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

Topics
Tom Kilpatrick
A London-born outdoor enthusiast, Tom took the first ticket out of suburban life. What followed was a twelve-year career as…
The best hiking snacks to fuel your time on the trail
Consider these foods to have with you on your hike
Man eating a hiking snack

Warmer weather is here, and it's finally time to dust off the hiking gear that’s been hibernating in the back of your closet all winter, and make some hiking snacks that will get you ready to hit the trails. From getting fresh air and exercise to enjoying scenic vistas, hiking is one of the best ways to get outdoors and enjoy nature. But, whether you're taking on one of the most physically challenging hikes in the U.S. or embarking on a short and simple day hike, it's important to be prepared with the right equipment -- and that includes the best hiking snacks. 

If you're keeping your hike relatively short, there's no need to reach for the dehydrated meals. What you do want are snacks that won’t spoil, don’t take up a ton of space in your backpack, and help you stay energized and feel good all day long. That means you'll want a mix of carbohydrates and protein, both of which your body needs to perform at its best during the hike and recover properly once you're done.

Read more
All the camping toiletries you need for a weekend (or a week) in the woods
Just because you're in the wild doesn't mean you have to look and smell like it
Man shaving outside

Hiking, camping, and exploring the great outdoors give you a much-needed perspective change on just about all of life's greatest mysteries. It's like pushing the reset button on our human operating systems. When you return to "the real world," you're often completely refreshed and performing optimally across all facets of your life. Among other things, it shows you just how few things you need to exist in blissful harmony with nature.

Out there in the woods, you don't need much aside from the best camping tent, a good sleeping bag, and cooking gear to prep your favorite camping meals. But just because you pack light doesn't mean you have to skimp on the toiletries. It's an essential step that many people forget, but you want a few items to clean yourself up after an all-day hike or fishing adventure.

Read more
Planning on hiking Mount Rainier this summer? NPS now requires reservations
Mount Rainier, a water view, and a pink warm sky view.

Thinking of heading to Mount Rainier for stunning wildflower displays and awe-inspiring cascades? You'll have to plan ahead because this summer, park reservations are required from May 24th through September 2nd.
To avoid the headache of a sold-out park, check out the reservation details below to make sure you're in the clear. And if you want to avoid the reservation system altogether, we have a few tips for that at the end.

Understanding Mount Rainier's new timed entry system

Read more