By Will Rietveld
What do you wear under your kilt? Well, that’s a pretty personal thing, ranging from au natural to something with pretty good support. I’m sure some advocate the former, and its very convenient for women, but men have a different sort of need...
I don’t find many articles on this subject, but it’s a valid question to bring up. Should you wear your normal everyday cotton undies, or is “performance underwear” that much better? Maybe you haven’t thought about it that much. So let’s get this topic out into the open, so to speak.
Since we pay big bucks for high-tech outerwear – jackets, wind shirts, pants, shells, rainwear – why should underwear be any different? Does it matter that much?
It does matter:
- Don’t wear something that soaks up moisture and dries slowly, so forget cotton.
- Stay away from thongs!
- Synthetics are much better for moisture management and quick drying, just like a baselayer top.
- Wool is good for the cold months, but it’s slower to dry compared to synthetics.
- Flat seam construction avoids abrasion.
- On a multi-day trip, you can wash out synthetic underwear and dry it overnight.
- They have stretch to conform to the body and provide a snug fit.
- They prevent your bells from clanging against your thighs, in other words they’re supportive.
- Many have a wider waistband to distribute pressure (but adds weight).
- You can actually wear them as a hiking short or swimsuit, which makes them multi-purpose.
- Briefs typically have no inseam.
- Trunks have a 3 to 4-inch inseam.
- Boxers have a 5 to 6-inch inseam.
- Long-Leg styles have an 8 to 10-inch inseam.
A lot of garment manufacturers make performance underwear in a wide array of styles and fabrics, and the inseam length within an individual style varies by manufacturer.
For years I wore cotton briefs before synthetic performance bottoms came out. Then I discovered synthetic briefs by
and Terramar for backpacking, and found them to be a good improvement. The
revelation came for me when I got some Saxx trunks at the Outdoor Retailer
trade show to try when the first came out. Their claim is “life changing
underwear”. They did, I love them, and have worn them ever since.
Saxx and MyPakage offer many versions of their underwear with or without a fly. The flyless version seems to support a little better but the fly version is more convenient. Not a big difference, so personal choice. Both brands perform well for me, and I don’t have any particular preference between the two. The ExOfficio boxers have a fly and don’t have the specific pouch “technology” of the Saxx and MyPakage underwear.
It’s important to size underwear to get a snug-but-not-tight fit, and definitely not loose. Most have a soft stretch to fit a range of shapes and sizes, so most men would wear one size smaller than their regular pant size. I normally wear a size Large in a pant (34-35 waist), but I wear size Medium trunks and boxers.
There are loads of options (brands, fabrics, styles) in the performance underwear category, and it is difficult to test all of them. So this article will suffice as an introduction to the topic and a testimonial to my experiences and personal preferences. Perhaps readers would like to add their testimonial on brands and styles they like.
This reminds me of a story in the book “I Hike” by my friend
Lawton “Disco” Grinter:
he ran into a foreign hiker on the CDT called Speedo who was pleading for
water. Speedo was complaining of “schayfing” (chafing) and needed the water to
shave his “durf”, a private area which had gotten inflamed from many miles of
hiking. He was in serious pain. Chafing can be a serious problem while hiking a
long trail. The solution is to avoid the problem by wearing performance
underwear of the types described above, and use Bodyglide as needed.
My personal preference is the Saxx and MyPakage underwear, which have a well-designed pouch to support and isolate the male anatomy so it doesn’t jostle or rub, avoiding discomfort and chafing. I have a slight preference for the trunk style because they are a bit lighter and cooler, but boxers work just as well. Both are a bit expensive at about $25/pair, but well worth it.
Bottom line, if your undies are in a bundle, causing discomfort or chafing, consider switching to synthetic trunk or boxer style performance underwear with flat seams. My personal experience and preference is the brands (Saxx and My Pakage) that have a well designed pouch to support and confine the male anatomy, but there are likely other brands and styles that have a strong following. This is a topic for some good discussion; what works best for you?