Active SportsHiking

How to Choose the Best Underwear for Hiking

Woman Stretching

You’ve probably put some thought into the kind of clothes you’ll wear on your next hiking adventure. You want to make sure that your feet, body, head, and hands are all decked out with the appropriate gear.

Of course, outerwear is super important to keep you safe from the elements. But how much thought to do you put into choosing your underwear?

It turns out that wearing the wrong garments down under can have a serious impact on your outdoor experience. 

Check out this article for our best tips on how to choose the best underwear for hiking.

Fabrics: A Quick Rundown

Woman Hiking
Photo from Lucas Favre on UnSplash

If your underwear drawer stops at good ol’ cotton briefs, you’re way behind the times. Choosing the right type of fabric is crucial to keep you warm or cool on your hike. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of fabrics you can choose for your base layer. 

Cotton

Many of us find comfort in cotton. But cotton has some downsides that make it less-than-ideal for hiking. 

Cotton doesn’t really breathe the way other fabrics do. When it gets wet, it becomes heavy and sticky, keeping the fabric close to your skin. This can lead to rubbing and chafing. 

Cotton also doesn’t dry out easily. If you plan to hang your clothes out to dry, it will take cotton much longer to dry than other fabrics. If it’s clinging to your body when the temperature drops, it can lead to hypothermia.

If you’re planning to go on a short hike and you have plenty of room in your tent or car to pack extra clothes, then cotton might work fine. But for any extensive hiking, we recommend you stay away from cotton.

Wool

In the realm of natural fabrics, wool is widely recognized as one of the best for rigorous outdoor activities. Unlike cotton, wool is a breathable fabric. It traps moisture inside the individual wool fibers, keeping them away from your skin.

This ability to wick away moisture means that your skin doesn’t feel wet and your clothes don’t feel soggy like they would with cotton. This also means that wool keeps your skin warm even when it is wet since the moisture isn’t in direct contact with your skin.

Wool can help keep your skin cool too. As temperatures rise, wool releases excess moisture so it dries quickly. This rapid drying can have a cooling effect on your skin. 

One drawback to wool is that it’s not as durable as synthetic fabrics. After several tough uses, you may find that your wool undies are starting to wear thin in certain areas. This can be avoided by opting for a wool/synthetic blend. 

Wool may also feel itchy on the skin. There’s a type of wool called Merino wool that is made with super-fine fibers to avoid that itchy feel.

Finally, wool is antimicrobial, meaning it’s good for keeping bacteria at bay. Bacteria are what cause your clothes to smell. So wool is a great option if you’re planning to go on long, multi-day hikes because you can wear it for several days and still smell like roses.

Synthetic Fabric

There are a bunch of different fabrics that make up most of the synthetic undergarments available on the market. Synthetic is the best at wicking away moisture and keeping your skin dry. 

They’ll also dry out very fast if you wash them and hang them out to dry. This allows you to get back on the trail without having to wait days for your clothes to dry. 

These fabrics are also usually stretchier than natural fibers. So you’ll get a closer feel and less bunching. 

One issue with synthetics is that they hold onto smells more than wool. Some even complain that they still smell after a thorough washing. There are antimicrobial synthetic fabrics on the market, however. If you’re concerned with smell, this might be a good option for you.

The Right Cut

Two People Hiking
Photo by Toomas Tartes on UnSplash

There are several cuts of underwear that you should be aware of as a hiker. Note, what feels comfortable to you on a day-to-day basis might not be what feels comfortable while hiking. So it’s important to try different underwear cuts and see what works best for you.

Female Underwear Cuts

If you’re looking for the most coverage, you’ll want to choose boyshorts or briefs. Both of these options will give you full coverage in the rear and mid-coverage to your waist. But with this increased coverage, you’ll have more fabric, which means they will take longer to dry out if you wash them. And they could bunch up as you move around throughout the day. 

Bikini cuts are like a brief but higher around the legs and offer less coverage on your rear and lower abdomen. These are a good choice if you feel that boyshorts or briefs are too bulky for your hike. But, be warned that bikinis do come with an increased wedgie risk.

Thong underwear is the least comfortable type of underwear because they offer little to no coverage. Some people do prefer wearing a thong since they don’t feel heavy under hiking gear. They also dry quickly because they consist of very little fabric. But if there’s a chance you might encounter cold weather, we suggest something with more coverage to add an extra level of protection against the elements. 

Bras come in a variety of shapes and cuts. And really, the cut of your bra depends on whatever makes you feel the most comfortable. We do suggest that you stick to wool or synthetic fabrics as we mentioned above, even with your bra.

Women can sweat more around and under the breasts and armpits. So you want a bra that will wick away moisture and keep you supported throughout your hike.

Male Underwear Cuts 

Boxers are comfortable in a casual setting, but they’re not often chosen as the ideal underwear for hiking. The fact that they aren’t fitted means that they’ll bunch up easier as you move. And this bunching can lead to chafing and other skin issues.

Briefs are snug to the body but provide less coverage than boxers. If you’re hiking in warm areas, they’re a good cut to keep your under areas cool without causing bunching.

Boxer briefs are the best of both worlds. They’re fitted like briefs but run down onto your thighs like boxers. This cut provides protection from chafing to your inner thighs. But it might be too much material if you’re planning to hike in hot climates.

As a general rule, it’s best to leave the white cotton tee at home when hiking. If you need some extra protection from the elements, opt for a snug, long-sleeved base shirt like the Under Armour Base 4.0. This gives you an added layer of cold protection while still allowing your skin to breathe. 

Underwear for Hiking: The Extras

Man wearing black thermal base layer underwear on white background
Image by arthursfoto from Getty

As with any type of activewear, there are some extra features available on the market. Opting for tagless undergarments is always best. These clothes press directly to your skin so it’s best to eliminate any tags that can cause itching or rubbing. 

Also, pay attention to the waistband and seams. You want these to fit comfortably to your body but not dig into your skin at any point. This is especially important at a point of contact with your backpack or other gear. You can find underwear with ultrasoft waistbands and flat seams to help combat this. Always try out your underwear using your hiking gear before you hit the trail, just to ensure you don’t have issues with seams rubbing on your skin. 

You can opt for undergarments that are treated with a special odor-resistant layer. This helps keep smells out of synthetic fabrics. But this treatment wears away with time. If you’re really concerned about smell, wool is always your best bet. It never loses its antimicrobial properties. 


Do you have your own tips for choosing the right underwear for hiking? Leave them in the comments below! And check out the activewear section on Gander’s site to shop a wide variety of base layers for men and women.

How to choose the best underwear for hiking

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