Early last summer I was the victim of a cruel bit of public shaming that nevertheless became a crucial turning point in my life as an backpacking enthusiast and outdoorsman. I’m reluctant to share it with you all because, for one thing, it’s highly embarrassing in and of itself. But also because this tradition violated my “leave no trace principles” as well as my “no more campfires” principles, and especially my “don’t light your only pair of underwear on fire” principles.
Here’s the deal.
I used to make a habit of wearing the most torn, threadbare pairs of old underwear that I owned—and often had to scrounge around in the bottom of my clothes drawers to find—when I went backpacking. I didn’t want to foul my fancy underwear (non-holed underwear, that is) with the unspeakable sweat from my nether regions, and I didn’t own any sporty underwear because that seemed like a silly marketing gimmick, even though I will eagerly buy silly marketing gimmicks if they look cool and other people on the trail can see them. It was also weird that I still wore cheap underwear on the trail because I own like ten pairs of various kinds of synthetic baselayers that I swear by. Underwear, however, seemed barely worth thinking about in the backcountry. Backpacking trips were great ways to wring out the last bits of use from the frayed boxer briefs I kept in the back of my drawers.
The problem was that I didn’t really confine the frayed, hole-y underwear to backpacking, but would often wear it when laundry days were approaching and I had no other choice. My wife, rightfully so I realize in retrospect, found this wholly unacceptable. She found it so unacceptable in fact that on a backpacking trip a couple years back she forced me to pitch my unsightly underpants into the campfire in front of a couple of our friends. This was a sort of ritual of atonement for continuing to wear the offending garments far, far past the date at which, had she done the same, I would have let fly with some majorly snide remarks.
I was more than a little shocked to so visibly and publicly watch my favorite backpacking (and, to be fair, regular-day wearing) underwear meet their fiery end. I also learned very quickly that going commando in the backcountry, when logging ten mile days, is a recipe for intense discomfort. But I took my wife’s point and declared that I’d give myself, and her too I suppose, an upgrade in the backpacking underwear department.
Boy was I an idiot for not doing that years ago.
I went out and got myself a pair of these Patagonia beauties, and my holy lord what a difference the right underwear makes. Until I began wearing those on hikes, I thought chafing was just part of the game. I figured that a swampy, unpleasant undercarriage was a small price to pay for the joys of pleasant strolling for dozens of miles at a time through our national forests. I figured that adding a new piece of synthetic gear to my ever-expanding camping kit was conspicuous consumption. I was wrong.
Now every time I’m hiking long distances, or Nordic skiing my way to a mountain hut somewhere, I’m clad in the sportiest, moisture-wicking, bits-and-pieces-supporting underwear money can buy. Without going into too much detail, the comfort, dryness, and temperature-regulation that these things provide is, with no hyperbole intended, a life changing experience. If you’re not already on this program, stop reading this and run to the nearest outdoors store or furiously click your way to your favorite online merchant. You’ll thank me.
And I won’t even make you toss your undies into the fire.