My Travel Kit: Weighing Underwear for Science

As has been noted here before, I’m a proponent of packing as little as possible for a trip. More and more, this has meant “one bag” travel — taking a single, carry-on bag — even for weeks of traveling abroad.

I have detailed my previous kits here, and I’m now in the process of updating my travel mainstays with a new bag and some other wee goodies. Among the questions I’m facing — oh, the dilemma! — is which underwear, socks, and undershirts to take. I have a few different options, so which should be the standard-issue undergarments of my travel kit?

Not a man to just toss a coin for such an important decision, I did the only thing an enlightened man of reason could do: I turned to science.

Element 1: Drying Times

One of the key components to traveling with a small kit is to pack a relatively small amount of clothes. This means you might be hand-washing some clothes now and again, which means you might be drying garments on a clothesline draped across your room, which means … deep breath … you want clothes that dry relatively fast.

So I decided to find out which of my travel options dries fastest.

My experiment began at 11:00am on Saturday, 4 October, with the careful placement of the contending garments into a water-filled basin. This was done under controlled conditions in order to ensure that all the pieces were soaked to the same degree:

Clothes tossed into the tub

Clothes tossed into the tub.

I even swirled them around in a rather random fashion. This is for science, after all.

With the garments all a sopping mess, I lifted each one and put it through a standardized application of lateral pressure designed to remove liquid: I squeezed it as hard as I could.

The garments were then placed on individual hangers in the science lab and the time was marked:

Travel undergarments drying

Travel undergarments drying in the shower.

Left to right, the contenders are these:

The Socks

The Underwear

The Undershirts

At the 6-hour mark, I took my first dampness check.

Already, winners were emerging.

In the undershirts, the Uniqlo was completely dry, while the 100% cotton t-shirt from Fruit of the Loom still had some dampness. What’s more, the Uniqlo looked less wrinkled after my soak, squeeze, and hang.

In the underwear, the Uniqlo was again on top. There were a couple of spots where I could feel a little bit of dampness, but frankly they were dry enough to wear if I wanted. The clear loser was the 60% cotton briefs from Sainsbury’s. Despite being the smallest pair in terms of surface area, they were definitely the wettest. The ExOfficios were drying quite nicely, neck and neck for second place in this phase of the competition.

The socks were all pretty damp, but at this point the Darn Tough merino socks were feeling a little more dry. One of the characteristics of merino wool is to trap moisture in its fibers, however, which might be disguising things here.

At the 12-hour mark, the Fruit of the Loom t-shirt was now completely dry, as were both sets of underwear from ExOfficio: there the boxer briefs might have dried slightly faster than the boxers, but it was pretty much a wash.

Sainsbury’s briefs were still shockingly damp, as were all four sock contenders, although it still seemed like the Darn Tough might be slightly less damp than the rest, with the Uniqlo socks running in second place.

At the 24-hour mark, the socks finally resolved themselves into a pecking order: the Uniqlo socks were totally dry, with Darn Tough in second, Timberland in third, and ExOfficio in dead last.

Winners

When it comes to dry times, the winner in every category was Uniqlo. Quite impressive. ExOfficio made a good show with underwear, and the Darn Tough socks didn’t embarrass themselves. Both the Fruit of the Loom and Sainsbury’s “average joe” cotton garments came in dead last in their categories.

Element 2: Weight

I weighed my underwear so you don’t have to.

Weighing underwear

Weighing my underwear for science.

The Underwear

  • ExOfficio Boxers: 3.5 oz.
  • ExOfficio Boxer Briefs: 3 oz.
  • Sainsbury’s Briefs: 3 oz.
  • Uniqlo Briefs: 2.5 oz.

The Undershirts

  • Fruit of the Loom: 5 oz.
  • Uniqlo: 4 oz.

The Socks

  • Darn Tough: 3 oz.
  • ExOfficio: 3.75 oz.
  • Timberland: 2 oz.
  • Uniqlo: 3 oz.

Winners

Uniqlo showed well again, with the lightest underwear and undershirts. Among the socks, though, the Timberlands were 2/3 the weight, which was impressive. The ExOfficio socks were well off the mark, which could be due to the insect repellent that is theoretically embedded in their fibers.

Element 3: Bulk

I could think of no simple way to measure bulk other than eye-balling it. Sorry.

Underwear folded up

The underwear folded up (left to right: Sainsbury’s, Uniqlo, ExOfficio boxer briefs, ExOfficio boxers).

Undershirts folded up

The undershirts folded up (l to r: Fruit of the Loom, Uniqlo).

Socks folded up

The socks folded up (l to r: Darn Tough, ExOfficio, Timberland, Uniqlo).

Winners

In the underwear category, the Uniqlo was best, followed by the ExOfficios. The Sainsbury’s, though having the smallest amount of fabric, were the bulkiest.

Undershirts weren’t even close, with Uniqlo way ahead.

Socks were pretty much a wash.

The Conclusion

There are other factors that people ought to consider beyond the three tested here.

Comfort is paramount, of course, but it’s also uniquely personal, so I can’t test that for you. All of these were comfortable to me personally — otherwise they wouldn’t be contending for the coveted space in my kit — but I thought that the most comfortable ones were the Darn Tough socks, the Uniqlo briefs, the ExOfficio boxers, and the Uniqlo tee.

Durability is a concern, but I lack the ability to test that in any rigorous fashion. The Uniqlo shirt and undies are thinner than the others, but they seem well-made and haven’t shown a problem so far. My ExOfficios have been treated quite roughly over the years and come out just fine.

Price is another factor. All things being equal, I want to spend the least amount of money I can. But things are rarely equal, and I am increasingly of a mind that in the long-term it is better to pay extra for the right item than to pay less for the good enough item. The “average joes” (Fruit of the loom t-shirt and Sainsbury’s underwear) are by far the cheapest in their categories here, but this experiment quite effectively kicked them out of my travel kit. Among the others, at standard pricing I think the Uniqlo garments are the least costly, which is a pleasant surprise. But of course a patient consumer can find excellent pricing on just about anything these days.

Add it all together and what did we get?

Overall Winners

To my surprise, Uniqlo almost swept the board. I don’t own stock in the company, I swear! (And, alas, since they aren’t on Amazon I can’t even get money through affiliate sales.) Only in the category of sock weight (where they were second-best) and sock bulk (where they were just like everyone else) did their product not test the best here.

Drawbacks

So are the Uniqlo products perfect?

Close. But not quite.

The “Airism” material, despite the above accolades, does have a couple of drawbacks. First, the thin nature of the fabric might not be for everyone due to the fact that it hides little: if you have a third nipple, the t-shirt will probably show it. Second, the fabric also requires a cold, gentle machine-wash and line-dry that isn’t at all in keeping with the weekly get-it-done washes of my household — so both the t-shirt and the underwear are confined to being “travel-only” garments for me.

Still, when I write-up my next travel kit, you can be sure that Uniqlo will have a place in it!

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