Regarding COVID-19: Please recreate responsibly and practice social distancing. Closures and travel restrictions are changing rapidly, always check and respect local regulations.

Chafing the Dream: The Best Kept Secrets to Prevent Chafing on the Trails

"After tens of thousands of years of evolution, how has mankind got to a point where thigh-chafe is still a thing?" Getting honest about skin folds, bras, underwear and lubricants.

Take clothing with seams, add body parts of any size or shape, a backpack shoulder harness and hip belt, heat, humidity, constant movement and what do you have? Chafing. Active women know all about this and I am here to share all the tips and tricks to prevent this nasty irritation.

The where what and why of chafing

Chafing is an irritation to the skin caused by friction, usually skin-on-skin or clothing-on-skin. This friction will eventually cause enough irritation that it will injure your skin, resulting in a rash, blisters or raw skin. Severe chafing can be extremely painful, making movement difficult.

Chaffing commonly occurs in body areas that are in constant motion so think under the arms, on the inner thighs, between our butt cheeks, on our nipples, on our feet, between our skin folds, and in the groin area; basically, all the areas that make anyone uncomfortable to talk about.

As women, we naturally have more body fat than men so it is no surprise that the skin on our nipples and between our buns is often irritated and so many of us are embarrassed to talk about it. I mean seriously, I have had blisters from chafing in areas that I didn’t even know existed (I will spare you the details but so many of us have been there).

How to Prevent Chafing
  • Check for fit. Make sure your clothing and pack are the right sizes. If you chafe at a certain strapline, it could be because your shirt is too baggy or your pack doesn't fit. If adjusting the fit doesn't work, add padding, such as foam pieces, to your shoulder straps.
  • Wear synthetic fabrics. Clothing that wicks moisture away from the skin significantly reduces chafing. If your inner thighs chafe, try wearing spandex bicycle tights. Don a pair of hiking shorts over the spandex if you're shy.
  • Lube yourself up. If you chafe in a particular place, slather on a lubricant such as petroleum jelly before the rubbing starts. Think in between your skin folds, in between your toes, on the bottom of your feet, under your armpits, between your inner thighs and don't forget your bum and groin area. Keep the lube tube handy while you're hiking so you can reapply at the first sign of a hot spot. I literally lube my feet and many other body parts before every hike. In fact, I carry a small container of petroleum jelly in my first aid kit.
  • Wipe your bum. Again, nobody wants to talk about this but it’s real. Dried excrement can be a nasty skin irritant, especially when it’s mixed with your perspiration and constant friction. Yuck! Prevention is key and baby wipes come in handy quite often here. Remember to always pack out your toilet paper and wipes.
  • Keep your body clean. Keeping your body clean is one of the best things you can do on the trail to avoid chafing. The salt in your sweat, which rubs against your skin, often causes chafing. For obvious reasons, washing on a regular basis helps prevent this. Focus on vulnerable body parts, such as armpits, butt, and crotch.

Popular anti-chaffing creams

Vaseline petroleum jelly

Generic brand Petroleum jelly (the cheapest option)

Squirrels Nut Butter


Gold Bond Friction Defense

ChafeZone Chub Rub


  • The most important way to prevent butt and thigh chafing is to wear synthetic underwear; compression shorts, or lined running shorts that will not absorb moisture. This means NO COTTON underwear. Cotton absorbs your sweat when you hike and sticks to your skin. The seams of cotton underwear will then scrunch up between your thighs and rub your skin raw.
  • Keep your thong underwear at home
  • I swear by Patagonia Barely Hipster
  • I have also heard from many outdoor women that ExOfficio makes great underwear as well.

Finding the perfect sports bra 

 Chafing: Make sure there is no chafing around the armholes, shoulder straps or seams. If the bra has hooks or snaps, make sure those don't chafe, either. 

Straps: You should be able to fit two fingers between the straps and your shoulders. It’s vital that the straps are secure and comfortable. If they’re too tight, they will dig in. If they’re too loose, they will not provide the correct amount of support and will move around or slip off your shoulders. 

Band: Raise your hands over your head. If the band rides up, it may be too big. Try adjusting the straps or back closure. If that doesn’t work, try a smaller band size. 

Cup: Your breasts should be centered and fully contained in the cups. Scoop them in and center them. Wrinkles or puckers in the fabric indicate the cup is too big. If breast tissue is pressed outside of the bra, that means the cup is too small, or that the style of bra is the wrong cut for your breast type. 

Support: Test the bra's support by jumping or running in place. Your breasts should feel secure and supported. If there’s too much movement up and down or side to side, keep looking for a better-fitting bra. 

I am not well endowed (34 B) so although these are my favorite sports bras, I truly believe everyone should get fitted according to the above guidelines before making this purchase. 

  • Patagonia Barely Bra 
  • Athleta Fully Focus Bra 
  • Brooks
  •  Under Armour Mid Crossback Sports Bra 
  • Moving Comfort Luna Sports Bra 

Shorts vs. Pants 

 I personally experience chafing when I wear shorts for long distances (10 miles or more) even if the shorts are made from synthetic material. Personally, the seams rub up against my inner thighs which causes irritation so if I am running of hiking over 10 miles, I prefer to wear pants. I have heard many other ladies share this same experience so my rule of thumb is, if you are chafing between your inner thighs and are wearing shorts; switch to pants. 

How to treat chafing 

  •  Clean the affected area with water and antibacterial soap.
  • Apply ointments over the affected area.  Zinc oxide cream, coconut oil and Vaseline work quite well for this purpose. 

Do you have any chafing stories or tips to prevent or treat chafing? I would love to hear them

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Kristen Fuller

Explorer of cliffs, mountains, oceans, and deserts by day and night.