Synthetic Fibers

CarothersThere are two different approaches when it comes to shopping for outdoor clothing. The first method is choosing based on aesthetics. This is a bad method. Sure that jacket might look nice, but don’t know how well it will work for your hobbies. You’re better off taking the second approach, which is checking the labels to see what material that jacket is made of.

Sometimes checking a label can be like reading a different language. The natural fibers are easy. We all know about cotton and wool, but when it comes to synthetic fibers, you might as well bring a chemistry book with you to the gear store. Here’s a little rundown on the advantages of synthetic fibers and some of the synthetic materials used in outdoor gear.

Synthetic fibers and natural fibers are both common in outdoor gear, but recently the more technical gear has leaned towards synthetic textiles. Synthetic materials have quite a few advantages over natural fibers which make them ideal for outdoor gear.

When it comes to wicking and drying, it’s hard to beat synthetic fibers.When you’re out hiking, you sweat, and those synthetic textiles pull the moisture away from your body. Not only are synthetic clothes better at wicking moisture, they dry much faster than natural fibers. If you’re wearing clothes made from synthetic fibers, you can jump in a river, jump out and be bone dry in a matter of minutes. Natural fibers can’t necessarily make that claim.

Synthetic materials are also easy to manipulate to increase their resistance to water and wind. Some synthetic materials are already resistant to the elements before any added treatments or modifications.

Now a little a look at some common synthetic materials.

Polyesters are, quite literally, polymers that have ester compounds in their main chain. While polyesters actually occur naturally, the textile that we refer to as polyester is synthetically produced. A common type of polyester used to make your shirts, jackets, and whatever else, is known as Polyethylene terephthalate. This is about the point at which you wish you brought your science book, but this stuff is also known as PET. The nice thing about PET is it is easy to work with and manipulate, which makes the material versatile. You can have two shirts made of the same material that feel and perform differently from each other. PET was first patented in 1941 John Rex Whinfield in England, and has been used globally ever since.

Nylon was first produced in 1935 by American chemist Wallace Carothers. Nylon is another common material used in outdoor gear. The water resistance and durability of nylon makes it the perfect textile for rain jackets. Hard shell jackets, tents and backpacks often use nylon ripstop. Nylon is already a durable material, but ripstop nylon is bombproof.

Ripstop is a process in which materials are woven to form a grid-like pattern. This adds extra durability to the textile and literally stops rips. The woven squares act to form little barriers that prevent a small puncture or tear in the material from spreading and rendering your garment or gear useless.

Stewardship is big in the outdoor community. After all, people want to protect and preserve the areas where they go out and play. Many outdoor companies have started using recycled materials in their gear. Many companies use recycled plastic in their synthetic garments which is a more sustainable alternative to constantly manufacturing products with entirely new textiles.

Of course, you want your gear to look good, but it never hurts to know what you’re getting. Knowing what your gear is made of can help make sure that you get the right equipment for the job. Remember, if you’re looking for a good technical layer, synthetic is the way to go!

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