We researched the top fifty women's-specific models on the travel underwear market today and carefully selected eight for months of hands-on testing. By planes, trains, and automobiles, we brought these undies to the ends of the earth to find out what they were truly made of. We hiked, climbed, biked, and endured countless hours of travel to bring you the most comprehensive women's underwear review available today. With many benefits over your typical cotton pair, these products include some of the newest technology in moisture and odor control. Above all, we awarded high scores for supreme comfort and breathability while taking note of weight and durability.
The Best Travel Underwear for Women
If you're ready to step up your skivvies game, you've come to the right place. For spring 2018 we've got eight of the best women's travel underwear products on the market, reviewed in excruciating detail just for you. We looked at comfort, fit, drying time, and packability to rank these undies in order of awesomeness. At the top of the charts is the ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini. Soft, stretchy, and breathable, this was our hands-down favorite pair for any adventure. Next up we had the Smartwool Merino 150 and the Patagonia Barely Hipster, both guaranteed to keep you dry, cool, and funky fresh. The Under Armour Pure Stretch Hipster was our best budget pick, designed to keep your body comfy and your wallet full. Keep reading for all the details on these killer undies!
If you're looking to invest in a single pair of travel underwear, look no further than the ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini. This is it, folks. Remarkably comfortable and incredibly quick to dry, the Give-N-Go Sport Mesh was our hands-down winner. We loved its soft bulk material and great waistband. We found it to have the perfect blend of stretch and structure that gave us the maximal range of motion without slipping or sliding. Whether running through airports or hiking in the mountains, these undies stayed put.
The Give-N-Go dried much more quickly than cotton and were one of the lightest products we put on the scale. Though some undies we tested weighed a bit less or dried a smidge faster, none were as well-rounded as the Give-N-Go. We were happy to award them our Editors' Choice Award for their superior performance in every scoring metric, and with one of the lowest prices in this review, we'll be stocking up.
Read review: ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini
If super soft, naturally odor resistant, high-quality merino wool is your thing, look no further (and if not, let us convince you). It was love at first sight with the Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini, from its silky smooth material to its lightweight, incredibly fast drying design. At just three-quarters of an ounce, these undies are the perfect compliment to your fast-paced, lightweight adventures.
The only downside we found to these undies was in the tight waistband. Once we had them on, they fit just fine, and we never felt our movement constricted. That being said, our curvier testers wished for a bit more stretch to make them easier to put on. The snug fit did help keep them in place, however, and we never struggled with wedgies or discomfort. We loved the breathability of this design and are happy to recommend them for your next backcountry or front country adventure.
Read review: Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini
The moment we pulled the Barely Hipster out of its packaging, we knew we'd found a winner, and after weeks of testing, we were more in love with these undies than ever. The material is outrageously soft, and its thin design makes for superior breathability. We loved the modest coverage that kept us wedgie-free no matter what we were doing.
The only problem we had with these undies was the fit. The leg openings were just a bit too tight for us, though this is a pretty individual problem, and we recommend you try this product on before you buy. If they happen to fit you better than they fit us, this product could easily jump to our favorite of the entire bunch. Despite the tight leg openings, the Barely's lightweight construction and quick-drying material kept us coming back time and time again.
Read review: Patagonia Barely Hipster
If one of these products is not like the others, that would be the UA Pure Stretch Hipster. Without seams and made of an ultra-stretchy material, we weren't sure at first how these undies would stack up. We were pleased to find, after weeks of testing, that the Pure Stretch is truly an incredible value. At just $12 per pair, nearly half the price of the second least expensive model we tested, these skivvies are silky smooth, super soft, and incredibly fast to dry.
The fit wasn't our favorite, and our testers definitely would have loved a little more structure to help keep these undies in place. They rode up on us a bit more than we would have liked, but their breathability and light weight ultimately outweighed the annoying fit to make one great piece of underwear.
Read review: Under Armour Pure Stretch Hipster
The Active Mesh Boy Short has a lot going for it in the comfort department. We loved the material, from its super stretchiness to its soft feel. The waistband was one of our favorites, and we never once found ourselves grappling with a wedgie on a cramped airplane or mid-pitch on a rock climb. The thick material makes these undies seem more like shorts than undies, and we have to admit that we found ourselves hiking and swimming (and climbing) in these more than once.
However, their thick construction had some downsides. These took over an hour and a half to dry, more than double the time of the faster-drying product we tested, and we found less than stellar breathability. The last straw was the leg openings that occasionally bunched up on us, constricting our legs and limiting our range of motion. If the fit and thickness work for you, we think these undies will last you a lifetime. But if you're looking for comfort now, you may want to keep searching.
Read review: Patagonia Active Mesh Boy Short
One of the softest, best-fitting models in this review, we quickly fell in love with the Icebreaker Sprite Hot Pant. Their thin merino wool felt incredible on our skin, and we appreciated the thick waistband and loose leg openings. With a modest design, we found ourselves reaching for these for practicing yoga, lounging around the house, and heading out for a night on the town.
After just a few uses, though, we just couldn't get stand the wedgies. The leg openings we found so comfortable were always riding up on us, and the waist was strangely high, making for an incompatible match with low-rise pants. Despite their weight, they did dry impressively fast, but we ultimately found them to be a better fit for casual wear than active travel.
Read review: Icebreaker Sprite Hot Pant
While we were impressed with the burly wool construction of the Smartwool PhD Seamless Bikini, we generally felt that this product missed the mark. It was incredibly stretchy, one of our favorite features, and we appreciated the naturally odor-repellant nature of wool.
The list of our dislikes was a bit longer, however. We found that this product ran very small, and the tight fit left us feeling constricted and uncomfortable. The wool wasn't nearly as soft as some other wool products we tested, and it was both heavy and slow to dry. Because of its thick design, we'd recommend this product for cold-weather adventures.
Read review: Smartwool PhD Seamless Bikini
Creator of some of our favorite outer layers, I'm not sure where Arc'teryx went wrong with the Phase SL Brief. At first, we were stunned at how light it was and how dry it seemed after a simple hand-wringing. That being said, the fit was incredibly small, tight, and awkward, with leg openings and a crotch that were way too narrow. While the bulk material was soft enough, the waistband was irritating and itchy. If you're looking for the fast-drying undies on the market, this is it, though we found quite a few other models with similar drying times that were considerably more comfortable.
Read review: Arc'teryx Phase SL Brief
Travel Underwear Buying Advice
A Conversation on Material
At this point in the review, you may be ready to throw in the towel and head to your nearest bargain store for a 5-pack of the cheapest cotton undies. And cotton does have some benefits: cost-effectiveness, breathability, and gentleness are three of the biggest ones. For women specifically, gynecologists often suggest loose-fitting cotton as a way to air out the nether regions.
However, cotton has one giant downside that makes it completely impractical in an active environment: moisture absorption. Taking essentially forever to dry out, cotton is completely incompatible with any activity that involves sweating. In cold conditions, the moisture in cotton underwear will draw heat away from the body, keeping you cold and miserable. Anyone who has ever hiked in a cotton t-shirt knows the sorrow of a wet back. During our Drying Time test, we threw in a sample pair of all-cotton undies as a control. In general, the synthetic and wool undies of our review dried in 40-70 minutes compared to the cotton which took 90 minutes. Case in point.
That leaves us with two options: wool and synthetics. Synthetics are soft and cost-effective but less comfortable when wet despite fast drying times. Wool, merino specifically, tend to be less durable than synthetics but are great when wet, a nod to their steep price tags.
At the end of the day, it's important to consult your own body (and potentially your gynecologist) about which materials are best for you and your adventures. If cotton is your only choice, make sure to pack extras so you can let a pair air out while staying dry and warm.
A Discussion of Style
For centuries, women have been plagued by an incalculable amount of underwear-based decisions. Briefs, hipsters, boy shorts, thongs, high-rise, low-rise, the list goes on and on. Because travel underwear is meant to keep up with you on the gnarliest of adventures, we limited our selection to styles with more coverage and widespread appreciation, like bikinis, boy shorts, and hipsters.
In general, our testers preferred more coverage for traveling. While frolicking in the mountains or running to catch a flight, the last thing we want to do is pick a wedgie or deal with underlayer itchiness or discomfort. Additionally, we like the added benefit of being able to change or jump into alpine lakes more comfortably. That being said, if a certain style suits your fancy more than others, we're not here to judge.
We discuss coverage in the "Fit" section of our reviews, but it's important to note that most of the products we chose are available in a variety of styles to suit your personal favorites. Details and links are provided in the Overview section of each individual review.
We took these undies to the far corners of the earth, from the southern tip of Argentina to the mountains of the American West. We washed them in streams and hotel sinks, then dried them out in the bright sun of the Eastern Sierra and the winds of the Utah desert. After weeks of testing, we came up with our four most important scoring metrics: comfort, fit, drying time, and packability. The first three of these were all worth 30% of a product's final score, while packability was a smaller 10%. While packability is very important, almost every product in this test was impressively light and compact, making it harder to claim that one product was that much better than any other.
Our reviewers also looked into odor control and durability, but in the end, we found no noticeable differences between any of the products. We'll talk more generally about what to look for when it comes to those things below. First, let's dive into exactly what makes each pair of travel undies so different than its competitors.
While many pairs are reasonably priced, one might argue that paying $40 for a pair of underwear is a bit past their budget. We've included a price to value comparison, which includes all products in our fleet; the products toward the bottom right of the graph represent the highest value for money. The Under Armour Pure Stretch, retailing for $12, provide a quality value, and earned our Best Buy award.
All of the travel undies we tested for this review were considerably more comfortable than any of our old cotton undies. So where to begin? While trying to explain to our curious friends how one goes about rigorously testing underwear, we realized one big thing about comfort: we want to forget that we're even wearing underwear. Our goal in undies comfort is to put them on in the morning and not think about them or notice them again until we go to bed.
When looking at the intricacies of comfort, we evaluated each product based on its material type, softness, itchiness, thickness, and breathability. We recorded our initial impressions of the comfort of the bulk material and the waistbands, and then we wore them constantly.
The award winners for this category were the ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini, the Patagonia Barely Hipster, the Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini, and the Under Armour UA Pure Stretch Hipster. All of these products excelled in softness, and while they had a range of waistband types, we found each to be exceedingly comfortable. Our testers generally preferred their thinner material to some of the thicker models we tested, like the Patagonia Active Mesh Boy Short and the Smartwool PhD Seamless Bikini, due to their increased breathability.
Originally, we had this metric combined with "Comfort", but there were just too many properties to discuss all at once. When we're talking about fit, we're mostly talking about size and shape and the way they sit on our bodies. Just like with comfort, the best fit an underwear could possibly have would be one that doesn't require any adjusting or fidgeting, no matter what we're doing with them. Hiking, running, climbing, biking-- we never want our activities to be interrupted by wedgies or slip-ups.
In this metric, we chronicled our journeys in a variety of sports and ultimately judged each pair based on its cut and amount of coverage provided, the accuracy of sizing, wedgie control, waistband fit, and overall stretchiness. Our favorites were the Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini, and the Barely Hipster. These two models have modest coverage, and stretchy yet snug fits that stay in place.
One of the main benefits of travel underwear is the ability to quickly hand-wash and air-dry when you're on the go. Both synthetic materials and wool are considerably quicker to dry than cotton. To test this property, we soaked each pair in a bucket of water, wrung them out by hand, wrung them out with our towel trick, and hung them up on a clothesline. On the day we did this test, we were in Bishop, California, where it was 70 degrees with 9% humidity and a light breeze. Our clothesline was in partial sun.
Looking to get your undies dry fast? One of the best things we learned during our testing process was this helpful trick. After hand-wringing your undies, lay them on top of a towel and roll the undies and towel together. Squeeze your new burrito from end to end in order to force any leftover moisture out of the undies and into the towel. Then, hang to dry.
Before we even hung our undies up on the line we had some quick impressions. The Arc'teryx Phase SL Brief seemed nearly dry just by wringing it out, and after ten minutes, it seemed surprisingly (though not completely) dry. Along with the Phase was the Merino 150 and the UA Pure Stretch. The Barely Hipster seemed not far behind, while the rest were all very wet.
By 30 minutes, the only part of the Phase that was still wet was the crotch, which is twice as thick as the rest of the product. The UA Pure Stretch, the Merino 150, the Give-N-Go Sport Mesh, and the Barely were almost wearable, but still damp. At this point, the other wool models in our test, the Icebreaker Sprite Hot Pant, and the PhD Seamless were catching up, leaving the Patagonia Active Mesh Boy Short lagging behind.
After waiting patiently and diligently, the results were in: all taking around 45 minutes to dry were the Phase SL, UA Pure Stretch Hipster, and Merino 150 Bikini. Next up were products in the 70-minute range: the Barely Hipster, Give-N-Go Sport Mesh, and Sprite. Finally, taking around an hour and a half was the PhD Seamless from Smartwool and the Active Mesh Boy Short.
Last but not least is packability. We'd venture a guess that many of you will be using your travel undies when space is tight, whether that's backpacking in Alaska or shuffling suitcases to Europe. All eight products we tested in this review packed down incredibly small, but some were a bit more compact than others. The UA Pure Stretch was noticeably small, while the PhD Seamless took up quite a bit more room in our carry-on. We looked at how small we could scrunch them down and how easily they stuffed into the small spaces left in our packs.
The other half of this metric is weight. The lightest products in this test were the Pure Stretch Hipster and Merino 150 Bikini, both at .7 ounces, and the heaviest was Active Mesh Boy Short at 1.5 ounces. You'll notice that we're talking fractions of ounces here. While you could, in theory, bring two pairs of the UA Pure Stretch for every one Active Mesh Boy Short, many of us just aren't that weight obsessed. For this reason, we agreed that packability was less important than the other three metrics described above. If you are a toothbrush-snapping, tag-cutting, ounce-counting ultralight fanatic, however, this one is for you.
Other Metrics to Consider
Our testers looked into three other properties of all our products, but without major differences in performance, we couldn't honestly claim one was so much better than another that it warranted being including in your purchasing decision. That being said, we wanted to take a few minutes to describe these metrics.
First up: odor control. One of the least glamorous things we've had to review here at OutdoorGearLab, we were concerned about the result of wearing the same undies day in and day out while backpacking or traveling. Despite all claiming different odor-resisting properties, we really only noticed one thing: that every pair of underwear in this review had a much better handle on odor control than any cotton undies we'd ever worn. However, it's well-known throughout the outdoor industry that merino wool is an incredible natural resistant to odors, so if you're particularly concerned about this metric, we'd likely recommend the Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini which was our favorite wool product in this review.
Next up on our list of curiosities was durability. We committed ourselves fully to these eight pairs of underwear, and after months of running around the world in them, we were shocked to find that none had any signs of wear. That being said, wool is typically a bit more fragile than synthetics, so if you're worried about having undies that will last for the rest of your life, you might reconsider the merino.
How We Test
Once we laid our hands on these undies, it was on. We wore them everywhere, vowing not to take them off until we had figured out all of their intricacies. After months of traveling through South America and climbing and backpacking all around the American West, we're happy to bring you the most comprehensive women's travel underwear review available.
We wore these undies on both hot and cold days and got feedback on their fits and materials from friends and colleagues. We soaked them in water, laid them out to dry, and dedicated ourselves to getting to know their specialties and areas of expertise.
Our testers worked night and day to evaluate each product fairly and impartially, without considering brand or price, to bring you this objectively researched review. You may not agree with all our remarks on comfort and fit, but we can promise you that we received no financial compensation for reviewing any of these products and that we were as diligent and detailed as possible.
Underwear is an incredibly personal purchase, and with thousands of items on the market, the search can be overwhelming. To help aid in your underwear journey, we researched dozens of top models online, reading reviews and rankings, to pick our elite eight. Our testers then spent months in these products, reviewing them side-by-side and getting to know their performance in a variety of settings. We then compiled all our data into this comprehensive review in order to give you the most objective and thorough women's travel underwear review out there today.
— Lauren Delaunay