Wednesday, June 13, 2018

How to look good in the woods

JUST KIDDING! Whose blog do you think you're reading anyway? During the course of my outdoors life, I've heard things like this:

"Whoa, you look like a volcano blew up in your face." (Actually, I had been cleaning fire pits, so perhaps this one was justified.)
"Where have you BEEN?"
"You look like you've been out a long time."
"You look a little rough from your travels."

Side note: do random strangers say things like this to men? I also once had a man say, "Stylish!" as I hiked past. I was wearing a sun shirt and a hiking skirt. Apparently hiking skirts have not made it to the Grand Canyon yet.

"Stylish" on the PCT in 2015.
Here's my advice: Don't worry about what you look like in the woods. Worry instead about how your senses are being dulled in the "real world." Don't believe me? Go out for a week. Walk back toward the trailhead. Guarantee you will be able to smell the laundry soap on day hiker clothes.; it wafts well in advance of their approach. If only a week in the wilderness allows you to smell this, what is happening to you every day in civilization?

Worry about how wilderness is vanishing in the world. How it's becoming no longer relevant to a whole generation. How attacks on it are shrinking our public lands.

As for me, I don't know what it is, but the minute I step on a trail I become a hot mess. Hair everywhere, scratches on my legs, dirty clothes. Do I care? Nope. I even found a hat that sums up my attitude.

In fact, I look remarkably similar on trail and off. Hmm...Above, the showered version...

After a week (100  miles) on trail
I found an article for women (of course) on how to look good while backpacking. Dry shampoo? Foundation? Um, nope. Ain't nobody got time for that! I have had hiking partners that will veer off trail for a shower. Me, I'd rather keep hiking and get a shower at the end. The contrast to ordinary life is what I crave. Why do the same things you do at home? Jumping in a lake (no soap!) is just as good.

So if you've somehow navigated here looking for wisdom on how to look put together while backpacking, sorry, this is not the place. My only advice is: Hats. Hats cover a multitude of sins. Clothes can be rinsed out, no need to carry a metric ton of them. Small gaiters are miracle workers in keeping your feet clean-ish. Sunscreen is the only "foundation" you need. One concession: I pack a tiny hairbrush, otherwise I'd end up with dreadlocks.

Guys, none of this probably matters to you. Looking like a mountain man is generally considered a good thing (I have seen guys who shave every day. Unclear on why).  However, baby wipes can be your friend (pack them out). 

There concludes my unhelpful advice on how to look good in the woods. Basically: I have no idea! How do some people sport white T-shirts that stay white? How do some people look like they stepped out of an REI catalog? For the love of everything holy, how do people manage to not sit in sap, get clawed by bushes, or face plant into poison ivy? You've got me. 
****Edit! As Jill pointed out, there are moments where hygiene must occur. Not only for your own sanity, but for your own health. Only you can decide when that is. But please! Do not do as some backpackers do and lather up and jump in the water. Yes even with biodegradable soap.


  1. During my Iditarod walk this past March, I went the longest I've ever gone without taking a shower, which is 8.5 days. Sure, I used wet-wipes every day, and changed my underwear every other day, but wore the same base layer.

    Based on observations over the years, I'd call my sense of smell well below average. I'm the person who never smells laundry soap or shampoo on others, and just shrugs when someone says "do you smell that?" But after day 8, I could no longer deal with my own shirt. For the last day I wore a mid-layer that was less comfortable and caused chafing, just so I wouldn't have to smell that wretched thing anymore. The rest of me probably wasn't much better, but that shirt, wow.

    The point I'm making is ... not all backcountry hygiene is vanity. ;-)

    1. True and I didn't mean to imply all hygiene should go out the window. I'll edit the post. I agree I have had some pretty bad shirts, the main reason I don't wear synthetic bade layers anymore.

    2. Base! Why can't I edit my response?

  2. I laughed at your addition to this post. My skin is so sensitive that I tend to maintain a fair level of hygiene on trips. I use a lot of wet wipes for this purpose. If I let myself stay coated in sunscreen/dust paste, salt, pollen, and bug spray, I will break out in awful rashes. The sensitive skin is also the reason I can't wear wool ... mildly allergic, and over time it becomes unbearable. So synthetics are all I can do.

    1. Bummer! My skin is like leather now after all of the abuse I have put it through. So I'm lucky in that way...I guess.

  3. Please oh please help me find the perfect hiking shirt. I have a terrible chemical reaction to synthetics but I haven't been able to find any merino wool that I can wear the long sleeve version in the summer let alone have it last a sufficient duration. The stench is truly unbearable. I need a solution! Invent that fabric :)

    1. Hmm...I love me a good sun shirt but I guess that's synthetic. I have a really lightweight wool long sleeve but I suspect it might be too hot in really warm temps. I'd like an alternative too!

  4. Ah, hats! I believe the same thing as you. The longer it's been since my last shower, the more I wear a hat!

    I clicked on this post right away because the title seemed so crazy for you. I'm glad to read that you really aren't giving out fashion tips for hikers ;)

    1. ha! All part of a strategy to drive up page views. Not really! I had just bought the Trail Hair hat and got inspired...

  5. re: Weather

    The Forecast Discussion link is on the left, below the Detailed Forecast text:

    But looking at them, it seems that your regular forecast is more "detailed" and the discussion less specific than what we have for Interior Alaska:

    I find if I at least scan it every day, even though I don't understand all the details, I start to get a better understanding of our weather patterns and how to interpret forecasts.

    They use the same link for the most current discussion, so it can be directly bookmarked.

    Years ago working summers on the Nez Perce, the forest dispatcher would read the special fire weather forecast over the 2-way radio system every day.

    The usual forecaster was very wordy, talking about occluded fronts and such. One day he added: Tonight, dark.

    Then went on as usual. The dispatcher was very serious and read it straight....


    PS: Here in Fairbanks I'm always amused when the forecast says: Tonight, sunny.

    1. Ha! That is funny!
      Thanks for the links. I'm fascinated by weather. In another life I would have been a meteorologist.

  6. I am terrible at hygiene while on trail. Seriously. Maybe wet ones every 4 days. Longest time without a shower: 10 days. Justin, on the other hand, went 24 days without a shower!!

    Also, this is a favorite comment from a stranger, although it was directed at Justin during one of our longer hikes when he lost weight: "You look like my brother when he was on crack cocaine."


Hello out there. If you liked this post, please leave a comment so I keep writing!