The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

The Best Travel Underwear of 2020

Looking out for the best possible pair of underwear we can find.
By Ethan Newman ⋅ Review Editor
Monday March 16, 2020
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Believe it or not, we've been buying and testing underwear for 5+ years. After thorough research, we put nine of the best travel underwear of 2020 to the test. Our lead testers wore them road tripping, traveling, hiking, canyoneering, bike commuting, and rock and ice climbing to see how they performed in different temperatures and in various activities. As any seasoned traveler knows, a clothing system should be versatile, functional, and comfortable. This starts with the underwear. Our tests favored real-world trials of odor retention, breathability, and comfort over marketing claims. The result is a comprehensive review based on our experiences over multiple months of wearing, washing, drying, and pushing these underpants to their limits.

Related: The Best Travel Underwear for Women


Top 9 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 9
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Best Overall Travel Underwear


Smartwool Merino 150 Boxer Brief


Editors' Choice Award

$22.68
(50% off)
at Backcountry
See It

74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 35% 7
  • Breathability - 20% 7
  • Odor Control - 20% 8
  • Durability - 15% 9
  • Drying Time - 10% 6
Material: 87% Merino, 13% Nylon | Weight: 3.2 oz
Super Durable
Good odor control
Supportive
Feels heavier than other fabrics
Waistband might be a bit much for some

The Smartwool Merino 150 Boxer Brief wins the Editors' Choice award because it is the pickup truck of travel underwear: it may not be the prettiest, but it gets the job done and will keep going for far longer than the others. Smartwool did what it does best, making quality wool garments, and the Merino 150 Boxer Briefs are no exception. From the thick, burly waistband to the black merino wool, our pairs have held up better than any other underwear in the review, and keep performing well.

The waistband of the Smartwool skivvies seemed a bit much at times, since it's twice as thick and half again as wide as nearly every other pair, and we sometimes felt sweaty under the big band around our hips. However, after over a year of use and abuse, this is the waistband that is holding up the best. They feel great, hold minimal odor, and hold up to the varying rigors of backcountry and frontcountry travel better than any model we have tested.

Read review: Smartwool Merino 150 Boxer Brief

Best Bang for the Buck


Outdoor Research Echo Boxer Brief


Best Buy Award

$19.46
(25% off)
at Amazon
See It

66
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 35% 7
  • Breathability - 20% 8
  • Odor Control - 20% 4
  • Durability - 15% 5
  • Drying Time - 10% 10
Material: 100% Polyester | Weight: 2.2 oz
Inexpensive
Dries quickly
Breathable
Not durable
Not great odor control

The Outdoor Research Echo Boxer Brief is the ultralighter's answer to travel underwear. It's lightweight (both in fabric and in actual weight), breathable, and doesn't have extra unnecessary features. We were surprised at how breathable they felt for a fully polyester pair of underwear, and we really liked them for warmer weather, although they layered well in the cold, too.

Like most synthetic garments, the odor control leaves something to be desired, but they're the fastest to dry out of all the pairs we tried, so they're easy for a quick wash-up. Lastly, and perhaps most noticeable, they're less expensive than nearly any pair we've tested. They're priced similarly to some of the other inexpensive underwear in this roundup, but paired with their excellent breathability and comfort, we think the Echo Boxer Briefs are worthy of our Best Buy award.

Read review: Outdoor Research Echo Boxer Brief

Best for Urban Travel


Duckworth Vapor Brief


Top Pick Award

$29.95
(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 35% 8
  • Breathability - 20% 6
  • Odor Control - 20% 7
  • Durability - 15% 8
  • Drying Time - 10% 6
Material: 100% Polyester | Weight: 2.2 oz
Relaxed fit
Everyday comfort
Odor control
Less versatile
Slow to dry

We generally prefer a pair of travel underwear that's not only comfortable on the plane but also sits well under a harness and long underwear. This pair focuses only on the former, but it nails it. The Duckworth Vapor Brief offers the best comfort in any urban or casual setting. The fit lands somewhere between boxer brief and boxer, feeling relaxed yet adequately containing all necessary parts. Being a blend of merino wool and synthetic fibers, its odor control is sufficient if you need to wear them back to back days and not have your partner notice. This pair is not only great for travel but also everyday use.

With a focus on casual, work, and travel use, this pair simply isn't well-suited to layer underneath tighter clothing or equipment. When we tried, we found the fabric to bunch up, which was less than comfortable and negatively affected breathability, which isn't exceptional to begin with. However, within city limits, this is an awesome pair of travel underwear, or just underwear, to be wearing.

Read review: Duckworth Vapor Brief


Why You Should Trust Us


Our test panel for this review was led by Ethan Newman, an AMGA certified climbing guide with a bachelor's in Adventure Education. He's traveled extensively around the American West, especially the southwest, and spent over a thousand days climbing in the US, Mexico, Canada, and Argentina. During the test period, he adventured all over the American southwest, from ice climbing in slot canyons to climbing big walls in Zion, to cross country skiing in the La Sal mountains, to hiking through Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. He made sure to test them both at bone-chillingly cold belays as well as running under the sun of Southern Utah.

Our other tester is Ross Robinson, a Senior Review Editor at OutdoorGearLab. He has been backpacking and hiking the world for over a decade, and testing gear with us since 2014. He has lived on four continents, including teaching in both Germany and Thailand, and travels regularly. Ross is an expert gear tester, having done extensive evaluations of everything from hiking boots to camping pillows.

The author feeling the support from the top rope and the Vibe boxer briefs on the Zicicle in the Zion backcountry.
Packed and ready to go.
The author crossing the Virgin River on a chilly day in January  sporting the warmest pair of boxer briefs in the review  the Smartwool 150.

We aim to conduct the most thorough, comprehensive, and objective reviews. We do this by using a rubric of testing measurable qualities and metrics, as well as long term field testing in a wide variety of situations. We independently purchase all our equipment and clothing to stay objective. We've hiked these pairs of underwear to the tops of mountains and the bottom of canyons in order to create the best reviews possible. We conduct timed tests to assess drying speed, weigh them all on our scales, and always continue wearing each pair well beyond our standard testing period to be able to report back on durability. Yes, we stuffed them all in travel packs and hit the road and airways with them, too.

Related: How We Tested Travel Underwears

Analysis and Test Results


While there are plenty of options for men's underwear, we narrowed the scope of our review for the sake of focus and optimal comparison. We specifically focused on boxer briefs, as they are more adaptable and less chafe-inducing than boxers or briefs. They are also the most popular cut among our testers and friends. However, many of these products also come in brief or boxers style, so if that's you're preferred style this review will still be helpful.

We also ignored any underwear made out of cotton, as cotton holds up to 27 times its weight in water, whereas wool, cellulosic fabrics, and synthetic fibers absorb substantially less and insulate when wet. All the underwear we tested are also made of wicking fabrics. To determine the best underwear, we evaluated each pair for comfort, breathability, odor control, durability, and drying time.

Related: Buying Advice for Travel Underwears


Value


At first glance, you might think that some of these prices for a single pair of underwear is insane, especially when a standard three-pack of cotton boxers is 15 bucks or less. But in underwear, as in most things, you get what you pay for. Sure, you might not need the super spendy wool skivvies for the average day, but if you're looking to keep chafing, odor, and "swampiness" down, your cotton underpants won't help you. Instead, go with the Editors' Choice, the Smartwool Merino 150 Boxer Briefs. For a compromise between performance and price, we recommend the ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs, which won our Best Buy Award.

You won't find a bad pair of skivvies in this pile  but some offer a better bargain.
You won't find a bad pair of skivvies in this pile, but some offer a better bargain.

A large part of the price in all these pairs of underwear has to do with the materials. The most expensive models are made out of merino wool. Merino wool is much finer than typical wool, making it softer than standard woven wool. We like merino wool for base layers because it's soft, breathable, and minimizes body odor. Unfortunately, though, merino wool isn't cheap. The other boxer briefs in this review are made out of nylon, like the ExOffico and Patagonia pairs, polyester like the Outdoor Reseach, Marmot, and Stance boxer briefs, and viscose (a fabric that comes from processing cellulose-rich plants like bamboo), like the Saxx underwear. Synthetic and semi-synthetic fabrics are generally less expensive but have their unique tradeoffs, especially in odor buildup.

Comfort


If a pair of underwear isn't comfortable, first and foremost, there's no way you'll ever wear them. We gave a solid 35% of the total scores to the comfort rating because it won't matter how wicking or lightweight the underwear is if it feels like a sandpaper-coated trashbag (note — none we tested were that bad!). We field-tested each pair in a variety of settings to determine comfort and considered attributes such as fabric softness, chafing (especially at seams), waistband feel, and how likely the legs are to roll up. Our ideal underwear is so comfy it's unnoticeable, and we don't think about them until we're flicking them into the hamper with our toes (shooting them with the waistband is also acceptable). All of the pairs we tested were reasonably comfortable, with a few standouts.


Aside from the feel of the fabric, one of the major factors that played a part in comfort and fit is the construction. Most of the boxer briefs we tested had flatlock seams everywhere but the hems, which lay flat on the skin. We also noticed when seams ran through the middle of the crotch or at other odd places which can cause rubbing and chafing, especially under thicker pants or multiple layers. A few of the companies got creative with the seams, like the Smartwool Merino 150 which used flatlock seams everywhere that felt really solid, or the Icebreaker Anatomica that used piping for a more aesthetic but ultimately less comfortable pair.

The surprisingly smooth feeling mesh of the Give-N-Go.
The surprisingly smooth feeling mesh of the Give-N-Go.

We found the Patagonia Sender and the Saxx Vibe Boxer Briefs to be some of the most comfortable pairs. The Sender felt the most like a comfy pair of regular boxer briefs, with soft fabric and nice dimensions, and a thin waistband that didn't feel like overkill. For a slightly more athletic fit similar to the Sender, try the Outdoor Research Echo Boxer Briefs. They were quite comfortable, but a bit more snug.

The Smartwool waistband is easily twice as thick as other travel underwear contenders. In our long term testing  this waistband has proven to be far superior in standing the test of time.
The Smartwool waistband is easily twice as thick as other travel underwear contenders. In our long term testing, this waistband has proven to be far superior in standing the test of time.

We also really liked the feel of the Saxx Vibe, as it was far and away the most supportive pair we tested. The BallPark Pouch kept everything centered and chafe-free, and for how supportive and "cupping" it felt, was quite pleasant. However, we also recognize that the support might be a bit much for some folks, especially if you enjoy riding side-saddle. If you want a very supportive pair of undies without the extra mesh of the Saxx, we'd recommend either the Icebreaker Anatomica or the Smartwool Merino 150.

The mesh of the Ballpark Pouch on the Vibe is the one feature that stood out from every other pair of underwear.
The mesh of the Ballpark Pouch on the Vibe is the one feature that stood out from every other pair of underwear.

The Duckworth model takes a markedly different approach to comfort than the other pairs we tested, which are tighter and fit well when deployed for active use. This pair, though, introduces a much more relaxed fit with a generous, soft fabric. From work to airports to just lounging, we love this pair. They lose a lot of ground in comfort, though, when worn under tight-fitting clothes. They tend to bunch up under such clothing due to the looser fit.

Underneath loose clothing  the Duckworth briefs are super comfortable. Globetrotting and urban-adventuring? This pair is perfect for that.
Underneath loose clothing, the Duckworth briefs are super comfortable. Globetrotting and urban-adventuring? This pair is perfect for that.

Breathability


One of the quickest ways for underwear to go from unnoticeable to making you squirm in your seat is poor breathability. Nobody wants the feeling of sitting in a swamp. That's why we put breathability as one of our five metrics and weighted with 20% of the final score. We tested this by high-aerobic biking in each pair, as well as extended field testing. Each pair performed relatively well, with the merino wool models pulling ahead of most of the synthetic and semi-synthetic models.


The fabrics of the Icebreaker and Smartwool models perform similarly, as they're all 150 fabric weight merino wool, although the Smartwool had a less breathable waistband. The Saxx would have gotten a lower score, as viscose isn't quite as wicking as wool or synthetic materials, but the BallPark Pouch keeps things separate and feeling less swampy than they otherwise might. The Outdoor Research Echo is the most breathable synthetic fabric, largely due to it being incredibly thin. We found that the ExOfficio is breathable, but still had a slightly plastic feel that makes it feel less breathable than other options, and the Stance the least of all.

The mesh of the Sender boxer briefs is so light you can see through it!
The mesh of the Sender boxer briefs is so light you can see through it!

Odor Control


When traveling, either in the backcountry or urban settings, we can go days before we are able to wash our clothes, so we aim for garments that can last a while without smelling too much. This is why we weighted odor control with 15% of the score. We should keep the funk to our dance moves, not our underwear. In addition to field testing, we also used our bike test (wear, ride, remove, whiff) in concert with our breathability metric to determine the scores in this category.


Merino wool, for a variety of reasons, doesn't hold body odor nearly as much as synthetic fabrics, and all the wool underwear in this test performed accordingly. While wool will eventually smell like the body part it is covering, the stink won't build up as much, will reduce when aired out, and disappear with washing. This is because wool has a rough microscopic texture that discourages bacterial growth, and each wool fiber is naturally coated with lanolin, a waxy substance that is antimicrobial. If you want a pair of underwear that you can wear multiple days in a row without offense, aim for the merino wool pairs. These include the Smartwool, Icebreaker, and Duckworth models.

Our lead tester using a highly advanced method to air out one of the products for odor control testing.
Our lead tester using a highly advanced method to air out one of the products for odor control testing.

Synthetic fibers in general, but especially polyester, retain odor because of their oleophilic properties, which hold onto skin oil, and therefore hold onto body odor. Some fabrics use anti-microbial (usually silver, which can irritate skin for some) or other proprietary coatings to reduce odor build-up, but the fact of the matter is that these eventually degrade with repeated use and washings, and just aren't as effective as wool's naturally anti-odor composition.

The Saxx Vibe is made out of viscose, a material made by chemically and mechanically processing bamboo that performs more similarly to synthetic fabrics than cotton or wool. The Saxx, Patagonia, Stance, Outdoor Research, and the ExOfficio pairs of underwear didn't manage odor as well as the merino underwear. The Sender boxer briefs did better than the other due to the proprietary odor control coating, but we would hesitate to wear any synthetic pairs for multiple days of active use unless we were far in the backcountry, and further still from our significant others.

Travel underwear can be easily washed in a sink or basin wherever you are.
Travel underwear can be easily washed in a sink or basin wherever you are.

Durability


If we are spending this much money on a single pair of underwear, and we plan on traveling with said underwear, it better last a while. This isn't delicate lingerie after all. We spent two months cycling through the seven pairs tested and repeated machine washing and drying each pair to put as much wear on each as possible. One tester has had most of these pairs for over 18 months. The two things that make the biggest difference in durability is fabric and sewing quality. We looked for, and occasionally saw, runs in fabric, pilling, seams starting to fray, and waistbands wrinkle. Some of the pairs had waistbands better bonded to the interior elastic than others, and some had better craftsmanship around the stitching, which showed after extended use.


Often synthetic and semi-synthetic fabrics last longer than wool, but we didn't find that to be the case during the testing period. The ExOfficio Give-N-Go is fully synthetic, but quickly developed pilling and runs in the nylon mesh. Two of the merino wool boxer briefs used "core spun" wool, meaning the fibers of wool are wrapped around a thread of nylon fabric in order to get the best of both worlds. The merino wool underwear generally held up well.

Of the seven pairs, the Smartwool Merino 150 is by far the burliest pair we tested. The waistband is thick and neither the elastic of the band nor any of the flatlock seams showed any sign of wear during the entire testing period and many, many months beyond. After a year and a half, one tester still struggles to find any weak spots in this pair.

The fabric of the ExOfficio Give-N-Go pilled up during our testing  but it wasn't the only pair to do so.
The fabric of the ExOfficio Give-N-Go pilled up during our testing, but it wasn't the only pair to do so.

Drying Time


We like to travel light, and we like to go far. Sometimes, that means having only one or two pairs of underwear, and being far, far away from the nearest washing machine. This means that we often end up hand washing our underwear, and line drying it in a reasonable amount of time, whether in a hostel bathroom or at advance basecamp. We soaked each pair of boxer briefs in water, then wrung them out and hung them to test dry times. We actually did this test twice, once in the sun and once inside.


Due to nylon and polyester's lack of water absorption into the fiber itself, the Outdoor Research, Stance, Patagonia, and ExOfficio dried out faster than the other pairs, taking around an hour in the sun. Close behind it was theIcebreaker pair, as the thinner waistband dried quicker than the thicker bands of the Smartwool, and Duckworth pairs. The slowest to dry was the Saxx, but only by a bit. Any of these pairs would easily dry in a hotel bathroom overnight, and much quicker on a laundry line in the sun, so we only have this metric as 10% of the overall score.

The full line up drying out on a winter day in southern Utah.
The full line up drying out on a winter day in southern Utah.

Never washed clothes in a sink before? It's a quick and easy alternative to visiting a laundromat while on the road. The washing is pretty straightforward. To dry them, place flat on a towel, roll it up tightly, then walk on the towel. Repeat until damp dry

Conclusion


Layering starts from the skin out, so a quality pair of underwear is the best place to start for high performance. We looked for skivvies that would be comfortable, durable, breathable, and able to be worn for a while without getting gross. We tested what we thought were the best and widest selection of men's travel underwear to provide you with an in-depth review. We hope this helps you with your decision making because we know that while your car may take regular, your body deserves premium.


Ethan Newman