Journey to the Camino de Santiago - What do I Wear on my Arse? Yes, I mean Underwear

How's that for a controversial title? Heh. In all seriousness folks, what I have learned is that for every piece of clothing you buy to hike in, you need to purchase well ahead of time and trial it.

Let us review... This upcoming September (2014) I intend to hike from Leon to Santiago along the Camino Frances, a distance of approximately 312 kms.  Accompanying me are two friends and while the prospect invigorates me, it also terrifies. I've never backpacked anywhere, nor planned to pack everything for 3 weeks in one 40L bag. The physical training I've blogged about here, also my packing list (work in progress) and footwear.

So as I see it, there are some items that need particular attention: footwear, socks and undergarments. I know, I know, everything is important but if your feet hurt and you are constantly adjusting underwear you might as well pack it in.

In the process of planning what to take I started to really examine my underwear. In my current cache of underwear are there ones that will stand the test? Here are some of the critical points, they must be (or do):

  • dry quickly
  • breathable
  • comfortable
  • good for hot and cold climates
  • odor-resistant (yeah - I know)
There are a plethora of options for women when it comes to underwear for hiking. Natural fibres, synthetics, cotton (Just Kidding - NOPE, no cotton, not ever).  I tried synthetics and natural fabrics (merino wool).  Here's a summary of what ones I tried:

Patagonia Women's Active Briefs (Synthetic)
Icebreaker Sprite Hot Pants (2 sizes) (Wool)
MEC Merino Ultra Light Hipsters (Wool)
Moving Comfort Out of Sight Bikini (Synthetic)

My research was incredibly unscientific. I simply wore each of them for a minimum of 2 hikes/long walks and made a judgement call based on my level of happiness (or annoyance). Washed them in the sink in the evening and checked them first thing in the morning to see if they were dry. I was also mindful of how the perspiration situation was... in areas.

I quickly discovered that I prefer a natural fibre. They are light, extremely quick to dry and the wool does not keep the sweat close to your body which for many means limited chafing, rawness or ick factor. There's a difference in odor resistance too... trust me. Please be mindful that none of these underwear should be washed with fabric softener or dried in the dryer too often as it reduces the lovely wicking, comfort and odor neutralizing features.

In reading other blog posts on undergarments, people have a preference either way. Ultimately for me it came down to comfort and speed of drying. If I have to be adjusting underwear while hiking... I'm out.

The pair that stood out was the Icebreaker Sprite Hot Pants. I first started with the XL size (I am a size 14 in clothing) and frankly they were too large and shifted. I tried a size L and they fit like a glove and stayed put. Very light fabric. I wore them in cool and warm weather and they wore well and everything was happy. 96% wool, 4% LYCRA (for fit). I like the slightly wider band on the waist and the lack of elastic at the leg.
Taken from Icebreaker site - NOTE: I look nothing like this in my underwear

Moving Comfort underwear were my second preferred. The fit was fine, there was little shifting, dried well. I am considering these as my backup, backup underwear. Composed of DriLayer® 74% nylon, 26% spandex.

MEC Merino bikinis. Good underwear but were not as good at wicking and drying as the Icebreaker. These underwear are 45% wool and 55% polyester - I think it makes a difference. I am also not a bikini fan when hiking. Enough said on that point.

The Patagonia underwear were not a favourite in any manner and rank last in the mix.  They fit awkwardly and kept slipping down. Moisture wicking was fine as well as dry time. But I was miserable. 91% Polyester, 9% LYCRA.

I cannot reiterate enough that you should try your underwear before you go. Walk distances in them, wash them, time the drying. Comfort! Comfort! Comfort!

Buen Camino,


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