Out, See, Go: My top-ten favorite outdoor smells

By Chris Engle, contributor

Top-10 lists are kind of silly. Not because of the point they’re trying to make – that these 10 things are better than anything else – but because the order of the rankings is so subjective.

A good example is the “all-time greatest rock songs” list. No matter who’s doing the ranking, be it VH1, Rolling Stone, etc., the top 10 always includes Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Eric Clapton’s “Layla,” and Lynrd Skynrd’s “Free Bird” in some particular order.

By now you’ve probably ranked these songs according to your own tastes and maybe even discounted one or two.

I don’t blame you – as a 90s kid I automatically put Nirvana closer to the top. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is not the greatest rock song of all time in my opinion but it had a huge impact on my generation and generations since. That’s what earns its place.

My dad taught me that songs or bands can’t be judged solely on whether they were a hit at the time, but by the influence they had on the musicians who followed. Nirvana certainly had that ripple effect.

So, with that in mind, here are my top 10 favorite outdoor smells. Some aren’t that great on their own but made the list because of the memories I associate with them. Nostalgia plays a huge role in deciding what constitutes a“favorite” anything, especially smells.

Speaking of smells, “Teen Spirit” was a contrived brand of deodorant fed to teenagers with cheesy commercials in the 90s. Coincidentally, there were also a lot of sweaty teens in Nirvana’s music video for the song.

Alright, on to the smells:

#10: Campfire

This is an easy choice since about any great camping memory can be triggered by the scent of a campfire. The smell reminds me of roasted hot dogs and good times with friends and family. A campfire brings light and comfort on cool nights and companionship when you’re camping alone.

#9: Fresh-cut cedar

Every September my dad and I rebuilt our duck blind with fresh cedar boughs. The combination of fall air and cedar takes me right back to those early mornings waiting for the silhouettes of ducks to fly in. There’s a reason people put cedar in their closets and in keepsake chests: It smells awesome.

#8: Hot pine needles and sand

When sand gets superheated by the sun it roasts any dead pine needles on top, making the air heavy with the smell of pine. This is a common phenomenon at many state forest campgrounds in Otsego County and the surrounding area and it smells really, really good.

#7: Burnt gunpowder

File this one in the “unpleasant on its own” category. A jar of this scent would probably not be a hot seller but it pairs great with wet grass, fall woods or anywhere else a hunter chases game. It’s the smell of adrenaline in the field. All senses are on alert when this aroma hangs in the air.

#6: Thunderstorm

If there’s anything better than the sound of a good thunderstorm it’s the smell afterward. A regular rainstorm smells great but its hot cousin smells better. A thunderstorm leaves the scent of ozone in its wake which says:“The storm is over, time to go play!”

#5: Tent nylon

A dry tent unrolling at a campsite marks the beginning of a great camping trip. A musty tent still damp from the previous outing marks a not-so-great beginning but it will dry out eventually. Maybe.

#4: First snowstorm

If there’s anything that can relieve the sadness and despair that comes with seeing winter’s first snowflakes (sorry, I prefer the other three seasons), it’s the smell of that snow. The dampness of fall is wiped away and the air takes on a crispness like a freshly opened bag of potato chips, and everyone can agree the first chip tastes best.

#3: Bacon

What’s a camping breakfast without the sweet aroma of bacon frying on a Coleman stove? Also, bacon is totally hot right now and I have no choice but to pander to the pork-wagon. I draw the line at bacon-flavored toothpaste though. Is bacon really that great?

#2: Outboard motor exhaust

This is another one for the “unpleasant” category for most people but I absolutely lust over this smell. It signals the start to a day of fishing and I drink the first cloud of it in like a hot cup of coffee. It is stronger than caffeine but that might just be the oxygen deprivation talking.

#1: Spring rain

The number-one slot is a tough one to fill but a spring rain just has so much working in its favor. A good April shower signals the end of a six-month winter and means that May and June, my favorite months, are just around the corner. The birds are singing, things magically turn from brown to green, and I finally get to wear a t-shirt outside. Man, that feels good!

There you have it. I’d love to hear what you think I left out, what I got wrong, and what I got right. Show me your teen spirit.

Chris Engle is a stay-at-home dad, an avid outdoorsman and outdoor columnist for the Gaylord Herald Times. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

2 thoughts on “Out, See, Go: My top-ten favorite outdoor smells

  1. Lori Werda

    I also like the smell of outboard motor exhaust (reminds me of our ski boat and how much fun we had with it), but I would like to add to your list the smell of fresh cut grass. Hard to beat bacon frying over a campfire, though!

  2. Jane Snyder

    Fresh cut grass has to be in the top ten….and can’t leave out burgers on a grill! Great article, Chris!

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