Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cotton = Death?

Halo Wednesday! Let me sing thy praises Oh Hump Day! Its the middle of the week, I can't get out on the trails even though this is great weather and my thoughts are still firmly on hiking.

So what strikes my fancy to pontificate on today? Well that would be gear.

When I first started hiking, it was with my dad. What did we wear on the trails? Bluejeans of course. A long sleeve shirt and a sweatshirt, as we would start on the trails at 7am or earlier. The shirt was cotton, I am sure the sweatshirt was as well. I had hiking boots and wore white socks although my dad said I should get some wool socks (which I thought was crazy since we hiked in the Summer, who wears wool in the SUMMER?).

I started getting back into hiking a few years ago and when I started researching gear it was "cotton is DEATH". Everything must be synthetic or this mythical wool called "merino" wool. Buy some clothes made out of parachutes (although some people are more concerned about getting out of those clothes)!

There are even hikes with my ADK club that wouldn't allow you to hike with them if you were wearing cotton. God forbid it rained and you got wet, then you could DIE and they wouldn't want that liability, or some such nonsense. Cotton is gonna get you sucka!

So what did I do? I of course bought into it all. I currently have a merino wool shirt, a cotton/poly shirt, nylon pants (that's pants not pantyhose) and a nylon long-sleeve shirt. Where I drew the line was getting a synthetic hat. Cotton baseball hat all the way thank ya.

So am I better off on the trail than I was when I was a youngin? Was I so ill-prepared that I was taking my life into my hands tromping around in my sweatshirt? Its not like I was wearing this on the trail.

Hiking, like everything else, has taking a pleasure and commodified to the hilt. You want to walk in the woods, it will cost ya. You need the right pack, clothes, guides, etc. and all for a price. And all this synthetic stuff costs more. I think that they are selling you a bill of goods that you don't necessarily need. Of course synthetic is probably better at drying faster when wet and you should always have extras when on the trail (I always have extra wool socks and an extra shirt in the pack) but whether that is synth or cotton, I think in most circumstances you are fine with either.

So what do you use on the trail? What is your go to gear? Tell me in the comments!


  1. So Merino Wool is actually a natural fiber and I think the case for it is pretty solid. Great warmth to weight ratio (great for backpackers mostly), wicks water away from your body, can be worn for a couple days before it starts to get stinky (synth fibers get stinky quickly).

    That said we all work on different budgets and while cotton isnt a great choice because it holds on to sweat I doubt it's lethal. On shorter hikes I'll often just wear a light cotton t-shirt.

  2. I really like merino wool, especially for the feel compared to the other synths. That being said, it is mucho expensivo. I have been more inclined to wear cotton on occasion, especially, like you, on short hikes. Thanks for the comment!

  3. So there are cheaper synthetic fibers out there which don't end up being as warm, don't wick quite as well, and get stinky quickly.

    Still a nice wicking t-shirt is preferable over cotton from a performance standpoint in my opinion and often the price points can be close. Especially if you can nab them on sale.

  4. I've been getting some really good deals at TJ Maxx on some stuff labeled "Layer 8". Mostly tops, underwear type stuff.

    I have a favorite fleece hat and always wear Smartwool socks.

  5. Yea, they will pry my SmartWool socks from my cold, dead hands. TJ Maxx is a great suggestion, I will definitely see if they carry any Layer 8!

  6. I do like merino wool. I don't pay much heed to "cotton = death" statements. Seen lots of folks on the trail in blue jeans and t-shirts. @bckcountrybliss has some good points about cheaper synthetics. No need to break the bank.

    Also, for trail-work, I normally wear cotton-polypro blend pants (Dickies) as they are tougher than your run-of-the-mill poly hiking pant. Again, merino wool for pretty much everything else.

  7. A lot of this stuff isn't that expensive, so why not get non-cotton? I picked up four pair of merino wool hiking socks (at Wal-Mart, no less) for about $10--although granted, they were on sale. It might normally have run me, omigosh, $20, or about $5/pair. With four pair of hiking socks, I'm set for years. A nylon moisture wicking t-shirt is available as workout shirts, again, from cheaper places like Wal-Mart, Target, Old Navy, etc. for about the same price as a cotton t-shirt. Same for synthetic fiber fleece jackets--they're not very expensive; not really any more than a cotton sweatshirt.

    Pants, on the other hand, are a different story. A good pair of quick-drying, yet tough hiking pants are hard to find for less than $70-100 bucks. I'd love a pair of Rail-riders, for instance, but I keep balking at the price.


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