Should I Bring Deodorant Backpacking? | Hikers University

Minimalism is preferred but not essential when backpacking. This leaves many people questioning, “should I bring deodorant backpacking?”

When you backpack around the world or even your country, it is important to pack light. However, this does not mean that you can compromise on your hygiene. So, how do you stay clean and smell-free on the trail?

Contrary to what people believe, you should not bring deodorant backpacking. While it may get rid of bad odor, it has a sweet scent that attracts mosquitoes, bugs, and other, more dangerous wildlife animals. Therefore, it’s best to leave your fancy deodorant back at home.

Keep in mind that while everyone wants to stay clean, it is actually a relative term. When you backpack, you cannot expect to wear fresh underwear or shower every single day. You need to learn how to compromise and adopt a more relaxed version of hygiene.

Here, we will help you understand the basics of staying clean while backpacking, everything you need to know about deodorant, and alternative methods to maintain your hygiene. Stay tuned.

Table of contents


Should I Bring Deodorant Backpacking?

Deodorant does not fall on the list of necessary products you need when you go backpacking. You might find many arguments online shaming individuals who smell on the trail, but bringing a deodorant with you is not the smartest solution.

This is because you may use deodorant and think that the scent is not too strong. However, wildlife, especially bears and bugs smell your scent and find it easier to track you down. This makes you more prone to attacks, especially when you are least expecting them. You really do not want to put yourself and those around you at risk, do you?

However, don’t stress too much- after a couple of days, you will become used to your body’s natural odor. This will not bother you nor will it bother those around you as long as you keep yourself clean. This means regularly washing your armpits with some unscented soap and water.

Pests, Predators, and Deodorant

A huge part of backpacking and being on the trail is coming into contact with regional pests, such as insects. No one really wants to attract mosquitoes and other kinds of pests. However, unintentionally, many people end up doing exactly that and become a nuisance to the rest of the backpackers tagging along with them.

Based on research from the Cleveland Clinic, mosquitoes can spot you from a mile away because of the way you smell. Even though mosquitos are attracted to natural body odor, they are even more attracted to floral scents, especially those from deodorants. In fact, if you have used a strong lotion, you will find that soon, there will be a bunch of mosquitos swarming around you.

Now, we wish insects were the only problem, but unfortunately, bears are also attracted to strong scents. In fact, the American Bear Association found that bears have a stronger sense of smell than dogs. This means that, like mosquitoes, bears can smell you from miles away. Hence, when you travel into bear territory, your food should be kept safely away. We would also recommend paying particular attention to your personal hygiene products- it is important that you do not wear any deodorant.

If you are carrying any lotions or sanitizers that contain fragrance, wrap them up in double-layer plastic and put them in airtight containers. If possible, bring fragrance-free products on your trip instead. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Why Biodegradable Soap Should Be Used on Backpacking Trips

Have you ever noticed that when you wash your hands in the sink at home, the suds disappear down the drain? This does not happen in the woods. Instead, the phosphates present in soap cause algae to grow in streams and lakes. It is important that, as a backpacker, you do not destroy water sources. Hence, hikers are not recommended to use dish soap or regular soap, even to clean themselves.

Instead, a trick is to use biodegradable soap that is made from organic ingredients. These ingredients will not destroy the environment. However, even with these kinds of soaps, it is important that you use them when you are at least 200 feet from any natural source of water.

What is the Difference Between Fragrance-free and Unscented Deodorant?

You might be thinking that if you cannot bring scented deodorants when backpacking, what about unscented ones, or even better, fragrance-free ones? Is there a difference between the two?

Unscented hygiene products are those that do not come with any fragrance, artificial or natural. However, these products can definitely help you fight odor issues.

Fragrance-free products, on the other hand, are those that have a fragrance but the fragrance is not detectable. These products use ingredients with a slight fragrance that helps prevent odor for up to 24 hours. However, they do not use any preservatives or artificial fragrances and usually steer clear of aluminum chloralhydrate as well.

Using a deodorant without any strong fragrance might seem odd at first but we would recommend trying a couple of products before you take your trip to see what works best for you and your body. Of course, you can also completely forego using deodorant, regardless of whether it is unscented or fragrance-free. If your campsite does not have a shower facility, you can always use alternate methods of keeping yourself and staying odor-free.

Keep reading to find out how you can ensure that you do not smell bad when backpacking.

How to Keep Yourself Clean When Backpacking

If you want to clean your hands, you can easily use some sanitizer that contains alcohol to get rid of the germs. However, this process cannot be used to disinfect your body. You could try, but we guarantee that it would sting you, and you would be in a lot of pain.

After a day out backpacking, you might feel super sweaty and stinky. Here is what you can do rather than using deodorant:

Jump in a River or Lake

When you are exhausted and sweaty, jumping into the river can instantly refresh you. Moreover, it cleans your body of sweat and dirt, so you do not really need to use any deodorant.

However, we would recommend that you swim to the part of the river where other backpackers do not fish, use soap, camp, or collect water. These parts of the river are more prone to harboring bad bacteria that you do not want on your body. In fact, when you swim, it is easy to ingest the water, which is why you need to find an area that is clean.

Understand how Trail Showers Work

A trail shower is one of the most useful tricks hikers have used over the years to keep themselves clean. You can take a trail shower by taking off your clothes and using biodegradable clothes to wash. You can also make use of a washcloth or sponge. All you need are several liters of water, and you are good to go.

You should shower close to any streams, lakes, or ravines. The key is to avoid chafing and fungus, so it is important that you pay close attention to your feet, legs, groin, underarms, and of course, your face.

Use a Sponge to Bathe Yourself

When backpacking, you will not always find the ideal temperature for a bath. However, this does not give you an excuse to stay filthy. Instead, take a sponge bath.

All you have to do is take your clothes off, wet a camp towel or bandana with water and biodegradable soap, and start cleaning yourself. If nothing else is available, you can also use wet towelettes. A quick trick is to dehydrate them when you are home and simply rehydrate them whenever you want to use them on the trail.

Regardless of which method you use to clean yourself, make sure to use a microfiber towel to dry yourself. Make sure that this towel is quick-drying and light enough for you to carry everywhere.

How to Clean Your Feet, Armpits, and Private Parts

When you backpack, you lose track of how much you are walking. In fact, you are sweating so much, and your clothes keep rubbing against your body that chafing is a common problem that you and your fellow backpackers might face.

During this time, it is crucial to take care of your private parts. After all, you don’t want a nasty rash down there, do you? Here are some ways you can ensure that you are not too raw and red by the end of your little adventure:

Use Leaves to Dry Yourself Instead of Toilet Paper

When you use toilet paper, it is likely that there will be some residue left behind. However, using a leaf instead will ensure that you are super dry. In turn, this will help you avoid chafing.

Keep a Water Bottle Handy

You never know when you might have to use the bathroom, so keeping a squeezable water bottle for this task may be incredibly helpful. After all, everyone knows that when you are backpacking to different places, finding a bathroom can be incredibly difficult. However, cleaning yourself properly is important so that you do not experience chafing.

Your water bottle does not need to be too big- a four-ounce bottle will be sufficient. All you have to do is squeeze it so that you can clean yourself and wash your hands quickly. We would recommend squatting wide so that you do not get water on your clothes. Let yourself air dry for a bit, and that’s it. You’re good to go!

Switch Your Undergarments Every Day

Most backpackers only keep two to three pairs of undergarments that they can switch between every day. Of course, when you are on the trail, you will not get time to wash and clean your undergarments regularly.

However, by rotating undergarments, you can keep one pair out to wash and dry while you utilize the other one. On days when you do not have the time or resources, you can wear your underwear inside out.

Rotating your undergarments will ensure that you do not develop a bad odor as well. This practice will keep you smelling fresh and lower your need for deodorant at odd times.


When you are traveling from one place to another, your feet feel the brunt of your situation, especially since you will be on them most of the time. It is important to keep your feet clean so that you do not develop fungus and don’t get itchy.

Many people who experience stinky feet end up spraying their shoes with deodorant to get rid of the stench. However, since we have established that you should not bring deodorants when you go backpacking, you need to find an alternate solution.

The key to keeping your feet clean is changing your socks every day. Wash your feet whenever you can, and let them breathe when you are resting. This means taking off your shoes and socks and just relaxing.


Deodorant only helps attract insects, bugs, and worse, bears. However, we understand that no one wants to stink during their journey, so you should keep yourself clean with alternate methods.

Start by washing your armpits with biodegradable soap a couple of times a day. Learn to accept your body’s natural odor, and with time, you will be less bothered by it. Trust us, everyone backpacking with you will smell the same, so you have nothing to be conscious about.

Now that you know how to keep yourself clean and odor-free, start making backpacking plans, and don’t forget any of the tips you read about here!



Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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