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Why You Should Never Use Cotton When Hiking | Globewalker

Posted by John Feeney on

When you're in the outdoors and really racking up the kilometres during fairly hot or cold conditions, a build up of moisture can create all sort of problems; particularly if you are wearing cotton.

Hypothermia, blisters, lack of dry clothes are just some of the problems you will run into if you are wearing cotton on the trail.

This is why materials such as merino, polyamide, polyester, synthetics and elastane, are often considered better alternatives to cotton.

But why are cotton based clothes such a no-no when hiking and camping?

There are four reasons as to why:

Inefficient temperature regulating

The best clothing suited for the outdoors are the clothes that are able to keep you cool when it's hot and warm when it's hot. Despite the fact that your clothes are going to get soaked with sweat to some extent, your body heat is transmitted rapidly to them and therefore you will lose heat quickly. Cotton clothing can be a problem especially during your rest periods on a hike in cold conditions as your excess sweat will linger and result in loss of body heat.

Drying time is longer

Given that cotton absorbs and retains excessive amounts of moisture, this means that it will also dry very slowly making it a nightmare for any hiker on a multi day hike. We're almost certainly preaching to the converted here, but hiking requires clothing that will dry fast which will reduce conductive heat lost thus keeping your body temperature at ideal levels.

Image: Ben Hackett (@adventure_never_stops)

Absorbs too much moisture

Speaking of moisture absorption, do you know that cotton can absorb as much as 2700% of its own weight in moisture? Materials such as merino woolpolyamide, polyester, synthetics and elastane will absorb much less. For example, merino wool will absorb up to 33% while polyester is only up to 0.4%. Because of this absorption of excess moisture with cotton clothing, it also loses its ability to retain warmth. Not ideal during wet conditions or when it gets cold at night!

Finally...it's heavy!

With excess moisture comes heavy weight! Cotton is typically heavier than most synthetic materials because it absorbs more moisture than most thus it gets even heavier when soaked with sweat or water.

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