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Best Backpacking Bras for Small, Medium, and Large Busts

best backpacking and hiking bras for small, medium, and large busts

Saying that there is one best sports bra for backpacking is like saying that there is just one body type of woman.  A sports bra which works for one backpacker won’t necessarily be comfortable for you.  This guide is meant to help you make sense of backpacking/hiking bras so you can get the one which is best for your body type and support needs.

 

Quick Picks:

For Small Busts:

You can get away with a compression or encapsulation bra with crisscross straps and lightweight wicking material.  I recommend:

best backpacking bras for small breasts


For Medium Busts:

You’ll want a hiking sports bra with encapsulated or molded cups to prevent cleavage sweat and thicker straps for better support.  I recommend:

best backpacking bras for medium busts


For Larger Busts:

You need a sports bra which offers lots of support. This means separate cups and compression, thick racerback straps, and a wider waistband.  I recommend:

best backpacking bras for large busts


Click here to jump to the full reviews

 

Guide to Choosing a Hiking Sports Bras

Over the past decade, sports bras have gone through a lot of changes.  There are now styles and features for all sorts of different sports – including hiking.  Here’s what you need to know to get a good hiking bra that will be comfortable and won’t cause chafing.

 

Support Style

The main thing to look at in sports bras is the support style, aka how it holds your boobs in place.  There are three options:

Types of sports bras: compression, encapsulation, and combination

Compression Sports Bras

These are the original type of sports bras.  They support your boobs by pressing down against them.  This is actually the worst way to get support and can be very uncomfortable if worn for a long time.

Bear in mind that your backpack sternum strap might already be compressing your boobs.

Compression sports bras also create a uni-boob effect which isn’t very flattering (not that you care about vanity while on the trail, right 🙂 ). I would only recommend these to women with small busts.

Best For:

  • Medium-impact sports
  • Smaller busts (A-B cups)

Encapsulation Sports Bras

Encapsulation sports bras have separate cup areas for each breast. Sometimes these cups are molded.  They are much more comfortable to wear and, because your breasts have space between them, prevent you from getting sweaty rashes between your breasts. The downside is that encapsulation sports bras don’t hold your breasts in place very well. They are best for low impact sports.  For hiking, they should be okay for women with small-to-medium busts.

Best For:

  • Low-impact sports
  • Small and medium busts (A to C cups)

Compression + Encapsulation Sports Bras

These sports bras have a separate cup area for each breast but also apply some compression.  This provides a great deal of support while still letting your girls “breathe.”  This type of sports bra is recommended for women with larger busts or who might be doing some more intense activity on their hikes, such as climbing. Often the sports bra cups will be removable. Keep them in for when you need more coverage and support; remove them for when you need more breathability.

Best For:

  • High-impact sports
  • Larger busts (C-DD cups)

 

Straps

The next most important feature to look for in a hiking bra is the straps.  These are important to ensure you get good support and don’t end up with chafing from your backpack rubbing against your bra.

Types of sports bra straps: racerback, crisscross, and tank top

Racerback Straps

These straps meet between your shoulder blades. This keeps the straps away from your backpack straps, which prevents discomfort and chafing while hiking. The straps are usually thicker, which makes them best for women with larger breasts.

Best For:

  • More support
  • Larger busts

Crisscross:

These sports bra straps often look really cool. They consist of several smaller straps which crisscross over the back. Because the straps are thinner, they usually don’t provide that much support.  However, the thinner straps mean there is less pressure on a single point around your shoulders as with a racerback bra. Thus, crisscross sports bras straps are more comfortable.

Best For:

  • Low to medium support
  • Smaller busts 

Tank Top Straps

These sports bras have straps which go directly from front to back without any crisscrossing.  These are NOT recommended for hiking or backpacking.  Your backpack straps will sit right on top of your bra straps and can cause irritation.  Tank top sports bra straps often end up falling off your shoulders.  If you really want a tank-top style, then I’d suggest getting a tank top with a built in bra instead.


 

Material

When backpacking, your breasts are bound to get sweaty. This can lead to some nasty chafing. Even worse, your wet bra can start to grow bacteria and fungi.  Combined with irritated, chafed skin, this can mean some nasty skin infections.  Thus, on longer hikes it is important you choose a bra made out of a wicking, quick-dry material.

The best sports bra materials are wool and bamboo.  These are great at wicking and dry fairly quickly.  They also have natural antibacterial properties.

A lot of synthetics also dry quickly and do a good job of wicking away moisture.  However, I have yet to find a synthetic material which doesn’t smell horrible after a day of hiking.  On longer multi-day backpacking trips, you will probably want to bring a backup bra so you can wash your synthetic one.

 

Sports Bra Features

Here are the main features to pay attention to when choosing a backpacking sports bra.

LOOK FOR:

  • Seamless design: The fewer seams there are, the fewer places there are for the bra to chafe your skin.
  • Front zip: This makes it a lot easier to get a bra on/off at camp discreetly. Just make sure the front zip is covered with some sort of fabric on the inside so it doesn’t chafe your breasts.
  • Mesh panels: This allows for better ventilation and helps your bra dry quicker.
  • Double-layer fabric: These sports bras are made out of two layers of fabric. The additional fabric is often around the nipples so you get more coverage. The additional layer can also help with wicking.
  • Band Width: The band which goes around your chest provides support. Look for a thicker band if you have larger breasts.

AVOID:

  • Adjustable straps: This will help you get a good fit but the hardware can rub your skin under your backpack. Either avoid adjustable straps or look for ones which adjust in areas where your backpack will not touch.
  • Back Closure: Like with adjustable straps, AVOID bras with back closures. It will rub against your skin from your backpack pressing against it.
  • Underwire: If the underwire pops out of your bra on a long backpacking trip, you are screwed.  There are some sports bras with encapsulated underwire though which is almost guaranteed to stay put.

 

Color

I sometimes wear just my sports bra when hiking or around camp.  I also use my sports bra as a swimsuit. Because of this, I would never choose a white or light-colored bra.  They become see-through when sweaty or wet!  Dark colors are the way to go.

 

Discreetness

I’ve heard a lot of stories from women backpackers about men staring at their boobs when they were in just a sports bra.  Yes, it’s annoying that we women have to worry about this (especially when those same men will powder their balls right in front of us!).  However, even though I’m not the shy type, I still choose a more discreet style of bra.  This means one which hides my erect nipples, gives more coverage, and is a darker color.

 

Fit

Sports bra fit is incredibly important for hiking (or any sport, for that matter).  A lot of women wear the incorrect bra size and end up with discomfort or chaffing.  To get a good fit:

1. Get your waistband size:

Measure around your rib cage right under your bust, where the bra waistband would sit. This measurement is your band size.

  • 25-27 inches = 30
  • 27-29 inches = 32
  • 29-31 inches = 34
  • 31-33 inches = 36
  • 33-35 inches = 38
  • 35-37 inches = 40
  • 37-39 inches = 42
  • 39-41 inches = 44

 

2. Get your cup size:

Your cup size is the difference between your bust measurement and waistband measurement. To calculate it, you need to measure around your torso at the largest part of your bust.  Take this number and subtract your waistband measurement from it.  The difference gives you your cup size.  For example, if you have a 40” bust and a 34” waistband, then the difference is 6 inches, or a C cup.

  • 3 inch difference = AA cup
  • 4” = A cup
  • 5” = B cup
  • 6” = C cup
  • 7” = D cup
  • 8” = DD cup
  • 9” = E cup
  • 10” = F cup

 

Tip: Use the two-finger test

You should be able to put two fingers between the bra waist band and your skin, but not more.  Likewise, you should be able to squeeze two fingers between the bra straps and your skin.

 

Best Backpacking Bras for Small Busts

1. Brooks Dare Strappy Sports Bra

Brooks Dare Strappy sports bra for hiking

Key Features

  • Type: Compression/encapsulation
  • Strap: Combo
  • Fabric: DriLayer HorsePower fabric
  • Wicking: Yes
  • Quick Drying: Yes
  • Colors: Blue, black, white
  • Sizes: 30 A/B, 32 A/B, 34 A/B, 36 A/B, 38 A/B, 40 A/B
  • Check price at REI, Amazon

This is a gorgeous sports bra which is designed for running. However, it’s comfortable enough to wear for hiking and long-distance backpacking.  The molded cups keep your girls separate and give good support so you don’t get sweaty under your breasts.

The strap style is a combo of the racerback and strappy styles.  This gives you good support and is also easy to get on/off.

Brooks Dare Strappy sports bra for hiking

The fabric is what really makes the Dare Strappy sports bra great for backpacking.  It is moisture-wicking and dries very quickly.  It also has ventilation holes in certain areas for comfort.  There are some seams in the bra but they are located below the nape of the neck where they aren’t likely to rub against your backpack.

Get it here on Amazon or here on REI


 

2. Icebreaker Merino Sprite Sports Bra

icebreaker merino sprite hiking bra

Key Features

  • Type: Compression
  • Strap: Racerback
  • Fabric: 83% Merino wool
  • Wicking: Yes
  • Quick Drying: Yes
  • Colors: Multiple options
  • Sizes: XS to XL
  • Check price at Amazon

When it comes to comfort, this is one of the best bras you can get.  It is made from 83% Merino wool which helps keep you dry and is very soft on your skin.  It’s particularly good for preventing bad smells after a long day of hiking.  You can wear it multiple days in a row without it getting gross.  The medium size weighs 6.87 oz.

icebreaker merino sprite hiking bra

While this hiking sports bra is great for small busts, it isn’t recommended for medium to large breasts.  The cups barely encapsulate the breasts, so larger busts will get cleavage sweat. Merino also has a tendency to stretch, so doesn’t give as good of support and will stretch out over larger breasts.  For small breasted women though, it’s enough support and the comfort is great.

Get it here at Amazon


 

3. Smartwool Strappy Sports Bra

Smartwool seamless strappy hiking sports bra

Key Features

  • Type: Compression/encapsulation
  • Strap: Crisscross
  • Fabric: 63% Merino wool
  • Wicking: Yes
  • Quick Drying: Yes
  • Colors: Black, orange, navy, and purple
  • Sizes: XS to XL
  • Check price at REI, Amazon

Here’s another great Merino wool sports bra for hiking.  The difference between this one and the Icebreaker bra above is that it has 63% Merino (compared to 87%). The rest of the fabric is 21% nylon and 11% elastane.  This means the Smartwool Strappy fabric holds its shape better and gives better support.  It could also work for medium-sized busts but is still best for smaller breasts.

This bra also has a small amount of encapsulation built into the cup area. There is also removable padding in case you need extra support (though the padding will limit breathability).

Smartwool seamless strappy hiking sports bra

I personally really like the style of this bra and is had enough coverage that you can wear it as a bathing suit.  The only major flaw in the design is that the multiple straps can make it annoying to get on/off.

Get it here at REI or here at Amazon


 

Best Backpacking Bras for Medium Busts

1. Champion C9 Seamless Tie-Dye Sports Bra

Champion C9 Tie Dye sports bra seamless for hiking

Key Features

  • Type: Compression with removable cups
  • Strap: Crisscross
  • Fabric: Duo Dry Fabric
  • Wicking: Yes
  • Quick Drying: Yes
  • Colors: Blue and purple tie-dye
  • Sizes: XS to XXL
  • Check price at Amazon

The C9 seamless bra by Champion is one of the most affordable hiking bras you’ll find.  It has a cool design and works as a swim suit top as well.  More importantly, the fabric is really comfortable and dries quickly.

Champion C9 Tie Dye sports bra seamless for hiking

While it is a compression bra, the C9 actually does give decent support.  The wide waistband and durable fabric light your breasts and keep them in place. The bra has removable cups which can be inserted to hide your nipples.  Even when the cups aren’t inserted, the area for the cups slightly separates your breasts so your girls have a bit more room to breathe.

Get it here at Amazon


 

2. Smartwool Racerback Seamless Sports Bra

Smartwool racerback sports bra for hiking

Key Features

  • Type: Compression with removable cups
  • Strap: Racerback
  • Fabric: 85% nylon shell with 68% Merino liner
  • Wicking: Yes
  • Quick Drying: Yes
  • Colors: Black, orange, purple, navy
  • Sizes: 30A, 30B, 30C, 32A, 32B, 32C, 34A, 34B
  • Check price at Amazon

This is by far one of the most comfortable hiking bras you’ll find which still provides a good amount of support.  It is made of two layers of fabric.  The inner layer is a lining which is composed of 68% Merino wool. The outer layer is mostly nylon, which provides more support and prevents the bra from getting stretched out quickly. There are also removable cups which can give a bit extra support.

Smartwool racerback sports bra for hiking

The downsides of this bra is that it is a bit too hot for warm-weather backpacking.  It’s two-layer design makes it better for shoulder season or even winter. It’s also currently only available in XS and S sizes.  The XS is for skinny women with A or B cups.  The S size fits up to 34B.

Get it here at Amazon


 

3. Boody Racerback Sports Bra

Boody racerback bra

Key Features

  • Type: Compression with removable pads
  • Strap: Racerback
  • Fabric: 80% rayon made from bamboo
  • Wicking: Yes
  • Quick Drying: Yes
  • Colors: Black
  • Sizes: S to XL
  • Check price at Amazon

This is one of the few hiking sports bras which is made from bamboo material.  Specifically, it is made from 80% rayon which comes from bamboo.  This means it is eco-friendly as well as vegan and has great wicking properties.  It also dries quickly too.

Boody racerback backpacking sports bra

I’d recommend this sports bra for women who like the classic (old school) style of compression bras.  It is more comfortable than the standard compression bras though because it has underbust ribbing and the removable cups.  The pads are actually a bit annoying because they don’t stay in place well. However, they create a cup area for your breasts to stay separate so you don’t get such a uni-boob effect.

Get it here at Amazon


 

Best Backpacking Bras for Large Busts

1. Brooks Dare Crossback Sports Bra

Brooks Dare Crossback backpacking bra

Key Features

  • Type: Compression/encapsulation
  • Strap: Combo
  • Fabric: DriLayer HorsePower
  • Wicking: Yes
  • Quick Drying: Yes
  • Colors: Black, navy, white
  • Sizes: Large range of sizes
  • Check price at REI, Amazon

The Brooks Dare Crossback is one of the most practical and comfortable bras for large-busted women.  It has molded cups which hold your girls apart from each other to minimize cleavage sweat and give good support. The waistband is integrated into the bra but is actually pretty wide, so offers support there too.

Brooks Dare Crossback backpacking bra

The straps of the bra are technically a crisscross.  However, they cross over with a wide swathe of fabric more akin to a racerback to provide more support.  The cross style does mean the bra is a heck of a lot easier to take on/off, hence why it’s so practical for backpacking.

The propriety fabric is wicking and quick-dry.  It also has perforations in crucial areas to minimize sweating.  There are very few seams in the construction of the bra so it’s unlikely you’ll experience any chaffing.

*Brooks also makes a version of this bra which has a front zip for even easier on/off.  See that one here.

Get it here on Amazon or here on REI


 

2. Mirity Racerback Sports Bra

Mirity racerback backpacking bra for larger breasts

Key Features

  • Type: Compression/encapsulation
  • Strap: Racerback
  • Fabric: 90% nylon
  • Wicking: Yes
  • Quick Drying: Yes
  • Colors: Multiple options
  • Sizes: S to XXXL
  • Check price at Amazon

This sports bra currently has over 6,000 positive reviews on Amazon and is incredibly popular for hiking as well as other low-to-medium impact sports.  It is one of the few sports bras designed for women with large busts and even comes in XXXL sizes.

The bra is able to provide really great support for large busts.  It has thick racerback straps, a wide waistband, and cups with removable pads.  The bra generally does a good job of keeping your breasts apart in the cup area.  However, if you have D or large sized breasts, you will still have some cleavage sweat (though this is inevitable with almost any sports bra when your boobs are that big).

Mirity racerback backpacking bra for larger breasts

As for the downsides, don’t get any of the colored versions of the bra (pink or blue). The color actually fades out.  If you get really sweaty, the color might come off on your skin. Gross.  The material also isn’t as breathable as the manufacturer’s claims would have you believe. Still, for such a cheap sports bra, it’s a good pick for busty women.

Get it here on Amazon


 

About the author /


Diane Vukovic grew up camping and backpacking in upstate New York. Now, she takes her own daughters on wilderness adventures so they can connect with nature and learn resiliency. With dozens of trips under her belt, Diane is an expert in minimalist camping, going lightweight, planning, and keeping her kids entertained without screens.

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2 Comments

  1. Courtney

    I would like to recommend a product called the Toura: https://www.terakaia.com/collections/toura. I went through a lot of bras (several of those listed above) but my main problem when backpacking was that if it was sturdy enough to be supportive then it took forever to dry and at the end of the day when I was sweaty, I would get really cold when I stopped for the day and my torso was still wrapped in dampness. The Toura is pricey but it’s supportive for me (medium chested) and doesn’t get stinky after several days of constant wear. Bonus, it can also be a swim top and is reversible. I will buy another as soon as I can justify the cost!

    • Diane

      Thanks for letting me know about that one. I hadn’t heard of it. I hear you– almost any bra which provides decent support is going to leave you sweaty. I envy women who have small boobs and can get by without a bra 😂

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