The Dos and Dont’s of Wearing Cotton While Hiking

Wearing cotton while hiking may be the ultimate outdoor taboo. Wearing cotton on the trail gets you stares, jeers, and pitying looks. While the saying, “cotton kills” sometimes rings true for outdoor enthusiasts, cotton isn’t always the bad guy it’s made out to be. Why does cotton get a bad rap, and when can you wear cotton while hiking?

Why cotton is bad for hiking and outdoor pursuits

Cotton fabrics are often heavy and cumbersome; this is especially true of blue jeans and khakis. It’s not just the weight that makes cotton a poor choice for outdoor recreation, however. Simply put, cotton isn’t a technical fabric.

It’s cotton’s moisture management where the fiber really comes up short. Clothes made from cotton do not wick away moisture, they absorb moisture, they take a long time to dry, and they lose all insulating properties when wet.

What’s more is that wet cotton actually pulls heat away from your body. This increasing the risk for hypothermia, making cotton a dangerous textile in cold, or even just cool, conditions.

Here’s when you should and should not wear cotton while hiking.

Don’t wear cotton on your feet

Cotton socks are the top pick for middle school gym classes, but they don’t cut it on the trail. They lack comfort and cushioning, they don’t wick moisture, and they do a terrible job at temperature regulation. Instead, opt for a pair of merino wool or synthetic hiking socks.

Never wear cotton while hiking in cold weather

Pick any body part, and don’t wear a cotton garment there. There’s really no circumstance where you should wear cotton while hiking in cold weather.

You can wear cotton in hot weather!

Cotton t-shirts are fine for hot conditions – this is really the only acceptable scenario to wear cotton while hiking. Since cotton hangs on to moisture and pulls heat away from your body, cotton actually helps you feel cooler in hot weather.

Still, you may not like the feeling of a soggy shirt clinging to your torso. Even in this situation you need to have dry clothes if the temperature drops over night. Also denim and other cotton pants or shorts are still a poor choice for hiking.

Invest in technical hiking apparel

While cotton isn’t always a bad choice for hiking, it’s seldom a good one. You’re better off investing in a good pair of technical hiking pants or hiking shorts and a synthetic hiking shirt. Stop by Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters for hiking clothes and hiking apparel in Northwest Arkansas!

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