Best Travel Underwear for Women
|Price||$16.95 at REI||$22.00 at Backcountry|
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|$17.73 at REI|
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|$30.00 at Backcountry|
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|$24.00 at Backcountry|
|Pros||Breathable, super comfortable, affordable||Breathable, comfortable, inexpensive||Super comfortable, stretchy, inexpensive||Super comfortable, quick to dry, lightweight, breathable||Great fit, comfortable material, inexpensive|
|Cons||Nothing!||Tight fit||Heavy, bulky||Tight waistband, more expensive||Slower to dry, thicker material|
|Bottom Line||The Active Bikini is a top scorer in every testing category, and its affordable price tag makes it a no-brainer||Breathable and soft, the Hipster finds the middle ground between a great fit and a nice price||An incredibly comfortable, breathable, and budget-friendly favorite||Ready for any lightweight adventure, this merino pair is soft, lightweight, and fast-drying||With an outstanding fit, this is an excellent product great for any adventure|
|Rating Categories||REI Co-op Active Bikini||Patagonia Barely Hipster||Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini||Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini||Patagonia Active Hipster|
|Drying Time (25%)|
|Specs||REI Co-op Active...||Patagonia Barely...||Give-N-Go Sport...||Smartwool Merino...||Patagonia Active...|
|Material||86% polyester/14% spandex||89% Nylon, 11% Spandex||93% Nylon 7% Lycra Spandex||87% Merino Wool, 13% Nylon Core||81% Nylon, 12% Spandex|
|Measured Weight - Size Small (oz)||0.6 oz||0.8 oz||1.1 oz||0.7 oz||0.9 oz|
|Cuts Available||Bikini, hipster, brief, thong||Hipster, bikini, thong||Hipkini, full cut brief, bikini, string bikini, bikini brief, 4" boy short||Bikini||Hipster|
Best Overall Women's Travel Underwear
REI Co-op Active Bikini
The ultra-comfy REI Co-op Active Bikini earned high marks in each of our four scoring metrics. These undies are super comfortable, complete with stretchy polyester that's both silky smooth and breathable. The fit is perfect: modest coverage without taking up too much room. At 0.6 ounces, they pack away nicely and don't overheat. We can take these undies anywhere.
One of the best things about this product is its value. It's one of the least expensive products we tested, which only adds to its overall impression. Modest price and best-in-class performance unite in this favorite pair of our testing travelers.
Read review: REI Co-op Active Bikini
Best Bang for the Buck
Under Armour Pure Stretch Hipster
The Under Armour Pure Stretch Hipster immediately stood out from all other products in this review. The single rear seam creates a uniform appearance (no panty lines), and the material is considerably lighter, thinner, and stretchier than just about any other product we tested. There is a slightly higher chance of the material riding up, and we do wish there was a bit more coverage, but we love the feeling of the soft material on our skin.
The Pure Stretch also excelled in two other categories. With its thin, lightweight design, these undies are the lightest (just 0.7 ounces) and fastest drying pair we tested, while its tiny build makes it one of the most compact as well. Though this wasn't always our go-to pair, what truly makes it stand out against the competition is its price. These undies are nearly half the price of most other products in this review, a factor that we just couldn't ignore.
Read review: Under Armour Pure Stretch Hipster
Best for Wool
Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini
When we first laid our hands on the Smartwool Merino 150, we couldn't believe it was wool. What happened to the itchy, thick fabric? We're not sure how they do it, but Smartwool has created an incredibly soft, almost silky fabric with the Merino 150, and we couldn't be happier with these undies. The fit is great, with no movement to cause us to fidget, and the cut is cute without sacrificing full coverage.
There are a few reasons you may want to consider a natural wool product over a synthetic underlayer, with the most likely reason being odor control. Wool is naturally odor-resistant, and while we didn't notice significant odor buildup in any of the products we tested, if this is the main reason you're investing in some fancier, non-cotton undies, these may be the perfect pair for you. Of the three wool models we tested, the Merino 150 Bikini is the best. It's light, dries fast, and is super cozy against our skin.
Read review: Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini
Why You Should Trust Us
For this review, we assembled a team of the most well-traveled, adventurous staffers that we have and sent them all over the globe to put these undies to the test. Our lead tester and author, Lauren DeLaunay, took these undies to the mountains of Argentina, the beaches of Cuba, and the rainforests of Chile, where she hiked, climbed, and jumped in rivers. Oh, and did we mention the four flights and overnight bus ride to get there? When not in the southern hemisphere, Lauren spends a lot of time on the road, often living out of her van. And in the summers, she is a member of the Yosemite Search and Rescue Team.
We started this review by spending hours in stores and on the web researching the most popular, best-selling women's travel underwear models out there. We compared specs, surveyed companies about their upcoming products, and eventually chose a line-up of undergarments for rigorous hands-on testing. We wore each pair nonstop for a week to see what it could handle. We ran, climbed, swam, slept, and traveled in them, getting to know their smallest details to report our four scoring metrics accurately. In doing so, we decided that comfort, fit, drying time, and packability were the most important criteria, developing specific tests for each, including weighing each product and hanging them side-by-side to dry. After months of travel, we arrived home satisfied and confident that we found the best products available, ready to report back to make your shopping experience as easy as possible.
Analysis and Test Results
We determined four crucial metrics to judge each pair of travel underwear throughout our many weeks of testing. We'll describe each metric below, including what we did to measure each category to reach objective conclusions. Because undies are a personal purchase, you may find that certain metrics are more important to you personally than what we gave them credit for. As you reach each description below, make a note of anything that sounds particularly important to you, as you'll be able to look for the products with the highest scores in each metric.
We found the products in this review to vary in price significantly and understand that even the most inexpensive undergarment could be considered pricey to some. We recognize "value" to be the intersection of price and performance. Sometimes, a product performs so well that we argue it's worth the money, and sometimes we find that a less expensive product does the trick just fine.
We found something in this review that we haven't seen in many others: an overall winner that's also one of the most affordable. In so many outdoor categories, higher prices allow for nicer materials and construction. But in this review, we found knockout performance in the REI Co-op Active Bikini, which comes in at nearly twice as cheap as some of its competitors. We judged this product price notwithstanding and were thrilled to find that our favorite product also has such great value. Not far behind, the Under Armour Pure Stretch undies are well-rounded and comfortable, with decent breathability and drying time. As the most affordable product we tested, we think these are a great buy for shoppers on a tighter budget.
If you've ever been stuck on an overnight bus in South America or trekked through a humid island jungle, you know that comfort is the queen of underwear performance. Because underwear makes such a high level of skin contact, comfort is paramount, and we came up with a few specific traits to look for when evaluating a product's overall comfort score.
The first thing we noticed and evaluated about each pair of undies was the material's softness. This may seem like a no-brainer, but after trying multiple pairs, we realized that there's a wide range of material textures, and each product has its own unique feel. In general, we prefer the silky, thinner models to the itchy, thicker ones, as the thickness of each product contributes significantly to its breathability, another significant factor of comfort.
Of all the models we tested, the highest scorers for comfort are the REI Co-op Active Bikini and the Patagonia Barely Hipster. These products have different feels but are both silky smooth with comfortable waistbands and light and airy with excellent breathability. We like the REI's leg openings and waistband a bit more, but Patagonia is right up there in performance.
Three competitors tied for second place: the Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini, Patagonia Active Hipster, and ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini. The Merino 150 is surprisingly soft and light for a wool product, while the Active is a bit heavier but still silky smooth. The Give-N-Go is super soft with a great waistband. Because comfort is so important to the enjoyment of our undergarments, we weighted "comfort" as 30% of each product's overall score.
At first, we were going to include "fit" into the comfort category, but after months of testing, our team agreed that there were enough traits unique to "fit" that another metric was warranted. For this product, we looked less at the materials and more at the cut. To be consistent, we generally choose either bikini or hipster models, though many of these products have sister models in other shapes and cuts.
We dealt with an unfortunately high number of wedgies on this review and learned quickly that this was an instant deal-breaker. A few factors cause wedgies, some of which remain mysteries to us. However, we did find a strong correlation between the fit of the leg openings and the likelihood of wedgies. The Barely Hipster, for example, has tight leg openings that do a great job at keeping the garment in place, while the Icebreaker Sprite features loose openings that often give a wedgie.
While all the models in this review have different waistbands, from the seamless one of the Pure Stretch to the thick band of the Active Hipster, there is no single shape that's more appealing, though we prefer a stretchy waistband overall. As you may assume, stretchiness was a huge factor in a product's "fit" score, and our favorite products were those that let us move freely while they stayed in place. The Active Hipster and REI Active Bikini achieve this well with ultra-stretchy fits and leg openings that are snug yet comfortable.
The time needed to air dry is an important factor in the overall score of a pair of travel underwear for two big reasons: sweat and washing. The ability of our base layers to dry quickly on the go is crucial to keeping us comfortable. Similarly, when we're on the run from city to city and have a plane to catch, a quick wash in the sink is the perfect remedy. But if our undies take too long to dry, valuable time could be wasted.
To test for this metric, we soaked each product in water and hung them to dry. We tried various methods, including wringing out the garments by hand and with a towel and found consistent results across the board. In general, the thinner the material, the quicker the drying time. It's no surprise, then, that the Active Bikini and Pure Stretch are such high scorers in this category.What's the Deal with Washing?
We've mentioned washing on the go as an integral part of long-term travel, so we thought we'd pause here to add a few tips. Washing your undies in the sink is a great travel option. Usually, we run out of underwear before we need to wash the rest of our clothes. So while the sink may not work for your jeans and jackets, it will extend the time before you have to make a trip to the laundromat. First, find something to plug the drain. Fill the sink with hot water and let the garments soak until fully saturated. Pour in some detergent and scrub each garment, using its own material to scrub dirtier sections. While there are some convenient single-use laundry detergents out there, we prefer a more versatile product such as Dr. Bronner's that can be used to wash our clothes or our hair. When space is limited, finding products that have multiple purposes helps save space.
One of our favorite drying methods is the towel-roll method. We used this consistently during our testing, and we'll never forget it. Lay your undies on a towel and roll it up. Then you can wring out the towel, forcing water from the undies into the towel. The products will be considerably drier than if you just wring them out by hand, cutting down on your drying time so you can get back to your adventures as soon as possible. We're also a fan of strapping our socks and undies to the outside of our packs while backpacking to get them to dry while not taking up too much of our time.
If you're going to wash your clothes in a stream or river, we recommend doing your research and using eco-friendly soaps. Ideally, you can use the water from a river to wash your clothes in a bag or bucket away from the water source itself. A dry bag works great for this purpose, and there are even some new "washing bags" on the market. These are basically dry bags with scrubby internal nodules. While we haven't tested them out ourselves, these could make for a great option if you're hitting the road for an extended period without weight as a concern. We probably wouldn't carry this into the backcountry with us. Additionally, we're often surprised by how well a quick rinse and scrub without detergent does at getting the sweat out of our garments, keeping us fresher longer before we have to return home. No matter what method you choose, a quick drying time keeps you out there having fun longer, which is precisely why this metric was such an essential part of our testing process.
Because one of our primary goals with the products in this review was to be able to pack them up and go into the backcountry for extended periods, weight and compactness are of the utmost importance. That being said, the weight of each pair varies by fractions of an ounce, and differences in packed size are small when compressed in a travel bag or suitcase. We wouldn't use this metric as your sole or top deciding measure, but it's worthy of a tie-breaker status. For this reason, "packability" was only 10% of each product's overall score.
For weight, we put each product on our scale to see how they stacked up. The weights ranged from 0.6 to 1.4 ounces with the top scorers, REI Active Bikini, Smartwool Merino 150, and Under Armour Pure Stretch, coming in at 0.6 or 0.7 ounces, and the Patagonia Barely and Patagonia Active at 0.8 and 0.9 ounces respectively.
In addition to weight, our testing team looks at the compactness of each product. The thinner, stretchier materials tend to fold down to a flatter, smaller package, and some take up more room in our packs or suitcases than others. Again, these measurements are within fractions of an inch. While packability is undoubtedly important, we suggest evaluating potential purchases by their scores in other categories first and then use this metric to make a final call.
Fussing over your underwear might seem a little unnecessary, but after weeks on the road, we can tell you that comfortable travel undeniably starts with undies. From comfortable material to enough stretch to move, the construction of each pair of undies is critical to its performance. Keeping dry in a wide variety of climates is just as important as drying quickly after a hand-wash. During weeks of testing throughout multiple seasons, we found a few stand-out performers in performance, price, and material. We hope our suggestions help you along for journeys to come.
— Lauren Delaunay