Mr. Adventure and I have spent a lot of weekends hiking this year, which is a very good thing. But every once in a while we encountered something on the trail that, momentarily at least, made our hike less pleasant; namely, clouds of perfume, cologne, or body spray wafting off passing hikers.
Now, I am not opposed to scent. Far from it. I use deodorant (for which Mr. Adventure, for one, is grateful) and for non-hiking days, I love a spritz of Jo Malone’s Earl Grey and Cucumber cologne. But we are not talking about scent that is evident only at close, even intimate, quarters. No, we regularly met people on the trails who smelled like they had just wallowed in Axe body spray or something like it. Whew.
Their fragrance overpowered the more natural smells of the forest or meadow, giving me an instant if fleeting headache. And it seemed to linger along the trail. Sometimes we’d pass someone and fifty feet down the trail it was as if they’d sprayed a cloud of scent for us to walk through. Holding my breath or coughing, I’d speed up to try to leave the odoriferous fog behind.
Given all the public places that advertise themselves as fragrance-free these days — surely a nod to many folks’ sensitivity to scent and some of the ingredients used in scented products — it seems that much weirder to wear heavy scent in the woods. I mean, really, who is going to smell you there? Is it some offbeat wildlife repellent strategy? Is it a way to guarantee that no one will sit near you at the summit, ensuring relative solitude?
I suspect a more pedestrian explanation. In an era where lionizing the self is the status quo, scent can be one aspect of one’s personal brand. Just as we try to create narrowly constructed images of ourselves on social media — my Twitter is all about hiking, camping, national parks, and wilderness, for example — scent might be a way for some to cultivate a desired image. Add to that the barrage of scent-related advertising and Americans’ notorious fastidiousness, and people learn to believe they need to “smell good.”
Apparently that goes for the trail, too. Layering scented soap, body lotions, body sprays, perfumes, and other products (how does your shampoo smell?) just amplifies the effect. Add physical exertion to the mix and it’s the perfect recipe for a very unnatural fug hanging over the trail. I imagine most heavily scented hikers don’t realize their impact. So before depressing the plunger and misting cologne or whatever all over, please take a moment and think about how your scent choices might affect fellow recreationists. A decision to back off on fragrance can mean a more pleasant hike for everyone. Hunters, by the way, have had this figured out for a long time. Google “fragrance free hunting” and you’ll see a plethora of products designed to mask or eliminate human scent. We should apply the same approach to hiking.
So how about it, folks? Would you rather breathe in the smell of cedars after rain, the woodsy aroma of a campfire with its connotations of camaraderie and warmth, the delicate scent of an alpine meadow bloom, the vanilla odor of ponderosa pine bark, even the fishy bouquet of a river during salmon spawning season — or Axe body spray in “Phoenix” or “Anarchy” aromas? (What do those even smell like? Wait, I don’t want to know.)
Now that we’re in the slow season for hiking in the Pacific Northwest, I suspect Mr. Adventure and I will run into far fewer stinky hikers. Or if we do, they’ll stink of mildew and sweat, not oddly named chemical concoctions. And we won’t even notice, because we’ll smell the same way.