There are some items of outdoor gear that you don’t often see reviewed in the outdoor magazines and websites. Jackets, tents, rucksacks, baselayers, softshells, fleeces and boots all get regularly tested and reviewed in detail, but outdoor underwear doesn’t get reviewed much and, if it does, the reviews tend to be a bit cursory. Maybe it’s because it’s a little hard to review briefs, boxer shorts and so on without descriptions getting too graphic or crude and using photos that give the review an adult rating. That’s a bit of a shame because good underwear can make days in the mountains more comfortable. So, to redress the balance and point out the virtues of good mountain undies, this is my review of the Rab’s MeCo 120 Boxer. Just to be clear before we start, there are no photos of me testing this underwear (there’s no telling where they may end up if I post them online), but there might be some graphic details.
I never used to wear any of the hi-tech underwear that some mountaineering manufacturers make. On a mountain I’d be dressed in expensive, sophisticated waterproofs, softshells, fleeces and baselayers, but under it all were the standard cotton underwear I’d have on in London. It certainly worked well enough, but it’s good to slip into something more comfortable and there are reasons why underwear made to the same standards as my other mountain clothing have been an improvement.
The main reason is that the fabric performs better than basic cotton. The MeCo 120 Boxer is made up of a very lightweight, comfortable and breathable fabric called MeCo. This is a blend of merino wool and Cocona. The benefits of merino wool are pretty well known– it’s soft, naturally antimicrobial (which means merino clothing is less likely to get smelly), breathable, warm and stretchy. However, like all wool it does hold water a bit and so takes longer to dry. Combining it with Cocona is meant to address this issue and generally improve the resulting fabric’s performance. Cocona is a synthetic fabric that uses the coconut husk waste from the food, medical, cosmetic and filtration industries to make activated carbon. This activated carbon has a large pore structure that increases the surface area of the yarns so that the fabric can better wick away moisture, so helping drying and breathability. Cocona also apparently prevents smells as the activated carbon is supposed to hold on to the odour molecules until they are washed out the next time the fabric is cleaned. With most MeCo baselayers, those smells are likely to simply be sweat. With MeCo underwear there may be other smells involved, but my standard of personal hygiene is too high to allow me to test this aspect of the fabric.
I’ve found that the MeCo 120 Boxer breathes well and dries quickly. This quick drying time and high breathability are the big advantages of underwear designed for mountain sports as it reduces the chance of the moisture build-up around a gentleman’s family jewels and associated areas that can cause uncomfortable chaffing. I haven’t pushed my testing of the MeCo 120 Boxer that far, but they are so comfortable that I haven’t had to think about them and they have never made things too warm or too cool. The other advantage of the quick drying time is that they are much better than cotton underwear for longer trips when you may need to wash underwear in a campsite or hostel.
This use of this fabric also means that the MeCo 120 Boxer weigh a lot less than my normal underwear and takes up a lot less space in my luggage. With the strong focus in mountain sports on cutting grams from gear to enable people to go further and faster, underwear can be one additional way of shaving weight. Considering the size of the clothing, it’s surprising how many grams you can save if you switch from a pair of standard men’s cotton boxers. If you want to save even more weight, then you could just go commando.
The cut is quite close and this makes them supportive and easy to wear under other clothing (which is certainly how I wear them most of the time). The broad elastic waistband also holds well without being too tight and the seams are low bulk to further increase comfort.
The MeCo 120 Boxer do ride up sometimes, but thankfully this only occasionally gives rise to a wedgy and this seems to happen more with the stepping up movements you get in rock climbing. This may simply be a matter of how the sizing works out on me, as being tall and skinny can make it difficult to get the right balance between waist size and length in leg wear. Normally, I would suggest trying before you buy to make sure you get the right size, but that’s not always possible with underwear and so you may just have to take a chance with sizing.
A great feature of the MeCo 120 Boxer is that they don’t use buttons but an open fly covered by part of the fabric. This design means that it’s relatively quick and convenient for the temporary release of a gentleman’s member when there is a need to answer the call of nature (sorry, but this was the best set of euphemisms I could come up with). As any mountain climbing gentleman will know, fumbling with gloved hands to return your member to the safe, warm sanctuary of your trousers while cold wind and rain lash you is not a fun experience.
A slightly strange feature of the MeCo 120 Boxer is that the MeCo logo on them is reflective. I’m guessing that this may help to prevent me getting hit by a car if I ever decide to run around at night in my underwear.
In summary, I’ve found the Rab’s MeCo 120 Boxer have been useful, comfortable and an improvement on my everyday underwear.