Choosing underwear for long distance walking

Published 30 June 2019

The author stood on the Pennine Way next to a wooden post.
The author wearing underwear. Under the rest of his clothes.

Let’s talk underwear. When you’re doing a multi-day walk, you need to think about it. You can, after all, only carry so much. If you’re walking for a week or so, you could probably fill your pack with enough to last you. But over that, you will probably run out of space for other important things.

There are several ways you can tackle the problem. Radio presenter Mark Radcliffe revealed in his book, Thank You For The Days, that he walked the Coast to Coast wearing swimming trunks. He took two pairs, and washed them every day after wearing. Meanwhile, a completely different solution was offered in the very first Pennine Way guidebook written by Kenneth Oldham, who basically told his readers not to bother; underwear was simply too much hassle.

Neither is an approach I’ve taken myself. These days if I’m off on a long walk I take about four or five pairs, and wash them en-route using travel wash in the evening.

Washing is quick and simple. You can do it swiftly in any B&B sink, or hostel laundry room. But when I first started doing this I discovered a problem with my then choice of underwear. Drying time. On several occasions my freshly laundered undergarments simply were still dry in the morning! This was an issue as I really didn’t want to be packing up damp clothing in the morning. And also it prevented batch washing – doing the whole lot in one go and having something to wear the next day.

Here’s the thing though. The time taken to dry depends on the type of underwear you have, and the material it’s made of. The underwear I had at the time just quite slow at drying. Even when shoved on a hot radiator, they’d still sometimes still be damp in the morning. I clearly needed something a bit better.

Some years ago I decided to do some investigation. And whilst doing so, one possible solution presented itself in the Rohan store in Covent Garden, which offered me a high tech pair of quick drying undergarments. Just one snag: they were £25 a pair. I didn’t go down that route.

The solution I want for was a bit simpler: underwear designed for those engaged in sporting activity; jogging, going to the gym and so on.

Now the thing about such sport is that people tend to get rather hot and sweaty, and several manufacturers offer underwear with that in mind and offer under garments that will keep you dry whilst exercising. The concept is simple. The fabric is designed to dry quickly – just like those Rohan ones. The same properties that stop your nether regions getting too damp, also mean that when washed, your underwear dries quickly too.

Of course, depending on what you wear, you may not need to invest in anything extra. The test to find out though, is relatively simple. Handwash a pair around 6pm, stick them out to dry, and see what they’re like in the morning. All dry? Excellent. No more to do. Still wet? Best get shopping.

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