The second part of this blog series was on the fit of a garment and the design features to look out for. Here’s what we talked about; a well-fitting garment protects the wearer from the climate while allowing the wearer an unlimited range of motion. We also suggested some movements that you can do while trying on the new top or bottom. Diamond crotches and high crotches help to increase the range of motion.
In this last part of the series, I will be talking about fabrics of the different layers. The Collins English Dictionary defines fabric as “Fabric is cloth or other material produced by weaving together cotton, nylon, wool, silk, or other threads. Fabrics are used for making things such as clothes, curtains, and sheets.” Fabric has been around since mankind started to clothe themselves for modesty and protection from the elements. It is constantly evolving and new fabrics are constantly being developed. My personal take on fabrics is that there are 2 classes of fabrics, traditional fabrics and technical fabrics. When it comes to tailoring, we are talking about traditional fabrics. Traditional fabrics tend to use more natural fibers and there is a stronger emphasis on heritage and weaving processes of the mill. Technical fabrics have a different emphasis. Technical fabrics are all about performance. Think sportswear, outdoor wear and military uniforms. For technical fabrics, we are often trying to achieve lighter, stronger and more comfortable fabrics. We also inject properties such as odour control, flame resistance, elasticity and anti-static properties into technical fabrics. These are achieved using synthetic fibers. Technical fabrics will perform well for most of our adventure clothing.
Fabrics for base layers can be both natural and synthetic. Natural fabrics such as Merino wool and silk performs well for baselayers while polyester blends work well for base layers as well. These fabrics will perform well all season. Let’s take a minute to talk about Merino wool. Wool in general gives that itchy feeling and it is due to the large diameter of the wool fiber. Merino wool however, is much finer at 23 microns or lower. Fine merino wool comes in at 18 microns while as a comparision, human hair is 40 microns in diameter. The fine diameter gives Merino wool base layers that comfortable touch and feel. Because the chemical structure of merino wool, it also has the thermoregulation ability. Merino wool base layers moves sweat away from the skin to prevent overheating and traps pockets of air to keep the wearer warm when even when it is wet. The downside to Merino wool base layers is the price. The finer the wool, the more comfortable and expensive the base layer is. Polyester and polyester blends function well as base layers as they transfer moisture away from the skin very well. This is an important aspect of a base layer. Polyester base layers are well priced but the downside is the odour resistance as well as maintaining warmth when wet. In hot climates, cotton is a decent base layer fabric. It has good breathability and feel. Price wise, cotton base layers are hard to beat. The moisture wicking properties and the drying times leave a lot to be desired however, especially for cold climates. In cold climates and under high intensity activities such as mountain climbing or hiking, the body produces perspiration and this perspiration is absorbed by the cotton fibers. Due to the external climate being colder than the body, the soaked cotton draws heat from the body to evaporate or dry out the moisture, i.e. perspiration. Hence, the term ‘cotton kills’ as in cold climates where the wearer is trying to stay warm, cotton does the opposite; it draws heat away from the body. In contrast, cotton will work for hot climates as when cotton is soaked after physical exertion, due the hot climate, the cotton will draw heat from the body and the environment to dry out the moisture. This will help to lower the body temperature and have that cooling effect.
Fabrics for mid layer can be made with either natural or synthetic materials. Natural materials will include fabrics such as Merino wool and goose/duck down while synthetic materials include polyester fleece as well as synthetic fill. The function of mid layers is to provide insulation. The secondary function of the mid layer is to move the moisture from the baselayer to the mid layer or outer most layer for evaporation. All the materials make use of having pockets of air to provide insulation. For natural materials, goose fill down jackets provide the best weight to warmth ratio but the downside is the prohibitive cost. Merino wool provides good warmth when wet, but it doesn’t have good warmth to weight ratio and price. Polyester fleece and synthetic fill down jackets provide excellent performance in terms of warmth to weight ratio and cost. There is hardly any downside to using synthetic materials for mid layers. For goose/duck fill down jackets, the measure of the amount of warmth the mid layer will provide is known as ‘fill power’. The higher the ‘fill power’, the warmer and lighter the mid layer will be. This also translates into higher price. Synthetic fill jackets make use of polyester threading to mimic the goose/duck plumage used in down jackets. For the casual adventurer, synthetic mid layers will perform well and cost less while mid layers made with natural materials will last longer generally but cost more.
Outer layers are almost exclusively made with synthetic materials. Advances in outer layer fabrics are tremendous in the past years. Outer layers serve the primary function of protecting the wearer from the rain, wind or snow. In the past days, these are also known as hard shells, as the outer layers are made with laminated fabrics. Laminated fabrics are fabrics with membranes and inner linings. The result of laminating fabrics is the fabric being stiff, which is also why these are called hard shells. Hard shells are a compromise between breathability and water resistance. Improvements in the membranes and linings have allowed hard shells to be thinner and have improved breathability while maintaining water resistance. Soft shells emerged to provide protection to the wearer from light rain, wind or snow and insulation that a mid layer normally provides. Soft shells generally make use of polyester fleece with various treatments to achieve insulation and protection from the elements. Some soft shells design also use stretchable fabrics to allow the wearer a wider range of movement. There is another type of outer layer which is the insulated shell, or basically a combination of the hard shell and soft shell/mid layer. These provide insulation via soft shell/mid layer type fabrics and protection via the hard shell fabrics. The selection of outer layer is very dependent on the anticipated usage and the climate. If the anticipated climate is mild rain, wind or snow, a soft shell may suffice. If the anticipated climate is heavy rain or snow, a hard shell or insulated hard shell is needed. Depending on the anticipated usage, the wearer might use a hard shell for high intensity activities to allow the wearer to remove the hard shell and maintain the soft shell when the weather permits. Having an insulated hard shell can be cumbersome and ill-suited for high intensity activities.
Having gone through the layering system, the fit of clothing and the fabrics possibilities, I hope this helps the adventurer in you in your selection of clothing for your next adventure. From my personal experience, abeit painful sometimes, we often get what we pay for. Good quality clothing generally comes at a price though there are exceptions. Keep in mind the function of the various layers, balance the quality and price and you are good to go!
Ethan Foo Chwan Chieh, Manager