Natural and synthetic fibres

Textiles such as wool and wool blends possess a high absorbing capacity and can handle smaller amounts of moisture without losing their insulation properties. Wool can be used as a next-to-skin fabric and may keep the skin relatively dry. When the fabric becomes saturated, however, moisture control is reduced. Cotton is absorbing as well, but clings to skin when wet and should not be close to skin in cold environments. Many synthetic textiles are hydrophobic and the moist air moves from skin through the fabric to the next layer. The skin microclimate quickly becomes humid during sweating. This humidity is uncomfortable and causes the wearer to take action for appropriate adjustments. This is also the main effect and purpose of using vapour barrier fabrics next to skin.

Moisture absorbed in garments, in addition to causing discomfort at some stage, adds to the weight carried by the person. In addition it gradually reduces thermal insulation of that particular layer. When activity drops and sweating ceases, the drying of wet clothing layers may deprive the body of more heat than is generated by metabolic rate. The result is a post-chilling effect that may endanger heat balance and result in hypothermia. As long as one can stay dry, the choice of material (natural or synthetic) for the various layers is a matter of taste or other preferences and requirements. With sweating and, in particular, with longer outdoor excursions, the advantage of lightweight, strong and hydrophobic materials as parts of the clothing ensemble should be recognised.

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