Overview: Men’s Hiking Underwear & Shorts

Underwear acts as a moisture (sweat) transfer layer to keep you reasonably dry “down there”. This guide highlights some important considerations about materials, design, fit, weight, and performance criteria when selecting a pair of hiking underwear (or shorts).

The most popular underwear material is polyester, sometimes with a little Spandex (Lycra) mixed in for a stretchy fit. Merino wool is a great choice that minimizes odor when worn for several days in a row, but isn’t as durable as synthetics. Some people go commando (no underwear), which can be a bit uncomfortable if you wear abrasive nylon trekking pants, and on hot days, can result in sweat accumulation that can cause inner thigh chafing. Others replace underwear with a typical running short that has a liner brief in it. If you suffer from inner thigh chafing (or have never hiked long distances in warm weather), consider selecting a tight-fitting “running short” – they fit like tights but are short, with inseams ranging from 6 to 11 inches.

Hiking underwear for lightweight backpacking - drying out after a swim at Twin Lakes, High Sierra.
Drying out after a morning swim at Twin Lakes, High Sierra, August 2015. Hanging out in my underwear was one of the joys of my teenage years. Being able to do it in the backcountry amps up the joy a bit. My all time favorite underwear was the GoLite Stride Shorts. Durable as heck (mine have now seen several thousand miles of hiking travel), a cotton patch right where it’s supposed to be, just the right amount of stretch, and a long enough inseam to prevent chafing. Probably my favorite GoLite product ever. Photo was darkened in post to mitigate blinding effects of Montana skintones on bright screens.

Weight Targets

The lightest polyester briefs will weigh in the range of 1-2 oz. Merino wool and Spandex blend boxer-briefs with longer (6″+) inseams can be less than 4 oz if the fabrics are thin.

How to Save Weight

  • Quantity: Bring just one pair of underwear/shorts (men), or one set of bra / shorts for women (menstruating women should bring a 2nd set of underwear / shorts). Every few days, do laundry (rinse and/or wash) and hang to dry in the sun.
  • Material Type: Polypropylene and polyester are the lightest fibers, especially when constructed in very thin fabrics. Nylon, Spandex and merino wool are slightly heavier.
  • Amount of Material: Briefs are made with less material than boxers, so are lighter. Shorts with shorter inseams are lighter than shorts with longer inseams, but longer inseams protect better from chafing. Commando is the lightest way to go – 0.0 oz!

Performance Considerations

  • Odor Resistance –Merino is the best for long term wear. Polypropylene has a reputation for rankiness. Some so-called “odor-resistant” fibers are treated with various antimicrobial materials that might work when the undies are new, but tend to “wear out” over time, unlike merino.
  • Dry Time –Polyester dries the fastest, merino wool and spandex dry the slowest. Something to consider when you are wading deep and have to continue hiking, or are doing some afternoon laundry.
  • Fit –Looser fits ventilate better (airflow is good!), but more form-fitting underwear is more resistant to chafing. More form-fitting underwear with elastic leg cuffs may stay in place without riding up and bunching/binding, which is pretty nice for steep climbing when you’re high-stepping.
  • Waist Band –Waistbands can be a blessing or an annoyance. You’ll have to experiment. The key is not to buy a size too small, or it will create discomfort by rolling and binding on long days.

What Our Guides Use

Ryan Jordan
Eric Vann
Andy Heath
Pat Starich
Ryan Connelly

Ryan J – I chafe. Briefs and commando are out. Merino is my favorite material for underwear, but because of chafing, I’ve worn out too many pairs of merino boxers to count. These days, I go with short tights used by runners. I like the color black, and shorts without “underwear waistbands” so I can wear them alone around people without feeling like I’m waltzing around in my skivvies. I like an inseam in the 6-10 inch range, and I look for the lightest weight polyester / nylon / spandex blend I can find – something less than 4 oz in a size “M”. My all-time favorite pair of trekking undies – the original GoLite Stride shorts, which I still love and use.

Eric – Tight, form-fitting spandex is not for me, but Ex Officio Boxer-Briefs seem to have the right amount of stretch for a good fit without being restrictive. I find them comfortable even into the second week of a long trip.

Andy – I prefer Patagonia Silkweight (a.k.a. “Daily”) Capilene Boxers. They remain cool in hot temps, reduce chafe well enough for me, and with odor-resistant fibers, seem to feel clean even after 7-10 days in the field.

Pat – Ultralight and minimalist for me: the Rab Dryflo 80 brief only weighs 1.4 oz.

Ryan C – I wear Ex Officio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs. Long and snug for chafing resistance, fast dry time, with no unusual accumulation of stinkiness beyond what I perceive to be my own normal ;) One under-the-table (sic) feature is the nicely-shaped pocket that keeps the cajonnes off your legs (note: this feature is found on the Sport model). Guys know this to be a feature…


The following products represent our guide-curated recommendations for participants in the Wilderness Adventures program.

Patagonia Men’s Strider PRO Shorts 5″ Inseam

Guides’ Comments: This is a running short with built-in liner – a great option if you prefer to hike in real shorts.

» Buy now at REI.com

ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs

Guides’ Comments: Customers love these, as evidenced by strong reviews found all over the internet. A durable option for chafing resistance.

» Buy now at REI.com

SmartWool Men’s NTS Micro 150 Boxer Briefs – Wool

Guides’ Comments: Great stink resistance, and extraordinarily comfortable next to skin. They are somewhat form-fitting, but don’t have the confining feel of a compression short. More durable than we expected for merino wool.[/caption]

» Buy now at REI.com

REI Men’s Boxer Briefs

Guides’ Comments: If you prefer loose-fitting polyester underwear, and don’t want to break the bank, this is a solid option. For a little softer feel (and a little higher price), take a look at the Patagonia Daily Boxer-Brief.

» Buy now at REI.com

More Shopping Resources

About Guides’ Notes

Guides’ Notes are gear briefs outlining a specific category of gear as a resource that has been developed for participants in Backpacking Light’s Wilderness Adventure Treks program. It includes an overview of the category, tips for saving weight on gear in this category, as well as very specific product recommendations from our Guides, with links to purchase those products online.

Disclosure: the product links above may include affiliate links. Backpacking Light receives a small commission on sales when you place an order via one of our affiliate partners if you visit their website by clicking on an affiliate link. This helps support our efforts, thank you!