In the running as the priciest underwear on the outdoor market, Ibex Outdoor Clothing touts its Balance Boxer Shorts as a body-mapped "second skin." They cost $45 and are made of an itch-free wool that in my test did indeed take on characteristics of the epidermis.
The shorts are seamless, stretchy, breathable, and tight. The company employs a merino wool said to measure about 17.5 microns thick. That's much thinner than a human hair and as soft as synthetics like nylon and polypro.
Made for travel and outdoor pursuits, including backpacking or trail running, the pricey underpants have features more often found in technical base-layer apparel. The Balance Boxer Shorts are essentially high-quality long underwear with the legs chopped off. They fit tight and comfortable around the hips and waist. Because they hug the legs, the inseam feels long for boxer shorts, traveling five inches or more down your thigh.
The company's proprietary "Seventeen.5" fabric makes the shorts special. In addition to wool, Ibex (ibexwear.com) adds some nylon and Spandex for durability and stretch. Italian knitting machines create the seamless garment, which is made in the U.S. A women's version, the Balance Boy Short, costs $29 and uses the same fabric as the men's undies. They have a higher leg and a two-inch inseam.
I have worn the Balance Boxers for a few months, including for running, biking, and on long trips in the outdoors. They are my go-to underwear for most pursuits, as the wool fabric is breathable when you sweat and comfortable for long stretches outside. Wool can help with temperature regulation, hot or cold, as well.
In southern Chile this winter on a wilderness trip, I wore the boxers for almost a week straight. This was extreme, but the shorts are made to be wearable for days between washings and usually will not stink.
Beyond use as underwear, some people run or hike in these boxer shorts alone. They are thick enough to pull it off and are ultimately breathable in this scenario. But if you're at all shy, the Balance Boxers alone may be an extreme move.
Though pricey, Ibex has a solid underpants offering with the Balance Boxer Shorts. Run, hike, bike, and camp in the wool shorts the whole weekend long--it's the only pair you'll need.
--Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.