Synthetics vs natural material fabrics - Sunwaysite

Clothing not only outdoors

1st December 2017

and following entries /updates

updated in Polyamide (Nylon) 15 January 2020

Especially suitable for activities in warmer and hot environments where you always sweat and face high humidity from the outside. Together with the polyester (and technical blends), it is in these conditions indispensable for creating lightweight, easily washable, fast-wicking garments (mid-layer worn as mid or base layer) with a natural tendency to dry out and stay dry. Washed in time without delay (that is, utilising its advantage) it can be a great companion to natural materials that you can need (underwear) as soon as the conditions are out of the specific window.

Almost never good for sleep where the natural materials serve better and never for enclosed spaces such as hiking boots (whatever the conditions) as a leading composition. You can be outdoors in anything for a week. It is the extremes, performance (from blisters to help with hygiene) and a prolonged use that make the distinction.

In cold conditions, the synthetics score high also as a more substantial mid-layer and outer layer compared to the regular sheep wool. This is when the weight is the most critical single factor and (or) high humidity is being experienced for an extended time. The wool will hold more moisture in the fibre, compared to the primary synthetic materials, and will make equivalent piece of clothing heavier.

Finally, in conditions where you know you won’t keep the rain away, and the clothing will simply be wet, the wool is a lifesaver as it will always keep you warm, although not terribly comfortable.

The synthetic fill also comes into its own in the cold environments, when the humidity is constant and high.

Recycled (and bluesign) materials are sometimes used for manufacturing but the need for combining them with biodegradable replacements grows (Dilling).


2nd July 2019

Elastane (Spandex, Lycra)

Looking at the function in outdoors, another synthetic with outstanding properties (stretch) that it lends to the specialist garments is elastane.

It is used in a range of close-fitting performance clothing that reduces bulk, flapping, improves aerodynamics and extends layering.

When it comes to trousers, more compact, closer-fitting though sophisticated cuts are ideal for hiking with frequent or prolonged climbs in changeable or steep terrains.

Our first lightweight but very durable hiking trousers that had elastane in the fabric were Keela trousers that we bought well a decade ago in two pairs for each. The stretch reduces or removes friction and movement restriction in places of resistance such as in knees and around thighs. Restrictive pressures there can hinder a considerable amount of free movement. Even relatively small but constant pull of often sweaty trousers against the action is lost energy that could be used elsewhere. Something will depend on the cut details (and articulated knees), but the stretch is still the ultimate aid for walking without energy leaking where it matters or when time is precious (no rest in sight).

Manufacturers tend to overdo the close-fittingness of these trousers just a bit (or a lot) to emphasise the purpose (elastane) and expand the range of products they sell and even accommodate looks and style. As a result, the number of ideal trousers with good air circulation and truly minimal friction ratio are not easy to find even among good traditional brands as they are experimenting with fashion effect, sales, where they can push the practicality and artificial differentiation. We agreed recently with enthusiasts and people going out for trekking that finding the right balance and functional cut with stretch is not easy unless the focus is sport or rock climbing. The Rohan Trailblazers (permethrin fabric only) can be mentioned as good example of type of trousers that have all the advantages of the stretch and compact yet functional cut. The Elastane shouldn't be washed above 30 C.


Alpaca and goats fibre air content (mohair, cashmere)

24th March 2019   

     Although it is known that the fibre of alpaca fleece has technically higher insulation power than the wool (largely due to its higher air content), a lot depends on following structures of building blocks that form the garment; how the yarn was spun, how the strand was plied and how the fabric or knit was made. These structure-forming steps can lead to markedly different results, different actual air contents and so the resulting insulation.

Therefore, looking at this fibre in isolation is only part of the story. The finer sheep’s wool, not to mention the lambs and merino wool, has a natural tendency to build air-trapping structures during the process, so this is a property that needs to be factored in. The air content of the fibre is just one of the building blocks of the fabric, albeit an important one. Because the sheep’s wool in particular has this tendency, more than the lustre, somewhat sleeker (hair-like) wools from alpaca and goats, the context of the steps that make the garment is equally essential.

That said, the alpaca will offer you a distinct feel, improved properties and advantages in several regards over the sheep’s wool. As such, together with the other wools, it represents an excellent option. My old alpaca sweater vest was among my all-time favourites. The availability of the garments and the yarn is much better these days. When comparing heavy-weight socks knit of the alpaca to the socks knit of the wool (with the same or very similar technique on the common production steps), we found the alpaca slightly warmer (the wool fabric still captured slightly more air). If there were more changes to the processes, the result would vary more as well. So the alpaca (and the goats) gets a head start with a better fibre and more air but the wool, particularly the fluffier sorts, like to make up for this during the spinning and other processes that follow so that the advantage is lessened or can be even lost. When it comes to this kind of considerations then, a careful look at how the garment was made and how much air it tends to hold will tell more about its isolation power than judging by the kind of the fibre alone.

*Finally, blends of alpaca fleece yarn and wool should be considered. In many cases, the resulting fabrics have better form stability and the form overall than the garment made of the alpaca alone.

                                      A lighter weight, lightly dyed alpaca/mohair (50/50) blend spun for a looser, airy yarn. The simple machine knit is also looser, of a single 280 m/100 g strand; the fleece is mere 280 g (Zlatka’s size) but very insulating. It’s a result of a superior fibre and fluffy fabric that traps plenty of air for its weight.

A heavier medium weight, tight knit, snug-fit sweater, hand knitted with a drier (less oil content) wool and merino strands combined. These fabrics have a high air content capacity. Also details like the knit stitches running lengthwise here create deep channels on the wrong side, filled with stable air. *We came across this wool yarn (170m/100 g) more by chance but it turned out to be of excellent quality. Elastic, very firm, a kind that is retaining its form and definition. It is particularly pleasant against the skin, easily matching the merino (640/100 g) with which it is combined. The combined strands give denser fabrics than a single strand of equivalent thickness. This can be taken into account when using hand knitting.

Bulky weight alpaca socks made of double-strand hand knit. We use a lighter weight single strand ones as well (undyed). Lana Bambini (UK) sells 65 % wool, 35% alpaca socks made of natural yarn in all sizes (you may want to felt them, then going one size group up is a general rule). The Wool Company (Cornwall), Soul Destiny sell walking/outdoors socks with addition of nylon (70 % mohair and 75% alpaca socks respectivelly).


Quilted Layers and Shells

19th December 2018

           Polyester and polyamide (or nylon) are base materials for a range of specialist clothing that fight rain and wind very effectively. Jackets and vests fall into this group, and they add more warmth to their water-wind resistant/proof properties. The gear combines lightness of the fabrics with lightweight insulation in layers and is extremely efficient as body warmer and elements-shielding protection. At the same time, it can be extremely compact – compressible. These properties culminate in high-end equipment. The combination makes the quilted technical clothing exceptional whether for possible comfort/practical reasons or for getting the needed effect in harsh conditions outdoor and in sports. I use specialist gear made of both technical and natural materials. I have four vests, just for one example, two of which are woollen and two quilted down vests. I use these types for decades, and the materials and availability regarding both have improved markedly during that time. (Just days ago I noticed organic cotton 70/yak 30 wool blend shirt in a mainstream manufacturer range/shop from which I have bought flannel shirts recently.) The thinner vest of each type can also be easily layered. I tend to use the woollen one (knit) under my woollen sweater and the technical universally. The thicker ones are worn as outer layer more often. The technical thicker sweater-vest is made of fine recycled ripstop polyester and down (800-fill). Alongside the polyester, the company uses ripstop polyamide (nylon) for shells. This make (Patagonia) is also using reclaimed down in their products (and their vests) and recycled materials for synthetic fill. These vests and jackets fit a handy pouch. The other one, a thin vest, can fit my palm in seconds (a pocket or a small pouch) yet it gives the body instant boost for warmth and acts as a windshield. These designs can be extremely compact/lightweight, so they make possible having these high-performance technical pieces always close at hand.

The woollen clothing has, of course, its very own set of properties that make it stand out. Design, pattern of the knit (e.g. air trapping) and the inherently substantial nature of the material with tendency to stability determine and tune the function of these garments. This outer vest that has just replaced one of our old ones is often worn on mid-layer sweatshirt or flannel; heavy Aran weight undyed yarn is hand-knitted and is designed to be mildly felted.

The mid-weight knit shown in the second picture on the right is a machine-knitted blend of bloomy mohair/alpaca yarns and on the left is a denser knit of merino on a different machine, both two-strand simple knit (one year in use). The pictures are shot under different lighting.

Combining windproof shells with warm layers such as sweater or fleece is another way to “quilt” the windproofs as the insulation layer is evenly spread around the body.

It’s a different configuration of the same. We can separate both distinctly different layers, the windproof on its own weights little and packs to almost nothing. At the same time, we can improve breathability rapidly by boosting air circulation when switching the windproof shell on (warmth stability) and off (maximum air/vapour flow). Well chosen knit garments (thickness) on their own are exceptionally well suited for physical activities where structure of the fabric imitates and acts as a fur. They create a warm aura around the body while being particularly flexible and effective at getting rid of excess heat and moisture. This in normal to cold conditions. Another potential advantage is having the possibility of choosing the exact material or the garment that we want as the insulation and possibly a wider range of use of such a kit. Adding a windproof membrane extends that range to maximum.

Best breathability of the windproof/waterproof jackets is served by Velcro tabs placed along the flap and the zip. When you don’t need the zippers done they can hold it in the right shape, protect you but also allow for sufficient exchange of air - can breathe on a fast-paced hike. More air permeable membranes are always a plus as they dry out quicker and add that tiny bit of breathability, but it’s the Velcro and well-implemented fastening that make the difference for a jacket like this.

- - 

31st January 2019

Similar to windproof/waterproof shell jackets, where synthetics like nylon and polyester excel, we benefit from these materials when it comes to trousers as well. As we wear much less insulation on the lower part of the body, the efforts are made to get other things instead, such as wind-resistance, weight and ability to dry out. This is where trousers need to perform and where these fabrics are superb.

When we do need a bit of insulation and use winter trousers, the technical compositions will still score better for the weight-to-insulation ratio (though good moleskins aren’t far away) and crucially, they dry out much faster which is a big advantage in humid conditions. These fabrics can also be made to resist water easier. I found polyester blends with 1/3 of cotton very good materials, besides the trusted nylon.

Fully waterproof shell trousers are jacket version for legs. Although it may come a little odd to some, we are big proponents of using lightweight umbrellas outdoors and that for sheer practicality of the small thing. It’s compact, effective and we can get rid of it in an instant (and are useful for photography). But there are times where the umbrellas don’t work.

If it’s raining heavily, for a prolonged period, high winds or tricky terrain come to this, and we need to walk far, we replace the rain resistant gear and/or umbrellas with the waterproofs. Apart from the regular jacket, we use long coats that are formed to swallow rucksacks on our backs, too. When these conditions last long enough, there comes a need to protect your legs because even if the soaked trousers weren't much of a problem, the flooded boots often are, as these are much more difficult to dry out on longer treks. In this case, and at that point, the water will get there by sucking it from the heavy ends of the drenched trousers and legs. It can surprise how quickly your feet are in pools of water. (Possible gaiters will slow the process only a little, if in use).

That can have implications for your feet and the ability carry on walking regularly and for long hours (while the trousers can continue to dry out when put on the next day).

It's when the waterproof pants are useful. Only they will keep you dry, and later warm, under these conditions. Made of the same materials the waterproof jacket is made of they can double as a perfect windproof or added insulation layer especially in the cold, when you hung around one place without moving much, getting through wet vegetation etc. We use them decades this way and boy, is this useful few hundred grams in some handy stuff sack. By far the best are shells that you can put on without messing with your muddy boots, let alone in the middle of a downpour. These can be put on/taken off just as you are by doing/undoing zips that run along the full length of the legs.


Having added to the wool section several times I have rewritten it.

4th June 2019

      We are using a great range of materials for outdoor clothing today. Knowing their basic properties, weak and strong points, helps us to choose the right kind of materials or blends for outdoor activities or in sports and also for normal uses. Below is a summary of the most used materials and their properties relative to these requirements.


The wool breathes very well and it’s warm dry or wet.

Transports sweat well by wicking. It doesn’t hold the moisture trapped it in the fibre although it absorbs some and gets therefore heavier when wet.

Lighter than cotton when wet.

Moderately warm to warm dry or wet (in the cold) the wool is first of all insulating. Wools have temperature regulating property so they don’t cause overheating and can be used over a great range of temperatures. How warm the fabric is depends on its type and its construction. The wool is known for building highly effective insulating structures and excellent air/vapour transport. Modern technology tight weave fabrics excel at skin temperature control, breathability and moisture wicking. They are good as a base (e.g. merino wool 160-200 g/m²) and mid-layer (200 - 400 g/m²). Garments of loftier constructions are good as mid and outer layers. Icelandic wool (lopi type) is excellent as outerwear as are garments made of undyed, deliberately worked yarns (non-industrial processes).

Wools of fine fibres are neutral or soft next to skin with unequalled feel. For the first-layer garments, a treated fibre is preferred because the underclothing is washed more frequently. The treatment won’t harm any gauge, although the thicker pieces don’t need it and retain their supreme qualities better without the treatments (sweaters). The wool feels and is different from the plant fibre based fabric as it becomes part of the skin layer rather than acting as a cover. It can take some getting used to it and is addictive to wear. The fibre responding to the environmental effects from both the inside (body vapour, sweat) and the outside (humidity, temperature) acts as a regulator. The inner part of the fibre fills with moisture but only to the desired point and then is releasing any excess. It makes the fabrics (initially a fleece of an animal) more substantial to cope with worsened weather (wind) while maintaining essential warming properties. Concentrated fine or special wools like cashmere, mohair, yak and alpaca are among the warmest, very soft and are great for warmer thin or thick layers. Some wools give yarns that are pleasant to touch and against the skin but are also durable and water resistant to some degree. Small producers also sell both the undyed yarn and garments made of them. Other coarser wools are used for unique qualities clothes when worn as outerwear. The woollen clothes are tough, durable and long lasting, much more so than e.g. clothing made of cotton.

Two types of treatments

The wool worked by enzyme-based processes (and other non-polymer or natural polymer treatments) can be regularly machine-washed with minimum care, resists pilling and is particularly pleasant directly on the skin. A number of technologies and products have entered or are entering the industry of the wool treatment that prevent shrinking. They remove or limit the tendency of natural adherence of the wool fibres on the surface mostly by using methods based on Plasma (e.g. Naturetexx) or Enzyme treatments and match the results of Chlorine-Hercosett process or are sufficient (Enzyme) for wool specific washing programs. Further progress for new polymers that solve the problematic affinity to the cuticle of the fibre is being made, including the biopolymers for use in combined and new specific applications (e.g. EXP). These methods are less invasive and they retain the character, quality and natural properties including antibacterial/odour control performance of the wool markedly better than the old methods. They also reduce the impact on the environment and comply with GOTS, Nordic Swan and Bluesign (also Oeko-Tex 1000, i.e. not just Oeko-Tex 100) and become part of a marketing fit for the 21st century.

Conventional Chlorine-Hercosett-process: The scales of the fibres are smoothened by etching (chlorine) to various degrees depending on the exact process and its intensity and then in the vast majority of cases coated with the polymer known as Hercosett 125 (in varying degree again). It is used for the majority of the yarn in the industry and consequently for most of the clothing that customers buy in shops. The resin-coated wool is resistant to mistreatment during the washing. It is an old process typical for 20th-century industries and their approaches aimed at production with no other considerations (and customer manipulation). The seller seldom informs about the treatment other than stating simplified care of the garment.

The labels can be more informative (though seldom explicit) and touching the material reveals there is something wrong with the wool (sometimes it is accompanied with chemical smell - different to the typical smell of wool). The material feels different, too, it has a synthetic, glossy feel to it. As the fibre is covered with a synthetic, the actual composition is changed. Along with the specific handle, the wool’s exceptional repellence to dirt and bacteria is lessened. More robust, outer layer garments also lose the wool’s natural bloom that gives the garments better warmth to weight ratio. Although the changes can be considered as aspects of feel, they have practical implications in more extreme use in sports and outdoors. The lesser weight gauges micro-bloom can also be (noticeably) affected depending on the strength of the treatment.

Natural wool products today are easy to wash without compromising their qualities if you stick to standard practice or if you are using suitable washing programs (hand wash or woollens). Petry-Lanazym process and some other methods that do not require coating/use of highly reactive chemicals fall to normal (real) wool category. As the natural wool is resistant to dirt, it doesn’t need frequent washing. If it does, the hand washing is easy for the wool has low affinity to dirt, and it’s an extremely poor substrate for bacteria to thrive on it. Not to mention that using the machines, people generally tend to overwash their clothing and that often not by a small degree. Experimenting with short-time programs a few times can bring surprising results. Dilling Eco line, Tekoforlife, Engel, Living Crafts, Mufflon and other brands are producing wool products suitable for frequent washing (underwear) that are ready for almost foolproof care.

Blends that combine various kinds of wool and other materials (cotton etc.) extend suitably variability in properties and use.


It breathes very well when dry.

It absorbs sweat well but the moisture is trapped in the fibre and isn’t passed through the fabric easily.

Wet cotton is heavy, isn’t warm in the cold and dries out slowly.

It is moderately warm to warm when dry depending on the fabric construction and the cut. Fine long fibre cotton, brushed cotton or flannel with more loft are warmer, trap heat well and breathe. Moleskin cotton is famously hard-wearing, soft fabric that offers good protection (also against the cold). It is heavier and more suited for working etc. conditions outdoor rather than for a typical trek and high-exposure-to-the-elements outdoors.

Cotton is excellent material for everything except when you flood it with sweat during extreme activities as it holds the moisture and gets damp. If you expect your body to be overheating and sweating for longer look for cotton blends or materials that wick well. Cotton wrinkles and deforms rather easily.

Blends with other natural or synthetic materials improve cotton in strength, durability and wicking properties and in case of blends with wool or silk they lead to very good general properties and more affordable fabrics.

Supima cotton -

(and other Gossypium barbadense HYB cultivars)

the strands can be spun with less twist into the yarns. Therefore they are of an airier structure and support capillary rise action better (as they are composed of extra long fibres - ELS).

Higher absorbency has already been proved during various manufacturing processes and it is almost certain that the wicking power of wet fabrics had increased some degree. This seems to be the case but meaningful difference to regular cottons is harder to spot and will probably take some time before a consensus is established by wear & use observations.

The ELS base of Supima (read pure Pima cotton) improves fabric properties also in areas where the regular upland cotton is good or quite good already.


Silk, including bourette fabrics and yarn, is a strong dense material of similar properties to wool. It doesn’t lock moisture and breathes well.

It’s great over a great range of temperatures and it’s warm when needed. Garments made of silk are tough, keep shape very well and are resistant to deformation. Silk clothing is good as a special purpose sportswear, dedicated outdoor or for a base layer under some rougher wools.

Blends such as with cotton are practical combinations, perhaps for tactile reasons more than anything else because it's hard to imagine the cotton improving the silk in any regard.


First generation types of viscose are quite similar to cotton in their properties but are less durable and therefore often part of blends. Viscose breathes well dry or wet and absorbs sweat even more which makes the material on its own less suitable choice when sweating is excessive or extreme (it is wicking better than cotton though). Regular occasional sweating is fine, and the sponge-like property of these materials is even useful for this. It gives a softer feel on the skin with which viscose more elastic fabrics make closer contact thanks to a greater fluidity of the fabrics, e.g. Tencel Standard (known for peach skin effect/feel).

Cellulose fibres usually are more delicate and also a bit more prone to wear compared to cotton which is more robust (and they let much more UV radiation through if that’s a concern). New, advanced, high modulus types such as Tencel LF and A 100 resist abrasion and pulling forces just as cottons if not better.

The main advantage of the fabrics made of a second generation (and up) viscose over the cotton especially in outdoors and sports is that they breathe much better and the exchange of the air and vapour is substantially better. The sweat transport is superior both regarding the distribution through the garment and for wicking power, they dry out faster, too, both as a garment and per area of the fabric.

Even the old viscose materials require less maintenance than cotton, so when that reflects in the care, it can compensate for their lower wear resistance. The bamboo and eucalyptus pulp worked by use of green, third generation methods like Lyocel process (e.g. sources like Continental clothing co and others) seems particularly interesting for its lower tendency to accommodate bacteria as a suitable substrate. For their properties and soft feel, the bamboo and other viscose materials (Tencel) are also great for spending nights in a sleeping bag where other choices such as synthetics are worse options.

Great for blends (e.g. cotton and wool) depending on the exact handle, drape and properties required.


Inherently it doesn’t breathe well dry.

Most fabrics seem decent at temperature regulating and distribute quite naturally. It provides good layering for warmth as it holds the heat quite well. It doesn’t absorb water so it is lightweight when wet. It has good wicking properties which makes it good for controlling skin temperature during physical activities when you sweat a lot. It also dries out quickly.

Sophisticated design fabrics and looser cuts will improve the breathability.

It is good for low cost, low weight, low maintenance garments that are wicking the sweat well. Good for cold environments.

Not the best choice outside intensive activities (in sleeping bag, relaxing) for it breathes worse which can make you feel suffocated and stuffy.

Good for blends such as with viscose or cotton.

Polartec -

a fleece construction composed of lofted polyester fibres and the result is a warm, insulating fabric of the same properties as the polyester. Half or full zip garments are an option outdoor both as a durable outerwear and as a layering.

Polygiene -

I haven’t used this treatment for my own use but it gets reliable feedback as a highly effective technology that uses well-known properties of (recycled) silver to combat bacteria which is very useful for the synthetics.

The results could be as good as approaching the wool effectiveness and polyester fabrics that are made sufficiently air permeable and also durable (often not the easiest combination to achieve) can offer a long lasting garment of unique properties of the polyester (including the blends) that is mitigating the downsides of the synthetic garments. Look for partners at Polygiene site when searching this direction.

Biopolyester -

Very promising type of polyester is further developed for textile and clothing industry (and other industries such as packaging) that belongs to bio-plastic family of PLA type. Its production is based solely on biological sources (derived polylactid acid from the plant-based material).

Its properties are enhanced in several important areas, and character of the fibre is optimised for the creation of superior polyester/polyester blends fabrics such as in blends with wool and cotton (that also in outdoor use sense).

Polyamide (Nylon)

As with the other synthetic materials the air permeability will depend strictly on the weave, type and construction of the fabric. Its wicking power is greater than that of the polyester and that together with good body vapour control extends good ventilation for times when more sweat is generated.

The water absorption is low, fractionally higher than with other synthetics.

Fabrics made of polyamide are mostly superior to polyester. Higher elasticity (about the same as wool), strength and better wicking property put it above the polyester in bacterial growth/odour control as well (one of the inherent shortcomings of the synthetic materials). It also is the more expensive material of the two. It obviously dries out very quickly.

I have been using polyamide specialist garments for many years in outdoors and in my experience, when it comes to synthetics, it is number one material for strength, durability (false economy saving money when going for cheaper material), feel and sweat control.

Especially suitable for activities in warmer and hot environments where you always sweat and face high humidity from the outside. Together with the polyester (and technical blends), it is in these conditions indispensable for creating lightweight, easily washable, fast-wicking garments (mid-layer worn as mid or base layer) with a natural tendency to dry out and stay dry. Washed in time without delay (that is, utilising its advantage) it can be a great companion to natural materials that you can need (underwear) as soon as the conditions are out of the specific window.

Almost never good for sleep where the natural materials serve better and never for enclosed spaces such as hiking boots (whatever the conditions) as a leading composition. You can be outdoors in anything for a week. It is the extremes, performance (from blisters to help with hygiene) and a prolonged use that make the distinction.

In cold conditions, the synthetics score high also as a more substantial mid-layer and outer layer compared to the regular sheep wool. This is when the weight is the most critical single factor and (or) high humidity is being experienced for an extended time. The wool will hold more moisture in the fibre, compared to the primary synthetic materials, and will make equivalent piece of clothing heavier.

Finally, in conditions where you know you won’t keep the rain away, and the clothing will simply be wet, the wool is a lifesaver as it will always keep you warm, although not terribly comfortable.

The synthetic fill also comes into its own in the cold environments, when the humidity is constant and high.

Recycled (and bluesign) materials are sometimes used for manufacturing but the need for combining them with biodegradable replacements grows (Dilling).

Supplex -

is a softer version of Nylon fibre (Tilley makes virtually indestructible hats of Supplex).

Pertex –

a combined weave high-performance fabric that is forming natural water resistant (and moisture wicking) membrane while allowing the air permeate from inside out.


Acrylic garments breathe quite well when dry thanks to their loftier construction.

Acrylic also lacks inherently wicking properties (type of the construction can mitigate this) but it traps the heat well.

As it also doesn’t absorb water well it stays light when wet - it is lighter than the wool and especially cotton.

Low cost, practical material for a great range of outdoor clothing and as a substitute for wool although it’s not a match for fine wools for warmth and any wool for temperature control. Full zip tops are more practical for regulating the body temperature.

Good for blends with wool.


breathes very well. The fabrics tend to keep its own shape as the linen is relatively lightweight and stiffer overall allowing plenty of air to circulate between the body and the garment.

Bast fibre of linen is highly absorbent and releases moisture just as readily in which it surpasses the cotton easily. The resin content helps to shape the properties of the linen fabric further; it has better antibacterial properties and its wrinkles are particularly durable. That, together with lesser drape, gives the garments characteristic shape we are used to see with quality linen.

The linen fabric as such is very durable, wear and also dirt resistant. The fabric matures with use as it gains more elasticity and even silk-like lustre while retaining its superior strength. I once was using an old linen shirt after my grandfather particularly for physical work and loved it for its unique look, feel and properties.

It behaves as a natural insulator to heat (sun rays) though the body heat itself isn’t trapped nearly as easily. This also makes it known for its good use in hotter environments/conditions.

Being a plant fibre it’s not as versatile as the wool. It can be an excellent alternative though when a looser fit and more air circulation is preferred in hotter conditions as a heat reflecting and sweat well managing (at contact) clothing. T-shirts are appearing on the market slowly along with the classic shirt. Coarser weave fabrics are very good for tea/kitchen towel and similar sort of use, much better than the cotton. Some stiffer polyamide fabrics, like in some shirts, can imitate linen to some degree.


Hemp gives similar fabrics to linen with a distinctly natural feel, developing similarly characteristic look when worn (the cloth ‘lives’ - matures with time). It tends to be less lustrous, and reports suggest it’s even more durable than the linen both in a wet or dry state.

Its structure, build and behaviour are very similar in terms of water absorption, moisture release, how it distributes moisture and liquid, how it dries out as well as for the UPF. It seems to be more often part of blends with cotton than on its own compared to the linen.

Our experience is limited so far, mostly recent, but very positive with the cotton blends. Ideally, we want to get more things made of 100% hemp given the opportunity. The clothing seems to be used more in the Americas and Asia than in Europe.


Down used as a fill is also classified by the grade depending on how fine it is. It has best isolating properties and thus generates most warmth.

It loses the property when wet unless it is treated to maintain its structure (just as in nature where birds take a great care of their feathers and treat them with oils).

It’s very compact for compression.

The synthetic fills used in jackets don’t reach the same compactness but are warmer when the clothing gets damp. Not as warm when dry, though.

Another filling and wadding alternative is Lavalan which is washable wool treated by using earth-friendly technology (no chlorine, chemicals, plastic). The method has minimum impact on the wool properties including insulation and vapour perspiration transmission. It should be an interesting material but I personally have no experience with it yet.

Another possible consideration for synthetic vs natural materials is the dust pollution at home. This is somewhat less relevant to outdoors. As we manipulate the clothing the released dust comes in contact with heating units of our homes and pollutes the air (as it’s heated to high temperatures or burnt). We also breathe in the dust which stays in our body for some time before the body gets rid of it. It stands to reason that natural materials are more acceptable for this type of contact, or indeed, for any kind (next to the skin). For the same reason, lightly coloured fabrics are preferable.


Is generally less suitable material for clothing for its physical properties overall. It however has useful properties for which it can be used in blends when carefully manufactured. It is lightweight and at the same time a good insulator. The polypropylene is also tough in swing. It passes this to the fabric of which it is a part. You don’t find often material that is lightweight, hydrophobic, a very good insulator, resistant to hinge forces and cheap. It doesn’t resist the UV radiation well so the construction of the fabric can reflect this or UV absorbents can be added to counterbalance this.

Thinsulate 3M

This system provides highly efficient insulation at very reasonable prices. It uses layered synthetic fabrics and polypropylene insulation in compositions that are very effective yet relatively pleasant to use. The fabrics made of classic synthetic materials mentioned above are composed of fine fibres which further improves the isolation performance. The clothing is strongly geared towards the insulation, is relatively lightweight, the water absorption is minimal. That signifies its use more as a tool at a specific time and condition.

On the other hand, it is a synthetic material along which goes its tactile quality or properties (some of which are subjective) although the fine fibre can mitigate this for a part, the permeability for vapour and air is low and it doesn’t regulate temperature in a way the wool does for example.

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