Dealing with Smelly Kit – A Common Problem – Steve Birkinshaw

I love everything about running on the fells. I love running in the wind and rain. I love the pain of running uphill and I love the thrill of descending fast. I do not even mind the fact that my toenails look horrible and that every nail is either deformed or black.

The only thing I do not like is all my smelly running kit.

I sweat loads whilst running so this makes my kit very smelly. Most of my routes are really boggy so on almost all my runs I come back with wet and smelly shoes and socks.

Here is what I do with my kit and it seems to work OK for me – I have not been divorced yet by smelling the house out! But it all depends on a personal tolerance to smelly kit and also the tolerance of any people you live with. It also depends on what facilities you have for cleaning and drying kit.

I should also point out I am very much an “old school” fell runner, I do not care what I look like when I run, the only thing that matters about kit is how light it is and if it keeps me dry and warm in winter or cool in the summer. Basically if it helps me go faster then I will use it. Berghaus kit is great as it fulfils these criteria. It does also look great as well, even if I am not bothered about this aspect, I know plenty of other people are.


I have a shoe mountain. After every run I come back, pull off my shoes without undoing the laces and put them on my shoe mountain under the barn next to my house. I then let them dry there. The next day I will wear a different pair of shoes. After about a week I will return to the original pair which are then usually dry.

Shoes are the smelliest part of my kit and doing this means they never enter the house (I walk out to the barn in a normal pair of non-running trainers and put my running shoes on there). I know a lot of people clean their shoes after every run and then put newspaper in them to dry. This is very impressive but whenever I have tried this I just feel I have better things to do with my life than cleaning and drying shoes and stop. Also my method only works if you have somewhere outside to dry shoes and also a lot of shoes.

Most of my shoes are really old, one pair is over 8 years old – my training shoes were all once racing shoes but the studs are no longer good enough for racing, but they are perfect for training runs on the fells. There are problems with my shoe mountain. I have ended up with all my suitable shoes wet and then frozen solid so I could not get them on and so I had to use a pair of road shoes on the fells.

The red squirrels we feed in our garden also like to store their nuts in my shoes but they are easy to notice and remove when I put my shoes on. Worse was the time I put on my shoes and one felt a bit uncomfortable. It gradually got better as I ran so I ignored it. However, when I took off my shoes there was slime all over the sock and a very squashed slug at the end of the shoe, which took quite a bit of effort to get out. Maybe leaving my shoes outside is not such a good idea, although any visitors to the Birkinshaw house would not be certain they had come to the right place if there was no shoe mountain.

Figure 1- My shoe mountain


My socks usually stink when I have finished running. They are almost always wet and covered in mud. Putting them in the washing machine with normal clothes would just make the normal clothes turn brown and smell.

So… when I have finished a run they get thrown in the sock bucket under the barn. When I have used all my 20 pairs and the bucket is full they go in the washing machine without anything else. The only problem with this is it needs an initial purchase of lots of identical socks. I also wonder if leaving them wet for up to two weeks will shorten their life but it does not seem to happen.

Figure 2 – My Sock Bucket

Base layers

These normally come back very sweaty from a run. I could wash them after every run but that would be a lot of washing, which is a more electricity and more time. I could wear them every day for a week but the house would stink (if the weather is not good enough to dry them outside). So I tend to wash them every couple of runs. Although I have to admit to sometimes wearing the same kit for 4 or 5 days and I would like to apologise to anyone I have met when I have been wearing this smelly kit.

Luckily I like to go running in quiet places, so not many people have to smell me whilst I am out.

In the end, what I believe, it doesn’t matter if your kit is pristine, a bit smelly or never washed at all! The important thing is to be outside and enjoying the trails.