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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 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 Diaper Rash 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 sunblock 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 your 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 lily 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:

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  1. william armstrong

    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


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

  3. 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…

    • Phillip
      Can’t agree more
      I use what my grand kids use
      I use it before I need it
      Great article
      Direct and to the point
      Da Breeze

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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

  8. 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.

    • I just did 80 miles in 3 days after a long lay off and the inner of my butt cheeks are proper baboon! Never experienced this before, same under armour shorts too.. I was wincing all the way home on 3rd day, wish I thought about the Vaseline which I had on me or had taken the butt shield by 2 toms which is very good apparently.. but just applied a whole bunch of sudocrem, zinc oxide to the rescue yet again.. instant relief! But lesson learnt, look after your ass!

  9. Christine Benton

    I always carry a small container of hand cream. Put some on your last swipe with your tp and you will stay clean and comfortable.

  10. I currently have Speedstick, but I just get something from the travel section at Walmart.

  11. I learned my lesson about the cotton underwear the hard way (multiple times…). Yeah the synthetics smell but they allow hiking to be pleasurable instead of torturous. I also use Anti Monkeybutt Powder to keep chafing down everywhere.

  12. Reading this after having forgot to use my normal crotch protection routine. Turns out I’ve been doing everything right but don’t know what the heck happened this morning. Boudreaux’s Butt Paste tonight for sure. Can’t say enough about petroleum jelly between the toes. About the safety issue. My mom has put it on her face at night for 60 plus years. She’s 82

  13. I have been wearing merino wool underwear for years, summer and winter. It also wicks sweat away. In addition, it doesn’t develop the stink that many synthetics do. When I hiked the AT in 1981, I had two wool bicyclists’ tee shirts. They were much heavier than the newer merino wool shirts. Not only did they make the whole trip, one of them lasted until it turned to lace a few years later.

  14. I guess I’ve been fortunate and never had any of these friction issues. But, I do hate getting funky so I have found using unscented Lume deodorant for private parts and merino underwear to work very well.

  15. I find that the design-cut, of the underwear to be critical. More so than material type, but NO cotton. This is a bit of a side topic, admittedly. Personally I don’t find a connection between underwear material type and monkey butt. It’s a random and perplexing problem and when it strikes the best thing to do is clean, clean and clean, and sit with your shining butt in glorious sunshine until it subsides. Don’t even think about taking another step until you have received approval from, down there. Personally I think that men have a more difficult time getting fit right than women. I’m not going to get into the complex 3D nature of our conundrums girls, don’t panic. Sadly I’ve never solved the problem but, no pun intended), think that I possibly can as there are many brands I’ve not tried. I see this as related as the design-cut has a huge impact on chaffing, sweat management, and critically, overall comfort.

  16. I have been using 2Toms, either Butt Shield or Blister Shield Wipes (work pretty much the same) for a couple of years now. I cut the wipes into quarters or sixths and put those in a small zip-lock in my poop kit. Use one for that last wipe and where the cheeks tend to come together. Works great and they stay good for at least a year in the baggie. As a bonus you can use them or other hot spots from pack-straps, shoes, etc. THey are a little expensive, about $0.35 per use (if in quarters) but worth it to me.

  17. Any comments on what is or is not odorless (for bear country)?

  18. My Son just asked what he could do about his chafed butt situation. He’s on his 2nd week of being a construction laborer. I found this conversation and I am thankful for it. Thank you!

  19. Zinc you say ? I always carry it but then again I always presuppose that I am carrying the first aid cure for myself and companions if I happen to have any or find a need with other hikers . Same reason I carry Narcan and EpiPens . Anyway , I am apparently not a chafer . Never have been . Then again I have never been so over weight than my parts rub against each other . Seriously ,, the shirt tuck or not tucked is a ventilation issue . Not a wet undies issue . Hike with it out unless “In” is needed for warmth . I have never worn anything other than my cotton briefs whether I am in the Grand Canyon for a week or trudging through the high peaks snow of the Northeast .

  20. RULE #9-> Never EVER wipe with hand sanitizer on yer TP ! (Don’t ask)
    But water on yer TP is good.

  21. Thanks for the article on an important but not-often-talked-about subject.

    I’m curious if you’ve ever tried using Vagisil for soothing existing chafe, and if so, how it compares w/ zinc oxide cream. I’ve used the former with good results but I’ve never tried the latter.

  22. Maybe rinse with water.

  23. Ah, good ‘ole monkey butt. I don’t suffer with the thigh chafe, but I have enjoyed MB on occassion. I agree that nightly cleansing is imperative for removing the dried sweat and salt crystals. I use a dose of Gold Bond medicated powder in the undercarriage area and between the cheeks before leaving and after cleansing, which helps to keep the moisture level down and both prevents and cures the problem. And it just feels good when it’s warm and humid. Well worth the weight. Being ever budget-conscious, I’ve found the 32-Degrees boxer briefs to offer both excellent value and performance, and unlike many others they have a fly. I wear them year round on all but the coldest days. Costco sells them – six pair for $27.

  24. Has anyone been using the bottle bidets to keep small parts and rectum clean? I have been seeing them in gear sites and reading about their use to reduce TP pollution. I am planning an extended bicycling trip. I haven’t had problems on other trips although this is another situation where chafing and saddle-sores can be a problem. I remove my bicycling shorts as soon as I can at the end of the day, wash and dry myself well, then put on baggy gym shorts Commando style. I save the underpants for off bike days. I also wash my clothes from the day unless it’s raining and there’s no place for stuff to dry. Then I air dry. I travel with 2 sets of bicycling kit.

    • After some trial and error, I’ve wound up with your exact post-ride and off bike day tour regimen.

      For the pre-ride, still using TP and wipes. They all seem to work, but I get “Dude Wipes” when available just because the name is funny. Of course the wipes have to be packed out, so maybe the bidet is worth a try.

      Follow up with a generous application of Body Glide Cycle. I honestly don’t know if there is any difference between blue, yellow, or pink Body Glide, but I dutifully use blue for hiking and running and yellow for biking. I’m obviously a slave to the marketing story.

  25. Thank you for this article and all the comments. I haven’t had much problem with this issue recently, but hope not to.
    I started using backpacking bidets a number of years ago, tried it out at home first and got hooked because they clean so much better than toilet paper. I highly recommend them! Take the time to figure them out before your trip. Lift the toilet seat.
    On trail a bidet can be used to rinse while conserving water. The Holey Hiker Backpacking bidets are my favorite brand.
    All the best, Scott

  26. Strangely enough, I have had the exact opposite experience with synthetic vs cotton underwear – I say strangely because I usually find the advice on this site very personally applicable. I did a two week hike in the UK with UnderArmour boxer jocks and had relentless butt cheek chafe. I also did a 4 day hike last fall where I started off wearing UnderArmour HeatGear leggings, worn without underwear, and abandoned them after 2 days with similar issues. I also found that longer inseam briefs don’t work for me in terms of preventing thigh chafe – they bunch up over the course of the day and actually seem to make things worse.

    I now wear Tommy John stretch cotton trunks with a very short inseam under nylon hiking pants and have no issues. I also do well wearing running shorts with a built-in liner, assuming that the liner isn’t super snug. I don’t have any valid science-based theories on why the advice above doesn’t work for me. My hunch is that tight-fitting synthetic underwear leads to more moisture retention and thus more butt chafe. My large thighs (25″) also seem to do best with a minimal # of layers around them. Different strokes I guess!

  27. I use a product called Skin slick which is a spray on lubricant in an aerosol can, I spray in the tightest of cracks (on my feet) and between my butt cheeks. No rub, no mess. small lightweight can which fits well in my pack. The can says it is waterproof and sweat proof.

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