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Polyester: Breathability vs. Wicking?

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
I have some questions about polyester.

I'm a larger guy that tends to overheat pretty quickly and with summer here I want to stay cool. What I'm looking for are some lightweight, breathable short sleeve button downs to wear casually on the weekend. I'm having a tough time finding linen that doesn't hang like a potato sack or even finding linen-cotton blends locally in San Diego.

So I decide to check out my local REI, figuring that people who hike/camp know a thing or two about staying cool. Imagine my surprise that most of what I found were poly, rayon, or some poly blend.

I've always understood that for (among other reasons) polyester was to be eschewed in favor of natural fibers in terms of breathability. However, it seems that polyester and blends are used for wicking away sweat. But if polyester is so unbreathable is the trade-off for wicking worth it? Should I be looking at polyester undershirts that wick rather than cotton undershirts? Or does polyester really do breathe well and wick at the same time? Although, if my few poly button down casual shirts are any indication, they don't breath well at all!

Inquiring minds want to know!

Oh, and as a side note, I did see a shirt at REI.com that was made of soy fabric! How breathable is that?
post #2 of 17
I'm not sure about breathability, but poleyster and other synthetics are used in hiking because of both their superior wicking and their ability to dry quickly. Cotton takes forever to dry. It may breathe better, but if you're going to sweat you're better off with the wicking/drying action of a synthetic fabric. I think the weave of synthetics used for hiking is specially designed to make it breathe better also. You may also be able find shirts that meet your needs made from Merino wool, I know I've seen hiking t-shirts made from them, I'd guess there are button shirts as well.
post #3 of 17
Those trekking, hiking and sport garments use special polyester cloths designed to bring sweat from the inner surface to the outer surface, thus leaving the skin dry. BUT THEY SMELL! I never use them except when hiking, and even then I often bring a cotton T-shirt along to which I change at the end of the day, once I have stopped sweating. Actually, if it is hot, I often prefer the cotton T-shirt over the polyester ones, as I prefer to be wet than to smell. But when it is cold, it is nice to stay dry.
Of course, I would never use polyester or polyester blend dress shirts and, even less, polyester undershirts!
post #4 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by epa View Post
Those trekking, hiking and sport garments use special polyester cloths designed to bring sweat from the inner surface to the outer surface, thus leaving the skin dry. BUT THEY SMELL!

Higher quality technical fabrics used by serious athletes got rid of the smell problem a long time ago (although cheaper stuff literally stinks). Think when was the last time you saw a tennis player wear a cotton shirt in competition. The gold standard these days for synthetic sports clothing is Underarmour. Underarmour cools you off better than not wearing anything at all - it wicks the sweat off of you faster than it evaporates. Breathability is not sacrificed. They supply NFL teams, the military, and the vast majority of my jiu-jitsu sparring partners (it is extremely unpleasant to spar with someone who smells!). The only issue with the "classical" Underarmour is that it requires a skin-tight fit for proper wicking. Not an issue with most atheletes.

But if the skin-tight look doesn't flatter your physique, they also make an excellent line of performance clothing, e.g., short sleeved shirts, for casual sports like fishing. I use their loose fit fishing gear for warm weather sailing, and it's incredibly comfortable, provides UV protection, and doesn't make me smell.

Sorry if I'm sounding like an Underarmour salesman, but once you've worn an Underarmour garments, wearing cotton just seems medieval.

Fishing: http://www.igfa.org/store/UnderArmour.asp
Military: http://www.goldmanbros.com/under-arm...y-tactical.php
Tennis: http://www.prodirecttennis.com/prodi...s&BRAND=40&SS=
Golf: http://www.gearforsports.com/ua_golf.php
post #5 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by xkmasada View Post
Higher quality technical fabrics used by serious athletes got rid of the smell problem a long time ago (although cheaper stuff literally stinks). Think when was the last time you saw a tennis player wear a cotton shirt in competition. The gold standard these days for synthetic sports clothing is Underarmour. Underarmour cools you off better than not wearing anything at all - it wicks the sweat off of you faster than it evaporates. Breathability is not sacrificed. They supply NFL teams, the military, and the vast majority of my jiu-jitsu sparring partners (it is extremely unpleasant to spar with someone who smells!). The only issue with the "classical" Underarmour is that it requires a skin-tight fit for proper wicking. Not an issue with most atheletes.

But if the skin-tight look doesn't flatter your physique, they also make an excellent line of performance clothing, e.g., short sleeved shirts, for casual sports like fishing. I use their loose fit fishing gear for warm weather sailing, and it's incredibly comfortable, provides UV protection, and doesn't make me smell.

Sorry if I'm sounding like an Underarmour salesman, but once you've worn an Underarmour garments, wearing cotton just seems medieval.

True, I have some better quality polyester hiking stuff that does not smell as much as the cheaper stuff. However, even so, I prefer the touch of nice cotton, as long as it is not cold. So I still use old cotton teeshirts when going to the gym. Medieval? Probably, but I have no problem with that.

If I were a professional tennis player I would of course choose that stuff that would be best suited to help me win, but I am not. Also, if some brand would pay me millions for wearing their polyester stuff I would of course do so, but so far I have not received any interesting offer.
post #6 of 17
As an avid ex-outdoor person, I've worn them all, cotton, poly blends, as well as wool. For beating heat, cotton is the best, hands down. However, most outdoor clothing for performance are based on poly blends, as athletes typically have to combat the other side of the equation, hypothermia. No point staying cool climbing that hill when you suddenly get the chills when you stop. Plus, when cotton is saturated, it is really uncomfortable to wear (wet jeans, anybody? cringe), leading to blisters etc when you have to remain active. I've yet to wear wool for summer purposes, more specifically in hot and humid conditions, however in cooler conditions my smartwool short sleeve zip tops are certainly a lot more versatile than poly and cotton tops, they server better over a wider range of temperature, don't smell unlike poly-blends (although the newer blends do work better e.g. I have some salomon long sleeve tops with "silver" threads embedded in high sweat zones, that don't smell, unlike my Nike ones). There definitely seems to be a wool fad in the works, especially with Smartwool, Icebreaker and Ibex really going strong. I'm waiting for some sales on the Icebreaker and Ibex (apparently Ibex's 17.5 polo tops are very nice) to buy some for the hot and humid conditions I mentioned earlier. Speaking of hot and humid (Singapore), I wear mainly cotton for casual/business purposes, mixed in with a couple of linen/cotton blends. I only wear my poly blends when exercising.
post #7 of 17
Basically, the recommendation against polyester doesn't apply to the newer tech-synthetic stuff. If you want to stay cool, wear Under Armour Heatgear under your regular clothing. Check the Amazon store under Clothing deals for a v-neck that I would recommend for an undershirt. Some people have mentioned smelliness with Under Armour gear, but I've never had that problem. It seems to hold smells much less than cotton, though it does have its own strange but not unpleasant smell that remains through multiple washings. Mine all smells like new Under Armour or at worst, like my deodorant.

The polyester to avoid is that kind that was meant to replace wool in the 70s, and is still found blended in cheaper dress shirts and suits. That stuff is awful.
post #8 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by jett View Post
You may also be able find shirts that meet your needs made from Merino wool, I know I've seen hiking t-shirts made from them, I'd guess there are button shirts as well.

Both SmartWool and Ibex make decent versions of merino wool hiking shirts. I'm wearing an Ibex here:

http://www.styleforum.net/showthread.php?t=24916
post #9 of 17
In my experience as a cyclist those polyester fabrics dry fast because of the weaving not because of the material.

If you had cotton or wool waved in the same way it'd be much better that the polyester one IMO but would be more expensive to produce. The mass producers of technical clothing (Adidas, Nike etc ) prefer synthetic fibers for costs reasons only.

I have some shirts made with Nano-Tex fabric that are 100% cotton but have special weavings to keep you cool and dry.

here is a link to their web site

http://www.nano-tex.com/applications/apparel_P3.html

And to confirm that I have one polyester shirt in a normal waving ( not a technical one), and you can't wear it without sweating profusely and staying wet, and smelling.

So, in conclusion, It is not the material that make those technical garments to dry fast, it is the weaving and design.
post #10 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by j View Post
Basically, the recommendation against polyester doesn't apply to the newer tech-synthetic stuff.
I don't think this applies to every person. I've worn all the ones mentioned in this thread and they all end up smelling after a period of time. I wish that weren't the case, but anyone running on the treadmill beside me can corroborate.
post #11 of 17
soy = rayon
Quote:
Originally Posted by dah328 View Post
I don't think this applies to every person. I've worn all the ones mentioned in this thread and they all end up smelling after a period of time. I wish that weren't the case, but anyone running on the treadmill beside me can corroborate.
Even the ones with silver? Dude, it's magic!
Quote:
Originally Posted by lakewolf View Post
So, in conclusion, It is not the material that make those technical garments to dry fast, it is the weaving and design.
This is an extraordinary claim. Everything I've read says that wicking polyester yarns are specially extruded such that the inside of the cloth is hydrophilic and the outside is hydrophobic. Cotton is all hydrophilic no matter how you weave it, so it can't dry quickly.
post #12 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by jett View Post

You may also be able find shirts that meet your needs made from Merino wool, I know I've seen hiking t-shirts made from them, I'd guess there are button shirts as well.



yes. wool fibres are exceptionally good at wicking moisture, and in a light weave they also "breath" very well. i wear light wool sweaters in the summer, and used to wear wool shorts and shirts when cycling many, many years ago.


added bonus: wool doesn't stink, unlike many synthetic fabrics.

you can also look around a little more for linen shirts in a slimmer cut. many venders carry them now. check out jcrew, for example.
post #13 of 17

Mr. Perdition, 

If you don't mind a discount store product, you'll find "Basic Editions" at Kmart, a brand of shirts for $9.98 regular size to $11.98 for big and tall that are 55% cotton and 45% polyester that will wick and keep you cool for sale now 07/01/2012.  Be sure you use a good strong deodorant though because wicking not only pulls the perspiration away from your body but also the odor. 

post #14 of 17

go to KOHLS......

post #15 of 17

Champion C9 - great stuff. At Target.

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