticks, but it obviously involves using your fingers to apply so it’s not as desirable on the trail. I like to apply Lanacane before a hike all over my feet and sometimes the nether regions, and I’ll take both a glide stick and the Lanacane in my pack.

  8. Great article !!

    • I use disposable baby wipes in addition to normal TP and this has worked great for me. I usually dry them out before to minimize extra weight, and just add water when I’m at camp when I’ve backpacked in a ways.

  9. Trail maintainers have to clean out any non-compostable material from composting privies along the trail. Most body wipes DO NOT DECOMPOSE! Only TP will decompose. So it’s all right to leave the TP but please pack out your wipes (unless they are compostable) and everything else. Thanks from a maintainer.

  10. If you’re in the UK, a Compeed dry lubricant stick is very effective. It’s made for feet but works very well to prevent butt and thigh chafing.

  11. I always put zinc oxide on before leaving as a preventative measure and I never have a problem.

  12. If you’re after something like body glide, I suggest looking at their body glide ‘sun’ (same container, but yellow). It’s basically the same indredients (I checked) but includes SPF 30 Protection. The main reason I use it now is because it’s about half the price of normal stuff in the UK!
    Another good one is Luub (made by the wetsuit brand Huub). It’s similar price and performance to traditional body glide.

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