Despite what instagram wants you to think, thru hiking the Appalachian Trail isn’t all gorgeous vistas, sexy hikers, and smiles. It’s also blisters, bruises, cuts, and eating terribly. And as far as I’m concerned, the worst part of hiking the trail (besides having to go home at the end) is chafing. On the trail we try to sugarcoat its crappiness by giving it fun names like monkey butt or pack rash, but when it comes down to it, it’s friction against your skin that causes it to rash up and get crazy sensitive and makes you want to stop moving, which can really put a damper on your mileage.
And because of that, I have determined the most important and under-appreciated item that should be in all hikers’ backpacks is: A chafe stick. There are a few different types that I have seen on trail and all are effective, but the two most prominent ones are Body Glide and Gold Bond Friction Stick. In short, the chafe stick is just a stick of gel that resembles a stick of deodorant. When you rub it on irritated skin, the gel acts as a lubricant that eases the friction and allows the rash to cool off.
All hikers are different, and not everyone gets slammed by the chafe hammer. It took me about 450 miles before I chafed at all. But when it hit, it wasn’t fun. It was a very rainy night at Vandeventer Shelter and instead of setting up camp the next night, I decided to hike 33 miles into Damascus and spend the night in town. It was a long, damp day and my body was really feeling it after 20 miles. And right around 30 miles I got hit by the chafe bomb. Monkey butt. I was walking with my hands holding my butt cheeks apart to stop the pain. All I had on me was gold bond powder, but is almost totally ineffective because it was such a wet day. Eventually Mountain Goat gifted me an unused chafe stick he had been carrying (I was actually the once who convinced him to keep it a week earlier). It was like an angel came down and kissed my butt cheeks. Almost instantaneously the friction was gone. And as soon as my skin cooled down, I was walking like nothing had happened.
I also used the chafe stick for my pack rash. Occasionally when my shoulders are hurting I’ll displace extra weight on to my hips, and that really takes a toll on my skin. It almost always starts irritating and I have to keep shifting my hip belt around. Especially when I don’t pull my pants up enough and the hip belt has my pants’ belt loops pressed up against my hips. But one rub of the chafe stick almost always soothes the pain right away.
Even if you haven’t been a victim of chafe, it is always good to be prepared. Say you get hit by a branch while hiking and have to favor that shoulder a little bit. The change in your body movement will change up all of your normal skin contact points. So maybe you don’t normally get affected by chafe, but now BAM you’re hours away from the pharmacy and are rubbing your thighs raw. It only weights about 3 ounces – keep it in your pack.
Now for the not so nice part of the chafe stick. If you haven’t connected the dots for yourself, I’ll do it for you. That stick just got up close and personal with my dirty butt. And then I’ll go and rub it on my hips. The only suggestion I have for you to keep the stinky stick the least bit clean is to rub it on a leaf after you’re done using it. And make sure you wash the irritated skin at the end of the day (you should be doing this even if you don’t have a chafe stick). But the pros definitely outweigh the cons in this instance.
Just don’t share it with anyone.