Some outdoor enthusiasts are still unaware of the advantages and affordability of modern fabrics, especially as utilized in today’s undergarments. Whether I’m hunting, fishing, late season camping, snow-shoeing, skiing, or even (yikes!) working, I still see people using the old cotton long johns, tops, and union suits. These actually are fine for activities that are not strenuous, or that don’t subject you to rain or other means of getting damp or wet. Cotton is all I had, too, until I was introduced to polypropylene on an American Lung Association BWCAW winter camping trip in 1986.
The difference, of course, is moisture. Cotton is wonderfully warm and comfy when dry. But it soaks up water like a sponge and takes forever to dry. Just your perspiration is enough to make you damp and miserable as soon as your activity level drops. The synthetics, on the other hand, work by moving that moisture away from your skin by a process called “wicking.” Made from spun plastic or other unnatural fibers, they repel water, pushing it to your outer garments, which should be breathable synthetic or wool, where it is expelled into the air. To work properly, it should fit in close contact with your skin all around.
Polypropylene was one of the first of many popular fabrics to become widely available. There is also Thermax, Kodel, Capilene, Polartec, Comfortrel, Coolmax, and many others. Silk undergarments also work well. They are all, for the most part, quite light and packable. I rarely go camping without a top and bottom tucked in my pack for that cold, rainy day. And now is the time to buy. Being the big spender that I am, I can count on one hand the items of outdoor clothing in my closet that I didn’t buy at end-of-the-season close outs.