If you start doing multi-day hikes, long runs or multi-day cycling adventures, it is pretty much part of the deal: the noble art of smelling like a dumpster, l’eau de garbage, or in other words: embrace the stink.

It is part of traveling with an open mind, ’embrace the stink’. It is knowing that, yes, you would definately smell better when you would shower twice a day and get into new clothes. That, yes, look so much better if you would dress up every time. But that the best way to finish a multi-day trek with grace is not over-packing and -therefore- embracing the fact that you won’t be walking in clean clothes every day, that a shower is sometimes just luxury and that, yes, you will stink.

Embracing the stink versus hygiene

Don’t get me wrong. I love my fancy hotels from time to time. I love my regular wellness visits. And I need my daily shower when I’m at work and not on the trail.

And don’t get me wrong. I have a rigid daily hygiene routine on the trail consisting of multiple tooth brushing sessions, daily fresh ups, feet, leg and body check ups (I never spend so much time on cleaning and preparing my feet as I would do on the trail), etcetera.

But. Then there’s the reality of a multi-day hike.

Embracing the stink

The first time I would go out for hikes, many years ago, I was sure not to forget clothing items. That would mean that I would pack boxers for at least every day (and some spare). Same for my socks. I would pack clean pants, shirts, sweaters for each day. I would end up with 20kg backpacks. And that would mean that I would have heavy packs with clothing I would not have used after finishing the trail. Rookie mistakes.

Also, I would be cranky when there wouldn’t be a shower. Or if the shower would be broken. Or cold. Or dirty.

Rather than fighting this, it is better to accept it. Embrace the stink.
Accepting that I would smell bad anyway really liberated me.

Reality is that 2-3 hours into a GR20 climb, a hot and sweaty Japanese forest, a Laugavegur Icelandic snowstorm, or Arctic trail tundra, you will start smelling of sweat, blood and tears anyway. Better embrace it.

I came across the expression ’embrace the stink’ while watching vlogs and documentaries from thru-hikers, people who spend weeks and months thru-hiking (hiking the distance of large trails all at once) the US long distance trails like the Appalachian Trail (AT), Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) or Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Trail legends like Homemade Wanderlust and Darwin on the trail mention it multiple times in their video.

Embrace the stink practicalities

Over the years, I have refined my packing lists and that turned into the art of not bringing stuff (although I have a very long way to go to really get my ultra light packing badge). That means packing 2-3 boxers. 2 pants. 2 shirts. Maximum. And wash them on the trail and/or wear them till the smell is unbearable.

For me, personally, it means that I will try and hike with the same pants and shirts 3 days, underwear 2-3 days (I will have separate underwear for the nights). My sweater and other layers, I will wear the same for the full hike. If I go on long hikes, I will make sure to bring biodegradable washing soap with me and plan a washing moment (and some time for my clothes to dry).

I will try to have a full wash (either a shower, river or whatever) once every 2 days – depending on what is possible on the trail.

And like I said, I do have my rigid hygiene routines.

So …

Go. Embrace the stink. 

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