Men have it easy… they only need to concern themselves with ONE type of undergarment. We ladies have to worry about both our top and bottom. As climbers, we can’t afford to settle for subpar underwear that rides up and sports bras that squeeze the life out of you.
Instead, we need the very best outdoor underwear available, both in terms of panties and sports bras. This list details both, but before we get to that, let’s talk about some things we looked for when creating these reviews of the best outdoor underwear for women who crush it.
Nothing Says Fierce and Female like Good Fabric
Unfortunately for the much of the contents of your existing underwear drawer, “good fabric” excludes cotton. Sure, cotton can be nice and breezy, but it doesn’t handle sweat well. Once cotton absorbs sweat, it stays wet for a long time and can then chafe. Not ideal if you’re a rock climber, and sweating for the send is pretty much a given.
Far better are options that not just absorb moisture, but wick it away from the skin and then dry quickly. This primarily means merino wool and synthetic fibers like nylon, polyester, and spandex (the latter only for stretch).
Both fabrics have their pros and cons. We’ll start with synthetics, as they’re more common and widely available. Synthetics are known for their moisture-wicking quality and quick-drying capability–both are features we really want in active underwear. They’re also highly durable, and generally come at a pretty good price point, given they’re derived from plastic. Depending on your environmental views, that’s also a downside of synthetics, along with the fact that they bear no natural anti-odor properties. Even synthetics treated with anti-odor agents aren’t guaranteed to keep the stink at bay for their entire life. These treatments often wear and wash out over time.
Merino wool trumps synthetics in this regard because wool is naturally antimicrobial. It’ll keep odors down for its entire life. It’s also a lot more eco-friendly as a natural, non-plastic fiber and generally requires less chemical processing. Merino is the softest of the fabrics in terms of pure next-to-skin comfort, maintaining this comfort even if it gets a little moist and sweaty. Where synthetics reign supreme, however, are in both durability and price. Merino doesn’t come cheap, and likely won’t last you as long before pilling or wearing thin.
Some other additional features we like to see in good outdoor underwear:
- Flatlock seams: A particular style of stitching that makes the seams softer, flatter, and far less likely to rub or create hot spots.
- Tag design/placement: Aside from not wanting long tags, we also don’t want tags placed in inconvenient locations, like on the waistband or anywhere that’s going to rub and chafe under pressure.
- Molded cups (for sports bras): While molded cups aren’t a necessity, particularly if you’re smaller chested, they provide a lot more support and comfort by matching the natural curvature of your breasts, rather than squishing them down. Plus, they’re less likely to stretch out and lose shape, which means your sports bra will last much longer.
COMPARING FABRICS FOR OUTDOOR UNDERWEAR
Typically, breathable underwear for hiking is made from synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon. You might also see polypropylene, rayon, or a blend of fabrics. Some underwear includes spandex for comfortable stretch, and a fit that is snug but not constrictive. Underwear made from synthetic fabrics has the following attributes:
- Quick drying: Synthetics do an excellent job of wicking and dissipating sweat, so they give you the driest feel of any type of fabric.
- Durable: Synthetic fabrics tend to hold up very well to abrasion, making them the most durable option.
- Odor retention: Synthetic fabrics typically hold onto odors more than other options. Some manufacturers add a finish that inhibits the buildup of odor-causing bacteria, which helps. But, if you’ll be spending several days on the trail without washing, be prepared to put up with the smell.
Soft, ultrafine, itch-free merino wool is an excellent option for underwear. It is often blended with other fabrics, like spandex or nylon to enhance fit, flexibility and durability. Underwear made from merino wool has the following features:
- Wicks well: Wool does a good job of pulling moisture off of your skin and into the fabric. Some of the moisture will stay in the core of the wool fibers, which tends to make wool feel not quite as dry as synthetic fabric, but it won’t chill you. It will also take longer to dry when it gets wet than synthetics.
- It cools, too: The moisture that’s held in the core of merino wool fibers releases when temps heat up, which can offer a bit of cooling in warm weather.
- Moderately durable: Constant rubbing can eventually wear through merino wool, so eventually you may notice the fabric getting thin in certain places.
- Odor free: Wool is naturally resistant to odor-causing bacteria, which helps keep it odor free even after consecutive days of wear.
BEST WOMEN’S UNDERPANTS FOR CLIMBING
SMARTWOOL MERINO SEAMLESS
Material: 68% merino wool / 20% polyester / 8% nylon / 4% elastane
Cut: thong, bikini, boy short
At the very top of the comfort scale, we have Smartwool’s Merino Seamless underpants. Ultra stretchy thanks to the synthetic fibers, but silky soft to the touch, these are pretty much the next best thing to wearing nothing. The lightweight merino wool, of course, has all sorts of natural benefits, making these odor-resistant, moisture-wicking, cooling, and breathable.
Smartwool also makes seamless merino wool sports bras to match, but we’ll get to that shortly.
EXOFFICIO GIVE-N-GO SPORT MESH
Material: 92% nylon / 8% Lycra
ExOfficio’s Give-N-Go line found its way onto our list of the best climbing underwear for men, too, and it’s easy to see why. Constantly atop favorite outdoor underwear lists, these ultralight mesh undies provide a great blend of breathe-ability and stretch, while still remaining at a reasonable price point. They also feature smooth, flatlock seams and antimicrobial fabric treatment.
Due to the thinness of the fabric, these may not be quite as durable as some other brands on this list, but still, these underwear are designed to last far longer than your average cotton panties.
Material: 83% merino wool / 12% nylon / 5% Lycra
Cut: thong, bikini, hipster
Another merino option for ladies who love to sweat (but hate panties that stick and ride up), Icebreaker’s Siren underwear are sure to be a girl’s new best friend. These are a little thicker than the Smartwool underwear, but just as breathable and cooling where it counts. Plus being mostly merino, these undies are highly odor-resistant, making them great for extended wear on big wall assaults and other multi-day climbing trips.
They even come in styles to suit whatever occasion or fancy you find yourself in need of. The most versatile of styles, the low rise bikinis feature a full-coverage design to reduce any awkward and uncomfortable mid-cheek underwear lines while sitting in a harness.
Material: 91% recycled polyester / 9% elastane
Cut: thong, bikini-brief, hipster
If there’s one thing we love in our underwear above all else, it’s peace of mind–oh, and a wide flattering waistband doesn’t hurt, either. Marmot’s Performance underwear line does both. We love that these are made of fully bluesign® certified non-toxic fabrics, meaning there’s zero chance of any irritation or ill-intended health effects from the chemicals used in fabric manufacturing. No wonder we’ve got our panties in a twist.
Not only are these underwear totally safe for sensitive areas, but they also have a Polygiene odor-blocking finish, meaning you can safely wear these for days in a row without risking getting a little funky. Save the funkiness for the lady beta.
Material: 89% recycled nylon / 11% spandex
Cut: brief, hipster
What better underwear to choose as your sending undies than the Patagonia Senders? Another item shared with our list of the best climbing underwear for men, the Sender panties are made of a recycled nylon micromesh that provides top-of-the-line breathe-ability for your bottom. For desert rats and hot weather climbers, these should be a staple.
Being so lightweight and silky, the briefs won’t show underwear lines and the hipsters won’t uncomfortably bunch at the leg crease, even after you get a little sweaty. The HeiQ Fresh anti-odor treatment is there to help fend off any unwanted smells.
They’re also Fair Trade certified sewn and bluesign® certified non-toxic, crossing off just about any ethical or sustainability concerns you might have. The only downside is that the thin nature of the fabric may not be quite as durable over time in high wear areas.
KUHL ADVENTURE MESH
Material: 92% nylon / 8% spandex
Cut: thong, bikini, hipster
The KUHL Adventure Mesh ultralight underwear will keep you kuhl in more ways than one, especially during really high output climbing sessions or hot weather. Reviewers on these underwear love how breezy they feel, and note the fact that the supple fabric moves around with you, rather than riding up.
With special detail paid to the waistband, its extra-fine fibers provide excellent next-to-skin tactility. All this finished off with an anti-odor ionic fabric treatment.
ORTOVOX MERINO 185 ROCK’N’WOOL HOT PANT
Material: 100% merino wool
Cut: boy short
Do you have the tendency to freeze your butt off (literally) when belaying your partner on their proj in the middle of November? Well, no more. The Ortovox Rock’N’Wool hot pants are designed for climbing and outdoor activity in cold weather. The 185–weight merino is thicker than both other wool options on this list, and thus boasts better ability to actually insulate, rather than just temperature regulate. Then, when it comes time to take the sharp end, the wool will wick away moisture and keep you dry even as you sweat.
The wide, soft waistband is designed to allow freedom of movement with absolutely no chafing, regardless of the layers over top. The modest boy short cut and thick nature of the wool even makes it possible to wear these as a solo short layer in warmer weather, without anyone knowing they’re your undies.
BEST SPORTS BRAS FOR CLIMBING
THE NORTH FACE BEYOND THE WALL SPORTS BRA
Material: 88% polyester / 12% spandex
Finally a sports bra designed specifically FOR rock climbing! The North Face’s Beyond The Wall Free Motion sports bra provides medium impact protection and “a smooth ride to the very last pitch.”
The secret lies in the near-backless design, which trades in restrictive shoulder blade straps for an open shoulder design that allows your arms to have full range of motion. Not to mention the cute and supple cross back straps don’t squeeze the torso like other sports bras. This is a bra that won’t crush you, but fully enables you to crush hard. Wear it under another top or alone, as the high neck protects your front and keeps bits of grit and dirt from falling in between the girls.
PATAGONIA WILD TRAILS SPORTS BRA
Material: 85% recycled polyester / 15% spandex
The Patagonia Wild Trails sports bra is crafted for whatever wild, crazy adventures you find yourself on. Because this bra is designed for high impact outdoor sports, it’s especially suited to project bouldering, where you may find yourself taking repeated jarring falls. The design also makes this sports bra a versatile option that you can wear to the crag, out running, or even during a high impact gym training sessions.
We all love to support our girls, and no bra does it better. It has fully molded cups designed for breasts of all shapes and sizes. On top of that, the cups feature a moisture-wicking mesh liner and all-around Polygiene odor control to keep you feeling cool and fresh all day long. Patagonia has also added a hook closure beneath the racerback straps, which allows you to fully customize the fit for comfort and the level of activity at which you’ll be performing.
SMARTWOOL MERINO SEAMLESS SPORTS BRA
Material: Shell: 38% merino wool / 34% nylon / 16% polyester / 12% elastane; Liner: 68% merino wool / 21% nylon / 11% elastane
This medium-impact sports bra takes crag comfort to a whole new level. No more pinching parts and itchy seams. The engineered knit cups add a soft and supportive lift. Basically, wearing this baby feels like your breasts are wrapped in a gentle, protective hug all day long!
As if the seamlessness of the design weren’t incentive enough, the merino fabric in both the exterior and interior has so many naturally beneficial properties. On the outside, it stretches and breathes with ease, while the merino lining is soft on sensitive skin and wicks away moisture in hot spots. Say goodbye to boob sweat, ladies.
Smartwool also makes a strappy variation of this same design for ladies who want a less simplified look.
BLACK DIAMOND CRUX SPORTS BRA
Material: 55% nylon / 38% polyester / 7% elastane
For a slightly cheaper synthetic alternative to the seamless sports bra, the Black Diamond Crux has you covered quite literally. In the words of BD themselves:
Tell your belayer to ease off the words of encouragement because the Black Diamond Women’s Crux Bra gives all the support you need.
Specifically engineered for ladies who love to chalk up and get high, the Crux delivers modest coverage and breast support from both above and below. Its dual straps not only add a little fashion flare for those who prefer to climb in just their sports bra, but they provide a lot of additional lift and cushioning. What makes this bra especially unique, however, is its ultra-wide ribbed torso band. This evenly distributes the pressure around your ribs and adds extra chest support without making the cups too bulky on their own.
PATAGONIA SWITCHBACK SPORTS BRA
Material: 85% recycled polyester / 15% spandex
While the Patagonia Switchback doesn’t quite provide the same level of support as the sports bra formerly known as Wild Trails, it’s great for low to medium impact wear, which is suitable in most climbing scenarios. The cross-back design and mesh straps give lots of shoulder mobility and zero under-arm restriction. This style also minimizes the amount of back fabric for great ventilation. Whether you’re climbing in the heat of the day or decompressing with hot yoga after a gym climbing session, this bra is comfortable and cool to wear.
Other nice features include Polygiene anti-odor technology, a pinch-free torso band, moisture-wicking mesh liner, and high-density shape-retentive cups (which in turn lengthens the lifespan of the garment).
ICEBREAKER MELD ZONE LONG SPORTS BRA
Material: 50% Merino wool / 33% Tencel / 12% nylon / 5% Lycra
This super cute T-back medium-impact sports bra embodies the best Icebreaker has to offer: innovative fabrics and a design that may make you forget you’re even wearing a sports bra. Combine odor-resistant and soft merino wool with highly absorbent Cool-Lite Tencel and mesh lining, and you have one beautifully breathable home for the girls. Tencel, if you aren’t aware, is a manufacturer of cellulosic fibers, or those woven from plasticized plant pulp. It feels a bit like cotton, but functions as an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic fibers.
The longer design makes this sports bra more of a crop top than anything, which means you can either layer over it for extra warmth or wear it alone without anyone suspecting it’s only a bra. The added skin coverage is especially nice for sunny climbing, as it will protect your nubile torso skin from harmful UV rays. Of course, it features chafe-free flatlock seams.
All that does come at a higher price point, but a good sports bra is a worthwhile investment that will last you a long time.
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