If you’ve ever gone hiking in a cotton tee (or worse… jeans), you may remember that you felt hot and sticky while you were walking, then cold and clammy when you finally came to rest. That’s because cotton does a very poor job of wicking moisture.
Moisture wicking clothing transports sweat away from your skin through capillary action. Sweat travels out to the surface of the fabric where it can evaporate without cooling you down too much. This is why it’s such an excellent thermal regulator. (You’re not too hot and not too cold.) Gear nerds will want to check out How Moisture Wicking Fabrics Work for an in-depth explanation about how this process works.
Which Fabrics Wick Moisture?
As we mentioned above, cotton doesn’t work well as a next to skin fabric because it absorbs moisture. Water trapped in the fibers can’t be easily wicked out to the surface to evaporate away. The result is a certain swampiness that we’ve all felt before. Damp clothing is less comfortable and can result in losing body heat more quickly once you’ve stopped sweating.
Wool is a natural fiber that wicks moisture. Though wool does absorb a small amount of water, it still efficiently moves water to the surface. The result is a fabric that stays relatively dry even when you’re sweating up a storm. As an added bonus, wool also fights odors!
Synthetic fibers are also treated and spun to maximize their ability to wick moisture. Not only do they move water away from your skin, but since they don’t absorb water, they dry super quickly. You’ll feel perfectly dry all day long.
When to Use a Moisture Wicking Fabric
Moisture wicking fabric is a good idea year round. Because it helps you regulate your body heat, it helps keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
For instance, having a moisture wicking base layer is always a good idea. Personally, I look forward to wearing my merino base layers in the winter. I grew up wearing cotton long johns for thermal underwear, and wool was a total game changer.
You should also choose a moisture wicking base layer any time you plan to break a sweat. Whether you’re hiking, trail running, taking a circus class, or just hanging out at the park on a hot summer day, moisture wicking fabrics will help keep you comfortable and dry.