Being in the great outdoors is a liberating feeling that is hard to match, especially during these pandemic days when the concept of working from home is no longer considered the exception but the rule. Breathing in the fresh air and taking in the sights and sounds of nature while you’re out taking the roads less traveled, does wonders to the body and soul, and it doesn’t even matter how young or old you are to be able to enjoy exploring mother nature.
However, natural elements can change at any minute and when you’re out in the natural world, you’ll always face the risk of running into unexpected situations that may jeopardize your health and safety. Thus, good clothing is essential in keeping your body safe, warm and protected from whatever nature has in store for you when you’re outdoors.
The different kinds of outdoor clothing
The age-old question when it comes to choosing outdoor clothing is usually “what material should I choose?”. There are countless options available in all variations of color, style and specification, and you can find outdoor clothing in anywhere from a supermarket to a dedicated outdoor goods retailer. And with the recent popularity in sports and activewear being used as regular, or even fashionable daily clothing, brands have jumped on the trend quickly.
Normally, the three types of outdoor clothing will come in 3 materials – Cotton, Wool and Synthetics. Cotton, from the cotton plant, is the most common fabric used in clothing, owing to its light and comfortable texture. However, it does little to keep your body warm or cool. Wool, on the other hand is known to provide warmth and is breathable and since it comes from natural sources (sheep), it is biodegradable. Synthetic clothing uses fabrics that do not exist naturally and is completely man-made.
What is synthetic clothing?
Synthetics are usually a blend of man made materials such as polyester, spandex or nylon – any combination of the three. Since synthetics are engineered in labs by leading scientists, they can be designed to specifically do things like wick moisture away from the skin, and provide warmth to preserve your body temperature even in heavy weather conditions.
Where can synthetic clothing be found?
Synthetic clothing can be found almost anywhere now – with one of the most popular fabrics being a 50/50 cotton polyester blend, used in anywhere from fast fashion to more specialized clothing such as shirts and trousers designed for outdoor wear.
Spandex is also one of the more popular materials used in combination with other natural or synthetic fabrics to create sports apparel and activewear. The fabric expands up to a whopping 600% of its original size and can spring back to its original form without any loss in shape or integrity. However, over time, the fibers can get exhausted and start to lose shape, but this normally happens only after hundreds of wash and wear cycles.
When it comes to wool alternatives, Acrylic fiber is one of the closest synthetic fabrics that resemble the characteristics of the sheep-sheared natural material. It is used widely in sweaters, socks, and even in rugs. Sometimes, acrylic is used as a cashmere alternative as well, with certain acrylic clothing being considered equally as good or even better than the luxurious and expensive natural cashmere material.
Synthetic clothing in the outdoors
Clothing and gear that is designed to be worn and used when outdoors is meant to be rugged, tough, and durable yet breathable, lightweight, and comfortable. Water-resistance is one of the key features in most outdoor clothing, as exploring nature means tackling difficult terrain, rain or shine, and in any weather condition.
Synthetic fabrics like Polyester and Nylon no doubt offer great water resistance, because of their chemical makeup that is similar to that of plastic. Water droplets do not absorb into the fibers – rather, they sit on the polyester or nylon surface and move by running along the fabric weaves until they eventually evaporate. In most cases, these fabrics cost less to produce than natural fibers because they are man-made and can be produced in large batches without the need to harvest natural materials.
Downsides of synthetic outdoor clothing
However, with all the pluses of synthetic fabrics, there are numerous downsides to them as well. Here are some cons to think about when choosing synthetic fabrics over natural fabrics for your outdoor clothing.
Check the label on your piece of outdoor clothing properly before you make your purchase. If it is a synthetic and cotton blend, note that its effectiveness will be subpar compared to 100% wool or 100% synthetic fiber-made clothing. Wool is much more expensive than pure synthetics, but this brings us to our next point.
2. Odor retention
If the price is a factor for you, then synthetic options would be what you’re looking for. However, synthetic fabrics are known to retain body odor more than wool or cotton does, and this might be an issue for those doing heavy activities outdoors that tend to have them sweat for long periods of time without regular laundry time in between.
3. Heat stress
Another downside to synthetic fabrics is a kind of heat stress that occurs when the skin comes into contact with synthetic, non-breathable materials – kind of like being cocooned in a plastic bag. This causes pressure on the body in heat regulation and in some extreme cases, an increase in heart rate which can be fairly dangerous.
Synthetic fabrics are essentially plastics – and they take a very long time to degenerate owing to their non-biodegradable qualities. In landfills, synthetic fabrics may leak certain chemicals used during their manufacture into their environment causing harm and pollution.
Plastic does not dissolve – it just gets smaller and smaller, everyone knows it as microplastic. The bad thing about microplastics is that it can now be found in every habitat on earth, even in the most remote areas from the deepest ocean to the driest deserts and the highest mountains. Microplastic is also found in the food chain and it is detectable in almost every living being.
5. Melting point and poisonous gases
If your outdoor activities involve campfires or any heat sources of any kind, it’s worth remembering that synthetic fabrics melt easily on intense heating and release poisonous gases when they melt, making them twice as dangerous in these situations.