A Backpacker's Guide to Moisture Wicking Underwear

Get the most out of your wicking underwear. Pick the right base layer synthetic clothing, wicking clothing, and/or thermal underwear.

How Does Moisture Wicking Underwear Work?

moisture wicking underwear

  • Keeps moisture away from the skin. While most fabrics seem to retain dampness, wicking clothing will transfer it away from your skin and turn it to vapor as it passes through the material. This is an especially important feature in backpacking underwear.

  • Dries Quickly. The materials simply do not hold moisture and are designed to convert a liquid to a vapor. Basically, moisture in the form of sweat is transformed to a vapor. They will even dry extremely quickly after a quick wash in a backcountry stream.

  • Allows airflow. The fibers in the materials of moisture wicking underwear are stitched and designed in such a way that it will allow ample airflow. These can be considered cold weather underwear as well because they will keep you warm when needed and keep you cool when it’s hot out. The airflow helps the drying process and also helps prevent build up of odors.

  • Reduces chaffing. Because moisture wicking clothing keeps moisture away from the skin, allows ample airflow, and dries quickly, chances of acquiring chafe will be reduced. A painful chafe can completely ruin a hiking or backpacking trip. So make sure to keep your wilderness adventure enjoyable, making positive memories that will last a lifetime, and don’t skimp out on the underwear.

  • Reduces Odor. Most wicking underwear have odor blockers designed into them. This can be an anti-microbial agent, or simply the material it’s self. (bamboo is a naturally anti-microbial fiber) This comes in extremely handy when you need underwear for backpacking multi-days. I wouldn’t recommend wearing the same pair for more than a week though, without a good scrubbing.

Best Moisture Wicking Material

  • Synthetics. The best backpacking underwear are going to be of a synthetic or man made material. This can include nylon, polyester, spandex, polypropylene, polyamide. See a complete list of backpacking clothing materials for more specific information.

  • Merino wool blend. If you want ultra comfort, look no further. Merino is the finest wool around. It’s so soft and smooth next to the skin, people just love how comfortable they feel! Most people prefer merino underwear that is blended with elastic, which allows for more stretch-ability and it also will maintain its shape after washing. Full merino will sometimes get stretched out and stay stretched out.

The Cotton Controversy

Cotton has long been a shamed backpacking clothing fabric. Actually, most physical sports or activities, especially those outdoors, have long shunned a cotton wardrobe. There are a few reasons why cotton doesn’t make the best backpacking or hiking material for clothing.

  • Holds a lot of moisture. Cotton grows on the sometimes arid plains. The plant was designed by nature to retain moisture so that it would survive during dry spells. The problem is, you don’t want that moisture clinging to your toosh.

  • Difficult to clean while on the trail or somewhere in the wilderness. You pretty much need a full cycle washing machine in your backpack in order to get them clean on the trail. The material just holds on to odors and stains with ferocity.

  • Holds odor. The absorbent nature of cotton allows it to not only hold moisture, but odor as well. Cotton is fine in the day to day civilized world where you can wear it once or twice then wash it, but out in the backcountry when you rely on one pair to last you a week or more, cotton just won’t do the trick, typically.

    Cotton is simply more comfortable than a lot of synthetics so some people choose to still wear cotton. I say it’s ok to wear cotton underwear backpacking as long as a single pair isn’t worn for more than a couple of days and you don’t notice painful chaffing.

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