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Wicking Underwear

Hiking and Lyme Disease

Last year, I switched to wearing long pants for all of my day hiking and backpacking trips to lower my risk of Lymes disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. I have an alarming number of friends who’ve contracted Lymes at least once, and it’s something to be avoided.

But the problem with wearing long pants is that you sweat a lot more in the crotch and between your legs, which can quickly lead to thigh chafing or diaper rash (monkey butt), unless you actively manage the issue. You can do this by finding long pants that have good ventilation like Railrider’s Eco-Mesh hiking pants and/or by finding underwear that is effective at wicking sweat away from your body. A third approach is to proactively smear Bodyglide or zinc oxide between your thighs and cheeks to reduce the likelihood of skin irritation. I often use all three of these strategies at once.

The amount of sweat your body produces will depend on the season of the year, weather conditions, what you are wearing, what you are carrying, and your level of exertion, meaning that no one solution will address every situation you find yourself in.

Hiking Underwear

For example, for 3 season hiking and backpacking, I find that Ex Officio mesh briefs are adequate to prevent thigh chafing, although sometimes an application of Bodyglide is required. In winter, Under Armour Compression Shorts (above) are very effective at wicking moisture away from my sensitive parts. However, if I’m wearing a backpack, it will act as a vapor barrier and cause a lot of sweat to drip down my back. Under these circumstances it’s sometimes useful to apply zinc oxide pre-emptively.

As usual, figuring out what works took a lot of experimentation and a certain amount of skin irritation. Along the way, I tried Ex Officio Boxer Shorts but decided they don’t breathe well enough and like Patagonia Classic Boxers, they chafe when they get saturated. In addition I tried REI MTS boxers which feel great when they are dry, but cease to work when they get soaked with sweat under rain pants. None of the boxers I tried, dried very well at night, either.

In winter, I tried wearing Capiline 1 long underwear alone under a hard shell layer, but decided I needed a little more support, and tried the Under Armour compression shorts as a base layer. I came across this system almost by chance, but it is extremely effective because the compression shorts provide good leg insulation and they never feel wet under my long underwear. This is particularly useful on multi-day trips when I ah, wear the same pair of underwear for a few days in a row.

Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.

What is your 3 season or winter underwear solution?

Please leave a comment.


  1. for my winter underwear solution

    one word


  2. One thing I learned on the AT was wearing women's underwear. They weigh half an ounce or less, wicking, and more comfortable than men's. Typical men's wicking underwear are 2 oz or so. The microfiber ones are stretchy, and as for room "down there", I am well above average and have no problems. Experiment, as some brands will fit better. The best ones I have found are Barely There brand. Also, I used diaper rash ointment for chafing, as well as sunscreen on my thru. Make sure you get the zinc oxide kind if you are gonna use it as sunscreen.

  3. After much chafing, I learned to wear ordinary nylon runner’s shorts under anything else. (The kind with the mesh liner.) Inexpensive. Lightweight. Good ventilation. Good support for crotch. Quick-drying. You can hike or wade/swim in them in warm weather if not worried about bugs. Plus, if you have to change your clothes in front of strangers, they reduce awkwardness. Winter is a complicated topic, but I generally find that polypro manages sweat better than Smartwool.

    • A fine idea! I’ll try it.

      I’ve hiked in the past using swim trunks with a liner, and have never had chafing issues, but the running shorts would be a good solution as underwear when wearing long pants.

      I have never liked compression type shorts. Too confining.

      • Phil Hillsman, after an extremely hot summer, I actually switched from runner’s shorts to Under Armor Men’s Original Boxerjock Briefs to manage moisture and chafing. (NOT compression shorts.) I also started using body glide and diaper rash cream as discussed in this article Running shorts work fine for normal conditions, but in humidity, the Under Armor works better. I use lubricating cream on my hip bones and lower back to manage friction from my backpack. I winter, I’ve quit experimenting with runner’s tights, and gone back to polypro underwear and loose-fitting hiking pants, also due to friction and moisture management. Lots of trial and error.

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