Send any comments to the maintainer Roger Caffin
There you are, out in the bush with nothing between you and the elements (either 40 C or howling sleet) except for your clothing. To be sure, one can go walking in an outfit direct from Vinnies, but sometimes a little more care is required. If you are staying on tracks you can get away with most things (laws of decency permitting), but off-track you will find that weaker materials tend to disappear off your body with alarming speed. One day the weather will be not what you wanted, and you will find that some materials get wetter and colder than others. Even clothing has become "high tech" in the outdoors world.
A great way to spend a lot of money is to wander through some of the outdoors shops looking at the huge range of high tech clothing available for all situations. Very dangerous to the wallet - but not a bad place for presents. Needless to say, you can buy far more than you can carry. Sadly, we have to add that most of it is really designed for the street fashion market rather than the bush, which figures. Watch out for the items with lots of frills.
You will see reference to "shell-wear" or the "layer principle" for clothing in most vendors' catalogues. This means you make different layers of clothing serve different purposes. In hot weather you may have only one layer: it has to block the sun and allow enough air circulation that you don't sweat too much. Loose clothing seems popular for this, although some wear shorts and a T-shirt. Since there is little risk apart from sunburn, it doesn't matter too much. Hum: skin cancer, thorn scrub and Wollemi holly alter things a bit.
But in the cold it does matter, and here the layers count. The base layer is for warmth and sweat removal. You could wear a layer of neoprene or bubble-wrap for warmth, but you wouldn't enjoy it. Be warned: there is a lot of marketing spin about how brand X wicks the moisture away from your skin better than Brand Y; but such gear is never perfect and the test conditions are never the same. One hesitates to accuse the vendors of picking the test and the results to serve their marketing wishes, but ...
The next layer is for warmth. It is assumed it will breathe, or let water vapour through. You would rarely wear this middle layer bushwalking, although there have been times while ski-touring when it has been essential. This layer can be assessed by its thickness (and its weight). Great fun can be had browsing through the clothing racks in all the gear shops: selling this stuff to the street trendies is what keeps the shops alive.
The outer layer is to block wind and external water. Here the potential for gross pack weight and severe budget blowout is huge. See under Rainwear for more information.
Generally, more than three layers is counter-productive. This is all explained much better in the coloured catalogues from some of our vendors. Read the catalogues, but hang on to your wallets. That said, note that Mallory was wearing up to seven layers of clothing on Everest - but some of those layers were more due to technology limitations and clothing style of the times.
A recent introduction is the concept of 'Soft Shell'. This is an outer layer which is not waterproof, just highly windproof and fairly water-repellent. The idea is that under mildly wet conditions the fabric might (or might not) get damp, but your internal warmth will keep the fabric warm and drive out any moisture. Obviously this is not going to work in a tropical rainstorm, but it does work under many other conditions. 'Epic' is a range of fairly new silicone-impregnated fabrics made by Nextec, and while very water-repellent they are not waterproof. A soft shell made of Epic breathes far better than GoreTex (say), but can keep you dry and warm under some quite poor conditions. Well, that's what Nextec claims. I made a very light jacket from some light synthetic Epic fabric which I now use in the snow, even in bad weather. Provided I have enough of a warmth layer under it, the idea works fine. Very light and soft stuff too. (They also make a cotton version of EPIC which I found to be completely useless.)
You will find several schools of thought as to what Softshell means. Nextec with their Epic fabric have one version: effectively a fabric with a super-DWR. But many vendors these days believe a 'softshell' has to be a stretch fabric such as those made by Schoeller. The problem here is that the Schoeller fabrics, while good, are extremely expensive. And no-one has explained just why the fabric has to stretch to be a 'softshell' fabric - I sure don't know. Finally, once the term 'softshell' started to catch the public attention, all the manufacturers (or their marketing departments) jumped on the bandwagon and started shipping what they called 'softshell' jackets instead of the 'fully-waterproof while barely-marginally-breathable' jackets we would call conventional waterproof parkas. Today the term seems to have lost most of its meaning. Despite that, the original softshell concept has much going for it.
Cotton jeans may be very tough, but experienced walkers avoid them like the plague, especially in cold wet weather, because they absorb huge amounts of water, never dry out, can shrink badly around your legs, and can lead to hypothermia. Wool used to be "the thing", but wet wool takes ages to dry, smells badly, and wet knitted wool jumpers sag so far down your legs it isn't funny. As for the smell of wet wool... sigh. In fact, for extreme conditions most natural fibres are a poor choice for most applications today, and are seldom used. That doesn't mean a cotton T-shirt wouldn't be just fine for an easy day-walk along a track of course. You don't have to be equipped for the South Pole all the time.
If you doubt this criticism of natural fibres, have a look at the materials used today for extreme sports. Attempts have been made to put Australian Merino Wool into athletic outfits, but it doesn't work. (The author knows people - trained athletes, who have been in some of these trials, and was professionally involved to some degree. Forget it.) Even the leather in footwear has been replaced. The reason is modern synthetics have been engineered to provide far better performance for each application. By way of example, each of the large synthetics manufacturers spends more on R&D in a year than the entire Australian wool industry. The only real exception to this is premium goose/duck down, and even it only holds out in dry cold. Once water comes into the picture the really good synthetics close up much of the gap - almost.
However, late 2004 saw the release of some new versions of wool clothing, as made by Iceberg and Ibex and others. They claim that many of the previous problems have been solved. This is interesting for two reasons. The first is that the Australian wool industry has spent millions of dollars trying to find a modern market for their wool and failed. The best they could come up with was the idea of 'wool jeans' and getting every Chinese person to buy one pair of Australian wool socks. Iceberg is a New Zealand firm, while Ibex is (I think) American. Fascinating. The second is that the author does not know how they have overcome some fairly fundamental and intrinsic limitations to wool. Note: the author spent 27 years associated with CSIRO Div of Wool Research as a senior or principle research scientist. Frankly, I don't think those companies have solved any of the expected problems except perhaps for the proverbial 'prickle factor' when wool is worn next to the skin. On the other hand, you have to admire the marketing spin, and the gullibility of some of the American public for the 'next big thing'. Reports are that the clothing feels nice, does not collect as much smell as some of the cheaper synthetics, but is quite weak, especially when wet. One person accidentally poked his finger through a wool thermal top. If you look at the marketing catalogs put out for these companies you will see that fashion, style and comfort (and pretty girls) figure highly, while performance under adverse conditions don't get much of a mention at all.
We will go from the ground upwards with clothing - footwear will come later. Again, these comments are for when you want to play fairly hard: casual day walks in easy country are another matter.
You wouldn't think one could get all that excited about socks, but some people do. A few die-hard fanatics have been known to wear Dunlop Volleys with bare feet, but most people like a decent sock. Some even wear a very thin synthetic liner sock under a thick sock: the layer principle applies even here.
There are a variety of thick socks available for walking. We will mention the following as being good to excellent, based on the author's personal experience. It is possible to use quite medium-to-thin socks as well, and sometimes this is useful if your shoes are just a bit tight. However, a bit more judgement and experience are required for this.
There are other brands of socks on the market which I haven't tried, and doubtless many people have their own favourite brand. However, it is worth inspecting the inside of the sock before you buy. A good fine loop-pile construction is strongly recommended for best cushioning; long bedraggled loops will fail very soon. Equally, once this loop-pile starts to look feeble (or dirty and matted), don't expect the sock to be nearly as comfortable.
There is also a small range of thin liner socks available. Some are thinner than others. The Gobi Wigwam liners socks work very well for me and last a long time. However, any tough thin nylon sock would probably do. The intention here is to transfer any movement or rubbing away from your skin to between the the liner sock and the thick outer sock. This can help stop you from getting raw spots or blisters - maybe, assuming the shoes fit. However, many people find the pile layer on the inside of thick socks to be adequate, and don't use a liner sock (my wife doesn't).
Note that wool socks, while very fashionable in Australia, sometimes seem to smell rather badly when wet, and most socks get pretty sweaty by the end of the day. That's not to say anyone else's socks remain non-smelly of course. Curiously, sometimes synthetic socks smell worse while on your feet. In addition, we find that some brands of wool socks can felt up, especially if washed regularly. Provided the shape still matches your feet, that may not matter too much, but it does reduce the cushioning. On the other hand, there is some reason to believe that socks containing a wool blend retain their thickness longer. There are some very thick Thorlo trekking socks containing wool which seem pretty good for skiing, and the Darn Tough Vermont ones are superb imho. (DTV now sell through Amazon.)
One word of warning should be made about old socks. Most modern thick socks have a core filament of strong synthetic in the construction. It is possible to wear through most of a sock such that all that is left in one place is this light mesh, while around the "hole" the sock is still thick. It is tempting to say that most of the sock is "still OK". Well, don't! A sock worn out like this can give you blisters quite quickly as the thick edge around the "hole" digs into your skin. You probably won't believe this until it has happened to you, but at least you were warned.
Washing socks is usually considered very desirable, but there are some tricks of the trade here. Socks with an internal loop-pile can be washed both right way out and inside out: the latter however is much better at getting the dirt out of the pile layer. Dry them inside out too: having the pile on the outside lets them fluff back up best. And for really soft fluffy socks, add a little fabric conditioner to the washing or rinsing water. It really does seem to work well with wool socks. However, even a scrub and a rinse each day in the creek (no soap) while walking will help a lot with comfort. That's why some walkers have all this wet clothing hung across the back of their packs.
Most walkers wear gaiters in our bush for two reasons: for protection against sticks and stones and gravel and mud getting into one's socks, and for protection against snakes. It is fair to say the latter reason is vastly over-exaggerated, but the former is a good idea. Such gaiters are usually knee-high and made of tough canvas and/or Cordura: they get a fair old bashing. A hook at the front of the gaiter to attach to the shoe laces is useful but not essential. With lighter footwear it seldom works very well anyhow. A strap under the gaiters is usually provided, but is unnecessary and wears out pretty quickly in the NSW sandstone areas anyhow. Incidentally, neither gaiters nor socks will keep your feet clean if you are wearing very light footwear: the dust seems to get in somehow, through the mesh fabric. A quick wash in a creek fixes that each evening - and feels pretty good too.
In snow country gaiters are essential to keep snow out of your boots. Here you find that the strap under the boot is absolutely essential: without it the snow pushes the gaiters up and wedges under the gaiter and gets into the boot. This is a horrible experience. You can wear conventional canvas gaiters in the snow, but they get wet and freeze solid overnight. The Gore-Tex gaiters are generally regarded as much superior for the snow, even if quite dear. But the Gore-Tex material is much weaker than canvas, so don't ever wear your very expensive Gore-Tex gaiters in the bush.
If you go river walking you will find that a tight pair of short gaiters can be very useful in keeping the sand and gravel out of your footwear. You would be surprised just how much sand can get in beside your feet - and how heavy they will get. Worse still, with all that sand inside, there is not enough room for your feet and blisters and bruising start happening. Full gaiters are not needed here, and can be a problem as well. The sand gets into the large press-studs most gaiter have and jams them. You may rip the press-stud out before it lets go: especially problematic with the common 'Lift-the-Dot' press-studs. Short gaiters, no more than 150mm high, made of medium-weight nylon and having elastic around the top and bottom (and some bungee cord under the foot) work very well: they are called 'stop-touts' (stop everything) in France. I have seen cotton or canvas ones being worn on building sites, but not synthetic ones. I have also seen some made of heavy Lycra, which seems to work quite well for some. You may have to make synthetic ones yourself as they don't seem to be sold here.
Gaiters have one other use, once you reach camp. They are excellent for sitting on: the inner surface is usually cleaner and drier than the outer surface. One to sit on, and one to put your food bags on while preparing dinner.
Some wear shorts; some wear long trousers. It doesn't seem to matter whether it is the Northern Territory or South West Tasmania: arguments can be made for either. However, people rarely get very excited about this subject. Just make sure the material is tough, or you might find yourself setting off with longs and returning with shorts - it happens. There is an old story of one walker who had to wear his flannelette pyjamas on his return from a trip in SW Tassie. And there was the girl we saw go into alpine scrub near Cascade Hut in the Snowies in cotton longs: when we saw her the next day all she had left were frayed short shorts. She joined us in laughing about it. We had warned her about that scrub, but she had ignored our warnings.
One place where heavy longs are useful is in rough or prickly scrub. You will soon work that one out for yourself. You get into the lawyer and raspberry vine stuff (or Wollemi holly scrub) in shorts at your peril.
A warning should be made here about jeans. They look very tough, and may be suitable in dry weather - although they can be rather hot. But once they get wet they can be deadly. Some shrink on you so you can't bend your knees very easily; others just give you hypothermia. Wet ones can chafe the inside of your thighs something awful. One lad died on the Eastern Arthurs from hypothermia a long time ago.
Some of the best material for long trousers is the textured nylon or micro-fibre nylon fabric found in the track pants available in Sports stores. The material is tough, windblocking, somewhat water-repellent (but it breathes in hot weather), dries very quickly, and long lasting. The better non-shiny fabric is often called Taslan or Supplex, but don;t expect to find that marterial in the cheap made-in-China stuff. Don't buy the versions which have a cotton lining either: that stays wet too long, gets too hot, and is too heavy. Or, if that is all you can find, neatly remove all the lining. Macpac used to make some Rockovers which we found excellent, but the design has changed and the result is more of a fashion item now. Sad.
For colder weather, and especially wet weather, something a little heavier may be needed. Some people wear thermals, although this can be very warm. Other wear trousers made of various specialised stretch fabrics. They are very tough and fairly warm, but they also seem to be rather expensive. The author hasn't tried these, so can't comment much. Contributions?
If there is little debate about trousers, there is even less about shirts - at least when it is warm. If it gets very hot you might want to think about sunburn on the arms and neck though, especially at altitude. A T-shirt might not be the best idea if skin cancer concerns you, but that's your worry. It has to be admitted that when it is very hot a light cotton shirt does take the perspiration off your body. On the other hand, a tough synthetic shirt can be ideal for the more scrubby country, keeping the sticks and vines off you. Nothing keeps some of the real prickle scrub out, unfortunately.
In cooler weather and when it is windy you need something which sheds the wind. It helps if it is a bit loose and doesn't hold the water as well. In really cold weather one can move into the area of fleece shirts: Polartech 100 and all the other sorts. A quick tour through an outdoors shop will show you a vast and scrumptious range of such clothing - at a fashionista price.
A combination which works very well for us is a loose nylon windshirt like a peasant smock (Macpac used to make 'Windshirts' too, but no longer) with a thermal top under it if it gets really cold. The windshirt material, like the material described for trousers above, blocks the wind but lets you breath and get rid of sweat. The thermal top makes for an insulating layer: this is called "layering" in the catalogues. In practice, it has to be pretty cold (at or below 0 C) or very windy before we need the thermal top.
An interesting development for cold climates is the introduction of certain silicone-impregnated fabrics by Nextec, known as EPIC. A top made of this material would function like a 'Windshirt' but with better features: it breathes almost as well, it sheds quite heavy rain and it does not absorb any water. Caution: you must wear a good (fleece or 'thermal') layer under this fabric as any sweat cancels the water-repelling features very quickly.
These seem to be an American idea, although they are also available from UK companies such as Montane. The basic idea is for a light jacket of light but tightly-woven fabric which will break the wind and maybe repel a bit of water. They are not meant to be waterproof, and they are meant to let some air through. The good ones of course weigh very little. They are a good idea for any alpine regions, but have less value in the harsh Australian bush, and no value in our summer! But the reasons are not so obvious.
I have a very nice Montane Lite-Speed, made from Pertex Microlight fabric, possibly with some DWR. It has a full-length front zip and a hood which folds up into the collar. Stuffing the hood into the collar makes the collar a bit thick - although on a cold day that might not be so bad. I also have some GoLite Wisps which are even lighter - an incredible 70 grams each! They are made of a 22 denier polyester taffeta with a DWR coating, and don't have a hood. The front zip is only 7 cm long: it's a 'pullover' design. It is a feature of all windshirts that you can do them up at the cuffs and the hem to keep the wind out of course. We have found that one of these Wisps over the top of our normal 'smock' shirt can be the equivalent of a thermal layer underneath.
If shirts and trousers are so variable and diverse, the range of good performance underwear for cold weather has shrunk mainly to the idea of "thermals". These make a (not too) close layer of insulation which is surprisingly warm. They are made with a knitted material using a couple of different synthetics, all with great claims as to warmth, and some with claims to be less "odour-retaining" than others. Polypropylene is common. There is some variation in material weight and quality: you get what you pay for. The ones from the good bushwalking shops are (mostly) significantly better than the department store ones. A couple of sets of thermals should be in every walker's wardrobe for cold weather. They really do work well. But avoid the ones designed as fashion gear - which can be tricky these days.
Some people like to wear thermals and shorts when walking in the cooler months of the year - a bit like a Superman outfit. This is fine, but remember that it isn't going to work too well in bad scrub: the knit material can snag and large holes appear. On the other hand, we have been surprised how rugged some brands seem to be.
Many people put on some thermals when getting into their sleeping bag. This adds quite a few degrees of warmth at night, and is especially good at keeping those drafts off your shoulders. This is certainly a good idea at the end of a rainy day when you are all wet and cold and miserable. A change into some dry thermals seems to feel wonderful - as long as you have kept them dry during the day. If not - well, they do dry moderately quickly. Many's the time my wife has dumped her wet clothing in the tent vestibule, got into dry thermals and then into her sleeping bag, and then commanded "Dinner". One might add that if you are going to carry the weight of the thermals, you might as well wear them in bed and reduce the weight of your sleeping bag.
The idea of a "warmth layer" is part of the layering concept. Read some catalogues for the pretty pictures about this. For much of the year the warmth layer is not that critical, but when it gets cold it matters more than somewhat. For most situations the warmth layer is really only needed for the top half of the body. Apart from snow trips, your warmth layer should not need to be worn during the day: save it for camp when you really need it. Often your thermals will be enough of course, but when it's really cold the technical warmth layer enters.
There are two main forms of warmth layer: conventional wool jumpers and modern synthetic fleece jackets. Both work well when they are dry, but you can't guarantee you'll stay that way. There are few things which look more miserable than a wet wool jumper stretched down to your knees. And contrary to some stupid claims, a wet wool jumper is not warm. Wool fibres do (theoretically) get a little warm as they absorb water, but that amount of energy is small and the effect does not last long. (It has been tested in the lab - a barely perceptible temperture rise was recorded.) Then they are cold, wet and miserable - and stay that way for a long time. Experienced walkers leave their wool jumpers at home.
Modern fleece jackets are made from synthetic fibres, often PET. They can get wet of course, but they do not hold water and dry quickly. If you have a soaking wet fleece jacket, give it a good squeeze and a shake and put it back on. It will dry on you quickly, and keep you a bit warm while doing so. It is all in the design of the fibres and the knit: they have been engineered for this purpose. The reference fleece material is probably Polartech 300 (or whatever it is called today), made by Malden Mills, and this stuff is excellent. However, you will find many good variations of this material used by well-known companies (recycled PET bottles some claim), and other variations in cheaper fleece jackets in discount shops everywhere. The modern fashion trend to use outdoor wear for street fashion clothing has made these very popular. The cheaper materials used not to be quite as good - they used to pill and degrade more easily, but with time and volume production even the Asian versions have improved a lot, and they are cheaper. Along the way Malden Mills seems to have lost some control of the term 'Polarfleece': it gets used by lots the manufacturers these days. You can even buy 'Polarfleece' material in the fabric shops by the metre now.
Another form of warmth layer is a duvet or down jacket: a jacket which looks like a sleeping bag. These are extremely warm, just right for snow trips, but they are also expensive and fragile. If your down jacket gets wet, you have a big problem. Some designs have a shower-proof outer surface such as DriLoft. This helps a bit, but the seams are not proofed, so don't rely on it. A cheaper substitute is a duvet using a synthetic fill material - a "padded jacket", Chinese-style. They are not cheap either, but can be very versatile. The synthetic filling comes under several brand names like Thinsulate and Polarguard. From experience we can say that this class of insulation material holds very little water and dries very quickly. Padded ski trousers using a synthetic core survive all sorts of horrible weather. We've had them soaking wet on the outside fabric, but the insulation has kept our legs warm and the padding layer has stayed dry as a result, and the outer surface has dried very quickly once the rain stopped.
If wearing the thermals you have carried around when in your sleeping bag is a good idea, what about wearing the warmth layer as well? Indeed, and on some very cold nights we have done just that, but it is less of a good idea. The warmth layer is more bulky and can be a bit restrictive, and this may make sleeping a bit less comfortable. However, given a choice between being cold and less than completely comfortable at night, I know which one I would choose!
An interesting research paper 'Cold Weather Clothing' was written by Gordon G. Giesbrecht, Ph.D. of the University of Manitoba in Canada. It was presented at the 'Winter Wilderness Medicine Conference' at Jackson Hole in 2003. (There was no email address to ask for permission to reproduce, but thanks Gordon.) It contains a lot of wisdom about keeping your warmth layers dry, starting with a Norwegian saying 'There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.' The presentation is not that kind to fabrics such as Gore-Tex, which (despite claims) tend to keep your sweat inside your clothing.
This is an area where great individuality remains. There are three main functions for a hat, but after that we get creative. In hot weather, a hat is an essential sun and UV barrier and a sweat rag. This is one place where cotton, at least in the summer, can be a good thing, although good calico is much better. In thick scrub hats have been known to serve as battering rams (reinforced by the head inside of course). But in cold areas hats are essential to keep your head warm. Your body will pump hot blood to your head to keep it warm no matter how cold the rest of your body gets - even when your head doesn't feel cold. For more on this see the Sleeping Bag section.
Now, what you wear is up to you. Some go for army "giggle" hats, but these have very little brim and sun protection today. We added an extra bit to the brim of such a hat and got a fine shady tough hat. Actually, these days I make our hats from raw calico: they last very well. Some very fine ancient greasy felt hats (and even leather hats) have been seen along the track, while beanies also get a mention in the cold. On which subject, remember the snow country saying: 'if your feet are cold, put a hat on'. Your body will keep your head warm while the rest of you freezes.
A thought worth remembering when choosing a hat is what other uses it might have apart from being a sun shade. I use mine as a cover or cosy for the cooking pot sometimes, when I want to keep the pot hot to allow a stew to simmer for a while. And when going through thick scrub, which we seem to do a lot of sometimes, my tough hat makes a fine protection for my head: the two together do seem to be used as a bulldozer. Well - the hat protects my head when going through scrub, anyhow.
Gloves fall into two applications: scrub and cold. A pair of good yellow "riggers" gloves are excellent value in thick scrub where there are lots of prickles and spikes. Treating the leather with SnoSeal regularly makes them last a long time, otherwise they get hard and crack or wear out at the finger tips. Gloves for really cold weather are covered under Snow camping.
However, it may be worth while mentioning that our Alpine regions can have snow and sleet at any time of the year. If you are going walking in the Alps you should seriously consider taking some light synthetic 'liner' gloves and very light (almost) waterproof over-gloves. I made my own over-mitts using readily available 'waterproof' nylon and a very rough mitt pattern, and they weigh only a few grams. I may not have dry hands with these, but the combination keeps the wind off, and it's the wind chill which really hurts. There is little misery quite like frozen wet hands on the Main Range.
Sports Bras are featured in quite a few catalogues from mountaineering companies. They seem like a good idea, but the author pleads male ignorance here. Contributions (text or bras, my wife can test them) would be welcome.
Supplement: some ExOfficio sports bras have been tested. The sizing seems a little strange: a Small size person accustomed to wearing a Small size Australian sports bra needed a Medium size ExOfficio sports bra. The Small was too tight for the wearer to get the bra on without assistance at the back. Very strange, but the medium size seems OK. However, they are not as stretchy as the Australian ones, so individual preference will be important.
Underpants are another subject which gets little attention: they seem to be very much a personal choice - dependent possibly on what underwear the individual wore as a small child? However, one choice which needs to be considered is the perennial one between natural and synthetic fibres. Here there are some interesting differences between men and women: many men normally wear poly-cotton briefs, with the Bonds Briefs style of things being a typical choice, while most women seem to choose synthetic undies. Well, if you wander through the racks of underwear in a large department store, that seems to be what they are selling. So the typical synthetic female undies dry fairly quickly, while the typical poly-cotton male unders take a long time. It is not clear that this is all that smart for men.
Has underwear changed over the years? The answer is certainly, as the picture here illustrates. I am not sure the picture serves any other purpose except as an amusement, but maybe the caption fits.
The author had mostly worn the traditional poly-cotton briefs in the past. They are comfortable, handle hot weather fine, and the fit is not tight. However they do take quite a while to dry if you happen to get them wet on a trip - swimming, rain or even washing. Could I do any better?
An enthusiastic importer gave me some ExOfficio men's synthetic Briefs (standard height at the waist) and Sports Briefs (somewhat more low cut) to try out. The fit is a bit tighter due to the fibres used, but otherwise they don't seem to feel much different from the traditional poly-cotton ones - but they dry faster. I've used them out on a number of long trips, plus many day walks, and I have to admit that they have become my favourites for long trips. They are easy to wash and dry and they are comfortable too. They have been reviewed at BackpackGearTest as well.
The advertising for the ExOfficio Briefs says '17 countries, 6 weeks. And one pair of underwear.' One might say 'phew' at the thought of just one pair for 6 weeks. However, in 2009 I took 2 pairs with me to Switzerland for 6 weeks of walking over Alpine Passes. I typically managed to wash them once every two nights, and typically put the same newly-washed pair back on in the morning. The 'other' clean pair got swapped over only a couple of times in the whole 6 weeks. I won't say the washed briefs were really dry in the morning every time - the elastic at the waist was the last to dry, but they were always dry enough that I could put them back on. It was interesting that even by the end of the 6 weeks they still seemed pretty clean.
By the way - how can you differentiate between a casual novice hiker out for a day or two and a serious long-distance thru-hiker? It's quite simple really: the long-distance hiker has his (or her) socks and underwear drying on the back of the pack. But it can be worth while putting little tape loops on everything and running some bungee cord around your pack through these loops - to make sure you don't lose anything as you go. Or you can use light micro-carabiners to anchor the items to your pack. (Bunderchrinde pass, 2,385 m, between Adelboden and Kandersteg, Switzerland, 2009.)
© Roger Caffin 1/May/2002, 29/July/2009, 1/January/2011