Zen Backpacking Clothing Fabrics






Backpacking Clothing Fabrics




The fabric used to make any type of clothing will play a huge role in how that fabric performs under various circumstances.


Backpacking Clothing

Clothing Fabrics





Cotton dries slowly and evaporation of wet cotton can cause a large amount of heat loss from the body.  Because of that, cotton in wet/damp cold/cool environments can cause hypothermia or at the very least - a very miserable experience.  But in dry hot environments, cotton may be the fabric of choice, as it keeps you cool and is very comfortable.


Silk is a natural fiber from a cocoon of the silkworm and is not commonly used in outdoors clothing. Most silk is collected from cultivated silk worms and woven into fine, yet strong fabric. The natural resilience makes it wrinkle resistant.


There are many synthetic materials used for outdoors clothing.  These tend to be much more hydrophobic than cotton and keep the wear dryer that if they were wearing cotton.  Generally speaking, synthetics don't feel as comfortable as cotton in warm environments.  Some have poor breathability, trap perspiration and sound like you are wearing a trash bag when walking while others mimic the feel and comfort of cotton without the fear that wet cotton brings in cold environments.




Wool and synthetics such as nylon tend to keep you much warmer when wet than cotton and are generally preferred in cool and cold environments.  Most synthetics are hydrophobic and tend to dry rapidly - making overnight drying of laundry possible long nights after a quick rain shower livable.  Poor quality wool and synthetics can be very uncomfortable to wear, where good quality wool or synthetics can be quite comfortable.



Vapor barrier (VB) fabrics

Vapor barrier (VB) fabrics such as rubber, vinyl and urethane coated fabrics prevent water vapor from passing through the fabric.  This non breathable fabric will retain a lot of body heat and prevent cold moisture from coming in contact with the wearer's body.  These also prevent condensation and sweat from leaving the body and will leave you very wet and if worn long enough can cause emersion type syndromes.  VB fabrics can keep you very warm for short periods of time but can cause significant cold injuries once your soaked body is exposed to the cold.



Waterproof Breathables

Waterproof breathable fabrics/laminates such a Gortex are made up of a layer of microporous membrane that is waterproof yet let allows perspiration vapors to pass through.  When this fabric works, the wear is kept quite dry from rain and perspiration.  It is important to note that these fabrics can work quite well under the proper circumstances, but you will sweat underneath a layer of waterproof breathable fabric if you are hot enough or moving quick enough.


Waterproof breathables usually come in either 2-ply or 3-ply construction. 


In 2-ply construction, there is usually a waterproof/breathable coating that is laminated/affixed to the inner side of the outer fabric. Because the waterproof breathable coating is exposed, a loose protective liner is often added to protect the laminate/coating. This inner liner can decease breathability of the piece of clothing in question.


In 3-ply construction, a waterproof breathable membrane is sandwiched between an outer fabric layer and a protective liner to create a single layer of 3-ply laminate. There is no need for an inner liner, the these fabrics tend to breath much better and 2-ply fabrics.


Waterproof breathables include:



Leather is very durable and resistant to abrasion.  It is used in motorcycle clothing as well as in gloves and footwear, all requiring protection from abrasion.  Leather does breath, but is generally not suited for use as jackets or pants where the wearer is expected to exert their bodies (walking, running, etc) as the wearer will soon become very wet from perspiration.  They do breath enough to be used as footwear and make the most comfortable of footwear when fitted correctly and broken in.



Note - beware of leather look-alikes.  These may look great, be stain resistant and not need leather treatment, but will not breath or feel right.  So may get stinky sweaty feel as a result.



Down traps a great deal of air between feathers and when formed into clothing a sleeping bags is the warmest "fabric" per weight when dry.  Unfortunately, it loses most of it's insulation qualities when wet and is not suitable for use in wet environments.





Please feel free to link to this site so that others can find it.  It's easy to link to this site - simply copy the text below onto your web page.



Zen Backpacking






Copyright 2000-2014