Gear review: Wicking Underwear

I’d not given much thought to the underpants I wear when walking; the 5 for a tenner cotton briefs from M&S had been adequate. However when Paul’s ancient, quick-drying LGT briefs finally gave up the ghost after over 10 years of walking wear including a year-long backpack with only 2 pairs, we decided a foray into modern wicking underwear was in order.

The main advantages to wicking underwear is comfort, lower weight, and quick drying. Whilst good for a day walk, these properties really come into their own on multi-day trips when there’s a need to wash and dry underwear for the next day – or two for Merino pants. Merino wool contains a natural odour suppressor and so should be less smelly than their synthetic counterparts, but they are also less durable and more expensive. The manufacturers claim the fit of their garments also means less chafing while providing support and comfort – here’s what we made of them.

Rab Men’s and Women’s Merino 120 Boxers

Recommended Price: £30
Fabric: 65% Merino Wool, 35% Polyester

The mix of 65% merino wool (which Rab says is ethically sourced) and 35% polyester with odour-controlling properties seems to be about right, providing a good level of breathability. We’ve been testing these during a long period of hot summer Scottish weather and these have wicked well and kept everything reasonably cool. The fit is close and personally I found the women’s high cut boxer design was too much material for hot conditions and there was a slight tendency for the dredded “wedgie” when scrambling or taking long strides. In winter the insulating properties of the longer cut will probably come into its own. The men’s version has a non-fussy fly; Paul found the cut and fabric very comfortable for long days. The fabric on both pairs has started to bobble – they won’t last like those old LGTs! – but the construction seems robust.

Alpkit Men’s and Women’s Kepler Briefs

Recommended Price: £19 (but currently reduced)
Fabric: 100% Merino wool

These briefs are the closest design to high street pants and are made from 100% (ethically-sourced) merino wool. The men’s version has a wide waistband designed to sit slightly higher rather than directly under other layers and the wide waistband prevents them riding down during scrambling but does make them warmer in this area. Both fit well and the fabric feels good against the skin although it did hold sweat slightly more than pairs with more synthetic in the mix – but they are a massive improvement on cotton. The women’s version has a reinforced crotch which will help them last longer and the fabric itself shows no sign of wear despite being 100% merino. The women’s version I tested had a stitch missing where the flat seams joined at the side which perhaps reflects the cheaper price.

Runderwear Men’s Merino Briefs / Women’s Hipsters

Recommended Price: Merino version £25, Non-merino women’s version £16
Fabric – Merino version: 45% Merino wool, 40% Polyester, 10% Polyamide, 5% Elastane
Fabric – Non-merino version: 92% Polyamide, 8% Elastane

Runderwear make a wide range of underwear aimed at high activity sports and have been gaining a reputation among runners for preventing chafing. Paul has been testing the Merino Brief made from 45% merino wool, 40% polyester thermocool, 10% polyamide and 5% elastine. Constructed from a single piece of fabric there are no seams on the close fitting brief except a very low profile one attaching the waistband. Very stretchy, these have proved comfortable on long days and wicked well in hot weather. These are also available in a women’s version at £25 RRP.

I tested the women’s Hipster made from 92% polyamide and 8% elastine. The smallest and stretchiest pants from the review selection they are also have a seamless construction (with the exception of a reinforced crotch panel). They are close fitting, move in tune with your body and have a high waist band that stays in place. Despite having 2 perforated panels to allow air flow (also in the men’s version) I found the fabric too hot in this summer’s Scottish heatwave. I’ve used them for day walks and runs (no chafing at all on longer runs) and whilst they have wicked well they still felt thick and warm so I’d probably wear something else for high summer and keep these for short summer runs and winter wear. The construction and fabric seems robust with no sign of wear and tear despite numerous washes.

Icebreaker Men’s Cool-lite Anatomica Zone boxers / Sprite Hot pants

Recommended Price: Cool-lite Boxers £40, Sprite Hot pants £33
Fabric – Cool-lite versions: 50% Merino wool, 33% Tencel, 12% Nylon, 5% Lycra
Fabric – Merino versions: 83% Merino wood, 12% Nylon, 5% Lycra

Not totally sure that the strap line “wool with sex appeal” applies to the lime green boxers Paul has been testing but each to their own! Made from ethically-sourced 50% merino wool, 33% Tencel with additional nylon and lycra these have proved to have good wicking properties keeping cool and dry on hot days with no noticeable odour. The long line boxers are close fitting so don’t ride up and the oversize elastic waistband keeps them in place and has been more comfortable than an initial glance might suggest. The lack of a fly was Paul’s only criticism.

The women’s brief on test is made from 83% merino spun with a small amount of lycra and 12% nylon which does produce a very soft material which feels very comfortable next to the skin. The design is comfortable, moves well when scrambling, has a comfortable waistband, flat seams and a reinforced crotch. I found they held sweat slightly longer than some of the other pants but were very comfortable on long, hot days. Neither pair are showing any sign of wear or bobbling despite many wears and washes and the high merino wool content, but they are very expensive!

Patagonia Capilene briefs

Recommended Price: £20
Fabric: 100% recycled polyester

Made from 100% polyester and treated with Polygiene these traditional looking briefs featuring a fly, are close fitting and supremely comfortable. The fabric is thicker the Capilene tee Paul recently reviewed but still wicked very well. Polygiene does seem to be effective at reducing smells and these briefs are no exception. No sign of wear and tear and as you’d expect from Patagonia these are certified Fair Trade sewn, the fabric is from recycled materials and the packaging is minimal. I’d expect these to be alot more durable than those containing merino so these seem great value for the price. A direct women’s version is not available – Patagonia’s Active briefs and hipsters are the nearest equivalent but are made from a slightly different made-made fabric mix and at £22 RRP.

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