Hiking is all about connecting with nature and going beyond your comfort zone, but it’s hard to do that if everything hurts. In this article, we’ll share how to find the best sports bra for your anatomy and outdoor adventure preferences. This guide will cover factors to consider when choosing a sports bra, like material, construction, strap type, and support level, along with our top picks for the best sports bras for hiking.
Though it may seem insignificant, the wrong sports bra can derail your trail experience and impact your comfort level. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting out, finding the right sports bra can take your hiking experience from meh to magnificent. So, let’s nail down the perfect sports bra for your next outdoor adventure!
Not all sports bras are created equal, and finding the best one for your body type and activity level is key. A good sports bra provides ample support, minimizes bounce, wick moisture, and prevents chafing and discomfort.
From your shoes to your backpack, every piece of gear you or don’t bring can impact your comfort, range of movement, and fun factor on the trail, including the gear you can’t see, but can definitely feel. I’m talking about sports bras.
Why You Should Wear A Sports Bra Outdoors
Hiking is better done with a sports bra than with a regular bra for a variety of reasons, including:
- Support: Sports bras offer more support for high-impact workouts and reduce breast movement while you’re exercising. When hiking, your breasts bounce and move about in your bra, which can cause discomfort and even pain over time. A good sports bra can limit this movement and provide additional support, protecting the breasts against pain and possible tissue damage.
- Comfort: Sports bras are made from materials that are breathable, moisture-wicking, and stretchy, which can help keep you comfortable during a long hike. They are also designed to fit snugly against your skin without causing irritation or chafing due to their moisture-wicking properties.
- Durability: Regular bras aren’t designed to withstand the rigors of hiking and may not hold up well to sweat and constant movement that usually results in the band stretching, straps pulling, or underwire popping out. Sports bras are made with durable materials that can withstand the wear and tear of outdoor activities like hiking!
- Versatility: Sports bras can be worn on their own or as a base layer, depending on the weather and your personal preference. They can also be used for a variety of other physical activities, such as running, yoga, or weightlifting, making them a versatile and functional addition to your workout ensemble.
What To Look For in a Sports Hiking Bra
Sports bras come in a variety of styles and categories to suit different activity levels:
Compression sports bras: This original style of sports bra supports your breasts by pushing down on them. In a hiking context, women with larger busts may feel uncomfortable because their backpack sternum straps are already compressing their breasts.
Encapsulation sports bras: These bras feature individual cups for each breast, which can be molded for added comfort. While they may not provide optimal support for high-impact activities, they are a suitable option for low-impact activities like hiking, particularly for small-busted women.
Compression/encapsulation sports bras: These combination sports bra are ideal for bigger-busted women who need additional support or engage in high-intensity activities like climbing or trail running. Sports bras with separate cup areas with the added benefit of compression can provide excellent support while still allowing for breathability to discourage chafe and irritation. These types of bras often come with removable cups, allowing you to customize your level of coverage and support.
Materials and Durability
If you’re hitting the trails, you need a sports bra that can handle sweat and moisture. Sweaty breasts can cause uncomfortable chafing, and leaving a wet bra on for too long can lead to bacterial and fungal growth. Eek! All the more reason to choose a quality sports bra made from moisture-wicking, quick-dry material.
Natural materials like Merino wool and bamboo are great at wicking sweat, dry quickly, and have natural antimicrobial properties to ward off that post-hike funk.
Synthetic sports bras are cheaper, easier to care for, and also dry quickly while wicking moisture well, however, they tend to retain odor.
Crisscross: This strap type is a common feature in low- to medium-support sports bras. As attractive as they may be, these straps typically provide less support than other styles.
Racerback: Sports bras with a racerback have shoulder straps forming a Y shape between the shoulder blades. Racerback bras provide ample support for medium- to high-impact activities while allowing a full range of motion. This style is best suited for backpacking since the straps sit closer to your neck and not your shoulders, minimizing overlap and chafing from your backpack’s shoulder straps.
Tank top: This strap style most closely resembles everyday bras, and often comes with adjustable straps for a customized fit. Some tank top sports bras also feature a back closure to allow for additional adjustment. However, it’s generally not recommended for backpacking. Your backpack straps and the weight of your pack will rest directly on top of your bra straps and your back closure, which can cause irritation.
Go for a seamless sports bra design without underwire. Sports bras with mesh panels allow for better ventilation and quick drying. Avoid adjustable straps and back closures if possible, as they’ll only create friction points between your pack and skin.
Best Sports Bras for Hiking
Materials: Nylon, spandex
What we love: If you’re a small-busted woman looking for a reliable sports bra for hiking, look no further than Patagonia’s Barely There sports bra. Designed to wick sweat and fight against wear and tear, this bra endured over 2,500 miles of hiking during my PCT thru-hike last summer without an issue. The removable padding inserts provide extra protection when needed. Its quick-drying and odor-resistant properties make it an ideal choice for long backpacking trips and taking a quick dip in one of those dreamy alpine lakes. Plus, it allows your natural shape to shine without sacrificing support.
What we don’t love: While the Patagonia Barely Bra works well for low-impact activities like hiking and yoga, its minimal construction and limited sizing may not provide the necessary support for higher-impact activities or larger-busted women.
Materials: Nylon, Merino wool, elastane
What we love about it: It’s not often you see a Merino wool sports bra with such high marks, but Smartwool gets it right. This bra is supportive enough for the long haul and comfortable enough to wear for several days without feeling icky. Merino wool’s natural moisture-wicking and anti-odor properties will keep your ladies cool, dry, and comfortable on long day hikes. Smartwool has crafted a bra that is both comfortable and supportive, making it ideal for backpacking trips or high-impact workouts. With additional padding and ample coverage, it’s a crowd-pleaser for women of all cup sizes.
What we don’t love: The major downside of this bra is that you may find it a bit too hot for summer backpacking. Its two-layer design makes it better for shoulder season or even winter wear. And like Patagonia, Smartwool has yet to expand its plus-sized hiking apparel options.
Materials: Nylon, spandex
What we love about it: If you’re looking for fashion over function, Beyond Yoga’s Life Your Spirit sports bra may just be the softest and smoothest bra you’ll ever own. Women with extra sensitive skin rave about its silky smoothness. Its encapsulation style makes quick work of eliminating the unflattering uni-boob look while including removable padding for you to customize your level of coverage and support.
What we don’t love: Not the best option for women with bigger cup sizes participating in high-impact activities. It also requires extra care to maintain its form and shape, making it unsuitable for extended backpacking trips where hand washing and drying are impractical.
Materials: Recycled polyester, spandex
What we love about it: If you’re on a tight budget, the Nike Swoosh sports bra is a steal. Don’t be fooled by the low price though; you can be confident this piece of fabric and elastic will get the job done. This bra is also easy to care for, simply throw it into the washer on cold, tumble dry, and you’re good to go!
What we don’t love: With zero lining, zero support, and zero padding, this may not be the best fit for folks looking for more support with higher-impact outdoor activities.
Materials: Nylon, spandex
What we love about it: The Knix Catalyst is a workhorse of an encapsulation bra that’s perfect for women who require extra support, particularly those with larger breasts. Its adjustable shoulder straps and band ensure a comfortable adjustment period, and the front zip closure allows discreet wear and removal in camp. Plus, the expansive sizing options make it a great choice for plus-sized women. For women going on thru-hikes who know their busts will shrink over the course of the trip, the Catalyst’s adjustable straps may be preferable in place of switching out for a smaller bra.
What we don’t love: The main downside of this sports bra is its cost, but it’s a reliable and versatile option that can handle any activity you throw at it. We’re also not huge fans of sports bras with too much hardware because they create friction points between your skin and backpack, but if these features stand to provide more comfort and support on the trail with minimal chafe, then it’s a win in our book!
How To Wash and Care for Your Sports Bra
If you want your sports bras to last as long as possible, proper care is a must. Stretching, discoloration and bacteria buildup can result from improper care, resulting in far worse problems than a frumpy sports bra. To keep your sports bras in tip-top shape, follow these care tips:
- Hand wash or machine wash gentle: To prevent damage to the bra’s fabric and structure, wash your sports bra by hand or on a gentle cycle in the washing machine. Use cold water and mild detergent.
- Air dry: Heat from your dryer can damage the elastic in your sports bra and make it lose its shape. Instead, hang it up to air dry. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your sports bra dries out on a hot summer day!
- Avoid fabric softeners: Fabric softeners can leave a residue on the fabric, which can interfere with the bra’s moisture-wicking capabilities.
- Avoid bleach: Bleach can damage the fabric of your sports bra, causing it to wear out more quickly.
- Rotate your bras: Wearing the same sports bra every day will wear it out faster. Rotate between several sports bras to give each one time to recover between uses.
The best sports bra for hiking is the one that fits your body type, activity level, and personal preferences. By following the tips and guidelines outlined in this blog, you can choose a sports bra that works best for you and enhances your hiking experience. Don’t let discomfort or inadequate support hold you back on the trail. Invest in a high-quality sports bra and be amazed at the difference!
Ash Czarnota is a freelance writer based in Southern California with over 3,000 trail miles under her feet. She is the founder of Go Galavanting, an online community to celebrate adventurous women and highlight emerging thought leaders in the outdoor industry. A PCT alumni, Joshua Tree enthusiast and burgeoning climber, Ash uses her outdoor experiences to craft content that educates and inspires a rising generation of adventurers to embrace their inner wild. Connect with her on Instagram (@salty_millennial).