You’re getting ready to head out on a big day hike or a backpacking adventure and you think you’ve got all the ‘important‘ gear covered.
Well, how about what’s covering that bottom of yours that needs to be comfortable as you’re climbing up that big ‘ol mountain?
Your underwear is truly your next-to-skin baselayer, and for this reason, it’s important! Think of the expression, “Underwear that’s Fun-to-Wear.” If those panties are riding up your rear as you hike, contributing to your worst nightmare of chafing, or take forever to dry, they’re not in the Fun-to-Wear category.
Not all undies are made the same and what works for you may not work for your best friend. To help you choose the best women’s hiking underwear that’s right for YOU, this article covers these topics:
- Different Types of Hiking Underwear
- Pros/Cons of Each
- Key Considerations When Choosing
- Top Picks For Women’s Hiking Underwear
Different Types of Hiking Underwear
Let’s get it out to start: NO cotton undies when hiking! Cotton absorbs water, which is the opposite of what you want while hiking (who needs more water weight anyway?). This makes it heavy, slow to dry, and it doesn’t insulate. For these reasons, do yourself a favor and leave your cotton skivvies at home.
The two most popular materials as other options are synthetics and merino wool.
Synthetics are a blend of fabrics such as polyester, nylon, polypropylene and rayon. These underwear often include spandex for stretch and a fit that is snug yet not too tight.
Merino wool is a natural fibre grown year-round by merino sheep, consuming a natural blend of ingredients including sunshine, water, fresh air and grass. It’s often praised for being soft and itch-free. In terms of hiking underwear, the merino wool is often blended with other fabrics, like spandex or nylon, to make for a better fit and durability.
Pros/Cons of Each:
Like with everything in life, there are differing opinions on what makes something good or bad. Here are some pros and cons you can weigh out yourself when choosing the best women’s undies.
- Pro – Quick dry: Synthetics do an excellent job at wicking sweat and moisture, so they give you the most dry feel of any other fabric.
- Pro – Long-lasting: Synthetic materials are durable and hold up to regular use, making them the most long-lasting option.
- Pro – Less Expensive: If budget plays a factor, synthetics are a good choice because they are cost-friendlier than merino.
- Con – Environmental impact: Synthetics are industrially produced from non-renewable fossil energy, and this doesn’t sit right for some people.
- Con – Odor retention: These fabrics lean toward holding onto odors, so you’re stink-factor may increase. Some brands add an antimicrobial finish, which can help the situation. If you plan to wash them often while on trail, this may not be an issue.
- Pro – Wicking ability: Wool has the ability to pull moisture off of your skin and into the fabric. Because some of the moisture stays in the wool fibers, the wool may not feel quite as dry as synthetic fabric, but it won’t leave you feeling cold.
- Pro – The Cooling Factor: Merino is known for keeping you warm when cold and also cool when hot. A reason for that is because the moisture that’s held in the core of its fibers releases when temperatures rise, which can offer a bit of cooling in warm weather.
- Pro – Odor free: Merino wool is naturally antimicrobial and resistant to odor-causing bacteria. This is beneficial if you want to stay odor free for days on the trail and lessen your stink-factor.
- Con – Less durable: Merino just isn’t as tough when it comes to handling regular rubbing and abrasion. It can eventually wear the material down, so you might notice the fabric getting thin or tearing in some spots.
- Con – Longer to Dry: Merino can take longer to dry than synthetics, which can play a factor when they get wet.
- Con – More expensive: This material is more costly than synthetics, so it’s something to consider when thinking of your wallet.
Key Considerations When Choosing
In addition to the pros and cons above, there are some other important factors to consider when choosing your hiking knickers.
Cut – What style is best for hiking?
Have you ever met another female hiker who wears a thong when she hikes? Yep, some do! Honestly, the style of underwear that you go for is really a personal choice and it might take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you on trail. The bottom line to your decision should be informed by what makes you feel the most comfortable; it’s as simple as that. Whether you prefer full-cut briefs, hipster briefs, bikini style, or boy shorts is up to how they feel on you.
On that note, it’s been said that boy shorts (which are like boxers) can help avoid inner thigh chafing because of the longer cut, so they may be worth a try!
Top things to look for in a pair of underwear is whether it provides support, minimizes chafing and allows for wicking to keep you dry on your hike.
Go for formfitting, but not constrictive: You want your underwear to support, yet not be so tight they cut off circulation! Remember, comfort reigns. However, make sure they’re not too big, which can lead to rubbing, bunching and irritated skin.
Flatlock seams (wide seams): Choosing a pair with flat seams prevents chafing. Also think about any seams that may rub under the weight of you’re backpack; some ladies avoid high-cut panties because the waistband is where the lower part of your pack is located. A flat waistband that’s thin will surely be more comfortable than one that’s bulky, or you may want to go for a bikini cut.
Also stay away from underwear with tags for similar reasons!
A good fit maximizes wicking: For wicking to work, the fabric needs to be in contact with your skin. A loose fit prevents this, so it can benefit you to have wicking underwear that’s more formfitting.
Washing: Merino wool asks for more care than synthetics. You can usually throw your merino underwear in the wash with your other clothes, just avoid excessive heat. Ideally, wash them using cold or warm water, and preferably with a medium spin. Be mindful with putting them in the dryer, as many people have found that the high heat wears the fiber out; perhaps skip the dryer and air dry instead. Washing on the trail in cold water is probably the best bet.
Some say that because of its odour-resistant nature, merino doesn’t need to be washed as often as synthetic. That’s up to you to decide since we’re talking about underwear here!
Odor resistance: This was considered in the pros and cons section, yet it’s worth mentioning here that some synthetic underwear includes an antimicrobial treatment to help reduce odor retention. Be aware that these treatments can wear over time, and merino wool is naturally odor resistant so it won’t ever lose that ‘smell-better’ perk.
Top Picks For Women’s Hiking Underwear
Even though it’s been emphasized that choosing hiking underwear can be a personal preference; based on the topics highlighted above, here are some top picks to get you started in comparing.
ExOfficio Give-n-Go Sport Mesh Bikini Brief
A top favorite amongst the women in the thru-hiking community, the ExOfficio Give-n-Go Sport Mesh Bikini Brief is a synthetic pair that’s ultra-light with a diamond-weave mesh fabric that’s breathable, odor-resistant with antimicrobial treatment, moisture-wicking, and quick drying. For cut, the low rise and flatlock seaming of the briefs makes it a winner. It’s also an affordable option cost-wise.
One thing to note from feedback is that the Give-n-Go runs large and can stretch out a bit, so be sure to buy a size (or two) smaller than you normally wear.
Patagonia Barely Hipster
For a synthetic choice that’s more eco-conscious at 89% nylon where 66% is recycled, and the remaining 11% is spandex, Patagonia’s Barely Hipster is a great option. This pair is a hipster bikini cut that proves to be breathable, fast drying, lightweight and comfy. Like the ExOfficio’s, this pair won’t break the bank.
The thigh seams on this pair of undies are more minimal, so these may be a good choice if you favor a design with minimalist seams.
Ridge Merino Boy Shorts
If you’re eager to try the boy shorts style to see if it cuts backs on inner thigh chafing for you, check out the Ridge Merino Boy Shorts. They’re super soft and made of ultra-fine Merino fibers (84%) mixed with some nylon and spandex for better shape-holding after wear and wash. The high content of Merino wool equates to all the upsides of this natural fiber such as its breathability, quick drying time, and natural odor-resistance. This pair may be a bit more costly than a synthetic choice, yet the positive factors of Merino wool may tip the scale for you.
Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini
Some female hikers report these are the best merino briefs out there, and now you get to be the judge. At 87% merino and 13% nylon, the Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini is a pair of high quality merino underwear that’s both lightweight and comfortably fitting. Like all merino wool products, you’ll find this pair odor-resistant, moisture-wicking, breathable, and soft.
They’re also reported as rather durable, which is sometimes questionable with merino wool. The price point is a bit higher, although many find the quality and comfort make it a worthwhile choice.
Choosing the Best Women’s Hiking Underwear Takeaway
When you’re hiking, “Underwear that’s Fun-to-Wear” is essential. Whether you opt for a synthetic or merino wool pair, make sure that factors like being breathable, durable, odor-resistant, quick drying, and moisture-wicking are high on your list.
Above all, cut and design is up to your personal preference and comfort reigns. Hike like a queen who knows how to be comfortable while she conquers climbing that mountain.
Heather Rideout has been a life-long outdoors woman. Her pursuits and passion with hiking and camping have taken her around the world for many long distance trips; such as backpacking in Nepal, India, South America, Morocco, Europe, and North America. Heather has hiked the Appalachian Trail, 2,250 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, and a route of 1,500 miles combining several Camino routes through Spain and Portugal. She has been a blogger for ‘The Trek,’ and recorded an episode with one of her outdoor stories for the podcast ‘Out There.’ Heather shares some of her writing on her website, www.wanderyoga.com