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How We Tested Travel Underwear for Women

Friday April 5, 2019

To really find out what each pair of travel undies in this review could handle, we had to step up our game. We couldn't just work and run our errands in these undies (though we did that too). We had to get after it. So we booked a trip and hit the road, flying first to southern Argentina, to test our mettle and the capabilities of each product in the intense alpine environment of Patagonia. When that wasn't enough, we hopped over to Cuba for a few weeks of trekking and climbing a very humid climate. With no washing capabilities available, this was the perfect testing grounds. In between these trips, we ran, biked, and climbed around our home in the Eastern Sierra.

Throughout our months of testing, we identified four of the most important features in any good pair of travel underwear. Originally, we knew we'd have to test for odor control. But at the end of our months of testing, we found that each product in this review did an incredible job at managing odor. Because the scores would have been so similar, we left them out of the final scores.

Related: Buying Advice for Travel Underwear for Women

Comfort


Comfort is a tricky thing, but with the increased ratio of skin-to-material contact that we have with our underwear, comfort is incredibly important. Because we separated "fit" into its own scoring category, we had more room in this metric to judge each product's fabric and feel. We looked at softness, itch, material thickness, and breathability in this metric.

To come to a unified conclusion on material softness, we passed around these products to our friends and colleagues and asked them to take them out on their adventures and report back. We wore each pair under a variety of clothing types, from tight yoga leggings to loose running shorts to see what made the difference. In the end, we made notes of which products irritated or itched us and which were smooth sailing.

Comparing the unique materials of the Smartwool Merino 150 (left) and Merino Seamless (right) side-by-side
Comparing the unique materials of the Smartwool Merino 150 (left) and Merino Seamless (right) side-by-side

Because breathability is such an important factor in each product's "comfort" score, we traveled to Cuba to spend some time in a hot and humid environment. We ran, hiked, and climbed in each pair, all while making notes on the ability of each product to keep us fresh and dry.

Fit


We all know that the fit of underwear can differ dramatically. With many different cuts and shapes to choose from, we mostly stuck to "bikini" or "hipkini" models for this review to help keep things consistent. That being said, many of the products we tested have sister models in different cuts, so if you're looking for a different shape, we recommend looking at the manufacturer website to see what they have available.

Once we determined which cut we'd test for this review, there were still a surprisingly amount of variation. Some models have more coverage, some were lower cut; some had thick waistbands, some wear seamless. We were as objective as possible in this review, asking our friends to validate our conclusions about fit. In this category, we evaluated each product's shape, including back and front coverage, stretchiness, and, most importantly, how well each product stayed put.

The warm sunshine of Bishop  California is a great place to test the Merino 150 Bikini!
The warm sunshine of Bishop, California is a great place to test the Merino 150 Bikini!

We enjoyed products that were stretchy with properly fitting leg openings and waistbands, but we also found that snug leg openings are very important to keeping the undies in place. Basically, we tested for wedgies. We danced, did yoga, ran, and climbed, doing anything we could to get these undies to ride up and give us a wedgie. To our surprise, some of them just wouldn't budge! We awarded high points to any product that stayed in place, keeping us comfortable for hours on end without needing any adjustment.

Drying Time


Drying time is important for two reasons: washing and sweating. When we're on the go, we love being able to wash these wool or synthetic products in a sink or stream, air dry them quickly, and get going again. Additionally, a product that dries quickly will keep us more comfortable on the move, with less sweat buildup.

Hand-washing is a great technique for being on the go.
Hand-washing is a great technique for being on the go.

To test for this metric, our team soaked each product in water and hung them to dry. Seems simple, right? We did this test a variety of times, using hand-wringing, towel-drying, and no pre-drying at all to reach a sound consensus.

Sun-drying these undies in the ever-sunny Sierra Eastside
Sun-drying these undies in the ever-sunny Sierra Eastside

Packability


Because these are travel undies, not just lounging around your house undies, we knew that weight and space would be important factors. We use the term "packability" to explain how much room each product takes up, both in ounces and inches.

To be as scientific as possible, we put each product on a scale and recorded the results. Precision was key here, because the weight range was from .7 ounces to 1.4 ounces. Once we had this information, we folded each product and compared their sizes. We made notes of which products had some bulk and which easily slipped into the small crevices of our packs and suitcases.

Judging bulk: Patagonia Barely (left) and Patagonia Active (right)
Judging bulk: Patagonia Barely (left) and Patagonia Active (right)