Upon walking into an REI, it’s easy to get dazzled by all the big, shiny items on display, such as packs, trekking poles, and tents. But don’t overlook that humble but crucial piece of gear — your hiking underwear.
Sure, your favorite cotton undies will do for a short jaunt or two. But for longer trips, consider upgrading to hiking underwear from one of our favorite brands like ExOfficio, Mack Weldon, Icebreaker, or Patagonia. After all, who doesn’t want to stay comfortable ‘down there’ while tackling those hot, dusty trails out there?
We’ve all suffered from chafing and hiker stink, so choose breathable, moisture-wicking underwear that will protect your skin and improve overall hygiene. Hiking underwear is offered in various materials, styles, and prices, so consider our findings and select an ideal pair that will keep you fresh and energetic on the trail.
The Packable Life’s resident gear hounds, Noel and Cu, have teamed up to share this co-ed take on the best men’s and women’s hiking underwear of 2023. From Briefs to bras, they’ve compiled a tried-and-true list of underwear that’s guaranteed to go the distance for everything from bagging peaks to crushing thru hikes.
Best Men’s Overall
Mack Weldon AIRKNITx HD Boxer Briefs
Noel’s Take: The Mack Weldon AIRKNITx HDs are my go-to boxer briefs for long days on the trail. Soft, smooth, and comfy, these rank as the best activewear boxer briefs I’ve ever owned, suitable for hiking, gym days, and everyday wear.
Made from anti-microbial fabric to minimize odors, these snug and breathable undies will perform for several days at a time in the backcountry. Are they pricey? Sure. But the extra spend is worth it for the extra performance and comfort on the trail.
Best Women’s Overall
Icebreaker Merino Siren Bikini Briefs
Cu’s Take: These Merino bikini briefs from Icebreaker have my enthusiastic stamp of approval. I bought a pair for an almost six-month thru-hike, and they’re still going strong two years later, fitting under work slacks just as well as hiking pants.
The Siren bikini provides full front-and-back coverage, while its antimicrobial Merino blend will keep you dry and smelling (relatively) fresh all hike long. The only downside is the steep price, but with proper care, one or two pairs per hike should last you for years.
ExOfficio Give-N-Go 2.0 Sport Mesh Boxer Brief
Noel’s Take: When it comes to synthetic underwear, the ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh is trail-tested and proven, having been used far and wide in the hiking and backpacking communities. I relied on these ultra-durable briefs for years, and still have a few pairs that are ready for action.
The fabric may not look great after extended wear, but who needs to be sexy while hiking? While these might be too technical for daily use (check out the Mack Weldon 18-Hour Jersey boxer briefs instead), the Give-N-Gos are beloved by hikers eveywhere for good reason.
Patagonia Women’s Active Hipster
Cu’s Take: The popularity of Patagonia’s Active Hipster underwear speaks for itself. Lady hikers swear by the quick-drying synthetic blend and the added ethical bonus of being Fair Trade Certified.
Some reviewers not that the sizing can run small, so triple-check your measurements before purchasing. Once you find the right size, these low riders will stay in place without pinching or riding up — no need to constantly adjust wedgies on the trail.
Unbound Merino Wool Boxer Briefs
Noel’s Take: In my experience, Merino is much less durable than synthetics. I once went traveling with the Ridge Merino boxer briefs, and the crotch blew out in just a couple of months. While Unbound is an entirely different brand, I recommend browsing customer comments and being wary of any durability concerns.
That said, Merino wool is excellent at wicking moisture and staying odor-free. At $45 a pair, Unbound’s Merino boxer briefs are likely too pricey to replace several times on a thru-hike, but they should keep you dry and chafe-free for the occasional day hike.
Ridge Merino Boy Shorts
Cu’s Take: Ridge’s Merino boy shorts are another strong contender for women’s wool undies. As Noel noted, Merino can run on the spendy side and be more prone to wear. But you may find the benefits worth the big bucks and extra care.
The fabric is a bit heavy, so you can stow these during the summer months and save them for winter activities when you’ll be grateful for the extra coverage. As for washing, Ridge Merino recommends warm or cold water and hang-drying.
David Archy Bamboo Rayon Trunks
Noel’s Take: I’ve never worn bamboo underwear, but I’m intrigued. After researching several popular bamboo brands, I’d buy the David Archy Bamboo Rayon Trunks. They’re super affordable and have solid reviews across the board.
Customers like the anatomic support pouch and describe these trunks as well-suited for year-round use on the trail, in the office, and even for chores on the farm. I’m going to grab a couple of pairs and report back with my extended use findings.
Boody Full Brief
Cu’s Take: I’ve owned and enjoyed bamboo underwear for some time and can testify that the fabric is just as soft as it looks. The Boody Full Brief combines that silky texture with a flattering cut, eliminating panty lines for those who hike in leggings.
Boody also focuses on sustainabile manufacturing, using ethically sourced bamboo and low-waste construction techniques so you can hike guilt-free. Bamboo viscose dries more slowly than other fabrics, but its moisture-wicking capabilities will keep you comfortable.
Best Bra for Hiking
Patagonia Barely Bra
Cu’s Take: Most women know the struggle — some may call it an extreme sport — of wrestling in-and-out of a too-tight bra. Patagonia’s Barely Bra is designed to be pulled on and off without a second thought so you can focus on your actual workout.
Because it’s made of a lightweight, quick-drying nylon-spandex mixture, this bra is stretchy enough to sleep in and cute enough to wear as a standalone top. It provides good support during moderate exertion, but some women have complained about the bra’s lack of support during intense exercise.
Second Best Bra for Hiking
Brooks Dare Crossback Bra 2.0
Cu’s Take: I’m a fan of the original Brooks Hot Shot bra, which served me well during thru-hikes, so I was sad to see the model discontinued. But its successor, the Dare Crossback, is emerging as a new favorite for hikers.
The straps lie flat under a t-shirt and backpack without digging in, and the built-in cups hold everything in place. Unfortunately, some reviewers noted the fabric has a tendency to curl and, therefore, might not last you as long as the beloved Hot Shot.
Cu and Noel made their picks based on a product’s comfort, materials, breathability, moisture-wicking capability, odor resistance, durability, and price. Before you rush out to your nearest gear shop, balance these factors against one another and keep your own preferences in mind.
Comfort should always be your number one priority for underwear. Nobody should have to deal with underwear that itches or rides up during adventures.
Of course, “comfy” is a spectrum, and what one hiker finds ultra-smooth might chafe the next person. And bras are notoriously unpredictable. To find the best-performing items for yourself, be prepared to road-test a few items.
Though hiking underwear is available in dozens of different materials, we’ve grouped them into three categories: Synthetic, Merino wool, and Bamboo. These fabrics will work better for hikers than traditional cotton underwear, but their individual properties can vary.
Quick-drying synthetic underwear holds up well on the trail but not so much for everyday wear. Merino wool’s antimicrobial qualities make it popular with female hikers — but beware its price tag. Finally, eco-friendly bamboo underwear is gentle on the wallet but slow to dry.
Highly breathable underwear can protect you from a dreaded case of swamp butt. The key is choosing a fabric that allows airflow without clinging in all the wrong ways.
Truly breathable undies allow moisture vapor to dissipate rather than trapping your sweat against your skin. This reduces bacteria and odor while keeping you cooler as you navigate the trail.
Having undies that effectively wick moisture will go a long way toward keeping you happy on the trail. This translates to how well the fabric will dry out and move moisture from your skin to the outer fabric.
Staying dry helps you avoid chafing, which can be triggered by something as innocent as friction from damp cloth. Warm weather hikes absolutely require moisture-wicking underwear of some variety… unless you enjoy the sensation of soggy underwear. (Yeah, we didn’t think so.)
While we all love to get down and dirty on the trail, nobody wants to smell like the inside of a gym bag. Odor-resistant underwear can’t completely banish your hiker stink. Still, it does help make hiking a more pleasant experience for yourself and those around you.
If you’re a heavy sweater, you may notice odors lingering on synthetic gear after a few hikes. In that case, turn to natural materials like Merino or bamboo, your best bet for staying fresh in the wilderness.
When dropping 30 to 50 bucks on a single bra or pair of underwear, you’ll want to invest in something that will last for many, many hikes. Ideally, your base layer should see you through several hundred miles with nary a rip or tear.
Synthetic fabric generally holds up longer than Merino. The jury is still out on Bamboo, a relative newcomer in the hiking space. To prolong your underwear’s lifespan, consider a bevy of hiking undies dedicated solely for hiking and backpacking.
While the price tags above may raise a few eyebrows, there are plenty of budget-friendly options for hiking underwear. Bamboo underwear offers many of the same benefits of more pricey choices without breaking the bank.
Still not sure? Look for sales, clearances, or items in the ‘new-with-tags’ section on eBay. Don’t risk chafing and sweaty cotton briefs when you could have splurged on a higher-end item on sale.
These are our takes on the best men’s and women’s hiking underwear of the year. Now you can hit the trail feeling confident from top to bottom with these vetted picks from ExOfficio, Icebreaker, Mack Weldon, Patagonia, and others. Any of these items should help eliminate odors and chafing and keep you comfortable for many more sweaty trail miles.
Yes, hiking underwear can be costly, but those extra bucks will go a long way. The best breathable and moisture-wicking materials are worth their weight in gold, as you’ll quickly discover after a few strenuous hours in the heat.
Sorting through different materials, styles, and prices might seem tedious, but it’s best to dial in all your underwear details before you travel. Don’t risk a bad case of hiker stink in the backcountry. Now that you know the facts, those are so easy to avoid.
With planning, you can forget all about underwear and focus on the important parts of your hikes, like snapping scenic photos or finding that perfectly flat tent site. And the only ‘itch’ you’ll have is the itch to discover what’s on the other side of that ridge line.
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Last Updated on August 28, 2023