Women’s Running Underwear – How do you choose?
With such wide-ranging options, where do you start in choosing women’s running underwear or are you safer commando? From personal experience getting it wrong can range from a short wedgy picking run to a mid-distance chafe-fest that feels longer than a marathon!
Shape and Cut
Going beyond the standard lingerie shapes (briefs, bikini’s, thongs or G-Strings, boy shorts, etc) the rise of the underwear can make a big difference. A number of brands offer high waisted cuts, which can reduce the irritating stomach pressure as well as being more likely to stay firmly in place as we all know wedgies and sagging undies are just as irritating, especially when you’re running along trying to discretely retrieve them from around your knees!
When considering the shape, its also key to bear in mind the shape of your bum, and the circumference of your thighs. If like me, you show your love of deadlifting by displaying a bootylicious bum and muscular legs, you will appreciate a generously cut pair of underwear which avoids the dreaded butt crack and doesn’t try to amputate your legs every time you move. If you do find it difficult to accommodate your thighs in a brief or bikini cut, why not consider a boy short – just aim for one with a decent amount of inseam to avoid the legs attempting to ride up. My go-to is a high waist with at least 5 cm (2 inches) of inseam.
Fabric and Finish
A technical fabric is defined as one manufactured for a functional rather than aesthetic purpose. The technical fabrics chosen for running underwear tend to provide temperature support and reduce chafing by wicking moisture away from your body. Because of their wicking nature, they also tend to be quick to dry. If you’re at all prone to chafing, a flatlock or a seamless option might be the way forward for you.
Technical fabrics may be made from natural or synthetic fibres, or it could be a blend of the two. Natural fibres tend to be better at controlling odour build-up but doesn’t dry as fast as synthetic fibres, so when choosing between natural and synthetic fibres bear this in mind. From my perspective, I will choose natural fibres for endurance or multi-day events every time, but synthetic is my go-to for sessions lasting up to a few hours or any form of speed work. Some natural fibres, like beech tree pulp, also have intrinsic antibacterial properties.
- Polyester and Spandex / Elastane / Lycra* (synthetic)
- Nylon and Polyester (synthetic)
- Nylon and Spandex / Elastane / Lycra* (synthetic)
- Microfiber (synthetic)
- Polyamide, Polyester and Spandex / Elastane / Lycra* (synthetic)
- Polyamide, Spandex / Elastane / Lycra* and Polypropylene (synthetic)
- Merino Wool (natural)
- Beech Tree Pulp (natural)
- Merino Wool and Spandex / Elastane / Lycra* (natural and synthetic blend)
- Beech Tree Pulp and Spandex / Elastane / Lycra* (natural and synthetic blend)
Please note: Lycra is the brand names for Elastane or Spandex which are fabrics of a polyether-polyurea copolymer. This fabric has the stretchiness of up to 8 times its normal size, making it prized in athletic clothes. Athletic clothes generally only contain a proportion of Lycra mixed with other materials to leverage the desirable properties of each material. A detailed article on technical fabrics for sports clothing can be found here.
Laundry and Garment Care
To prolong the life of your underwear get familiar with your laundry labels! However, the majority of technical fabrics like to be washed gently in a load between 30 – 40 degrees Celsius (85 – 105 Fahrenheit), if you’re concerned that you load isn’t gentle enough, wash your underwear in mesh bags, these are commonly sold as lingerie or delicate bags. Most synthetic fabrics can be put in the dryer at a low heat (except for items with a high percentage of Spandex), but hang your natural fibres to dry as use of the dryer will most likely cause them to shrink. Also, be aware that most bathing suits (swimming costumes in the UK) have a high percentage of Spandex and putting them in the dryer will significantly reduce their useful life, as well as, badly affecting their appearance.
Be super careful and triple check your care labels before using chlorine bleach or fabric softener/fabric conditioner or dryer sheets in your load of technical fabrics. Chlorine bleach dissolves or weakens nylon and Lycra fibres, but the alternative of Oxygen Bleach is suitable for removing stains on some athletic clothing, including underwear. Fabric conditioners leave an additive behind on the fabrics which can make it dull in appearance and can feed the bacteria which create the sour gym odours in athletic clothes.
Personally I’m not particularly careful with my underwear and it shows in both their life span and their feel. My dryer doesn’t do a low heat cycle and because I live in the UK, if I hang too many things to dry my house gets quite damp. This results in me suffering from fraying or bobbling of fabrics, reduced elasticity leading to poor fit and chaffing and ultimately having to replace my underwear sooner than I’d like.
To shave, wax, epilate, laser or go au naturel?
A personal choice for sure, but one that can combine with the shape and fabric of your underwear to create massive chafing! In my experience, I seem to notice the sweat more if the pubic or armpit hairs are longer. In these cases, I will try to wear a good, sweat-wicking synthetic underwear unless I’m on a long plane ride or multi-day hike when odour mitigation becomes a consideration.
If you do decide to remove some hair before you go running, regardless of which method you use a good exfoliation prior to the run can work wonders for reducing the shaving bumps; however please bear in mind that trimming can produce the short sharp hairs that love to stab things – like you or your underwear and will inevitably get caught in the weave or knit of the fabric and pull for the whole run, adding another layer of mild irritation.
There is a wide-ranging choice of running underwear, and it’s only getting bigger! Whichever brands you pick bearing in mind shape, cut, fabric type and finish will help you chose the ones that suit you best. Treating your running underwear carefully in line with their fabric care instructions will help them last well, maintaining their shape and stretch and reducing their tendency to rub uncomfortably.
What do you think? Any advice you can give? I’ve reviewed my current favourite running underwear here, can you guess what it is?