How to pick the best fabrics for summer

Nov 29, 2018

Bushwalking in summer normally involves hot, sweaty days so the more comfortable you can be the better and this means choosing the right fabric for your hiking tops. So if you want clothing that’s breathable, quick drying and cool for summer walks, consider these factors:

  1. Fabric construction and weight: Tighter knits or weaves create less breathable fabrics, while more open knits or looser weaves will be more breathable than tight ones. Thinner materials and finer yarns also affect breathability. For a quick test, hold a fabric up and see how much light passes through it – more light suggests more breathability.
  2. Moisture management: Lightweight breathable fabrics help reduce sweat, but moisture-wicking and quick-drying materials go further by taking advantage of the body’s natural cooling mechanism to evaporate moisture away from the skin.
  3. Fit: If your primary activity will be relaxing, then look for a loose fit; if you’re getting moisture-wicking clothing because you plan to be more active, then you need the garment to be in contact with your skin to do its job – not necessarily skintight, but not super billowy either.
  4. Mesh panels and air vents: Some clothing, especially product designed to provide sun protection, includes strategically placed mesh panels and zippered air vents.
  5. Antimicrobial and moisture-wicking fabrics can also work double duty by repelling outdoor odours.

Breathable Fabrics – Below are characteristics of common summer fabrics.

Cotton: Available in a huge variety of fabrics

  • Pros: Soft, durable, breathable, versatile and easy to care for.
  • Cons: Absorbs moisture (doesn’t wick away moisture or dry), which is why it’s a poor choice if you plan to break a sweat.

Nylon and Polyester: Most activewear features one of these two synthetic materials.

  • Pros: Wicks moisture and dries quickly; resists pilling and abrasion.
  • Cons: Not as soft as cotton; retains odour; breathability varies based on yarn size and knit or weave.

Rayon: You find a wide variety of plant-based-but-highly-processed fabrics under names that include rayon, viscose and lycocell; fabric properties vary widely and these fabrics are often blended with other fabrics to achieve different characteristics.

  • Pros: Has a silky feel, moderate breathability, drapes nicely, dries quickly.
  • Cons: Doesn’t wick away moisture as well as polyesters or nylons; wrinkles easily; many rayons require drycleaning.

Linen: Derived from the stalks of flax plants, it’s a popular fabric for casual summer wear.

  • Pros: Very durable and easy to care for; typically has excellent breathability because linen fibres are large and clothing styles feature more open weaves.
  • Cons: Like cotton, it absorbs moisture (doesn’t wick away moisture or dry), which is why it’s a poor choice if you plan to break a sweat; also wrinkles very easily.

Silk: Often used in underwear; also used in upscale casual wear.

  • Pros: Wonderfully soft, lightweight and breathable.
  • Cons: Fragile; not moisture wicking; retains odours; typically requires hand washing.

Merino Wool: Often used in long underwear or winter wear, it can also be a good summer fabric, brands like Icebreaker are making excellent merino products.

  • Pros: Breathes well; wicks moisture and is available in lightweight, summer-worthy styles. Doesn’t retain odours like synthetic fabrics do.
  • Cons: Less durable than cottons, nylons and polyesters.

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