The Uniqlo Airism boxer brief, thoroughly reviewed

As many of you know, I am an insatiable gear junkie whose standards can never be reached with anything short of exquisite perfection. You’d think the reason for my constant dissatisfaction would be my unreasonably high expectations, but the real problem that constantly shoves thorns into my sides is the failure of oh-so-many gear companies to achieve even tolerable mediocrity. And the most excruciating problem in this regard has been the inexorable search for the world’s best underwear.

You’d think that this sort of problem could be rather easily solved, as men have been wearing underwear of one sort or another for hundreds of thousands of years, but, sadly, humanity had yet to implement a widespread solution to this childishly simple challenge that was to my satisfaction.

I have already detailed the ridiculous ordeal that is the outdoor industry’s excuse for performance underwear, which is a ludicrous hamster wheel of $30 failures arriving one after another, which has sapped my vitality and broken my spirit in ways that would make mothers weep.

But no longer. The search is over, for I hath discovered The One. The Holy Grail of underthings, the El Dorado of unmentionables. The best men’s underwear in the universe.

For only $10.

Behold!

Uniqlo Airism boxer brief
Ooooh. Ahhhh.

They are the Uniqlo Airism boxer brief, and I am ready to buy a dozen of them, rid myself of all other underwear in a fiery conflagration of spiteful disdain, and never bother with any other underwear ever again.

Be happy for me.

What the Uniqlo Airism gets right

I don’t see what’s so difficult about all this, but somehow everyone on the planet seems to fail miserably at a frequency of 100%. It’s incomprehensibly annoying. But this is what underwear needs to do:

  • Boxer brief. It’s the most sensible combination of immobilization and socially acceptable appearance.
  • Snug fit. Tight enough to stay in place, but forgiving enough that you forget it’s there.
  • Silky smooth. A frictionless fabric would prevent a pair of pants from pulling your underwear around all day.
  • Properly shaped front panel. We’re men, after all.
  • Ordinary appearance. If I’m not on the advertising department payroll, then I’m not advertising for you.
  • Comfy fabric. I generally prefer quick-drying synthetic fabrics because I enjoy traveling, but comfy and absorbent natural fabrics have their place too. Having both options would be ideal.

I could very well cut this short right here, and simply mention how the Uniqlo manages to hit all these points, but I’d prefer to go into crushingly boring technical detail, so I’ve decided to match the Uniqlo up against another so-called “best underwear ever” contender, whose praises are sung far and wide, but whose shortcomings are numerous and excruciating.

So here we are: The Uniqlo Airism vs. the Ex Officio boxer brief.

Let’s begin.

1) Fit

One of the major problems with the Ex Officio is that it does not come in a size small. It’s labelled small, but it’s just nonsense. It’s a full two sizes bigger than the Uniqlo, and still too loose anyway.

The Uniqlo also has another objectively correct feature which the Ex Officio does not: Accommodation for masculinity.

Notice the folded seam right along the center of the front panel:

Uniqlo Airism folded front panel
Because there’s something behind that curtain, and it needs some breathing room.

This creates a contoured fabric pouch that…ahem…surrounds this region appropriately, thus eliminating the problems of lateral drift and skin-on-skin discomfort, and reducing the need to rearrange constantly.

The Ex Officio’s front panel, on the other hand, is entirely flat. Though it will naturally form something of a shaped front panel simply by stretching in whichever direction it needs to go, it can’t do this as well as something that includes a properly shaped front panel to begin with.

Fit is admittedly rather subjective, but these specific differences are just objectively superior. The folded front panel, combined with availability in more sizes, mean the Uniqlo will be far more likely to work for more people. It seems optimized for smaller guys, however, so that’s something to keep in mind.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Uniqlo is shorter (both in the legs, and in the rise) and has a wider waistband (by circumference) than a comparable size of Ex Officios. I don’t find these differences to be objectively good or bad, but they’re worth mentioning. Plenty of people will prefer the lengthier fit, and it would be nice if the Airism’s legs were maybe an inch longer.

2) Fabric

As mentioned, I’m split on whether the world’s most perfect underwear would use a quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabric, or a more natural and highly absorbent one, or a blend of the two. Since the available options are usually garbage in any case, I’ll take whatever I can get.

Both the Uniqlo Airism and Ex Officio are quick-drying, moisture-wicking underwear, designed for athletic pursuits, though they use different materials to achieve this:

  • Uniqlo Airism: 86% polyester, 14% spandex (with minor variations for different colors)
  • Ex Officio: 94% nylon, 6% spandex (with variations for heathered colors)

But it’s really the texture that’s different. Compare the waffle-like surface of the Ex Officio to the flat surface of the Uniqlo Airism:

Uniqlo Airism vs Ex Officio fabric
You know how you’re supposed to be when you’re in your underwear? Smooth.

Not only are the Ex Officios loose to begin with, but their incredibly textured surface produces a great deal of friction, meaning that a pair of pants will pull them in all sorts of different directions, requiring constant rearrangement to keep them in place.

While it’s true that the Ex Officio’s textured surface could potentially be more comfortable when damp (by reducing the percentage of fabric in direct contact with the skin), it’s the inside of the fabric that should be this way, while the outside should be slick and smooth. But even if you flip them inside out (EMS makes a boxer brief like this, but they use a horrific waistband and aren’t that great anyway), they’re still too loose to stay in place, even with the reduced friction.

By comparison, Uniqlo’s Airism literally feels like silk. It’s exquisitely smooth and frictionless, and can’t get pulled around by other layers at all. This doesn’t mean it requires no adjustment; just that the amount created by friction will be reduced to zero.

3) Waistband

Notice how the Ex Officio’s waistband looks like a strip of elastic, while the Uniqlo’s looks like soft fabric:

Uniqlo Airism vs Ex Officio waistband
Just make everything soft, guys. Just everything.

Not only is the Uniqlo’s waistband softer, but it’s also more pliable, making it far more forgiving. And, as mentioned, it’s also significantly wider (not top to bottom, but in terms of circumference) than the Ex Officio’s, which seems to have far too small of a waistband compared to how loose the rest of it is (though admittedly this was not much of a problem for me).

Again, fit is subjective, so I won’t spend too much time on this issue, but I found the Uniqlo’s waistband to be far more sensibly sized, and, when combined with the fact that it was more easily stretchy and felt less like a waist-sized rubber band, significantly more comfy as well.

4) Gusset

This is the one area in which I can see potential room for improvement. And I say potential, because it hasn’t been a huge problem for me so far.

The Uniqlo has an inseam gusset, which means it has two seams going between the legs rather than one. This is potentially terrible if designed improperly, since the forward seam starts encroaching upon areas that are highly sensitive, and the rear seam can start approaching awkward territory as well.

Inseam gussets work for guys that are fairly small when not “in use.” If you’re at full size all the time, you might run into trouble, so keep that in mind.

4) Style

This might be largely irrelevant to most people, and rather subjective, but I prefer the Uniqlo’s appearance, for the following reasons:

  • No logo. I hate being a walking billboard for brands, and although Ex Officio’s waistband logo is subtle enough that I don’t mind, Uniqlo’s is completely nonexistent.
  • More colors and patterns. Uniqlo has solids, stripes, dots, plaids, paisleys, and all sorts of other choices. Ex Officio has admittedly been doing well enough in this regard, but it doesn’t look like they’ve ever attempted the following:
  • Subtlety. Again, it’s not like it’s a big deal, but I much prefer the fact that Uniqlo’s underwear looks like normal underwear. Most performance underwear is designed to be flashy, fluorescent body armor, with bright colors and racing stripes all over the place. I much prefer the quieter neutrality of boringly dark grey, which is offered not instead of, but in addition to, the snazzy ego-boosting crimson that Uniqlo also provides.

Again, it’s not that Ex Officio does poorly here, but Uniqlo’s underwear is utterly indistinguishable from normal underwear, which is practically unheard of in the world of high-tech clothing, and refreshingly welcome.

From the front:

Uniqlo Airism vs Ex Officio front view
Uniqlo (left) and Ex Officio (right). Sorry for the awful photography.

And the back:

Uniqlo Airism vs Ex Officio back
Uniqlo (left) and Ex Officio (right). Because of the gusset, the Uniqlo has no seams along the back at all, which some people might think looks nice.

Again, it’s not a huge deal, but I adore the normalcy of the fabric texture, the seam placements, the lack of logo, and wide range of colors and patterns of the Uniqlo. It’s nearly impossible finding performance clothing that looks like ordinary clothing, so I’m just happy to see someone doing it.

5) Price

Finally! Someone came along to prove that high-tech gear doesn’t have to be obscenely expensive. It’s pretty much all made of polyester anyway, which is blended with cotton because it’s cheaper than cotton, and yet 100% polyester performance apparel is more expensive somehow? Lame!

The Uniqlo Airism is $10 to the Ex Officio’s $25.

There’s simply no reason high-tech gear needs to be expensive, and I’m glad I never have to pay ridiculous prices for fancy underwear ever again.

The Ex Officio isn’t that bad. I’ve seen others go up to $50 a pair, and they were barely mediocre anyway. I’m looking at you, Arcteryx.

And since this is a travel blog, let’s take a look at a few travel-specific characteristics while we’re at it:

6) Packability

There’s no contest here. The Uniqlo is hands-down superior.

Uniqlo Airism vs Ex Officio packed size
The Uniqlo’s on the left, folded the same way as the Ex Officio on the right.

By the way, that’s a Uniqlo in a large, and an Ex Officio in a small.

It might not matter to certain people, but for ultralight backpackers and carry-on only travel junkies, space is constantly at a premium. Not only is the Uniqlo smaller overall, but both its fabric and waistband are thinner, allowing it to fold down to a smaller packed size.

I wish I had a scale to compare the weight. Maybe someday.

7) Drying time

This was a tie. Despite the differences in fabric content and texture, they both dried quickly after a hand wash. Eight hours, indoors, on a cool day.

Uniqlo Airism vs Ex Officio drying time
Maybe I should get a clothesline or something.

This is practically mandatory if you’re hoping to reap the benefits of minimalist travel, which requires frequent washing, often by hand. But it’s also quite useful in hot weather, so that moisture won’t accumulate until you’re soaked from head to toe.

So, is the Uniqlo Airism still the best?

Since writing this review a few years ago, I have indeed come across a few options that I prefer, but they’re all in the range of $30-50, meaning they’ll be out of reach for quite a few people. If that’s what you want, take a look at a list of the best men’s underwear I’ve found thus far (and a dedicated list of travel-specific options here). But if you want a really solid pick at a decent price, I think this is as good as it’s going to get.

Each and every detail, from the shaped front panel, to the snug fit, to the frictionless surface, to the (comparatively) dirt-cheap price, to the subtle appearance, to the quick-drying fabric, is exactly what I’ve been trying to find for a decade. If I had to change anything, I’d prefer a slightly softer, more pliable fabric, an extra inch in the legs, a higher inseam, and a more forward-protruding front panel. But even with that in mind, I still reach for these all the time. I’ve gone through dozens of different options from all sorts of brands, big and small, and all of them have left me dissatisfied, but these have remained a favorite since I first tried them.

So if that all sounds great, get ’em here. They’re seasonal, so they’re only available in the summertime, but check eBay in the winter, where they’re always available.

Well, I hope you’ve all enjoyed getting in my pants hearing my thoughts on this matter. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go burn the rest of my underwear in a cathartic bonfire.

Happy travels!

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

View all posts by SnarkyNomad

208 Comments on “The Uniqlo Airism boxer brief, thoroughly reviewed”

    1. I think they have one in your neighborhood, more or less. They’re more of a “regular” clothing company, so they don’t really focus too much on high-tech gear, but the several high-tech items they do make seem to be dirt cheap and still pretty good. $70 for a down jacket, for example. That’s pretty much unheard of.

      1. Saw your post and checked them out. They definitely can hold their own against Ex Officio in durability and performance. I was lucky. Shortly after getting a couple of pairs to check out, the Uniqlo stores here in Thailand put them on sale for about $9.00 US. I picked up enough to travel with and to wear every day. Being in Thailand, I can tell you they perform well in hot, damp weather.

        1. Where in Thailand did you find them? I am living in Northern Thailand and has been on the hunt for them for a while. Did not know you could get them here.

      2. I bought the down jacket….it’s packable as all get out! The thing is tiny, and I’m not. Looks good, too, and has a hood which I can hide. Not quite waterproof, I think, but I’m not concerned.

        I bought one pair of Airism boxer-briefs, and actually wore them for a week (taking them off at night). They didn’t even smell at the end of that. So, worst case scenario, you rotate your 4 pairs which you brought along with you, and you could EASILY go two weeks without washing clothes. Sounds gross, but that’s life on the road. Thanks for finding these things. Was NOT looking forward to shelling out for 5 pairs of Ex-Officio.

    2. Mr Snarky,

      love your site and the reports you have done on clothing and travel tips. Bought myself some Rohan trousers. very comfortable. Must say thought If I could give one advice for them it would be get a waist size one size bigger as they sit high on the waist unlike normal jeans.

      Since I like you advice and took it further and purchases a pair of the Uniqlo boxers briefs. I got to say on this point they are one of the worse pairs Ive bought. Though they feel comfortable and cant feel them due to the thin material. They don’t just ride up my leg they actually roll up , if this is possible with the low rise briefs. So hence a right pain in the backside for me to keep pulling them down. I am sure they will work for others but not me.

      I suppose my search for the illusive non riding boxers continues at some expense . ( can’t try without the buy). The closest I have came across is Hanes non ride up leg boxers they work quite well but no good for travel since made of cotton.

      Anyhow thats my rant over. Keep up the good work and I look forward to your next blog.

      Cheers

      1. I definitely get it, as they move up the leg for me too, although I’ve found that it also depends on what sort of pants you’re wearing (non-stretch fabric slides up the leg whenever you move, so it pushes the underwear legs up, whereas stretchy fabrics are less of a problem for that). Also, the long-legged version eliminates this problem. I still think they could be even better by getting rid of the inseam gusset, so I can’t call them perfect, but they’ve caused fewer problems for me than anything else, so until I find something perfect, I’ll stick with them.

        1. I must have weird shaped legs as all material and all lengths ride up my legs. Normal Y front type briefs are just not an option for me shall continue my search.

          Cheers

          1. Hmm…even the long-legged ones? That’s too bad. I’ve seen a few brands make extra-short boxer briefs (often called trunks) that have legs so short that they simply can’t move very much, and have a band on them kind of like the waistband, and that works pretty well, but usually the longer legs work quite well for me. Also, I’ve noticed that different pant fabrics work differently; stretchy fabrics don’t interfere as much with underwear.

      1. Why is Tencel one half the price of the regular synthetic briefs at Uniqlo, particularly since you state that they are equal in quality and that you interchange between the two

        1. Not sure. Tencel is made of wood, and wood grows right out of the ground, whereas polyester is made of petroleum, and has to be dug up through oil wells. It could be for all sorts of reasons, but I think it might just be a difference in the price of the fabric itself, rather than the cost of construction.

    1. I can see that, but I’ve also met people with the opposite opinion, who point out that it might as well all be fun, since that’s how you’d want things to be if you’re only in your underwear.

  1. Uniqlo has another all-synthetic (nylon + spandex) underwear called “seamless low rise boxer brief.” Slightly cheaper, around $7.

    I got a pair of each. Airism is definitely silky, almost unpleasantly so. The seamless have a more cotton-like fabric texture, and lower rise; pretty tiny overall. There’s a diamond-like texture all over except on the pouch, which is smooth. Seams are well placed, and very very flat. Waistband is a bit flimsier than airism. Doesn’t say anything about odor preventing.

    Another one worth trying, next time you drop by a uniqlo! The Airism shirt is also very lightweight, with an absurdly low v-neck.

    1. I’ve had issues with “seamless” underwear (firstly, they DO have seams), such as the fact that the waistband is just the same fabric as the rest of the item, rather than an elastic band. It just doesn’t do as good of a job holding itself in place. I haven’t tried them all, of course, but that’s what keeps me away.

      I expect the Airism t-shirt (with the regular neck) would work pretty well as an ultralight travel t-shirt. Looks pretty much like a regular t-shirt, which is great.

      1. I have five of the Uniqlo Airism crewneck t-shirts. They are pretty much all I wore on a recent two-week trip to Europe. (I had to work a bit on the trip, so I had to also take some dressier shirts.) They are so light and pack really well. I handwashed them in the sink or tub, and they never got stinky. Highly recommended!

        Uniqlo also has boxer-briefs in Tencel. I just got two pair, and I think they are also very good. I have a pair or two of the Airism boxer-briefs, which may be slightly better but also cost twice as much. I have a couple pair of the Uniqlo seamless boxer briefs, but they don’t have a fly, which I think is necessary.

        Uniqlo used to carry some thin grey cotton/synthetic socks, which I really like. I have about 6 pairs, but they no longer seem to carry them. I only wore these on my trip in Europe.

        1. I got some of the Tencel versions a few days ago, and they’ve been quite good. I’ll add a mention in here soon, but my conclusion is that because they’re not as frictionless as the Airisms, they can migrate, as they’re in contact with pants. The legs could be made more snug to reduce this, but it hasn’t been a big deal, and they’re pretty great overall. Especially for $6.45 each.

  2. Just out of nerdy curiosity, I’m wondering if you’ve weighed the Uniqlo Airisms? I’d be interested to know how they compare to the ExOfficio’s 2.9 ounces. I’m always looking to shave ounces from my pack.

    1. The Airisms are definitely lighter, though I’m not sure by how much. Since you’d only need a few, and you’re only saving maybe an ounce each, it won’t make a huge difference, but it’s certainly a nice bonus.

      1. I just compared the weight of the Airism to ExOfficio: 1.7 ounces versus 3.2 ounces. So the Airism not only wins in the feature department, but at half the size!

  3. i usually wear a 32 in waste pant size. the Uniqlo web site says the medium will fir 30-33. So should i go for that?

    1. Probably. That’s where I am, and I got both the medium and large, and both of them fit just fine, but I preferred the snug fit of the medium.

  4. Loved your insight…thank you! Frequent international traveler tired of hubby’s complaints w/price tags, quality, fit and drying time. Give them a try!!

  5. Hi Eytan! I was going for the ScotteVest Boxers 2.0, before I read your post. Do you know how they compare to then?

    1. The ScotteVest Boxers 2.0 use exactly the same fabric as the Ex Officios, so they’d work pretty well. They’re boxers, though, so they would fit totally differently than boxer briefs, which you may or may not prefer. But aside from that, they’d work just fine. I much prefer boxer briefs, though, but it’s just my preference.

  6. Have you tried any merino wool boxers? I have a pair of boxer briefs from Icebreaker that I really like, and I’m about to try some from Smartwool and Minus33.

    1. In theory yes, but they can go up to $50 each, which is a little intimidating. I also think that the vigorous hand washing that travelers might have to do could tear up the merino wool faster than slick polyester. I think merino wool is great, but at $13 I can buy a dozen of these and be happy.

  7. I agree that ExOfficio makes a damn good pair of underwear. When I went traveling through South America I only had 3 pairs and had to hand wash them every couple of days. They never stunk and were always comfortable. Good post and two thumbs up for ExOfficio.

  8. Thank you so much for the recommendation! I was looking for exactly this for an upcoming one-month trip.

    I ordered two pairs to try (regular and low-rise), and just ordered 6 more to have on the trip. I love how thing and smooth they are — incredibly comfortable. I’m about a 44 or 46 waist and tried the 3XL (love that they have big sizes) but they were a bit baggy but with plenty of stretch so I went with XXL for the second order. In all different colors and patterns of course.

    I also love the Saxx Quest (with guardrails) I picked up at an underwear store (!) in Portland a couple weeks back, but just like you say, they’re $30 each and that’s ridiculous. Plus the XXL are impossible to find (except at that store).

    1. Happy to help. I like highlighting some of these lesser-known options that I find significantly better than the more popular options that everyone says are the best.

  9. Thank you for the recommendation. I am looking for the same thing for my trip in Aug. Unfortunately I live in Canada and Uniqlo does not have a shop here nor any American shops are willing to mail order here. Does anybody know any big department stores carry this product in Canada, say around the Toronto region?

  10. OK Mr. SnarkyNomad – you are making me go BROKE!

    I just ordered a pair and love these – they fit like a glove and are far better than my “cotton” briefs, I just ordered 5 more pair.

    Thanks…

  11. Could anyone say if the silkiness is also good for when turning around in bed..? so you don’t have to deal with adjusting your blanket as much?

  12. Hi

    Just bought 2 pairs in Uniqlo Shenzhen for 88yuan about 14$. So far so good, fits well in medium but anybody wanting larger than Large is going to struggle in China.

    1. I tried those and found them horrifically uncomfortable (scratchiness, to be specific), but plenty of other people seem fine with them, so maybe I’m the problem. They’re certainly worth a look.

  13. … thanks for this great recommendation!!! I have been looking for the ‘perfect’ underware for years.

    Guess what? Uniqlo has opened a shop in Berlin a few weeks ago :)

    Ciao … I go shopping …

    – Hans

  14. Your article might’ve saved me from buying another Ex Officio. I brought on ex officio and regular cotton boxers — the regular boxers just take way too much room and are a pain to wash when on the road.

    Gonna go and get a pair to help us survive the humidity of Malaysia.

  15. Any thoughts on the “low rise” vs. the regular? Does anyone know what the difference is? Is one style supposed to be more comfortable than the other?

    1. I think the low rise just has shorter legs, which annoy me. It’s more of a European style, but I think it’s uncomfortable. I prefer the longer legs of the regular boxer briefs, and I’d actually prefer them to be even longer, but I’ll take what I can get.

    2. I found that the regular had a lot more material on the top, so I was pulling them up onto my belly like old man panties. I much prefer the low-rise. I bought one of each in black to try, then ordered 6 more low-rise in different patterns. I ordered them for a one-month trip where I’d be doing laundry by hand, but I like them better than anything I was wearing before, so I’m still wearing them, both to the gym and to the office.

      1. I was wrong!

        I double-checked my order and I didn’t go with the low-rise, I went with the regular. Probably my wife’s idea. They are a bit long on top, but they do have longer legs, which is nice, as SnarkyNomad says.

        Today I put on the one pair of low-rise that I originally bought and noticed the shorter legs immediately. Then I was shocked to find that there’s no flap on the front! Made it hard to pee all day.

        From the pictures on the website, it looks like the low-rise is constructed that way. Major difference, if you ask me. Can anyone else confirm?

    3. Hmm, thank you both for the replies. Seems like it’s a matter of personal preference. I wish one of their stores was near me so I didn’t have to try these things by ordering online and paying for shipping costs and all that, but, hey, what can you do? It’s good to have access to such things at all!

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