As cliche as it may be – a great hike really does start with great underwear! If you’re underwear is bothering you on a hike, rubbing the wrong way, chafing, or worse, leading to poor hygiene and infection, that can ruin your backpacking trip pretty quickly.
Lucky for us ladies, there are lots of options out there for hiking underwear that touch on almost every price point. Read on to learn more about what women’s hiking underwear is made of, how to choose the best pair for you and where to shop for women’s hiking underwear.
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Materials for Women’s Hiking Underwear
Wool – This is not your grandmother’s wool. Wool clothing has come a long way over the years and can now be made into thin, super soft comfy shirts, leggings and even underwear. While wool and wool blends are usually a little bit more expensive, most hikers who wear it usually say it’s worth it for it’s odor resistant power and soft, natural feel.
Wool is also known for it’s ability to insulate you when wet and dries pretty quickly.
Nylon – You most likely already own some nylon or nylon blend clothing or underwear, it’s nothing special to the outdoor industry. But it is a great, soft, lightweight, quick drying material that is also usually cheap to buy.
Nylon is not only quick drying, but actually has super low moisture absorbency in the first place, which is great news for sweaty or rainy hikes. Exofficio is a great brand of synthetic women’s hiking underwear that is nylon based.
Polyester – Again, you probably already own some polyester clothing. Polyester is notoriously wrinkle resistant, so makes for great hiking shirts, but can also be found in underwear and base layers.
For our intents and purposes, polyester is very similar to nylon and is also lightweight and quick drying.
Spandex – or elastane is an especially stretchy synthetic fabric. It can stretch to 5-8X it’s original size! But most clothing materials are only small percentage spandex, if something is 10% spandex, it might stretch to twice it’s original size. in case you were wondering.
Spandex or elastane is also highly breathable, moisture wicking and quick drying. All good things, in my opinion, for any hiking trip. I also usually feel much more comfortable purchasing clothes online that have spandex in them – figuring if they don’t perfectly, they’ll still stretch to fit over my thighs and booty.
Lycra – TRICK! Lycra is actually just another name for Spandex and elastane. Lycra is simply a brand name for elastane.
Blend – It’s not uncommon to find women’s underwear and even clothes like leggings made of a blend of materials, like polyester, nylon and spandex all together. I don’t consider this a bad thing and if anything, like I said, I find that clothes and underwear with stretchy Spandex material usually fit me way better and then is ultimately more comfortable.
Styles of Women’s Hiking Underwear
The style of underwear you wear is totally personal preference and varies from woman to woman.
Briefs or boy shorts provide the most coverage and will probably be least likely to ride up. These can also be great if you’re worried about having some extra coverage if you’ll be spending any time in hostels or swimming while backpacking and generally running around in your underwear 😉
Some ladies even opt for something closer to a slip short or spandex shorts to not only prevent moisture control down there but also help prevent inner thigh chaffing. #thestruggleisreal
Bikini style underwear is also a popular choice for hiking and backpacking. If you choose properly fitting, synthetic underwear, you shouldn’t experience any riding up or rubbing in the ‘crease’ where the thighs meet the groin. Bikini bottoms may also serve as a good swimsuit if you’ll be backpacking and swimming in lakes and streams the summer.
Thongs. A lot of women like to foo-foo or dismiss the idea of hiking a thong, but don’t knock it til you try it. I actually really love wearing and hiking in Victoria’s Secret no show thong panty, but they do have a more full coverage style as well that I also love. But both styles of underwear literally feel as if you aren’t wearing anything at all! (Well, to me anyway)
Commando. in the 100+ degree summer heat and east coast humidity, I found the only comfortable solution was to go commando to stop the chaffing and irritation that was happening beneath my underwear. Like I actually think I threw my underwear away in a fit of rage and pain on my long distance Appalachian Trail hike – and didn’t even regret it one bit! Haha! This is another one of those things, don’t knock it til you try it!
Now that I live in cooler climates, I have left my commando days behind me. It’s all about figuring out what works for you, your body and conditions you hike in.
Tips & Shopping for Women’s Hiking Underwear
Where to buy hiking underwear
You don’t have to buy expensive ‘hiking’ specific underwear if you don’t want to! Like I said earlier, some of my favorite pairs of synthetic underwear have come from the Victoria’s Secret 5 pairs for $28 sales.
If you’re looking for a good quality pair of merino wool underwear, check out Icebreaker’s selection. I used to only know Icebreaker for their base layers, like leggings and long sleeved shirts – which are amazing by the way – so I can only imagine their underwear is equally as comfortable.
If you’re looking for a great, all around, real outdoor adventure pair of underwear definitely check out ExOfficio. They have mastered synthetic underwear for people who sweat and move in the outdoors with antimicrobial treatment and seams and waistbands specifically designed to prevent chafing.
How to clean hiking underwear
Proper cleaning may vary depending on what material your underwear is made of, so please be sure to read the instructions for your underwear brand and material before washing!
In general though, I wash all my synthetic underwear on either cold or warm water (I prefer warm, but depending on what else I have in with the load I might use cold) with mild soap, never use fabric softener, and then find a spot to either lay it or hang it to dry.
I find my underwear (and bras) last much longer if I don’t run them through the dryer.
If I’m out on the trail, I bring two pairs of underwear with me (three max) and just rotate through them, rinsing one (or two) pairs at camp, then hanging them in my tent overnight or on my pack to dry during the day. Don’t worry, you won’t always have to have a pair of underwear waving off your pack. They a very small bundle of synthetic or wool fabric – they dry very quickly!
Consider Thinx underwear
While we’re talking about hiking underwear, I feel like I have to bring up Thinx as an option as well, especially for us long distance hikers. Thinx are self proclaimed period underwear, and no, not the old ratty kind with stains and holes in the seams.
They are washable reusable underwear that absorb your period so you don’t have to worry about messing with pads or tampons (or toxic shock syndrome) while backpacking.
While I haven’t personally used them (I’m a Diva Cup girl myself) I know a few backpackers who love them and say they wear, wash and use them just like any other hiking underwear – bringing two pairs of Thinx if you’ll be having your period in the woods, rotating through them, wearing a clean pair and washing the dirty pair each day.
This is the only time I would support you in packing ~four pairs of underwear on a backpacking trip, if you wanted to bring two pairs of Thinx for your period and two pairs of regular underwear for the rest of the time.
Please make sure you wash them thoroughly in between uses and never wash them directly in a stream, lake or water source. Bring several liters of water and soap at least one hundred feet away from your campsite and water sources and then wash laundry there. You could do the dump and pour method of just pouring water on your clothes/underwear, dash some soap on there and swish it around in your hands, then pour more water on to rinse. That is much easier with a buddy!
Or you could get one of these ultralight collapsible buckets to make water hauling and washing your clothes and body in the back country much easier.
Let us know your favorite kind of women’s hiking underwear in the comments below!
For more tips on what to wear hiking, check out:
- The Best Clothes For Hiking
- Top Styles Of Hiking Pants
- What To Wear Hiking In Summer
- What To Wear Hiking In Winter