Unfortunate news, everyone! The season of "chub rub" is back again. If you are not familiar with the term, the issue is more commonly known as chafing, and it can be a real hike-stopper if it gets bad enough.
While chub rub refers to chafing on your inner thighs, when you are hiking, especially with some gear packed along for the ride, it can happen in quite a few different places. While thighs might be some of the more painful spots, any chafing can put an end to your trip if you let it go on long enough.
What is Chafing?
Chafing is the painful result of repeated rubbing of bare skin and pieces of wet or sweaty clothing together.
This happens most commonly in the thigh area due to your pants, but it can happen between a backpack and your shoulders, bare nipples and your shirt, hip straps and your midsection and even in your general groin and backside area with your underwear.
The friction caused by the constant motion of the fabric rubbing against skin results in painful redness, irritation, and even itching in the afflicted area.
However, if you let it go on, the wound only gets deeper until blisters and even bleeding can occur. The key to treating it is to obviously stop whatever is rubbing you the wrong way from rubbing, but this is much easier said than done.
Tips to Stop Chafing for Good
In essence, blisters on your feet are a form of chafing, and you are more inclined to worry about your feet than anywhere else when hiking. However, chafing anywhere on your body can get just as unpleasant.
If you want to stop chafing for good, take these steps.
Skip Cotton Clothing
Cotton is great, it is lightweight and breathable. However, it does have one major flaw. If it gets wet, cotton takes forever and a day to get dry again.
This means it is soaking up every minute droplet of sweat that comes off you and keeping it in the fibers where it causes them to rub.
While you can technically dry out a cotton shirt if things get too bad, but never wear cotton underwear. You can't usually air that out and it causes a lot of chafing.
So what do you wear?
In the winter, wool is a great choice, but not so much in the summer.
The summer alternative to wool during summer hikes is polyester or other synthetics.
Both wool and synthetics wick moisture away from your skin and transfer it to the outer layer so it can evaporate. This means your clothing will feel dryer for longer and will stay dry as the moisture evaporates away.
Get a Proper Fit
This is a common hiking tip that is super easy to ignore. If you are wearing clothes that are too big or too small, they will begin to constrict or rub - neither are good!
Baggy shirts may catch the breeze nicely, but they can crease and fold which creates friction. You wouldn't wear hiking boots that are too big or too small because they cause blisters; consider your other hiking gear to do the same.
Pre-Treat Sensitive Areas
If you have common chafe areas, you can always pre-treat them before you go.
Chafing is a major problem in many sports, not just when hiking. As such, there are a number of friction-reducing gels that can be applied to your problem areas to help reduce the likelihood of chafing.
Of course, taking a powder puff full of baby powder down under to keep those areas dry longer is also a viable option. Unfortunately, unlike the specialized anti-chafe products, powder doesn't hold out forever.
This... Well, it shouldn't need to be said. However, on long thru-hikes, washing is less of a priority, but still important.
The salt excreted through your sweat is like adding sandpaper to your skin, increasing friction and thus chafing.
So always make effort to wear clean clothes in frequently chafed areas as well as give those parts a solid rinse each day on long hikes.
Try Friction-Reducing Clothes
If you are a frequent sufferer of chub rub on your thighs, a pair of bike shorts can be a gift from god.
Cyclists don't wear them as a fashion statement, it is because it prevents friction while riding, and it does the same while walking.
You can wear them outright, or under your regular shorts and they work to great effect. This can be done with Under Amour-like shirt products as well if your backpack straps like to dig in and rub.
How to Treat Chafing on the Trail
Unfortunately, there is no magic method or product to fix chafing once it has begun. The treatment for chafing on the trail is all pretty obvious stuff, but it really does need to be done.
Once chafing begins, it isn't going to magically stop if you do nothing. You have to take steps to address the problem as well as to treat the chafe itself.
Keep Any Chafing Clean and Dry
After you are done hiking for the day, you need to immediately take steps to clean the area with water and antibacterial soap. Lukewarm water is recommended, but a splash of cold water after the cleaning can be the nicest feeling in the world too.
Afterward make sure to pat it completely dry. Don't rub, though. That won't feel very pleasant can it can serve to further irritate the area.
Lube it Up
Before you hit the hay or take a long rest, be sure to lube any chafing up liberally.
Skin healing lotions, Vaseline, or coconut oil can all be very helpful in this regard. The lube will not only stop any further rubbing, but it will help your skin heal quicker.
This isn't always an option if you are doing some long-distance hiking, but chafed skin needs it's time to heal.
If you can't afford to take a little downtime, take steps to prevent further chafing as well as add another healthy dose of lotion or Vaseline before you begin again.
If you are thru-hiking, it is definitely worthwhile to take breaks when you can to clean the area and re-lotion it.