Underwear is an important part of an everyday wardrobe and can make or break the comfort of any activity. I’ve tried out quite a few new pairs of underwear over the past year or so, and I’ve made a change to what my go-to pairs are. While this is nowhere near an exhaustive list, this roundup includes all the technical boxer briefs I’ve tried.
A few commonalities
Across all the boxer briefs I tried, there are a few commonalities across the two main pain points — rolling of the waistband and riding up of the leg.
It seems to me that rolling of the waistband is a thing of the past (at least across all the brands I discuss here). This is something that can be very annoying, and something I haven’t had to deal with since I switched away from my cheap Hanes underwear.
On the other hand, having the leg ride up is not something that has been solved (except for maybe the new Wool & Prince Boxer Briefs 2.0, I haven’t given them a try though). I find that all of my pairs of underwear can ride up under the right conditions. Two features that help mitigate riding up include a proper fit (tightness and length) of the leg.
Lastly, I’ve yet to find any underwear that I can wear more than once (even with an antimicrobial treatment or merino content). That’s fine with me as I don’t find it appealing to wear underwear more than once. This makes drying time important for travel.
The Give-N-Go Boxer Brief was my first foray into the performance underwear market. A few years back, they were the ones everyone talked about, but since seem to have declined in quality.
The fabric is 94% nylon and 6% Lycra with an antimicrobial treatment and a diamond knit. This makes the fabric have a rough handfeel and more likely to get caught on your pants.
These do not have a structured front panel and have a somewhat baggy fit.
The fabric is 93% nylon and 7% spandex with an odor resistant treatment and a diamond knit. The knit here, while not smooth, doesn’t seem to get caught on my pants.
These also do not have a structured front panel and a similar fit to the ExOfficio pair.
Again, the fit and fabric make these uninteresting, unless you’re going for durability.
Once I got tired of the heavier fabric of the previous two brands, the AIRism Boxer Briefs seemed the natural way to go. Also very popular in the travel/performance community, these are hands down the lightest pair I own (in both fabric weight and packability).
The fabric is 89% polyester, 11% Spandex with an extremely smooth finish that feels like silk. No matter what fabric you wear on top, these never get caught.
The structured front panel adds to the comfort, and the tighter fit (and shorter leg) makes you forget you are wearing them. These are a good example of how the right fit helps keep the leg from riding up.
The Merino pair is 90% 17.5 micron merino wool, 5% metallic, and 5% spandex. The fabric is luxuriously soft and is quite thick. There is a custom leg grip system on each leg band that definitely helps keep these from riding up even when the legs aren’t quite as snug.
The Ultralight pair is 50% nylon, 35% Modal, 10% Spandex, and 5% metallic with an open-knit. Just like the name says, the fabric is very lightweight and has an excellent silky feel. While there are no leg grippers here, the legs fit a bit tighter so I didn’t feel like I was missing out.
I find the structured front panel in both of these pairs to be the most comfortable of all on this list.
Overall, can’t beat the luxury of the Merinos and the Ultralights are right up there with the UNIQLOs. The fit is spot on here.
The fabric is Pistol Lake’s custom Lightweight Eudae fabric, which is 76% polyester, 19% Tencel, and 5% Lycra. The fabric looks and feels similar to a cotton t-shirt.
While a snug fit, these do not have a structured front panel.
Overall, these are great if you’re looking for cotton-like comfort and are willing to sacrifice performance.
All of the boxer briefs perform well in all conditions with two exceptions.
The SilverAir Merino feels a little heavy with a lot of sweat, just like any merino piece, but dries quickly as the moisture evaporates from the core of the fibers.
The Minimalist Boxer Briefs feel heavy and moist with a lot of sweat. This was a surprise after trying their shirt made from the same fabric, but these are the only pair that I don’t really enjoy wearing for exercise.
Hands-down I prefer the AIRism Boxer Briefs for travel. Their extremely light and silky fabric and shorter length makes them pack down to nothing and dry quickly after a sink wash. Also, if they do ride up, they are the least noticeable.
The most comfortable of the lot are of course the SilverAir Merino, nothing beats the luxurious soft feel of high quality merino. When combined with a great structured front panel, these will be hard to beat in the comfort department.
The Minimalist Boxer Briefs also up there in comfort because they have a cottony feel and the long length helps keep the legs in place.
After wearing most of these boxer briefs for at least six months, if not longer, the UNIQLO AIRisms have become my top pick. Not only are they lightweight and comfortable, they are a great value at just $10 (and often can be had on sale for $5). At that price, there is no reason not to stock up. If the cost wasn’t involved, I would say the Y Athletics SilverAir Ultralights would be my top pick, as they are a bit more comfortable than the AIRisms. Finally, for comfort above all else (while still maintaining excellent performance), I haven’t found anything more comfortable than the Y Athletics SilverAir Merinos.
This was my first business trip in a while, so I overpacked a little (I didn’t end up needing my extra undershirt). I could have done with just the Wool & Prince shirt, but I wanted to have some variety. I also brought my gym shoes and clothes as I knew I would have some downtime to hit the gym.
Among performance (or travel) clothing favorites, you will often see the seemingly magical properties of merino touted. Properties like odor resistance and thermal regulation are king as these allow the garments to wear more comfortably and to go longer before they develop odors. Merino can be made into fabrics anywhere from luxuriously soft (Outlier’s Ultrafine Merino T-shirt being a great example), to durable but still soft (in the case of nylon core spun fibers, like the Wool & Prince T-shirt) and then to heavy and rougher (like Filson’s Crew Neck Guide Sweater). Merino garments, though, also tend to be some of the most expensive you can add to your closet.
It’s natural then to look at the abundance of merino based clothing and wonder when it’s too much. When do you hit a law of diminishing returns with merino wool? And, if you’re looking to cut some cost in your clothing lineup, where can you move away from merino to less costly materials?
We’ve been debating just this for a while now, especially for layering pieces that don’t directly contact your skin. But also for pants where the durability of merino, as well as the performance make us question the utility of such garments. In these instances, you can often even get multiple wears out of a traditional cotton garment (most people don’t wash their blue jeans very often, or in some cases, ever).
While a merino garment certainly will go longer than anything else without starting to smell, we’ve come to find that this isn’t always necessary. Take a pullover for example — you probably wear it over another shirt and when it’s cool out, so it doesn’t see your skin and you are probably sweating less. This type of wear isn’t a recipe for odors, and thus probably not a scenario where the performance of merino wool is going to add a ton to your life. There is a logical argument to be made that with a pullover (or something similar), merino is overkill. It’s not going to make the garment worse — you will still get the benefits — but at the same time you are paying a premium for something where the net realized benefits will be marginal at best. Or, put another way: whether lambswool, cashmere, or merino (or even a good synthetic blend), the sweater would perform within a close enough range on all fronts that you should buy the one which price works best for you.
On the thermoregulation aspect, you certainly won’t find any (comfortable or normal looking) fabric that will keep you warmer than merino. The natural ability of the fibers to trap air helps keep you warm. Therefore, in cases where you value packability or weight, it can be worth it to go with merino. But not always, as some merino wool will not pack as compactly as down, or even some newer synthetic garments. That said, merino adds another benefit in being easier to wash when traveling.
Another area we’ve started seeing merino show up is in jacket insulation. Icebreaker has their MerinoLOFT technology, which is an insulation made from merino wool. They tout it as an evolution of down and an alternative to synthetic down. While we haven’t tried anything like this, it seems like another area where merino probably doesn’t offer much over its synthetic counterparts. And you pay a high price for something you are likely not to notice, and perhaps which has other drawbacks from more traditional insulation pieces.
With pants, Ben has thoroughly destroyed a pair of Icebreaker wool pants over the course of just a year — while noticing little benefit from the merino wool itself. Often the wool needed washing more than basic blue jeans did — and didn’t perform as well as synthetic pants options like Outlier’s offerings. So even in the case where these pants are coming into direct contact with your skin, there’s little reason to select these over more durable options. Since Ben’s experience, many others have released merino blend pants (like CIVIC’s Frank Chino). I tried purchasing a pair to try, but the fit seemed really off so I didn’t keep them to give them a thorough test.
With the hoodie Ben recently reviewed, he found that while comfortable and performant, a hoodie may not be a good garment to use 100% merino wool as the material. Outlier has long made a HARD/CO Merino ZIP Hoodie which has cotton facing on the outside for better durability and merino on the inside for the performance — yet you pay a significant price ($395) for that benefit. Whereas most people rarely have performance and durability issues with a standard cotton hoodie.
Ultimately, the choice between merino or other performance fabrics comes from your use case for the garment. We’ve found pieces that don’t spend much time directly on skin as good places to look elsewhere where the expense isn’t justified. That said, you can often find very inexpensive merino sweaters from big box stores like J. Crew and Banana Republic (among others). While you don’t necessarily need merino in these garments, it is an added bonus if the price is right.
For most layering, outerwear, and pants, we have found that merino wool is often overkill and comes at an added financial cost as well as, possibly, durability issues.
A while back Massdrop held a pre-order for a new merino wool hoodie they were producing. That hoodie, the Massdrop Peak Merino Hoodie, arrived a little over a month ago and I have been testing it. Not just this hoodie itself, but the idea of whether you even need a hoodie made out of merino wool. Let’s dive in.
This is a 100% merino wool (19.5 micron) hoodie, but it’s different than any other I have tried. That’s because the inside is brushed fleece wool and the entire garment is 340gsm in weight. The entire garment is way softer than I expected, both inside and out. The outer face is very nice and soft, softer than cotton hoodies.
The inside is pure luxury though. The brushed fleece nature of the merino is unreal and feels amazing in the inside. That said, it certainly is prone to leaving you with black lint all over what you are wearing (especially before you wash it).
The oddest part of the hoodie is the weight. At 340gsm you would rightly think it is thick, because it is, but is it warm? Not nearly as warm as you would think. The knit of the garment is very open, so wind (even light breezes) seem to pass right through it. However, it is warm when you are lounging about. Perhaps it’s best to look at this as a warming layer, not a warm outer garment.
A Note on Cleaning
Massdrop labels this hoodie as dry clean only — which is something I find pretty absurd for:
A Merino Garment
So I went ahead and machine washed this and hung it to dry. It’s still in one piece, but I now know why it is labeled as dry clean only. For starters the hoodie came out of the wash looking dirtier than it went in — it was covered in lint. Nothing I washed with it should have given off lint, and none of those clothes had lint on them — very odd.
The real change was to the inner fuzzy fabric of the garment. Like with any fuzzy garment this changed with a wash. Instead of matting down, it got fuzzier and a bit longer. And now it gets an extreme amount of lint on a white shirt. So while you can wash it in the washer, I strongly discourage it.
Fit and Style
This is geared to be more of an athletic looking hoodie with a form fitting hood. Something you wear while being active. The body and sleeves are longer than most anything you will be used to. I am wearing a size large (my normal size) and the sleeves are great for me — but typically if I am ordering a button down I order a sleeve length of 36”, where a standard large is usually 35” at the most.
The fit is also slim, but not that slim. It’s long and narrow for the most part — not boxy and short like most other hoodies you might be wearing. From a style perspective this gives it a bit of a weird look overall and not a standard hoodie look. So if you want something to replace a cotton hoodie, look elsewhere. This doesn’t wow me on the style side.
This is a bit tricky to write about, as we have been having an ongoing debate about whether a garment like this even needs to be made out of merino wool. For the most part, we think it’s overkill. But for the purposes of this review, allow me to compare it to the hoodie I normally wear, a Flint and Tinder 10-Year Hoodie.
Typically I wear hoodies at the beach and when I am vacationing on the Washington coast. I can wear that cotton hoodie for about 4 days before it smells enough that I want to wash it. With the Peak, I wore it for over a month and only washed it for this review. It still never smelled or looked dirty. You might be able to make a case that this doesn’t really need cleaning as long as you wear a layer between the hoodie and your skin.
Is that enough to justify wearing a merino wool garment? I don’t think it is by itself.
So instead let’s skip packability and other traits we normally look at — this isn’t packable, nor a travel item. Instead I want to talk about wearing it and how it performs for that. This feels like a traditional fleece jacket in that it is fuzzy and bulky, but the wind cuts right through it. In a house, you are perfectly comfortable. Using it as a layer, perfect. Wearing it alone and expecting to be warm in any wind, not a good idea.
That said, I found the actual static weight of the garment, the 340gsm fabric, to be a really ideal weight. It’s comfortable in a warm house, and warm enough when layered outside. I wish all my hoodies were like this, as most run too cool or too warm. This is really in the sweet spot.
The worst performance aspect is that this hoodie is a lint and pet hair magnet. If you have any around, it will find it. While it does come off easily with a lint brush, my cotton hoodie never suffers this problem.
And then there is the delicacy of the fabric itself. It feels very delicate, like it could easily and readily be snagged by anything, which is weird given the athletic nature of the design. However, I did wear it with a GORUCK bag and saw no cause for concern..
Overall, I like it, but I don’t love it. I think the performance benefits from the merino are great, but likely not worth the premium in the price — especially when you consider the extra care and maintenance this garment asks for (removing lint, and dry clean only). That said, if you want everything you own to be merino, or if you often wear a hoodie without a shirt underneath, then this is a pretty darn good option as it will perform really well.
For me, I’d rather stick with a cotton hoodie, or some other more durable variant of a performance hoodie.