We evaluated 40 of the market's best women's travel underwear before selecting 8 of the most intriguing for months of hands-on testing. We packed them in our luggage for trips on planes, trains, and automobiles to see which could withstand the rigors of travel. We evaluated their comfort and fit by wearing them everywhere we went, from terminals to gyms to the outdoors. We hand-washed them, hung them to dry, and weighed them on our scale. We know how difficult it can be to pick the right product, so let our team of experts take the guesswork out of choosing your next pair.
The Best Travel Underwear for Women
|Price||$11.73 at REI|
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|$17.97 at Backcountry|
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|$20.93 at REI|
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|$18.97 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Super comfortable, breathable, inexpensive||Breathable, comfortable, inexpensive||Super comfortable, quick to dry, lightweight||Great fit, comfortable material, inexpensive||Inexpensive, soft, quick-drying|
|Cons||Heavier||Tight fit||Tight waistband, more expensive||Slower to dry, thicker material||Annoying fit|
|Bottom Line||As kind to your budget as it is to your body, this hipkini is an all-time staff favorite.||The Barely Hipster is a super comfortable and affordable product made to stand the heat.||The Merino 150 Bikini is comfortable, light, and quick to dry, making it an excellent partner lightweight adventures.||The Active Hipster is a stand-out product that excels in fit and comfort.||The UA Pure Stretch Hipster is soft, stretchy, and quick to dry, all at an amazing price.|
|Rating Categories||Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini||Patagonia Barely Hipster||Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini||Patagonia Active Hipster||Pure Stretch Hipster|
|Drying Time (30%)|
|Specs||Give-N-Go Sport...||Patagonia Barely...||Smartwool Merino...||Patagonia Active...||Pure Stretch Hipster|
|Material||94% Nylon, 6% Lycra||89% Nylon, 11% Spandex||87% Merino Wool, 13% Nylon Core||81% Nylon, 12% Spandex||68% Nylon, 32% Elastane|
|Weight (oz)||1.1 oz||.8 oz||.7 oz||.9 oz||.7 oz|
Best Overall Women's Travel Underwear
ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini
Picking the right pair of women's travel underwear isn't always easy, but with the Give-n-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini, it just might be! This sleek pair of underwear is everything we ever wanted and more. The nylon/Lycra blend is silky smooth and super soft against our skin. We loved the modest cut that provides ample coverage. Most importantly, the perfectly sized leg openings keep this garment in place, so you don't experience any dreaded wedgies, no matter what activity you're taking part in.
The Sport Mesh is a bit heavier and slower to dry than some of its competitors, but we found that the performance in both of these categories was above average. No other product in this review performed as well across the board. If you're looking for a breathable, ultra-comfortable pair of briefs to tackle any adventure with, you can't go wrong with the Sport Mesh Hipkini.
Read review: ExOfficio Give-n-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini
Best Bang for the Buck
Under Armour Pure Stretch Hipster
Of all the products in this review, the Under Armour Pure Stretch Hipster stood out immediately. The one rear seam creates a uniform appearance (no panty lines!), and the material is considerably lighter, thinner, and stretchier than just about any other product we tested. There was a slightly higher chance of the material riding up and we do wish there was a bit more coverage, but we just loved the feeling of the soft material on our skin.
The Pure Stretch also excelled in two other categories. Because of its thin design, these undies dried more quickly than other products we tested. At just 0.7 ounces, it's one of the lightest we tested, and its tiny build made it one of the most compact as well. While this wasn't always our go-to pair, the thing that truly made it stand out against the competition was its price. These undies are half the price or more of most other products in this review, a factor that we just couldn't ignore.
Read review: Under Armour Pure Stretch Hipster
Top Pick for Wool
Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini
When we first laid our hands on the Smartwool Merino 150, we couldn't believe it was wool. What happened to the itchy, thick fabric? We're not sure how they do it, but Smartwool has created an incredibly soft, almost silky fabric with the Merino 150, and we couldn't be happier with these undies. The fit is great, with no movement to cause us to fidget, and the cut is cute without sacrificing full coverage.
There are a few reasons why you might want a natural wool product over a synthetic underlayer, but the biggest one is definitely odor control. While we didn't notice significant odor buildup in any of the products we tested, wool is naturally odor resistant, so if this is the main reason you're investing in some fancier, non-cotton undies, wool might be the perfect answer for you. And of the three wool models we tested, the Merino 150 Bikini is definitely the best. It's light, dries fast, and is super cozy against our skin.
Read review: Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini
Top Pick for Breathability
Patagonia Barely Hipster
If it's time to work up a sweat, look no further than the Patagonia Barely Hipster. Made of a silky smooth, ultra-thin nylon/ Spandex blend, these undies are the most breathable of any that we tested for this review. We loved the way the silky material felt against our skin, and the cut's full-coverage design is great for traveling and adventure. We were worry-free and wedgie-free in this model, creating a great sense of comfort while on the trail or running to catch a flight.
The Barely Hipster is much thinner than the other Patagonia product we tested, the Active Hipster, and while that model had its own great qualities, the Barely Hipster definitely wins on breathability. It's light, quick to dry, and an overall awesome pair of underwear.
Read review: Patagonia Barely Hipster
Why You Should Trust Us
For this review, we assembled a team of the most well-traveled, adventurous staffers that we have and sent them all over the globe to put these undies to the test. Our lead tester and author, Lauren DeLaunay, took all pairs to cold Argentine Patagonia and hot, humid Cuba, where she hiked, climbed, and jumped in rivers. Oh, and did we mention the four flights and overnight bus ride to get there? When not in the southern hemisphere, Lauren spends a lot of time on the road, often living out of her van. And in the summers, she is a member of the Yosemite Search and Rescue Team. Our editor, Ross Robinson, is quite the traveler himself. He's been to fifteen countries and counting (and hates doing his laundry), so his expertise on metrics, scoring, and what we should look for was an invaluable asset to this review.
We started this review by spending hours in stores and on the web researching the most popular, best-selling women's travel underwear models out there. We read scores of reviews, surveyed companies about their upcoming products, and eventually chose eight for rigorous hands-on testing. We wore each pair nonstop for a week to really see what it could handle. We ran, climbed, swam, slept, and traveled in them, getting to know their smallest of details so we could accurately report on our four scoring metrics. We decided that comfort, fit, drying time, and packability were the most important criteria, so we developed specific tests for each, including weighing each product and hanging them side-by-side to dry. After months of travel, we arrived home satisfied, confident that we had found the best products out there, ready to report back to make your shopping experience as easy as possible.
Analysis and Test Results
Throughout our many weeks of testing, we determined that there are four crucial metrics by which to judge each pair of travel underwear. We'll describe each metric below, including what we did to measure each category to reach even, objective conclusions. Because undies are an incredibly personal purchase, you may find that certain metrics are more important to you than we gave them credit for. As you reach each description below, make note of anything that sounds particularly important to you, as you'll be able to look for the products with the highest scores in each metric.
The products in this review found themselves in a wide range of prices. For a single undergarment, we understand that even the most inexpensive of these could be considered pricey.
Our Best Buy Award winner, the Under Armour Pure Stretch was half as expensive as its closest competitor. This product could be seen as a great investment, but the value of some of the more expensive garments, like the ExOfficio Give-n-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini, could potentially be a more worthy investment since the overall score and performance is higher. We encourage you to read each metric description above and look for the products that excel in that particular category, and then compare prices.
If you've ever been stuck on an overnight bus in South America or trekked through a humid island jungle, you know that comfort is the queen of underwear performance. Because our underwear makes such a high level of skin contact, comfort is paramount, and we came up with a few specific traits to look for when evaluating a product's overall comfort score.
The first thing we noticed, and therefore evaluated, about each pair of undies was the softness of the material. This may seem like a no-brainer, but after trying multiple pairs, we realized that there's a wide range of material textures, and each product has its own unique feel. In general, we prefer the silkier models to the itchy ones and the thinner materials to the thinner materials. The thickness of each product contributed significantly to its breathability, another one of the major factors of comfort.
Of all the models we tested, the highest scorers for comfort were the ExOfficio Give-n-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini and the Patagonia Barely Hipster. These products have different feels, but both are silky smooth with comfortable waistbands. The Sport Mesh is a bit heavier, but with impressive breathability, and the Barely is lighter, winner of our Top Pick for Breathability. Coming in second place was the Smartwool Merino 150 Bikini and the Patagonia Active Hipster. The Merino 150 was surprisingly soft and light for a wool product, while the Active was a bit heavier but silky smooth. We also found the Icebreaker Sprite Hot Pant, another wool product, and the Under Armour Pure Stretch Hipster to excel in comfort, mostly due to their thin, soft construction. Because comfort is so important to the enjoyment of our undergarments, each product's "comfort" score was worth 30% of its overall score.
At first, we were going to include "fit" into the comfort category, but after months of testing, our testing team finally agreed that there were enough traits unique to "fit" that another metric was warranted. For this product, we looked less at the materials and more at the cut. To be consistent, we generally choose either bikini or hipster models, though many of these products have sister models in other shapes and cuts.
We dealt with an unfortunately high number of wedgies on this review and learned quickly that this was an instant dealbreaker. There are a few factors that cause wedgies, some of which remain mysteries to us, but one thing we figured out was that there was a strong correlation between the fit of the leg openings and the likelihood of wedgies. The Barely Hipster for example, had tight leg openings that did a great job at keeping the garment in place, while the Sprite featured loose, seemingly more cozy leg openings that nearly guaranteed a wedgie.
While all the models in this review had different waistbands, from the seamless one of the Pure Stretch to the thick band of the Active Hipster, there was no single shape that was most appealing, though we preferred a stretchy waistband overall. As you might assume, stretchiness was a huge factor in a product's "fit" score, and our favorite products were those that let us move freely while they stayed in place. The Active Hipster achieved this well with an ultra-stretchy fit and leg openings that were snug yet stretchy.
The time needed to air dry is an important factor in the overall score of a pair of travel underwear for two big reasons: sweat and washing. The ability of our base layers to dry quickly on the go is crucial to keeping us comfortable. Similarly, when we're on the run from city to city and have a plane to catch, a quick wash in the sink is the perfect remedy. But if our undies take too long to dry, valuable time could be wasted.
To test for this metric, we soaked each product in water and hung them to dry. We tried a variety of methods, including wringing out the garments by hand and with a towel and found consistent results across the board. In general, the thinner the material, the quicker the drying time. It's no surprise, then, that the Pure Stretch and the Arc'teryx Phase SL Brief were the quickest to air out. In next place were the ExOfficio Give-n-Go Sport Mesh and the Patagonia Barely, a major factor in their award-winning performances. In third place came the Icebreaker Sprite and Patagonia Active Hipster.What's the Deal with Washing?
We've mentioned washing on the go as an integral part of long-term travel, so we thought we'd pause here to add a few tips. Washing your undies in the sink is a great travel option. Usually, we run out of underwear way before we need to wash the rest of our clothes. So while the sink may not work for your jeans and jackets, it will extend the time before you have to make a trip the laundromat. First, find something to plug the drain. Fill the sink with hot water and let the garments soak until fully saturated. Pour in some detergent and scrub each garment, using its own material to scrub dirtier sections. While there are some convenient single-use laundry detergents out there, we prefer a more versatile product such as Dr. Bronner's that can be used to wash our clothes or our hair. When space is limited, finding products that have multiple purposes really helps save space.
One of our favorite drying methods is the towel-roll method. We used this consistently during our testing, and we'll never forget it! Simply lay your undies on a towel and roll. Then you can wring out the towel, forcing water from the undies into the towel. The products will be considerably drier than if you just wring them out by hand, cutting down on your drying time so you can get back to your adventures as soon as possible. We're also a fan of strapping our socks and undies to the outside of our packs while backpacking to get them to dry while not taking up too much of our time.
If you're going to wash your clothes in a stream or river, we recommend doing your research and using eco-friendly soaps. Ideally, you can use the water from a river to wash your clothes in a bag or bucket away from the water source itself. A dry bag works great for this purpose, and there are even some new "washing bags" on the market. These are basically dry bags with scrubby internal nodules. While we haven't tested them out ourselves, these could make for a great option if you're hitting the road for a long period of time without weight as a concern. We probably wouldn't carry this into the backcountry with us. Additionally, we're often surprised by how well a quick rinse and scrub without detergent does at getting the sweat out of our garments, keeping us fresher longer before we have to return home. No matter what method you choose, a quick drying time keeps you out there having fun longer, which is exactly why this metric was such an important part of our testing process.
Because one of our major goals with the products in this review was to be able to pack them up or into the backcountry for extended periods of time, weight and compactness were of the utmost importance. That being said, the weight of each pair varied by fractions of an ounce, so we wouldn't use this metric as your sole or top deciding measure. It is for this reason that "packability" was only 10% of each product's overall score, as opposed to 30% for each of the three metrics described above.
In order to gather accurate data on weight, we put each product on our own scale to see how they stacked up. The weights ranged from 0.7 to 1.4 ounces. At the top was the Smartwool Merino 150 and the Under Armour Pure Stretch, both at 0.7 ounces. Next, we had the Arc'teryx Phase SL and Patagonia Barely, at 0.8 ounces, and then the Patagonia Active at 0.9 ounces.
In addition to weight, our testing team looked at the compactness of each product. The thinner, stretchier materials tended to fold down more, and some took up significantly more room in our packs or suitcases than others. Again, these measurements were in fractions of an inch, so while packability is undoubtedly important, we would recommend evaluating potential purchases by their scores in other categories first and then using this metric to make the final call.
Our expert team of traveling friends spent months conducting research on the most popular women's travel underwear products on the market and hand-testing the top performers. We looked at all eight products side-by-side to bring you a comprehensive review, carefully calculated to help you make the most informed shopping decisions. Whether you're heading out in the backcountry or overseas for an extended adventure, we've got the details to help you find the perfect pair of undies.
— Lauren Delaunay