We’ve tested 34 pairs of men’s and women’s underwear over the past two years while road-tripping, hostel-hopping, and backpacking in backcountry and urban environments. Throughout these trips, ExOfficio’s Give-N-Go Sport Mesh 6″ Boxer Brief for men and Patagonia’s Active Hipster for women have proven themselves to be the best underwear for most travelers and active people in general.
The ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh 6″ Boxer Brief is the best men’s underwear for travel because it balances fit, comfort, odor-proofing, and value better than anything else we’ve tested. The Sport Mesh fabric excels at breathing and wicking and has better odor-resistance than other fabrics. It feels soft on the inside and smooth on the outside so it slides against your pants instead of creating friction, reducing potential for chafing. It also features a sculpted crotch area that gives wearers some much-appreciated support without feeling stifling. They dry quickly, pack compactly, and weigh less than almost all the other boxer briefs we tried—basically they’re everything you’d want from a pair of excellent travel underwear.
If you’re willing to pay more for better fit and fabric, the Tommy John Air Boxer Brief feels like a fine-tailored garment with the price to match. Offering the best front pouch of any boxer brief we tested, these soft undies also stay in place better than the competition for a truly wedgie-free, riding-free, rubbing-free experience. They’re a bit long in the legs—not ideal for pairing with short shorts—but other than that, we have no complaints if you can afford the hefty price.
The Patagonia Active Hipster doesn’t appear special upon first glance. Only after trying everything else and living through their failures to stay put did we remember what “special” really means in a pair of underwear: Feeling as if you’re wearing nothing at all. The Patagonias have the best fit, comfort, and style out of all the panties we tested. The nylon material is fast-wicking and better than most synthetics for odor-proofing, making it well suited for athletic activities. The Active Hipster is lightweight and packable, and is the fastest-drying underwear we tested—making it perfect for minimalist travelers who go weeks at a time with just one or two pairs. But these same characteristics make these panties great for any traveler looking for something comfortable and packable, regardless of where you’re going or what you’re doing.
If you’re willing to pay more for the natural odor-prevention and antibacterial properties of wool, we found the Ibex Balance Brief almost equals our top pick’s ability to stay put throughout the whole day. These soft, stretchy panties won’t slip down or ride up, but wool can be warm and doesn’t dry quickly, making it a worse option for summer or tropical travel.
If you want great performance at an even more budget-friendly price, Uniqlo’s Airism line is a great choice for men and women alike. Despite keeping the same Airism name, our testers found that this year’s new fabric wicks and dries better than the last Airism model. However, the fit isn’t as nice as you’d get with our other picks: The legs on the men’s underwear are a bit too short and the women’s version had issues with sagging at times. Also the odor resistance isn’t as effective or durable compared with pricier boxers and panties. But for a more than reasonable price, you’re still getting great underwear that wicks, breathes, supports, and dries as well as the best travel underwear available.
Table of contents
- Why you should trust us
- Who should get travel underwear
- How we picked
- How we tested
- Our men’s pick: ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh 6″ Boxer Brief
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- More comfortable and more expensive: Tommy John Air Boxer Brief
- Our women’s pick: Patagonia Active Hipster
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- A merino runner-up for women: Ibex Balance Brief
- Budget pick for men and women
- The competition (men’s underwear)
- The competition (women’s underwear)
Why you should trust us
I’m a former Appalachian Trail speed-record holder who has hiked over 15,000 miles in performance underwear. As an ultralight backpacker, I’ll use the same two pair of undies for six months, washing and drying yesterday’s pair for tomorrow’s use. I’ve taken travel undies hostel-hopping on five continents, too. In two years of covering travel and long underwear for The Wirecutter, I’ve logged hundreds of hours of research and comparison on over 50 models. I’ve tested dozens of contenders on expeditions, personally suffering through differences in odor, chafing, and longevity. Aside from a few gifts from mom, travel underwear is the only kind I own.
For feedback on the challenges undies may face internationally, we pinned down global nomad and author of The Hidden EuropeFrancis Tapon during the Sudanese portion of his five-year walk through all 54 African countries. We also spoke with Genevieve Hathaway, director of ArchaeoAdventures, a tour agency specializing in “for-women-by-women” trips to the Middle East and Northern Africa. Finally, to get a better grasp on design features, fabrics, and the changing men’s underwear market, we checked in with Michael Kleinmann, aka The Underwear Expert, editor-in-chief of The Underwear Blog and founder of the Underwear of the Month Club.
Who should get travel underwear
Anyone who wants to travel light or needs more room in their luggage for the fun stuff will appreciate the convenience of ditching cotton underpants. Whether you’re traveling for business, pleasure, or outdoor activities, you want undies that will work with you, not against you. Travel underwear reduces chafing and wicks away moisture—ensuring that discomfort from your undies doesn’t hold you back from your adventures. The thinner material takes up less space in your bag. They also dry about twice as quickly as typical underwear made of cotton.
If you’ve ever found that doing laundry cuts into your travel time or budget, there’s a better way to have clean skivvies when you’re on the road. With the convenience of quick-drying, handwashable underwear, you’ll no longer be at the mercy of the laundromat hours or expensive hotel laundry service. If you can commit to handwashing nightly before bed, you can travel indefinitely with just two pairs of travel undies.
The only major downside is that travel underwear tends to be a bit more expensive per pair than typical cotton undies. For example, Uniqlo makes both cotton and synthetic boxer briefs, and the cotton version is about half as expensive. And though synthetic materials have a slick, silky feel that many people love in underwear, they tend to feel less luxurious than the softer modal-blend skivvies popularized by companies like MeUndies. But these softer materials dry too slowly—about as slowly as cotton in most cases—and aren’t as effective at wicking moisture.
How we picked
- Moisture wicking and breathable: Travelers and athletes will generate more sweat in their groin than the average office worker. Moisture-wicking and breathable fabrics maximize comfort, reduce odor, and minimize chances of infection—all important features when you may not get a chance to change your underwear for a while.
- Quick drying: Tapon wrote us, “Any traveler with a brain is going to pack light. That means minimizing the number of clothes you bring, including your underwear, even though they take up so little space. Now that you have so few underwears, you’ll appreciate the importance of a quick drying ones. You want ones that you can wash at night and that they’re nearly dry in the morning.”
- Odor-resistant: Odor is caused by moisture and bacteria. Certain materials like wool or treated synthetics are more difficult surfaces for bacteria colonies to develop on. We included only undies that advertised terms like “odor-control,” “odor-resistant,” “antimicrobial,” or “anti-odor.”
- Stretch: When you’re in a remote location filming leaps over chasms and rooftops on your GoPro, the last thing you want is a rip in your drawers. “For active guys, we recommend underwear that contains a performance fabric, or at the very least some amount of stretch,” Kleinmann wrote us. Typically, 6 percent spandex, elastane, or Lycra is the minimum you want to look for in a pair of good travel undies. Stretch matters more for boxer-brief or boyshort cuts than for hipster or brief cuts. That’s because you’ll need them to stretch with your legs as you walk, run, cycle, or squat.
- Style: Travel underwear shouldn’t mean dorky underwear. If your travels bring you to a place where you’ll be showing off your skivvies, what you’re wearing shouldn’t scare away the company. Tapon takes his style and cut choices to the extreme: “You want an underwear that can serve as your emergency bathing suit or even shorts. You may forget your shorts while they’re drying on a line, leaving you shorts-less with 4 days left on your vacation. A full cut or boxer underwear gives you an instant backup, especially if you’re far from civilization or don’t want to buy a new one. I’ve gone jogging many times in my full cut underwear and nobody seems to notice.”
- Cut: Whether a particular pair of underwear stays up and doesn’t dig into your body depends a lot on your shape and the cut of the underwear. We opted for undies with generous coverage, but not so much that they hinder mobility: Boxer briefs for men, hip-hugger/bikini-style panties for women. When traveling, modest underwear allows more freedom to change in the open if need be, or use of underwear for unconventional activities like swimming or (Tapon’s case) running. But this isn’t just about modesty. Last year, we found that medium-coverage underwear stayed in place, and skimpier underwear gave wedgies over time. Similarly, ill-fitting underwear tended to bunch up from rubbing against our pants.
- Variety of cuts: We focused on boxer briefs and hip-hugger/bikini styles in this guide, but different bodies have different needs, so it’s nice if a line has multiple styles available. For example, taller or fuller women we talked with preferred a boyshort style or a men’s boxer brief; anything else rides up. Athletic women with muscular thighs found boxer-briefs too restrictive. Men over 50 we talked with wanted briefs.
How we tested
- Fit and comfort: You should get wedgies from your siblings, not your clothing. A good-fitting pair of underwear is designed and cut to minimize readjustment. We looked for a pliable elastic waistband that stayed up without feeling restrictive. “If the waistband is digging [into you] or rolls over, chances are it’s a low quality pair or the wrong size or style for your body type,” warned Kleinmann. The fabric should also help your undies stay up with a snug fit and enough stretch to maintain free movement.Though underwear can be designed to be high- or low-rise, the top of the inseam should always go to the bottom of the crotch. When the rise is too short, you’ll feel restricted. Too long, and you’ll have to ride your pants up like Urkel or suffer a sag at the crotch.Many men’s boxer brief designs have a shaped front panel, also called a 3D panel or pouch. Snarky Nomad writes in his guide “Why is everyone getting underwear so wrong?” that the front panel should contain and surround the body, preventing contact with legs or rubbing from seams. A good-fitting 3D front panel should fit closely, without restriction. In general, a good-fitting pair of underwear hugs your body and feels slightly compressed, but not too much. Some companies, like Saxx put an additional pouch within the pouch—essentially underwear in your underwear—to add even more separation, but our testers preferred the lighter touch of a formed panel.
- Fabric and seam scratchiness: Is the fabric soft or does it make you itch? Are there any annoying tags that can’t be removed (or if they are removable, is there still some rubbing where the tag was)? Do the seams rub against your skin or are they flush and out of the way?
- Fabric stays in place: Also known as “doesn’t require constant adjustment,” Snarky Nomad recommends in that same underwear guide that a quality pair of undies should be made of a fabric and design that stretches and contracts with movement. The best underwear material will keep its shape over the course of the day—not sag or loosen up between washes like a pair of jeans. Loosening fabric that expands but does not contract leads to what he calls “lateral drift.”
- Durability: Performance skivvies aren’t cheap. Look for fabric that will last. A solid waistband should not fold over or lose stretchiness over time. After handwashing, the fabric and seams should not show signs of pilling or loosening of threads. Experts differ on the reasonable life span of a pair of underwear, with estimates as low as six months to as high as four-plus years. What’s unacceptable is a pair that develops holes within a few months.
- Long-term comfort: Whether you’re on a 23-hour plane ride sandwiched between two 10-hour bus rides or you’re backpacking in the tropics, you should be able to wear these for an extra day or two.
- Lightweight and packable: Underwear won’t be the straw that breaks the weight limit on your check-in, but pairs that take up less space leave you more room for gear you really need.
We started simply by trying everything on. Anything that wasn’t comfortable to sit at a desk and work in failed the initial test and was cut from the list. We then wore the top performers for two days in a row, before conducting a sniff test. Testers also noted whether the pair felt grimy or otherwise gross. If so, we asked the tester to run the underwear through another two-day trial to ensure the grossness of the underwear wasn’t related to their own health issues. To test durability, in addition to usual washing after wear, we washed each pair of underwear three times straight with a few pairs of jeans (to simulate a rough wash).
Because drying time is an essential component of travel underwear, after running all the underwear through the spin cycle, we line-dried it. We touched each pair every 20 minutes to determine whether it was dry and order of drying time.
We then moved onto real-world testing on some trips we had preplanned. These included backpacking 215 miles throughout the city of Portland, Oregon; six weeks backpacking the Canadian Rockies, walking from the lowest point in the Continental US to the highest; and road-tripping to the national parks of the West. And of course, wearing them on all the flights that got us to our destinations.
Afterward, we checked for signs of wear, such as breaking apart at the seams and pilling on the fabric. As we continued to test the finalists, we repeatedly checked for durability problems.
Our men’s pick: ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh 6″ Boxer Brief
Whether we were sitting on a bus or walking hills, the ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh 6″ Boxer Brief balances fit, comfort, durability, and cost. Front panels are notoriously difficult to size correctly, but the Sport Mesh’s simple, stretchy pouch should accommodate a wide variety of body types whereas the more complicated, multi-flap designs found on Saxx or MyPakage briefs can feel superfluous or stifling, depending on your personal situation. The Sport Mesh stretches as you move and retains shape well. It had the quickest wicking performance of all the underwear we tested and dried fairly quickly, too.
ExOfficio made its name as a travel underwear company with its long-lasting classic Give-N-Go model (which we also tested and is still available). Multiple people we consulted, including Tapon, have had their ExOfficio Give-N-Gos last for years. The Sport Mesh version has the features that made the Give-N-Go famous, but with a better, softer, stretchier fabric (2 percent more Lycra than the Classic). It also has a 3D front panel, a major improvement over the flat front panel on the original Give-N-Go. Our tester felt supported and contained, regardless of his movement.
What set the ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh apart from the rest is that it transfers moisture away from the body better than the competitors. It is the ideal pair of undies for sweaty activities and hot locales. It also had better odor treatment than most of the pairs we tried, a feature appreciated by athletes and lazy launderers alike. “I have worn these boxers for years,” said our male tester, “and they have never let me down. They definitely combat odor.”
These ExOfficios were designed with the lightweight traveler in mind. At 2.65 ounces (among the lightest we tested) they fit compactly in luggage without a lot of bulk. They’re easier to fold than other underwear with a more articulated front pouch, though our tester found himself more often wadding them into stuff sacks.
Another advantage ExOfficio has over other brands we tested is that it offers the widest variety of cuts, colors, and sizes. Though we tested the green six-inch boxer brief, if you want good performance in a specific color or leg length, it’s likely ExOfficio offers your combo. They are also among the most widely available performance underwear.
Our personal experience after years of wearing the original ExOfficio Give-N-Go shows that the odor-proofing antibacterial treatment eventually fades, and with it, the ability to wear them for multiple days in a row. But the fabric itself is nearly indestructible. The same can almost be said of the Sport Mesh version. Despite some early signs of pilling—especially in the perineum (aka taint) and the area between the legs—after six months of daily wear of a single pair (yeah, gross—we didn’t ask him to do this), our tester didn’t manage to develop any holes despite some initial pilling. (Amazon reviewers and Snarky Nomad agree with our tester’s finding.) So if you can live with the old-sweatshirt look or don’t need to impress anyone with your undies, the Sport Mesh will serve you well for a long time.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The ExOfficios had a good fit, but it wasn’t quite as perfect as that of more-expensive underwear we tested. The waistband can roll over, although it doesn’t dig. Snarky Nomad notes that there can be bunching in the bottom/back of the underpants. During backpacking trips, the six-inch boxer brief caused our tester some slight chafing between the thighs (he attributed this to the size of his thighs, as this is a problem he had with all the underwear). This issue could be mitigated by opting for the longer, nine-inch model, which we did not test. Our tester also attributes chafing to the fact that he wore the same pair for a few days, allowing the accumulation of salt, dirt, and other substances that could contribute to or exacerbate rubbing.
Our tester also noted that although the ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh wicks away sweat and dries quicker than the competition, the times when you do manage to get them soaked, they can stick to the skin and be harder to remove than our other picks.
The Give-N-Go Sport Mesh also didn’t top the charts in our drying-time test. They took a bit less than 2½ hours to fully dry on a line compared with two hours for the fastest-drying boxers, but it’s unlikely that the extra 20 to 30 minutes of drying time will make or break any situation.
Amazon reviewers and Snarky Nomad warn that sizes run large, so size down if you can. Those with athletic thighs or butt may find the the waistband and thigh holes don’t correspond to your body dimensions. Nonetheless, ExOfficio offers an aggressive warranty program, so if you aren’t sure what size to get, you can afford to make a few wrong guesses and the company will cover the return shipping.
More comfortable and more expensive: Tommy John Air Boxer Brief
What made the Tommy Johns stand out for our tester was that it had an easily accessible fly and the best front pouch of any boxer brief we tested. The fly allows exit from the top not the side, which our tester found convenient. He said this design allowed for a great flow of pee while also reducing pressure on the urethra to reduce dribble.
Snarky Nomad also likes the Tommy John boxer brief, despite the price tag and some pilling issues. In his review, he notes that “most irritation is caused by the contents of the front pouch coming into contact with the leg…if the contents of the front pouch are properly surrounded, they are also immobilized, and they can’t escape the confines of the front pouch at all, and will never come into contact with the leg.” Snarky Nomad and our tester both agree that a standout feature of the Tommy John is that the front pouch is not flat, instead shaped to safeguard its contents. It also lacks seams that can rub in an area that really should not be chafed.
Another benefit of the Tommy Johns is the wide range of sizes—from small to 4XL. However, color options are more limited compared with ExOfficio.
Tommy John offers among the best return policies we’ve seen on any product: “The Best Pair You’ll Ever Wear” allows first-time online purchasers to love the product or keep it with money back if reported within 30 days. The company also offers free return shipping labels within 30 days for unused products.
Our women’s pick: Patagonia Active Hipster
The Patagonia Active Hipster doesn’t sacrifice style for performance. It stays in place better than any other underwear we tested, dries quickly, and is more packable than anything else we tested. And it holds up great to strenuous activity and multiple washes—unlike the women’s version of ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh, which sagged a bit on our tester and pilled noticeably after just a few wears.
The Patagonia Active Hipster has soft reinforced openings for the legs that prevent wedgies or riding up. We also enjoyed how the underwear is seamless, reducing areas where chafing or rubbing can occur.
Most of the reviewers who have concerns about this year’s Active Hipster compare it with previous models, noting that the material isn’t as soft, the waistband isn’t as thick, it doesn’t have as much coverage, or isn’t as durable. Our testers found this year’s material to be soft and were satisfied with the coverage. Compared with the other underwear we tested, which are among the finest in the genre, this year’s model of Patagonia Active Hipster is still the best.
We noticed no loose seams or pilling issues so far, but will continue to test for durability. Patagonia has among the best return and repair policies in the industry, but does charge for a return label.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Our biggest complaint (and a common one among user reviewers) is the cutaway tag. Unlike tags on other underwear, it can’t be torn off the moment you realize annoying chafing. It must be cut to not rip the stitching in the seam. Even after the tag is gone, there’s still rubbing.
A merino runner-up for women: Ibex Balance Brief
Aside from our pick, the Ibex Balance Brief stays in place better than any of the undies we tested and has a chafe-free tagless design that prevents unnecessary rubbing. Wool also has natural antimicrobial features that can reduce your chance of developing infections, or at least keep down the odor. That being said, merino has its drawbacks as a travel underwear: It dries slower than synthetics, doesn’t pack as compactly, is prone to bunching, and costs more. But our testers found that for fall, winter, spring, and summer travel to cooler climates, the merino in the Ibex Balance Brief couldn’t be beat.
The National Institute of Health recommends one way to reduce your chances of developing vaginitis, including yeast infections, is to choose underwear made of natural fibers. Natural fabrics often allow the transfer of air and moisture (aka breathe) better than synthetics like nylon. That heat and moisture confined against the skin could be a factor related to yeast infections. You’ve probably heard that cotton is a good option for undies, because they breathe well and wick moisture away. The problem is cotton takes a long time to dry—meaning that moist, sweaty environment will stick around for awhile, which (as mentioned above) are ideal environments for bacteria growth. That’s why we like merino wool undies: They wick, breathe, and have a drying time equal to or better than synthetics. Plus, the natural antimicrobial features of wool can reduce the accumulation of bacteria better than treatments in synthetics, which can wash out over time.
Though we still like the Smartwool, our testers felt that the Ibex felt softer and fit better for around the same price. We’re not sure why it feels softer. Ibex uses 17.5 micron wool sourced from Australia compared with Smartwool’s 17.2 micron wool sourced from New Zealand. Generally, the coarser the wool, the more likely it will cause irritation, but this wasn’t the case here. The sewn-in tag on the PhD is the source of major complaint from our testers as well as user reviewers on Smartwool’s website and Amazon. Otherwise, the Smartwool and Ibex are almost identical, both with 72 percent merino wool, 22 percent nylon, and 6 percent Spandex and both made in Turkey.
Our tests over the past year have shown that merino wool can be incredibly durable—which included a five-week backpacking trip using similar Smartwool underwear. We have no reason to believe the Ibex won’t hold up just as well as last year’s wool pick over time—and though we found no signs of durability issues in the Ibex, we don’t yet have a year’s worth of testing to back up long-term durability claims. We will continue to test the Ibex’s durability over the next year and will report back how it compares with the Smartwool after a year of use.
Though we haven’t personally tested these undies beyond a couple months on the road, Ibex users generally find issues with sizing more than durability. Customer reviews say they run small and fit more like a low-rise bikini than a traditional brief. Whether a particular cut stays up and doesn’t dig into your body depends a lot on your shape, but we found the Ibex stays up better than almost any pair at any cut.
The Ibex can be harder to find in brick-and-mortar stores than many of the competitors so you may not be able to try before you buy, but Ibex accepts returns and exchanges up to 60 days after purchase if you pay shipping.
Budget pick for men and women
If you want to spend as little as possible without sacrificing performance, the Uniqlo Airism line is a great choice for men and women who can wear size small and medium. With the next update, we’ll look for a budget pick with more size options. But if these fit, you can replace an entire underwear drawer on a tight budget, as long as you can deal with its slightly odd fit and less-effective odor-control treatment.
The Uniqlo Airism’s fit provides a comfortable amount of coverage for both men and women. The coverage aspect isn’t about modesty: We found that medium-coverage underwear stayed in place, and skimpier underwear gave wedgies over time. Similarly, the merino pairs we tested tended to bunch up from rubbing against our pants. The Airism underwear was also quite durable and held up through several handwashing cycles with no signs of wear. Travel gear reviewer Snarky Nomad loved them.
After trying all the options, our male tester noted that the Uniqlo Airism could have been a touch more supportive in the front pouch, but liked them overall, concluding: “I love these boxers and at $10 a pair, I think they offer the best of both worlds for affordability and comfort.” But the fit wasn’t ideal compared with the more-expensive options we tested. The sizing changed compared with last season’s design and several user reviewers note that they run slightly large, though others complain that they run small. We think this is a result of the shortened inseam (leg length) combined with a taller rise (the distance from the crotch to the waistband), which can cause different fit issues on different body types. And although our tester did not experience this, other user reviewers report that this also leads to the boxers bunching up in the back.
If you find that the normal-fit boxer briefs don’t cut it, Snarky Nomad recommends getting the low-rise version and going a size up. The result is that it doesn’t ride too low. He also finds that the fit is better, especially in the front pouch. In the future, we will test the low-rise option as well to compare it to the standard fit.
This season’s women’s version also changed slightly, but retains the previous model’s excellent balance of comfort, affordability, and performance. However, we don’t like that women’s Airism panties only come in a single hipster cut and are available only in small and medium sizes as of this writing. This is a dealbreaker for a huge swath of the population. We’ll look for budget options available in more sizes in the next update.
As would be expected for the price, Uniqlo’s return policy is less generous. It accepts garments that are “new, unused, unwashed, unaltered” with tags still attached and with original receipt. You can’t return in-store purchases via mail, but online purchases do come with a prepaid return label.
Overall, if you can find a style and size for you, the Airism for women offers the best balance of comfort, performance, and price available anywhere. However, as good as Airism underwear is, Uniqlo never seems to make enough of it to stay consistently in stock throughout the year. The company assures us that it’s a continuing part of its year-round lineup, yet the women’s version repeatedly goes out of stock for weeks at a time.
The competition (men’s underwear)
The waistband on the men’s Smartwool PhD Seamless 6″ Boxer Brief rolled over, which reduced its long-term comfort. Though these were our men’s wool pick last year, we found there were better fitting, more comfortable men’s underwear available for those who wanted an upgrade option.
The Olivers Boxer Brief was tighter in the package compared with the others. It was shorter in the legs and the waistband rolled over. However, we liked the thicker-than-usual fabric, which was soft and smooth on the inside but mesh on the outside to reduce friction with pants.
The Under Armour Original Series 6″ Boxerjock performed well, but wasn’t a standout in any category. It also appears to be sold only in two-packs. Reviewers on Under Armour’s website complain the waistband in newer models is too wide, not stretchy, and rolls over. They also complain about riding up and the overly prominent logo (which we didn’t like either). Ultimately, there were better options available for the price.
The Saxx Quest 2.0 has a similar fit to the ExOfficio and has the added bonus of being tag-free. Despite the comfort, our tester found that the fabric doesn’t stay in place as well as our pick’s and that it required constant adjustment. Our tester found the extra material in the front panel was not needed and wasn’t worth the extra cost.
Same for the MyPakage Action Series, which had a 3D front pouch with too much fabric to be comfortable. Ultimately, an ill-fitting pouch leads to discomfort and creates an extra area that can fail. It also was not odor-resistant as we would have liked. The MyPakage Action Series doesn’t offer a fly and it was sorely missed. In the future, we may test the MyPakage in a merino or other more odor-proof fabric.
The ExOfficio Men’s Classic Give-N-Go Brief wasn’t as soft as the Sport Mesh version. It also didn’t fit as well and physically looks more like travel underwear than the Sport Mesh version.
The quite-affordable Boody Men’s Boxers ran small for their sizes and the men’s waistband rolled too easily. We discovered after testing these that the bamboo-based fabric is a viscose rayon derivative, explaining why it was among the slowest to dry in drying-time tests. It is quite packable and the least expensive of all the undies we tested except for the Uniqlo.
The Arc’teryx Phase SL Boxer Short has too many seams near areas where most people don’t want extra rubbing. It was also pricey for synthetics and not as odor-resistant as the others.
The ExOfficio Sol Cool Boxer Brief uses a different fabric than our pick. It is supposed to be cooling, but wasn’t as quick-drying in our tests. The fit is also unlike that of our pick. Reviewers on ExOfficio’s website complain about the sizing, which is inconsistent with other ExOfficio products: It is loose, has a too-big waistband, and everything runs a size larger than usual. We are optimistic about the soft new fabric and will test next year’s model to see if the sizing issues have been fixed.
The Stance Mariner was a tester favorite in terms of comfort, but we discovered after a poor showing during the drying-time test that Stance’s proprietary ButterBlend fabric is a rayon derivative—a fabric similar to cotton. Despite superior fit and comfort that would make them a good choice for everyday wear, the Stance did not wick or dry as effectively as other pairs we tested, which made them difficult to remove after sweaty workouts. User reviewers on Stance’s website also find the fit to be inconsistent (some people say it runs large and some say it runs small).
Although the Patagonia Capilene Daily line was our women’s pick this year, the men’s Capilene Daily Boxer Brief received terrible user reviews (1.8 stars out of five as of this writing) due to a revised, but uncomfortable fit.
The competition (women’s underwear)
We almost liked the Smartwool Women’s PhD Seamless Bikini as much as the Ibex, but the Smartwool is made of slightly itchier fabric, has an irritating sewn-in tag, and doesn’t stay up quite as well. However, it’s available in XS (Ibex stops at S) and is easier to find in stores and online, so it’s a great option if the Ibex is out of stock or unavailable in your size.
The ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hi Cut Brief felt soft, dried quickly, and wicked well, but didn’t stay in place as well as our picks. Like the men’s ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh, it showed minor signs of pilling after a few runs in the wash, but our female testers were less forgiving to this flaw than our male testers because our female testers valued style and appearance more highly than their male counterparts. However, we do appreciate that the Sport Mesh is available in more colors and styles than any other brand we tested.
We really wanted to love Smartwool’s soft, thin NTS Micro 150 Bikini. Its material dries as quickly as synthetic but has the odor-fighting benefits of wool. But this underwear lacked the stretch that keeps the wool in place. It’s also missing the thick waistband of the Ibex or the Smartwool PhD, making it feel less secure. Our testers found the Micro 150 Bikini to have a less generous cut than the PhD brief, further contributing to ride-up.
The Lululemon Mula Bandhawear were promising because they are soft, lightweight, and packable, and have rub-free seams (and questionable claims about reducing visible panty lines). But the thin fabric that makes them soft and compact also has some durability issues. We noticed yarns fraying along the seams. Though it never fully pilled, the fabric looks noticeably worn after a few washes, especially when wet. Online reviewers noted holes developing in as few as three or four wears. It was among the slowest to dry in our tests.
The Patagonia Active Mesh Boy Shorts have a different ratio of nylon to spandex that feels thicker than most of the underwear we tested (including the similarly named Patagonia Active Hipster). This made them bulky and comparably difficult to pack. Add to that an unflattering fit and a tendency to ride up and we think these are a pass for most people—unless you already know boyshort styles work well for your body type.
The Boody Hipster Bikini and Boyleg Briefs ran small for their sizes (admittedly, a warning on their website). As mentioned in the men’s competition, we discovered after testing that these are made of a viscose rayon derivative, explaining why it was among the slowest to dry in tests. It is quite packable and the least expensive of all the undies we tested except for the Uniqlo.
(Photos by Kyle Fitzgerald.)
- global nomad and author of The Hidden Europe, email interview ,
- director of ArchaeoAdventures: Women-Powered Travel, e-mail interview ,
- founder and CEO of The Underwear Expert, email interview ,