Skip to main content

The secret to a successful hike? Choosing the right hiking underwear

Regulate temperature where it really matters and avoid chafe on the trail

A man with a red backpack stands on a mountaintop looking over more mountains.
Lucas Clara/Unsplash

You wouldn’t build your house on poor foundations, would you? And yet so many people build their outdoor layering system on the wrong hiking underwear. You might be wearing hundreds of dollars worth of wicking layers, but you’re still likely to end up with too much heat in one of the most sensitive areas of your body. And then there’s the chafing; oh, the chafing.

Ingrained in the heads of most hikers and trail runners is the knowledge that cotton is off-limits. This means no cotton tees, hoodies, trousers, or socks. But underwear is more tricky. You already own it, but unfortunately, it’s probably all cotton. It’s time to change your underwear lineup. Trust me; you — and your boys — will thank yourself for it down the line.

Why does your hiking underwear matter?

Like all suitable outdoor clothing, the best underwear for hiking and trail running supports moisture and temperature management. This means wicking away excess sweat and expelling it through your hiking layers. Cotton underwear will saturate with sweat quickly, and excess moisture will sit against your skin rather than being wicked away. This sweat will affect your body’s temperature regulation — especially once you stop — and can lead to that well-known problem; the hiker’s chafe.

Chafing is caused when moisture — in this instance sweat — sits between two body parts that rub together (I’m not going to go into detail here; use your imagination). Chafing on your thighs or elsewhere underneath cotton underwear is seriously sore, and if you’ve ever experienced it, you’ll know that it can be painful enough to stop you in your tracks. The right hiking underwear will go a long way toward preventing this, and you can pair this with anti-chafing salves.

saxx pouched underwear briefs
Saxx Underwear/Facebook

Getting the right hiking underwear

Choose the right material

Like other hiking layers, the best material for underwear includes merino and synthetic materials like nylon, which are usually blended with spandex or elastane for stretch. When comparing merino and nylon vs. cotton underwear, the wicking benefits and comfort management are as apparent as the rest of your layering system. They also have the added benefit of being quick drying, allowing you to wash them on the trail and reduce your pack weight by carrying fewer pairs of hiking underwear. Bonus points here go to Merino wool, which is odor resistant — to a point.

Choose the style you’re comfortable with

I won’t get into style here because the boxers vs. briefs debate is a personal preference. But when choosing your hiking underwear, I would suggest a mid-fit that balances ease of movement against enough support to prevent rubbing and chafing. You should look for seamless underwear or underwear with flatlock seams, as these won’t rub like raised seams will. And try to go for tagless options; otherwise, your washing instructions will rub against you with every step along the trail.

Editors' Recommendations

Tom Kilpatrick
A London-born outdoor enthusiast, Tom took the first ticket out of suburban life. What followed was a twelve-year career as…
Apple just gave hikers, campers, skiers, and snowboarders a great reason to use Apple Maps and ditch Google Maps
Go anywhere and never get lost
Apple Maps update press release photo

Google Maps has long been a dominant player in navigation, known for its comprehensive data and ease of use. However, with the release of iOS 17, Apple has introduced a game-changing feature that's set to make Apple Maps the go-to choice for outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers. Apple is finally introducing offline maps, and it's a feature that will revolutionize the way hikers, campers, skiers, and snowboarders navigate the great outdoors.
iOS 17 unveils offline maps for Apple Maps
Apple Maps has come a long way since its initial launch, and it's continually striving to offer users a more robust and feature-rich experience. With the launch of iOS 17 on September 18, 2023, Apple is introducing offline maps, a feature that will be a game-changer for those who love outdoor activities.

Offline maps allow users to select specific areas to download to their phones. Once downloaded, these maps can be accessed and used without an internet connection. This makes it possible to enjoy turn-by-turn navigation and conduct searches even in remote areas where internet connectivity may be unreliable or nonexistent. It works similarly to Google Maps in the sense that you do need a WiFi connection to download the maps, but after that, you're good to go off the grid.
The perfect companion for outdoor adventures
For outdoor enthusiasts, this feature is a dream come true. Whether you're hiking in the wilderness, camping in a remote location, skiing down the slopes, or snowboarding in the mountains, having access to offline maps can be a lifesaver. Here's how this feature can benefit different adventure seekers:

Read more
You may want an electric mountain bike, but you probably shouldn’t buy one – here’s why
Spoiler alert: You can blame the government for this, too
A large sign on a tree on the side of a mountain bike trail telling riders that e-bikes are not allowed

There is really one more type of mountain bike that should be added to the list of mountain bike categories that make up the sport. Electric mountain bikes have broken onto the scene and have rapidly grown in popularity.

One look at these electric mountain bikes, especially if you look at the suspension travel numbers, would have you thinking that they fall into the “trail” or “enduro” mountain bike category. And while these bikes do look similar, the pedal assist of an electric mountain bike means that long cross-country rides aren’t out of the question.

Read more
In Yellowstone National Park, one woman was sent running after yet another too-close encounter with a bison
Here's why you should NEVER get in front of a wild bison, kids
Closeup of large black bison starting at camera from a grassy field.

In the past few years, tourists have started visiting the best U.S. National Parks in record numbers. More people means more animal encounters — specifically wild animal encounters. It should go without saying that wild animals are, well, wild. That means they can be unpredictable, aggressive, and even dangerous when they feel threatened. Can you blame them? But that hasn't stopped some people from putting their safety, even their lives, at risk just to snag "the perfect selfie." Case in point: Yet another tourist who couldn't resist getting an all-too-close "ussie" with a wild bison, and nearly found herself the victim of another Yellowstone National Park bison attack.

Instagram user yesitisjen captured this brief video snippet of the encounter:

Read more