Take your T-shirt to the next level! – Choosing a performance fabric that’s right for you.
The foundation of any outdoor enthusiast’s wardrobe starts with a lightweight T-shirt. There’s no more practical or versatile article of clothing. Hiking, biking, hunting, and running; skiing, climbing, camping, or kayaking, chances are you’ll throw on a T-shirt everyday of the year. A good T-shirt works as outerwear in the summer, and as your first-line-of-defense base layer in cold weather.
A T-shirt is arguably the most important item in your closet, so choosing a performance tee should also be one of your most important gear decisions. Sure that concert tee you’ve had since sophomore year lets everyone know how much you once loved Van Halen, but is that old friend really the best way to outfit yourself for life’s great adventures? It might be time to upgrade your T-shirt to a lightweight performance shirt that works as hard as you do.
With so many types of T-shirts available how can you decide which is the best one for you? You can start by comparing the features of the shirt’s primary fabric.
Soft, comfortable, breathable, and cheap - Cotton sounds like the perfect fabric for any activity, however there’s a reason “cotton kills” is an oft repeated phrase amongst experienced outdoors people. Cotton absorbs and holds moisture – moisture from both the environment and your own perspiration. In warm weather sweat should evaporate away from your skin, helping to cool you down. Cotton provides no help wicking sweat away from the body, it dries very slowly and holds wetness close to your skin, preventing evaporation, which can lead to overheating. Wet cotton can also cause chaffing and skin irritation. However, the biggest danger from cotton occurs in cold weather. Wet cotton loses almost all of its insulating properties, instead of containing your body heat and holding it next to your skin, wet cotton actually leaches heat from your body. In cold conditions this can lead to hypothermia and even death.
Synthetic performance T-shirts are often made of polyester or polypropylene, these fabrics offer vastly improved wicking abilities over cotton. Synthetic fabrics generally dry very quickly and can be quite durable. Despite their quick drying abilities synthetics aren’t the best at regulating temperature while damp, and it’s possible to become chilled in even the short time it takes for them to dry. Synthetic fabrics also lose points in the comfort category. These fabrics easily collect the bacteria that causes odors, and over time can develop an unpleasant smell that won’t wash out. When damp, synthetic fabrics often feel clammy and cling to the body uncomfortably. They can also develop a stiff, plastic feel after multiple washings.
Wool is extremely breathable and uses a natural process to absorb and release moisture. In hot weather wool pulls moisture away from your skin to the surface where it evaporates, keeping you cool and dry. In cold temperatures the natural crimp in wool fibers creates tiny pockets of trapped warm air that act as insulators, holding in heat next to the body. Wool dries much faster than cotton, but not quite as quickly as some synthetics. However wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water and still feel dry to the touch. More importantly it maintains its insulating properties even when wet, keeping you warm and comfortable even in extreme conditions. Merino wool fibers are exceptionally fine and smooth, creating a fabric that is soft and comfortable right next to the skin. The lanolin in wool is naturally antimicrobial and kills the bacteria that cause odors, allowing you to comfortably wear a sweaty wool shirt for many days if necessary.
#WoolxinAction ambassador Dennis Plato takes a breather in his Woolx Outback T while hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Cotton, Synthetics and Wool – Each have their pros and cons as the primary fabric in your outdoor gear. Compare the needs of your activity with the features of each fabric to determine what T-shirt is best for you. For less strenuous activities in temperate conditions, an inexpensive cotton T might be all you need. But for any more serious activity, or anything that involves extreme conditions, you’ll want to invest in either a synthetic or wool performance T-shirt that will provide you with the moisture wicking and temperature regulation that will help you stay safe and comfortable. If there’s a chance you’ll be exposed to cold, wet conditions, such as an unexpected rainstorm or an impromptu night spent on the mountain, wool is definitely your best bet. Whether you’re wearing your T-shirt as base layer or as outerwear, make sure you choose a shirt that suits your activity and helps you stay comfortable and safe!