Outdoor Research Alpine Onset Boxer Brief
: 83% Merino, 12% Nylon, 5% Spandex | Weight
Low profile waistband
Stretches out a bit between washes
The Outdoor Research Alpine Onset Boxer Brief won the Editors' Choice Award not because it excels at any one thing above all else, but because it holds its own in every category well. It bridges the worlds of performance briefs and casual boxers with quality merino wool mixed with a fit comfortable enough to lounge in. It's not so snug that we felt like we were putting on racing tights, but it is supportive and fitted enough to prevent chafing while active. We like that we didn't feel like we were wrapped in technical underpants, even though we were. Additionally, the merino wool keeps odor at bay enough to wear the Alpine Onset for days at a time in the backcountry.
There's not much of a downside to this pair apart from its high price. Overall, though, we prefer merino wool for our next-to-skin layers, and merino is an expensive fabric. The other pairs of similar fabric cost about the same. Otherwise, this pair feels great when you put it on and then allows you to entirely forget its there — the ideal travel underwear.
Read review: Outdoor Research Alpine Onset Boxer Brief
Best Bang for the Buck
ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Brief
: 94% Nylon, 6% Lycra | Weight
Not great odor control
While we didn't think that the ExOfficio Give-N-Go performed better than 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 for 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 test all our gear for extended periods to ensure that we have the best data we can.
Related: How We Tested Travel Underwears
Analysis and Test Results
Although the scope of men's underwear spans beyond the styles and fabrics in this review, we chose to review 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 slightly awkward survey we conducted. We also nixed any underwear made out of cotton, as cotton holds up to twenty-seven times its weight in water, whereas wool, viscose, and synthetic fibers absorb substantially less and insulate when wet. To determine the best underwear, we evaluated each pair for comfort, breathability, odor control, durability, and drying time.
You won't find a bad pair of skivvies in this pile.
When first looking at the prices of these skivvies you might be thinking "why not buy a cotton three pack of boxers for fifteen bucks?" To be sure, some of the underwear in this test are spendy, with the most expensive nearing fifty dollars, and you may not require the absolute highest performing pair for the average day. However, if you're looking to keep chafing, odor, and "swampiness" down, your cotton underpants won't help you. Instead, go with the Editor's choice of the Outdoor Research Alpine Onset 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. Four of the six pairs, which are the four most expensive, 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 pair, 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.
For a piece of clothing so close to your skin, and around such sensitive areas, it better 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 Outdoor Research Alpine Onset Boxer Briefs and the Saxx Vibe Boxer Briefs to be the most comfortable out of all the pairs. The Alpine Onset 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.
The Smartwool waistband is easily twice as thick as the Outdoor Research waistband.
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 tend to ride 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 Outdoor Research, 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. We found that the ExOfficio was breathable, but still had a slightly plastic feel that made it feel less breathable than other options.
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.
Our lead tester using a highly advanced method to air out one of the products for odor control testing.
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. Both the Saxx and the ExOfficio pairs of underwear didn't manage odor as well as the merino underwear. We would hesitate to wear these 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 between $25-$50 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 six pairs tested and repeated machine washing and drying each pair to put as much wear on each as possible. 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.
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 six 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. The Outdoor Research Alpine Onset also performed well in this category, with high-quality sewing and good waistbands.
The fabric of the ExOfficio Give-N-Go pilled up during our testing.
Lastly, if we are traveling light, it is nice to be able to hand wash and line dry our underwear in a reasonable amount of time, perhaps at basecamp or in a hotel room. 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's lack of water absorption into the fiber itself, the ExOfficio dried out faster than the other pairs, taking around an hour in the sun. Close behind it were the Outdoor Research and Icebreaker pairs, as the thinner waistbands 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, then walk on the towel. Repeat until damp dry
Layering systems should be top notch from the skin out, and that starts with underwear. Underwear should be comfortable, durable, breathable, and able to keep the smell down. That's why we want you to make the best decision for your body and needs. We've compiled a comparative and in-depth review of what we think are six of the best pairs of men's travel underwear. We hope this helps you with your decision making because we know that while your car may take regular, your body deserves premium.