You need to layer when you go out into the cold. It’s something most people intuitively know, but most people go about it the wrong way. They choose cotton, and other materials, that absorb moisture and hold it in. This is problematic because the cold air will quickly cool the trapped sweat and hold it against your skin – dramatically dropping body temperature and making you cold. Not good. Here’s how to layer and stay warm and dry at the same time.
Sites like SportPursuit, and retail outlets like Dicks, will carry a wide range of synthetic materials. Usually, this is going to be the cheapest option out there for you. A base layer of polypropylene may only cost $30 to $40, but it will absorb moisture, wick it away, and dries faster than just about any other material on the market.
The downside to this material is that it’s not so good at regulating body temperature. So, while it does wick away sweat, it can also be a cause of excessive sweating. As for odor, it’s no contest. This one is the biggest loser out there. Synthetics wick moisture, but they hold in odors and will need to be washed frequently.
Stretch on these fabrics is above average and they tend to retain their shape, even after repeated stress. Price is the main reason people buy this fabric. It’s cheap and it’s also pretty durable.
Wool is the most expensive material for moisture-wicking, but it has two advantages. First, it’s very durable. This material should last you many, many years. Odor resistance is excellent. Wool is naturally antibacterial, and will usually remain that way for the life of the garment.
Because of this, it can be worn on consecutive days without a lot of noticeable odor buildup. Stretch for this fabric is excellent too. It can retain its shape after repeated beatings on the sloped, or hiking.
But, the main reason people buy wool is because of its superior moisture-wicking properties. It can absorb 36 percent of its weight and then gradually release it through evaporation. It’s a bit slower to dry than synthetics, but it often feels dry on the skin. The main disadvantage is that it’s expensive.
Silk is an unlikely candidate because it transports moisture away from the skin much slower than synthetics. However, is excellent at regulating body temperature so you should feel cooler for longer periods of time. Its odor-trapping capability is decent, so you’ll probably want to wash it after each use. It also has moderate stretch and can usually retain its shape over time.
It’s fairly expensive, depending on where you buy it, but the main advantage to this material is its excellent body heat control, feel on the skin, and its insulating properties in the winter.
All in all, it’s hard to go wrong with any one of these materials, but obviously there’s a time and place for each one. Silk would best be used by those engaging in moderate cool-weather activities. Synthetics are good for all-year but best in rainy conditions. Wool is probably best for cooler weather that’s not too wet.
Linda Darby is passionate about winter sports. She enjoys blogging about equipment and techniques to stay safe and enjoy cold weather sports.