Hiking Underwear: What To Wear On the Trail

curly haired woman holds her hair up in the woods wearing a black bra and green underwear

I’m currently in the weeds planning out my Pacific Crest Trail attempt. And while I’ve dialed in on my backpack, tent, and ultralight quilt, I haven’t yet decided on my hiking underwear. I have my ideal hiking bras (mostly the racerback bralette, which I love for its comfortable fit and breathability). But I can’t decide on if I want to go commando (talk about ultralight!), rock a bikini style, or prevent chub rub with boy shorts. I mean, seriously, what underwear is best for hiking?

I’m going to be hiking for months, carrying everything I need with me as I go. But even if you’re just planning a 1-mile hike in your local state park, you’ll need a comfy pair of undies, too. My goal by the end of this article is to not only help you find your ideal pair of hiking underwear, but also decide once and for all which ones I’m bringing! So let’s discuss the factors for the best hiking underwear as well as specific styles to look for in the best women's underwear for hiking and best hiking underwear for men.


two people with backpacks walk on a trail in front of a snow capped mountain

Hiking underwear is a mix of travel underwear and workout underwear. You want something that’s durable enough to last your hike, but soft enough to avoid chafing. It’s important to be both comfortable, supportive, and breathable. But that’s like finding a needle in a haystack if you don’t know where to start.

So before we get into specific undies, let’s discuss some overarching things you want for the best hiking underwear.


a woman walks in the woods with a gray backpack

What your hiking underwear is made of can make or break your hike. That may seem dramatic, but ask yourself if you want to deal with a downstairs infection while 10 miles outside of town. You want to look for sustainable fabrics, like organic cotton or hemp. I prefer hemp because it’s:

  • Durable, so your undies will support and protect your sensitive bits on mile 1 and mile 1607

  • Breathable because nobody wants a swamp crotch as they trek

  • Antimicrobial to help prevent infections after a few days of wearing the same pair without getting the best wash

  • Anti-odor because while you should embrace your natural scent while in nature, maybe your hiking partner shouldn’t have to

  • Soft to protect your sensitive skin from the rough elements

  • Lightweight because you’re carrying enough weight in peanut butter and jerky already

  • A UPF fabric, which means you’ll be protected from the sun

Even though you’ll find a lot of polyester or spandex underwear in outdoor stores, it’s not ideal for hiking underwear. Those types of synthetic fabrics are not moisture wicking, hold your body oils and smells, and aren’t very durable, not to mention pretty terrible for the environment. And you don’t want to be contributing to the degradation of the beautiful nature you’re about to be surrounded by.  


 a person in blue jeans and white shoes walks on a log on a hiking trail with fallen leaves

How should underwear fit​​ for a hike? Not too loose and not too tight. Helpful, right? No? Okay, let me give you a few more details.

Your waistband and leg holes shouldn’t dig into your skin. And when you take them off after a full day, you shouldn’t have any red lines leftover from the seams.

You should be able to move around freely without feeling like your undies are either going to completely slip off your rear end. And they shouldn’t restrict any movement.

The crotch should be snug, but not suffocating. And you shouldn’t have a wedgie after 5 seconds of standing still.


a group of backpackers with their packs walk on a dusty trail in a meadow

The ideal underwear for a 5-month long thru hike of the Pacific Crest in the summer is very different from the perfect hiking underwear for a winter hike in Maine. You may need your undies to act as another layer of insulation, may need them to double up as swimsuit bottoms for alpine lake swims, or need them to be as minimal as possible in a tropical hike.

Ask yourself the following questions to find out what you need from your hiking underwear:

  • How long is the hike? How many days will you be hiking?

  • What bottoms are you wearing? Short shorts that have a built-in underwear situation? Or, long pants that may benefit from a longer style of undies?

  • How wet do you expect to get from rain or swimming?

  • What’s the weather going to be like?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you evaluate the pros and cons of each of the following styles of underwear.


Which women’s underwear styles make the most sense for hiking?

 A basket of gray and white merino wool, with a red flower, sits on a black bench.


  • Will fit nicely under any type of hiking bottoms

  • Full enough coverage to act as a swimsuit bottom if needed

  • Breathable and supportive


  • Won’t prevent thigh chafing

a woman’s butt wearing a black thong with her blonde hair falling to her waist


  • Very breathable and minimalist

  • Adds a little spiciness when you feel a little grubby


  • May be a recipe for a trail wedgie

  • Not a super family-friendly option for swimming bottoms

  • Cross contamination of butt bacteria and sensitive vulva skin (especially dicey to deal with out in the backcountry)

woman with long black hair in matching green bra and boy shorts set kneeling on her bed adjusting a necklace


  • The ideal anti chafing underwear option for prevent chub rub

  • Full coverage enough to be swim bottoms or laundry day “shorts”


  • Not the most breathable option

  • May be uncomfortable with shorts that have built-in underwear

close up of a woman’s trunk wearing a black bra and high waisted underwear with one hand on a hip in a light filled room


  • Very supportive and protective, especially of sensitive stomach skin

  • Full coverage as swim bottoms


  • Uncomfortable under non-high waisted bottoms

  • Not as breathable as lesser-coverage options

Modal, made from beechwood, is a fantastic material for women’s underwear, although, like Tencel, it is not always environmentally friendly. There have been recent technological developments that are helping modal be kinder to the planet, which is great because it’s a lightweight yet super-absorbent fabric. Some other reasons? Read on:


Find out the pros and cons of each men’s underwear types!

man wearing black boxers against a white background


  • Very breathable, so you can avoid a swamp crotch

  • Super flexible, so you can have a full range of motion during all of the rock scrambles


  • May not fit comfortably under tighter or shorter hiking pants or shorts

  • Lack support, so your family jewels may move around a bit too much

man wearing a black t-shirt and green boxer briefs holding up a peace sign and two other pairs of green undies


  • Will hold and support your package very comfortably

  • Full coverage for spontaneous swim opportunities

  • Great at preventing chafing along the thigh


  • May peek out of the bottom of short hiking shorts

muscular, tan man wearing black trunks underwear and a gray t-shirt against a cream colored wall


  • Fit will under all styles of hiking bottoms

  • Very protective and supportive of your bits

  • Great for shorter men


  • Won’t protect against chafing on thicker thighs

man in red flannel and jeans around his thighs to show off his green briefs


  • Holds your package very comfortably and snugly

  • Will work with any style of shorts or pants

  • Super breathable


  • Depending on what you’re used to, they may not be full coverage enough for an impromptu swim (but they can definitely double as a Speedo!)


 a woman wearing a backpack stands on a rock and looks out at a view

You may also be considering going commando. Especially with the prevalence of hiking shorts with built-in underwear, it seems like it could be a good, lightweight, and breathable option. And yes, with built-in underwear, it could work.

However, you’re also signing up for some pretty nasty chafe. And going for a swim will either require you to get your hiking bottoms wet or a public indecency charge (which might not matter if you’re deep enough in the backcountry!). And the smell might get a little too much for your hiking partners. So think twice before you leave your tents without your knickers!


a person running through a sunlit field

Especially if you’re heading out on a multi-day hike, it’s important to know how to take care of hiking underwear to keep yourself clean and smelling fresh. Plus, it’ll lengthen the life of your undies, which means you won’t have to buy a new pair for each hike.

First, learn how to hand wash underwear. You can do this in public bathroom showers (or sinks, but you may want to wait until you’re alone).

But while you may be tempted to dip your drawers into the lake or stream, make sure you’re always following Leave No Trace principles when you’re in nature. That means you should only wash clothing 200 feet from water sources. And only use a tiny amount of biodegradable soap!inside out. The third day, flip them back to normal but wear them backwards. And then on the final day, wear them inside out and backwards! You’ll get four days of fresh(ish) use from one pair!

Second, in between washes, change how you’re wearing your undies to keep a bit fresher. So, one the first day, wear the pair as you normally would. The next day, flip them


a person running through a sunlit field

After thinking it all through, I think I’m leaning towards a bikini fit. I’ll have the breathability I’m looking for while still having full coverage of all the important bits, which is great for all of my upcoming alpine lake swims!

Which pair are you planning on rocking? Let me know in the comments below!

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