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Hello All -
As promised in an earlier message, the following is a reprint of an
explanation of "airwashing" that I made to Joanne as part of a lengthy
message ("Re: Shoe Size", 25 Oct). Now that I am getting it out where
folks can see it, I would be interested in experiences others have had with
>Could you please elaborate on the "airwashing" for those of us who have
>stinky feet hovering menacingly in the background.
I started thinking about the need for a soapless personal hygiene system
when I became a born-again "Leave No Trace" fanatic <g>. I am NOT a fan
(major understatement here!) of the stink of unwashed humans (sweat is
fine, it's when it starts to rot that I start gagging...). A couple of
fellow AT southbounders were so careless about keeping clean that they
would run us out of the shelter when they took their boots off and heaven
help us if they wore their rain gear up a steep hill on a hot rainy day.
Thick socks take forever to dry on the AT, so it became obvious that
constant rinsing wasn't going to work all that well. Finally worked out
the "airwashing" system of soapless personal hygiene for myself.
First, I wear ZERO items of cotton clothing on the trail (cotton
kills...AND cotton stinks!). My short pants and long-sleeve shirt are made
of 100% supplex nylon and I use Thorlo "Trekking" socks (that's all that I
use for a first layer...the outer layers are supplex zip-legs for the
shorts, a mid-weight polarfleece vest and a goretex mountain parka). I use
a set of lite-weight capaline long johns, a thin polypro boggin, and spare
hiking socks as "sleep clothing" to extend the range of my sleeping bag and
to keep the bag clean on the long hikes (I wash the sleep clothing when I
hit town). The sleep clothing is also a "reserve" if needed as an extra
day layer, but I have never had to use it that way on any of my hikes...yet.
The supplex keeps nice and clean with simple daily rinsing in whatever
streamlet I cross (usually during a lunch stop or afternoon break when I am
hiking high...clothing dries fast and it's a LOT warmer than doing it in
early AM or late PM <g>). I rinse the bod at the same time and try to let
a little UV hit nooks and crannies of my hide while the clothing soaks (not
too long...I quickly discovered that sunburn happens fast up high <g>). If
I am lollygagging, I might spread out my shirt on the boulders so that the
inside gets a good dose of UV (I usually didn't do the shorts that way
unless there was unusual privacy, especially above treeline <g>).
I try to take a sit-down break every couple of hours. I take my boots and
socks off (even before I eat!) and let my feet dry out...holding my feet so
that they get a good dose of UV (spread my toes, etc.) and positioning my
boots so that max UV gets down inside. I put on a "fresh" pair of socks
after each break and I hang the pair that I took off on the back of my
pack. I carry 3 pairs of hiking socks and I rotate them...2 hrs on my
feet, 2 hrs hanging on my pack (inside out), and 2 hrs hanging on my pack
(rightside out). I have decided that this technique helps minimize
blisters (dry skin) as well as odor.
I work on the theory that most crud that acts as a breeding ground for B.O.
does not penetrate into SOME of the man-made fibers (supplex nylon,
acrylic, etc.) and will rinse out with frequent vigorous swishing in
whatever surface water I stumble across. I trust the UV to kill the
bacteria that causes B.O. and the general sunlight/breeze to dry my skin
and toughen it up. Seems to have worked so far.
I wash my socks (and everything else!) with unscented detergent (bounce
box) when I hit town. I add some unscented fabric softener to the wash
load every month or so to get the loft back up on the socks. So far, 12
days is the longest that I have gone between town stops and the socks have
done fine for that long. My shorts and shirt do get a bit musty when I
don't get a chance to rinse them out at least every couple of days or so.
Airwashing and frequent rinsing seems to work well for overall
cleanliness...I don't usually notice any obnoxious personal odors, folks
who join me on the trail don't cringe TOO often, and passers-by have even
questioned my being a thru-hiker ("You aren't dirty enough to have been on
the trail long!"). I like to use a white shirt and it does develop stains
from the pack straps over time. The supplex material seems to last
forever...I am still using the shirts I used on the PCT (one for the first
half, another on the second half). It took a couple of years of constant
wear and frequent washings after the PCT hike for the pack-strap stains to
The Thorlo's also have done fine. I used four pairs at a time on the PCT
(3 in rotation and one carried as a spare...they were mixed up in the
washer at each town stop). I used one set of 4 pairs during the first 1100
miles and replaced them with 4 pairs that I picked up at the Reno show and
used for the last 1500 miles. I am still using these socks around town and
on short hikes. I picked up 3 new pairs to use on the CDT hike (used a
pair of coolmax liners for sleep socks instead of a spare pair of the
heavier Thorlo Trekkings). I probably will carry the coolmax liners
instead of the Trekkings as sleep/spare socks on future long hikes (never
needed the spare Trekkings for anything other than sleep socks).
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