Fabric never seems like an essential subject to discuss until you’re already abroad, scrubbing your clothes in a shallow sink. It is at this moment you’re probably cursing and kicking yourself for bringing that highly impracticable but stylish cashmere/wool sweater. As you lay out all your items to air dry, you pray that they’ll dry quickly or you’ll have to stuff damp items into your backpack that will eventual develop that icky moldy smell.
You don’t have to sacrifice style for comfort. Clockwise from top left:
Arc’teryx Alpha LT Jacket GOR-TEX, Icebreaker Pizzario & Villa Travel Dresses, Patagonia Men’s Capile 4 Expedition Weight One Piece, Low Cristallo X Pro GORE-TEX Boots, Womaen’s Chica Cool Long-Sleeve Hoody, Icebreaker Villa Pants
To avoid the drama, travelers need to know what type of clothes to pack that relate directly to the type of activities and environment they will be visiting. So let’s break down the best fabrics for travel:
WOOL – the best type of wool out there is merino wool. This miraculous material pulls sweat away from the body while also protecting the body from the cold weather. Better still, merino is an anti-odour fabric, meaning that it doesn’t retain odor, allowing travelers to wear their travel wear over and over again without stinking!
Merino wool is good option for travelers looking for base layers; clothes fashioned from this fabric can be worn sans smell 5 – 10 times without being washed (even the socks!)
Although merino wool clothing is usually associated with active vacations (hiking, skiing etc), many outdoor companies (like Icebreaker) have introduced casual lines that can include sweatpants, t-shirts and even underwear.
PRO: Anti-odor, wicks away moisture, traps in warmth (perfect for cooler / colder environments)
CON: Doesn’t dry as quickly as other materials
COTTON – this fabric is most known as being soft, durable and breathable but unlike nylon or polyester, cotton isn’t know to wick away moisture or dry quickly. Cotton is also known to wrinkle so it’s best to look for cotton / polyester blends if you just can’t part with this fabric favourite.
PRO: Soft, breathable and durable
CON: Wrinkles easily, doesn’t dry or remove sweat/moisture as well as polyester/nylon
NYLON & POLYESTER – many of the new fabrics out there feature one of these synthetics, simply because they are some of the best in regards to breathability, moisture-control and quick drying.
For example, ExOfficio’s quick drying underwear is a blend of 94 percent nylon and 6 percent spandex. These undies are said to be comfortable, breathable and durable; they can be washed just about anywhere and dry in a couple of hours. Some other name brands, such as Supplex® nylon, CoolMax® polyester or Capilene® polyester.
Capilene® polyester is a fabric used by the company Patagonia. Capilene® is basically polyester with a hydrophilic surface finish with the extra addition of an antimicrobial (anti-odour) element. These pieces are perfect for high-sweat activities and wet conditions; the products are popular with active athletes.
COOLMAX® fabric is the performance fabric that includes an effective fiber-based moisture management system. The system can move perspiration away from the body, and through the fabric, where it can evaporate quickly, allowing the wearer to feel cooler and more comfortable.
These different blends of nylon and polyester are perfect for the traveler that will be entering into cold and wet environment’s – quick drying means less dryer use, saving time and money!
PROS: breathable, lightweight, quick drying, absorb moisture
CONS: not as comfortable cotton
GORE-TEX® – although it is relatively new on the market, GORE-TEX® has quickly become known as the best fabric for colder climates. GORE-TEX® products are “truly waterproof” (they won’t leak – ever), windproof and highly breathable. The products themselves are quite pricey, but only because the process of making the fabric seems quite high tech. GORE-TEX® is known as one of the best products on the market; the price may be high but the ultimate pay off is worth it (especially if you plan on hiking and/or skiing on your trip).
PROS: windproof, waterproof and highly breathable
CONS: pricey $$$
Thinsulate: although I prefer the naturalness of merino wool, thinsulate is known for the slogan “warmth without bulk.” The unique microfibers or fine fibers that make up Thinsulate insulation work by trapping air molecules between you and the outside. The more air a material traps in a given space‚ the better it insulates you from the cold outside air.
PROS: breathable, moisture-resistant, machine washable, warmth
Silk /Linen – I would completely avoid bringing silk and/or linen on your trip for one simple reason: wrinkles. These fabrics are extremely lightweight and breathable but they wrinkles on easily that these fabrics will cause more frustration than needed on your trip.
TENCEL® – is a branded lyocell fiber that comes from the pulp of eucalyptus trees (eco-friendly). The trees are grown on sustainably run farms certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). TENCEL can be used in place of other regenerated cellulose fibers such as viscose rayon. The benefits of using TENCEL include the traceable and sustainable origin of the wood pulp, and the use of non-toxic chemicals and solvents in the fiber processing. In addition, TENCEL is a high-tenacity cellulosic fiber, which gives high strength properties to the fabric.
Some fabrics are also known to have UPF and Insect Protection. UPF is an Ultraviolet Protection Factor rating against both UVA and UVB rays. A garment with a UPF of 50 blocks 98% of UV rays. Sun-protection garments are rated from 15 (good) to 50+ (excellent), and this protection never washes off or sweats away.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the new fabrics that keep popping up on the market. If you’re looking for some heavy duty items that will not only look stylish but be comfortable than visit your nearest outdoor/adventure store and look around or ask a store attendent. If you don’t feel like heading out than just Google some popular brands to read and compare products. The more you know, the more prepared you will be to make an informed decision. And don’t worry, I didn’t forget about denim, to find out what I think, click here.
Lastly don’t be too stingy! If you get a good and versatile product than it will pay for itself; trust me.