What Is Performance Underwear?

Dan Cavallari

Performance underwear is any type of garment worn close to the body and underneath other garments during athletic activities or inclement weather. Such underwear is very often made from synthetic materials that are water-resistant, breathable, lightweight, and close fitting. Performance underwear may include both tops and bottoms, and they may feature short sleeves or short legs, or they may feature long sleeves and full-length legs. The specific features of the underwear can vary significantly according to its intended use and the manufacturer's specifications, but almost all underwear designed for performance is moisture wicking.

Some baseball players wear sliding shorts for added protection in games.
Some baseball players wear sliding shorts for added protection in games.

Moisture-wicking performance underwear are basically garments that help transport moisture away from the skin to keep the body dry and comfortable during athletic activities. The best performance underwear is both moisture-wicking and breathable, which means air can reach the skin to keep it cool and dry as well. In many cases, the underwear fits close to the body to encourage this wicking property and to improve the comfort of the garments. Bulky underwear can cause hot spots that can lead to rashes or blisters, so tight-fitting underwear with low profile seams are usually preferred.

Athletic underwear is typically supportive and wicks away moisture.
Athletic underwear is typically supportive and wicks away moisture.

Most performance underwear is made from synthetic materials, though some underwear is made from a blend of synthetic and natural fibers. The synthetic fibers tend to be lightweight and close-fitting, and they also have a tendency to dry more quickly than natural fibers. Synthetic fibers do, however, have a tendency to absorb odors from sweat, and that odor is often difficult to remove from the clothing, even after several washings. This can be problematic if a person wants to wear the performance underwear in non-athletic settings, though it is not necessarily an issue during athletic activities.

This type of underwear is usually associated with winter or cold weather sports such as skiing, though it can be used in all seasons and conditions. Tight-fitting performance underwear tops may be short-sleeved and exceptionally thin so it can be worn comfortably underneath other garments. This layer will help keep the upper body dry and comfortable in hot weather, or dry and warm in cooler weather. Underwear bottoms may be short-legged and tight-fitting to help prevent hot spots or rashes from skin rubbing against skin or skin rubbing against other garments. Some underwear is sport-specific; baseball sliding shorts, for example, will feature a pocket for a protective cup as well as pads on the thighs to protect the skin when sliding into a base.

Sweat, which is absorbed by most traditional materials, mixes with bacteria on the skin and causes unpleasant odors.
Sweat, which is absorbed by most traditional materials, mixes with bacteria on the skin and causes unpleasant odors.

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Discussion Comments


If you are doing something like running a marathon you need to consider wearing something that will wick the sweat away, salt and all, even if you are a man. Unfortunately, the sweat carries salt and if that salt keeps building up on your skin and clothes it can act like sandpaper as it moves over you.

Lots of people find themselves starting to bleed from small grazes by the time they reach the finish line, which is extremely painful (since the salt is also getting into the wounds).

Wearing properly fitting underwear can help, but getting some fabric that will wick away the sweat from your skin is your best bet to avoid this kind of discomfort.

Believe me, I know. The first race I ever ran ended, just about in tears from the rash I managed to put on my chest and around my arms.


@bythewell - That's true of people who are just going out for the day in the snow. You don't have to be a sports person to break a sweat while you're skiing or whatever.

I think merino fabrics are the best to use, not just for the underwear but also for the next layer. They wick the sweat away nicely and keep you quite snug and the higher quality fabrics aren't itchy or anything either.

I find the synthetic fibers don't really breath as well, but that might just be me. While my merino underwear seems to handle temperature changes perfectly.


Surprisingly sweat is one of the biggest problems for people who compete in winter sports, particularly any which require endurance. You really need to make sure you have something to wick it away, because there's no way you can prevent yourself from sweating.

People become hot from exercise, or from wearing too many garments (and it's really difficult to completely balance it out so that your clothes work for when you're standing still and when you're performing) and then they sweat. This isn't too bad when they are warm from their exertion, but once that's over and they start feeling the cold again, the sweat can become dangerous.

And often they'll be waiting to perform again, still out in the open.

If you have something to wick the sweat away you don't have to worry as much about it evaporating on your skin and bringing down your temperature.

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