Smartwool Merino 150 Boxer Brief
: 87% Merino, 13% Nylon | Weight
: 3.2 oz
Good odor control
Feels heavier than other fabrics
Waistband might be a bit much for some
The Smartwool Merino 150 Boxer Brief wins the Editors' Choice Award because it is the pickup truck of travel underwear: it may not be the prettiest, but it gets the job done and will keep going for far longer than the others. Smartwool did what it does best, making quality wool garments, and the Merino 150 Boxer Briefs are no exception. From the thick, burly waistband to the black merino wool, our pairs have held up better than any other underwear in the review, and keep performing well.
The waistband of the Smartwool skivvies seemed a bit much at times, since it's twice as thick and half again as wide as nearly every other pair, and we sometimes felt sweaty under the big band around our hips. However, after over a year of use and abuse, this is the waistband that is holding up the best. They feel great, hold minimal odor, and hold up to the rigors of backcountry and frontcountry travel better than any model we have tested.
Read review: Smartwool Merino 150 Boxer Brief
Best Bang for the Buck
ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Brief
: 94% Nylon, 6% Lycra | Weight
: 3.2 oz
Not great odor control
While we don't think that the ExOfficio Give-N-Go performed better than all the other boxer briefs in the review, it did everything well enough, and it's far cheaper than any other pair. They're half the price of some of the others. As required of travel underwear, they dry quickly after a wash in a hostel sink (faster than any other pair, actually!) and provide all-day comfort, from airport terminals to backcountry campsites. They're pleasantly stretchy and don't ride up.
The odor protection didn't perform as well as the merino wool underwear, but that was to be expected from a synthetic pair of skivvies. They didn't feel very breathable compared to the merino competition either but still performed miles ahead of the cotton competition in this aspect. Lastly, they pilled up faster than most models we tested. If you need a decent pair of active travel underwear on a budget, look no further. Not top of the line, but excellent for the price.
Read review: ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Brief
Why You Should Trust Us
Our test panel for this review was led by Ethan Newman, an AMGA certified climbing guide with a bachelor's in Adventure Education. He's traveled extensively around the American West, especially the southwest, and spent over a thousand days climbing in the US, Mexico, Canada, and Argentina. During the test period, he adventured all over the American southwest, from ice climbing in slot canyons to climbing big walls in Zion, to cross country skiing in the La Sal mountains, to hiking through Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. He made sure to test them both at bone-chillingly cold belays as well as running under the sun of Southern Utah.
Our other tester is Ross Robinson, a Senior Review Editor at OutdoorGearLab. He has been backpacking and hiking the world for over a decade, and testing gear with us since 2014. He has lived on four continents, including teaching in both Germany and Thailand, and travels regularly. Ross is an expert gear tester, having done extensive evaluations of everything from hiking boots to camping pillows.
We pride ourselves on conducting the best possible reviews, using a mix of specific metrics and objective methods, as well as thorough and rigorous real-world field testing. We buy and test all our gear for extended periods to ensure that we have the best data we can. From outdoor recreation to international travel, we have pushed these threads about as far as they can go.
Related: How We Tested Travel Underwears
Analysis and Test Results
Men's underwear options are far broader than what appears in this review. We chose to test only boxer brief-style underwear, as they are more supportive than just boxers, but less prone to chafing than briefs. They also seem to be the most popular style of underwear with active and outdoors-type and travel folks alike in the overly personal survey we conducted. We also ignored any underwear made out of cotton, as cotton holds up to twenty-seven times its weight in water, whereas wool, cellulosic fabrics, and synthetic fibers absorb substantially less and insulate when wet. All the underwear we tested are also made of wicking fabrics. To determine the best underwear, we evaluated each pair for comfort, breathability, odor control, durability, and drying time.
Related: Buying Advice for Travel Underwears
You won't find a bad pair of skivvies in this pile.
At first glance, you might think that some of these prices for a single pair of underwear is insane, especially when a standard three-pack of cotton boxers is fifteen bucks or less. But in underwear, as in most things, you get what you pay for. Sure, you might not need the super spendy wool skivvies for the average day, but if you're looking to keep chafing, odor, and "swampiness" down, your cotton underpants won't help you. Instead, go with the Editors' Choice, the Smartwool Merino 150 Boxer Briefs. For a compromise between performance and price, we recommend the ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs, which won our Best Buy Award.
A large part of the price in all these pairs of underwear has to do with the materials. The most expensive models are made out of merino wool. Merino wool is much finer than typical wool, making it softer than standard woven wool. We like merino wool for base layers because it's soft, breathable, and minimizes body odor. Unfortunately, though, merino wool isn't cheap. The other two boxer briefs in this review are made out of nylon, like the ExOffico and Patagonia pairs, polyester like the Stance boxer briefs, and viscose (a fabric that comes from processing cellulose-rich plants like bamboo), like the Saxx underwear. Synthetic and semi-synthetic fabrics are generally less expensive but have their unique tradeoffs, especially in odor build-up.
A good pair of underwear absolutely must be comfortable, otherwise, there isn't a chance you'll wear them. We weighted the comfort metric a whopping 35% of the total score because it doesn't really matter how "high performing" the fabric and shape are if it feels like you're wearing something made out of burlap and chainmail. We field-tested each pair in a variety of settings to determine comfort and considered attributes such as fabric softness, chafing (especially at seams), waistband feel, and how likely the legs are to roll up. Our ideal underwear is so comfy it's unnoticeable, and we don't think about them until we're flicking them into the hamper with our toes (shooting them with the waistband is also acceptable). All of the pairs we tested were reasonably comfortable, with two standouts.
Aside from the feel of the fabric, one of the major factors that played a part in comfort and fit is the construction. Most of the boxer briefs we tested had flatlock seams everywhere but the hems, which lay flat on the skin. We also noticed when seams ran through the middle of the crotch or at other odd places which can cause rubbing and chafing, especially under thicker pants or multiple layers. A few of the companies got creative with the seams, like the Smartwool Merino 150 which used flatlock seams everywhere which felt really solid, or the Icebreaker Anatomica that used piping for a more aesthetic but ultimately less comfortable pair.
The surprisingly smooth feeling mesh of the Give-N-Go.
We found the Patagonia Sender and the Saxx Vibe Boxer Briefs to be the most comfortable out of all the pairs. The Sender felt the most like a comfy pair of regular boxer briefs, with soft fabric and nice dimensions, and a thin waistband that didn't feel like overkill. These we enjoyed lounging in most of all.
The Smartwool waistband is easily twice as thick as other travel underwear contenders. In our long term testing, this waistband has proven to be far superior in standing the test of time.
We also really liked the feel of the Saxx Vibe, as it was far and away the most supportive pair we tested. The BallPark Pouch kept everything centered and chafe-free, and for how supportive and "cupping" it felt, was quite pleasant. However, we also recognize that the support might be a bit much for some folks, especially if you enjoy riding side-saddle. If you want a very supportive pair of undies without the extra mesh of the Saxx, we'd recommend either the Icebreaker Anatomica or the Smartwool Merino 150.
The mesh of the Ballpark Pouch on the Vibe is the one feature that stood out from every other pair of underwear.
One of the quickest ways for underwear to go from unnoticeable to making you squirm in your seat is poor breathability. Nobody wants the feeling of sitting in a swamp. That's why we put breathability as one of our five metrics. We tested this by high-aerobic biking in each pair, as well as extended field testing. Each pair performed relatively well, with the merino wool models pulling ahead of the synthetic and semi-synthetic models.
The fabrics of the Icebreaker, Smartwool, and Stoic models performed similarly, as they're all 150 weight Merino wool, although the Smartwool and Stoic had less breathable waistbands. The Saxx would have gotten a lower score, as viscose isn't quite as wicking as wool or synthetic materials, but the BallPark Pouch keeps things separate and feeling less swampy than they otherwise might. The Patagonia Sender was the most breathable synthetic fabric. We found that the ExOfficio was breathable, but still had a slightly plastic feel that made it feel less breathable than other options, and the Stance the least of all.
The mesh of the Sender boxer briefs is so light you can see through it!
The whole idea of travel underwear is that it should last a few days before needing a wash. We should keep the funk to our dance moves, not our underwear, which is why we tested for odor control. In addition to field testing, we also used the bike test in concert with our breathability metric to determine the scores in this category.
Merino wool, for a variety of reasons, doesn't hold body odor nearly as much as synthetic fabrics, and all the wool underwear in this test performed accordingly. While wool will eventually smell like the body part it is covering, the stink won't build up as much, will reduce when aired out, and disappear with washing. This is because wool has a rough microscopic texture that discourages bacterial growth, and each wool fiber is naturally coated with lanolin, a waxy substance that is antimicrobial. If you want a pair of underwear that you can wear multiple days in a row without offense, aim for the merino wool pairs. These include the Smartwool, Icebreaker, and Stoic models.
Our lead tester using a highly advanced method to air out one of the products for odor control testing.
Synthetic fibers in general, but especially polyester, retain odor because of their oleophilic properties, which holds onto skin oil, and therefore hold onto body odor. Some fabrics use anti-microbial (usually silver, which can irritate skin for some) or other proprietary coatings to reduce odor build-up, but the fact of the matter is that these eventually degrade with repeated use and washings, and just aren't as effective as wool's naturally anti-odor composition.
The Saxx Vibe is made out of Viscose, a material made by chemically and mechanically processing bamboo performs more similarly to synthetic fabrics than cotton or wool. The Saxx, Patagonia, Stance and the ExOfficio pairs of underwear didn't manage odor as well as the merino underwear. The Sender boxer briefs did better than the other due to the proprietary odor control coating, but we would hesitate to wear any synthetic pairs for multiple days of active use unless we were far in the backcountry, and further still from our significant others.
Travel underwear can be easily washed in a sink or basin wherever you are.
If we are spending this much money on a single pair of underwear, and we plan on traveling with said underwear, it better last a while. This isn't delicate lingerie after all. We spent two months cycling through the seven pairs tested and repeated machine washing and drying each pair to put as much wear on each as possible. One tester has had most of these pairs for over 18 months. The two things that make the biggest difference in durability is fabric and sewing quality. We looked for, and occasionally saw, runs in fabric, seams starting to fray, and waistbands wrinkle. Some of the pairs had waistbands better bonded to the interior elastic than others, and some had better craftsmanship around the stitching, which showed after extended use.
Often synthetic and semi-synthetic fabrics last longer than wool, but we didn't find that to be the case during the testing period. The ExOfficio Give-N-Go is fully synthetic, but quickly developed pilling and runs in the nylon mesh. Two of the merino wool boxer briefs used "core spun" wool, meaning the fibers of wool are wrapped around a thread of nylon fabric in order to get the best of both worlds. The merino wool underwear generally held up well.
Of the seven pairs, the Smartwool Merino 150 is by far the burliest pair we tested. The waistband is thick and neither the elastic of the band nor any of the flatlock seams showed any sign of wear during the entire testing period and many, many months beyond. After a year and a half, one tester still struggles to find any weak spots in this pair.
The fabric of the ExOfficio Give-N-Go pilled up during our testing, but it wasn't the only pair to do so.
We like to travel light, and we like to go far. Sometimes, that means having only one or two pairs of underwear, and being far, far away from the nearest washing machine. This means that we often end up hand washing our underwear, and line drying it in a reasonable amount of time, whether in a hostel bathroom or at advance basecamp. We soaked each pair of boxer briefs in water, then wrung them out and hung them to test dry times. We actually did this test twice, once in the sun and once inside.
Due to nylon and polyester's lack of water absorption into the fiber itself, the Stance, Patagonia, and ExOfficio dried out faster than the other pairs, taking around an hour in the sun. Close behind it was theIcebreaker pair, as the thinner waistband dried quicker than the thicker bands of the Smartwool and Stoic pairs. The slowest to dry was the Saxx, but only by a bit. Any of these pairs would easily dry in a hotel bathroom overnight, and much quicker on a laundry line in the sun, so we only have this metric as 10% of the overall score.
The full line up drying out on a winter day in southern Utah.
Never washed clothes in a sink before? It's a quick and easy alternative to visiting a laundromat while on the road. The washing is pretty straightforward. To dry them, place flat on a towel, roll it up tightly, then walk on the towel. Repeat until damp dry
Layering starts from the skin out, so a quality pair of underwear is the best place to start for high performance. We looked for skivvies that would be comfortable, durable, breathable, and able to be worn for a while without getting gross. We tested what we thought were the best and widest selection of men's travel underwear to provide you with a in-depth review. We hope this helps you with your decision making because we know that while your car may take regular, your body deserves premium.