On a typical day, choosing a pair of underwear might not take more thought than asking yourself if it’s clean or not. But, when you’re heading out for a hike, your choice of skivvies can significantly impact comfort. (If you decide to wear underwear at all, some hikers will skip undergarments altogether and choose a pair of shorts with built-in briefs, or they may even go commando, both of which are viable options if you find them comfy.)
However, most hikers choose to wear underwear with their hiking shorts or pants, and the right pair can help keep you dry and chafe-free. The wrong couple, well, not so much.
Here are some quick tips for choosing hiking underwear, with more details below.
- Choose moisture-wicking, quick-dry underwear: You’ll want to avoid cotton and choose breathable underwear made from a synthetic material, like polyester or merino wool. Unlike cotton, these materials wick moisture away from the skin and dry quickly.
- Select the style that works for you: The type of underwear you choose is mostly a personal decision based on what you find most comfortable and functional. For men, options include briefs, boxers, or boxer briefs. For women, the main options are briefs, boxer briefs (aka boy shorts), bikinis, and thongs. Sports bras have different constructions, support, strap types, and features.
- Choose a comfortably snug but not-too-tight fit: You want a comfortable, close fit that’s formfitting but not too tight. And be careful not to get too loose underwear, as that can cause the fabric to bunch up and rub against your skin.
- Find features that boost comfort, like tagless waistbands and flat seams: For the best comfort, look for a pair of underwear without scratchy tags or seams. Another essential feature is a flat, comfortable waistband that won’t irritate your skin when a backpack is pressing against it.
What Type of Underwear Fabric Should You Choose?
Synthetics: Generally, breathable hiking underwear is made from synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon. You might also see polypropylene, rayon, or a blend of materials. Some lingerie includes spandex for comfortable stretch and a snug but not constrictive fit. Underwear made from synthetic fabrics has the following attributes:
- Quick-drying: Synthetics do an excellent job of wicking and dissipating sweat, giving you the driest feel of any fabric.
- Durable: Synthetic fabrics tend to hold up very well to abrasion, making them the most durable option.
- Odor retention: Synthetic fabrics typically hold onto odors more than other options. Some manufacturers add a finish that inhibits the buildup of odor-causing bacteria, which helps. But, if you’ll spend several days on the trail without washing, be prepared to put up with the smell.
Merino Wool: Soft, ultrafine, itch-free merino wool is an excellent option for underwear. It is often blended with other fabrics, like spandex or nylon to enhance fit, flexibility, and durability. Underwear made from merino wool has the following features:
- Wicks well: Wool does an excellent job of pulling moisture off your skin and into the fabric. Some water will stay in the core of the wool fibers, which tends to make wool feel not quite as dry as synthetic fabric, but it won’t chill you. It will also take longer to dry when it gets wet than synthetics.
- It also cools. The moisture held in the core of merino wool fibers is released when temperatures heat up, which can offer a bit of cooling in warm weather.
- Moderately durable: Constant rubbing can eventually wear through merino wool, so you may notice the fabric getting thin in certain places.
- Odor-free: Wool is naturally resistant to odor-causing bacteria, which helps keep it odor-free even after consecutive days of wear.
Which Underwear Style is Best for Hiking?
Boxers or briefs? Bikini or hipster? The style of underwear that you wear is mainly a personal choice, and it may take some experimenting to figure out what works best for you on the trail. Ultimately, your decision should be guided by what makes you feel the most comfortable. Here are some guidelines to help get you started:
Women’s Underwear Styles
Briefs: Women’s briefs provide good coverage and tend to sit above the hips. Within this category, you’re likely to find full-cut briefs and hipsters. Full-cut briefs offer lots of coverage in the front and back. Hipsters are similar to the bikini, providing medium coverage in the front and back but have a slightly higher rise with more coverage on the hips.
Boxer briefs (aka boy shorts): These provide the most coverage among the women’s underwear styles with their longer cut that extends down to the top of the thigh. The added coverage can often help reduce inner-thigh chafing.
Bikinis: Inspired by the bathing suit, the bikini cut generally provides less rear coverage with a thinner, low-rise waistband and a higher amount for the leg.
Thongs: Providing the least amount of coverage of all the women’s underwear styles, thongs are lightweight and trim and are the quickest drying of all the types.
Sports bras: Sports bras provide essential support and comfort during activities such as hiking. When shopping for sports bras, you must consider the level of support you need, the construction style, strap type, features, and fit.
Men’s Underwear Styles
Briefs: Briefs generally provide good support but not much coverage, so if you experience chafing, like between your thighs, you might try boxers or boxer briefs.
Boxers: The looser fit and added coverage of fighters appeal to some men and can help avert inner-thigh chafing, but make sure the looser fit doesn’t result in bunching that can cause discomfort.
Boxer briefs: A possible best-of-both-world solution, boxer briefs provide good coverage to limit skin-on-skin rubbing while offering a snugger, more-supportive fit than boxers.
How Should Hiking Underwear Fit?
A good-fitting pair of underwear provides support, avoids chafing, and enhances wicking to keep you comfortable on the trail. Here are some tips on getting the right fit:
Choose a snug but not-too-tight fit: Size your underwear so it is formfitting but not so tight that it causes discomfort. On the flip side, be careful not to size them too big, as doing so can cause bunching and rubbing, which will irritate your skin. Some people like to wear compression shorts for active sports, like running and working out. You can experiment with using these on hikes, but you might find that after several hours on the trail, the constant pressure becomes uncomfortable.
The right fit enhances wicking: A loose fit can seemingly provide more ventilation, but keep in mind that for a fabric to wick moisture off your skin, it needs to be in contact with skin. So, it will typically benefit you more to have wicking underwear that’s more formfitting.
A more extended cut can help with thigh chafing: If you experience inner-thigh chafing, try a pair of underwear with a more extended amount that covers the spot where you have discomfort. For women and men, boxer briefs are usually the answer.
What Underwear Features Should You Look For?
Underwear is relatively low-tech, but a handful of features to consider when choosing. Here are some things to look for:
Tagless: Who wants an annoying tag scratching at their skin while hiking? Tagless underwear is one of the most significant improvements ever made to skivvies.
Flatlock seams: Just as a tag can be a bother, so too can scratchy seams that will irritate your skin while you’re on the go. Look for underwear that has flat, wide seams (often called flatlock seams) that won’t press into your skin.
Comfortable waistband: Make sure you find underwear with a band that sits comfortably on your body. When you’re wearing a backpack, the belt on your undies gets pressed into your skin, turning minor discomfort into a serious annoyance on the trail. In general, a flat waistband that’s relatively thin will be more comfortable than one that is thick and bulky.
Fly: Some men like to have a fly in their underwear; others are indifferent. If it’s a must-have for you, be sure to find underwear that has it.
Odor resistance: We mentioned this in the section on synthetic fabrics, but we’ll echo it here. Hiking is often a sweaty endeavor, which leads to stinky clothing. Some underwear includes an antimicrobial treatment to help reduce odor retention. Know that these treatments can wear off with time, and remember that merino wool is naturally odor-resistant and that it won’t ever lose that quality.
What type of men’s underwear is best for hiking?
The premium fabric for the best underwear for backpacking is Merino Wool. The wool from the merino lamb is superior to any other thread for clothing. It is super-soft because the fibers are very long, allowing yarns to have few rough ends.
Should I wear underwear for long hikes?
Hiking commando is a comfortable choice for many experienced hikers. Hiking without underwear helps with airflow and can prevent chafing. Compression shorts and running shorts are popular attire. Products like body glide and baby powder also avoid scuffing.
What underwear do you wear backpacking?
Underwear: For backpacking trips, underwear is a matter of preference: Some men prefer boxer length, and some women prefer the boy-short cut. Some women swear by wool undies; others only wear nylon-spandex mesh undies. Some backpackers prefer not to bother with underwear at all.
Should you wear tight or loose underwear?
The official answer given by health experts and medical professionals is “somewhere in the middle of tight and loose.” Experts recommend that you make sure you have correctly fitting underwear, meaning your underwear should not be so tight that it leaves deep marks on the skin.
Is our bamboo underwear suitable for hiking?
Whichever type of hiker you are, you’ll want to make sure you’re hiking underwear is made of nylon, lycra, merino wool, bamboo blends, or even a rayon material, according to seasoned hikers, because those fabrics are breathable and more quick-drying than cotton.
Is modal underwear suitable for hiking?
Modal is a newly popular fabric yet to be proven as an excellent hiking material. Still, it’s known to be softer and more moisture absorbent than cotton, which means it’ll at least do better on the trail than your typical pair of Hanes.
Is nylon underwear suitable for hiking?
Synthetics. Synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, nylon, rayon, or polypropylene, are a popular option for hiking underwear. This is because synthetic fabrics are excellent at wicking away moisture and drying quickly.
How do you know if your underwear is too small?
If your skin bulges over at the waistband or thighs, your underwear is too small. Even if you don’t notice your skin bulging, too-tight skivvies may feel uncomfortable at the seams or leave impressions on your skin.
Should I go a size up in underwear?
What are signs that your underwear doesn’t fit? One of the main signs your underwear doesn’t work is if you notice skin bulges around your hips or love handles. If this occurs, we recommend either trying the next size up or switching to a style that provides more coverage and support.