Guys, let’s talk about underwear. I appreciate this isn’t a subject men usually discuss (not men’s underwear at any rate), but this neglect comes at a price.
If you’re anything like me and you pick up your boxer shorts from supermarket bargain bins you’ll have encountered all sorts of problems. Lack of support, too much support, moisture retention, chafing, boxers that continually bunch up or continually slip down, self-inflicted wedgies. The list goes on (much as you don’t want it to) and begs the question: why do we do this to ourselves?
Would we tolerate jeans, t-shirts, walking boots or any other item of clothing that looked so shabby and wore so poorly? The issue is magnified even more when we’re out on the trail, where comfort and breathability are key.
It’s time, at the very least, to sort out some decent underwear for the trail. Let’s take a look at the best hiking underwear for men.
Keeping reading for more in-depth reviews below…
ExOfficio Men's Give-N-Go Boxer Brief
Woolx Basix - Men’s Boxer Briefs
REI CO-OP Boxer Briefs
Icebreaker Mens Anatomica Boxers
Smartwool Men's Merino 150 Pattern Boxer Brief
- 1 Value
- 2 Features to Look For
- 3 ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer Brief
- 4 Woolx Basix – Men’s Boxer Briefs
- 5 REI Co-op Boxer Briefs
- 6 Icebreaker Mens Anatomica Boxers
- 7 Smartwool Men’s Merino 150 Pattern Boxer Brief
- 8 Conclusion
First things first: value isn’t just about cost. Cheap boxers save you money but, as outdoorgearlab.com note, “a five pack of cotton misery disguised as men’s underwear” isn’t going to enhance life on the trail.
What value would you place on making it through a 4-day trek with no chafing on the inside of your legs, no sweat rashes and minimal odors? Let’s be clear, none of the underwear in this guide can compete with cotton boxers for price, but can you put a price on comfort?
Features to Look For
Okay, you’re going to do it. You’re going to push the boat out and invest in some proper hiking underwear. What are the main features that distinguish high-quality underwear from the rest of the field?
Generally speaking you’ll want a pair that is lightweight, breathable and quick drying. Underwear that doesn’t chafe or rub in sensitive areas.
Cotton is neither of these things. When it gets wet it stays wet and that leads to chafing and other forms of discomfort. Avoid cotton boxers on the trail!
Merino Wool is a better natural option. Unlike cotton it’s breathable and minimizes odor when worn for several days in a row. It isn’t however as durable as other synthetics.
The main synthetic options for high-quality underwear are nylon, lycra,polypropylene and polyester or a combination of these (eg lycra and nylon). The “poly” options are the lightest but, as we’ll discover, have drawbacks some of the others don’t.
Let’s be honest, odor control is a pretty important consideration on the trail, particularly if you’re going to be in the wild for days on end. That probably rules polypropylene out of the equation, as it can start to smell quickly, though synthetic materials can be treated to give them antimicrobial properties. Be sure to look at the label of any synthetic garments to make sure this is the case as it can make a big difference to the odor resistance of synthetic underwear.
Merino wool has “natural antimicrobial properties” which provides reliable and long-lasting protection against odor. If minimizing odors is a key consideration for you then merino wool is arguably the way go since the odor resistance is natural rather than a “treatment” that could wear off over time.
Men’s underwear, much like what lies beneath, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Different styles meet different needs. GQ Magazine have an in-depth guide worth reading up on if you’re unsure of what type of undies work best for you, but here’s a brief overview of the main styles:
Briefs – Good for: providing support, especially if, ahem, you have something that needs a lot of supporting. Also a good choice for men with large thighs.
Boxers – Good for breathability and the least revealing type of men’s underwear. However, as they are poor at providing support and have a tendency to chafe, particularly if you have powerful thighs, boxers may not be a good choice for the trail
Boxer-briefs/Trunks – Boxer-briefs and their slightly shorter version, trunks, are a potentially winning combination of the above two styles. They blend the tight fit and support of briefs with the extra coverage of boxers.
Many believe that boxer-briefs are the best bet for hiking. The fact that they are tight helps move perspiration away from the skin is one of their upsides, as well as the ability to reduce chafing.
Chafing can be a major issue on the trail. Find out more about it – and the role boxer-briefs play in tackling it – in this youtube video:
It’s all very well buying underwear made from lavish material with an ideal fit, but they won’t be much good to you if they start falling apart on the trail (where they’re bound to be put to the test). Flat-lock seams are recommended by numerous websites as they enhance comfort and reduce the risk of chafing. When buying underwear it’s worth checking for flat-lock seams and that the underwear can be machine-washed without damage.
In general, underwear made of synthetic material is more durable than merino wool, which may have to be hand-washed or machine-washed at a lower temperature or with special fabric conditioner (6). So, as attractive as merino wool’s odor resistant properties may be, these should be weighed against the potential loss of durability and its more specific maintenance needs.
The amount of time your underwear takes to dry could be a crucial consideration on the trail. If you’re going to be in and out of water or plan on lightweight trekking, where the same boxers/briefs may have to last you several days, garments with a speedy drying time will greatly increase comfort.
Synthetic materials outperform merino wool in this regard, with polyester and nylon’s drying time considered “excellent” and merino wool’s merely “decent”.
As we’ve seen, there are many different factors that determine the suitability of hiking underwear. Is there a product on the market that nails it and meets every single need or will consumers need to weigh various priorities to pick from a range of competing products?
Let’s take a look at five of the best products on the hiking underwear market to see how they match up.
Material: 94% nylon, 6% lycra
Price point: low-to-mid
Ex-Officio have made a name for themselves in the underwear market in recent years and these boxer-briefs tick many of the boxes mentioned in the previous section. For one thing, they’re boxer-briefs, arguably the best all round style for hiking, and with a drying time of less than 2 hours they offer the versatility many of those on the trail are looking for. If you’re looking to travel light and decide your underwear will have to last a week, it’s comforting to know that they could be washed and dried within a few hours on a warm afternoon – and that an antimicrobial treatment will help keep the odors away.
The synthetic materials have also been weaved into a “mesh” designed to increase durability. You’ll want to know that your underwear can handle everything thrown at it if you’ve only got one pair with you.
- Fully synthetic and with a swift drying time to match. Within 2 hours of a thorough soaking they’ll be bone dry
- Treated with Silvadur antimicrobial to counter odors
- Diamond knit mesh fabric is designed for durability
- Wicks moisture away from the skin
- Some users report that pilling (little balls of fibre on the surface) appear over time
Material: 100% merino wool
Price point: high
“No smell boxers!” is the tagline promise of Woolx for their merino wool boxer briefs. Merino wool is known for its anti-odor properties and ability to wick moisture away from the skin. Basically, these are the kind of boxers you wish you were wearing when you bumped into those attractive German girls in the middle of a remote valley – as cute as they looked when their noses wrinkled up.
Merino wool is softer to the touch than regular wool and the boxers are designed to hug the body like a “second skin.” Unlike some merino wool products the briefs can be machine-washed and dried without damage/shrinkage (though they should be turned inside out first.)
- Natural and reliable odor protection
- A natural material with a natural feel
- Machine washable – easier to clean than other merino wool products
- High price point
- Less durability and longer drying time than comparable synthetic product
Material: 92% polyester, 8% spandex
Price point: mid
These boxer-briefs are designed to wick sweat away from the skin and to provide comfort on the trail. The fabric stretches in four directions to keep the fit during physical exertion, while flat seams are designed to minimise the risk of chafing. Anyone who has ever suffered “nappy rash” on the trail – wet boxer shorts chafing the inside of both thighs till they come out in a rash that stings when anything touches it – will appreciate the importance of both wicking and chafe-reduction.
- Designed to reduce chafing
- Made of materials that dry quickly and wick moisture
- Some users report chafing despite the product’s stated goal of avoiding it.
Material: 83% merino wool, 12% nylon, 5% spandex
Price point: high
These boxer-briefs seek to get the best from both worlds by weaving synthetic materials into merino wool to enhance its durability. Flat-lock seams, a recommended feature to prevent chafing, are also a major part of the design. If you love the texture of merino wool but feel you just don’t get enough wear out of them, these could be the briefs for you.
- The odor protection of merino wool “toughened up” with synthetic fibres sounds like a good blend
- Flat-lock seams help reduce chafing
- Users report that the waistband has an unfortunate tendency to roll up into a tube under duress
- High price point
Material: 87% merino wool, 13% nylon
Price point: high
The Smartwool Men’s Merino Briefs use a blend of merino wool and synthetic fibres that seeks to harness the best features of both. Flat-lock seams are also present to guard against chafing, while the waistband features merino wool to ensure that the “feel” of the wool is always against the skin.
- The odor protection of merino wool and the toughness of synthetic fibres in one
- Flat-lock seams present to reduce chafing
- High price point
- Some users report problems with bunching
And the winner is…The ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer Brief! It was a close run thing but the ExOfficio’s edge it on all round performance combined with an accessible price point.
The ExOfficio’s meet all of the requirements outlined in the “Value” section. They provide odor protection, are made of durable synthetic materials and dry exceptionally quickly, a major bonus on the trail in the days of lightweight trekking (where taking only one or two pairs of briefs is increasingly common).
No significant drawbacks were noted for the ExOfficio briefs other than “pilling,” a relatively superficial concern since it doesn’t affect the performance of the garment (8) and 99% of the time no-one sees your boxers anyway!
It’s worth emphasising that personal preference shouldn’t be ignored when it comes to the choice of underwear. We may consider the ExOfficio briefs to provide the best blend of affordability, reliability and performance, but if you prefer natural materials and are happy to spend a bit more one of the merino wool products may become your go to.
Whatever underwear you choose may you hike in odorless, chafe-free, quick-drying contentment!