Ever since its creation in the 1940s, polyester has been applied on many various scales all over the world. As a result, polyester dominates the fiber market today as it accounts for more than 50 percent of the global fiber production. However, there are still many questions regarding this manmade fabric that need to be answered. That’s why we decided to write up this article. While it would be especially valuable for those who’d like to know more about polyester and its properties, we believe that it would be of great benefit to most people.
The main question we address here is if polyester is good for hiking or not. But to get the right answer, there are a couple of points we need to clear up. So we’ll answer a number of closely related questions regarding polyester, its characteristics and properties in certain environments and conditions.
Polyester clothes are quite popular among outdoorsmen of all ages
Here are some of the most intriguing FAQs regarding polyester:
Is polyester breathable?
Naturally, polyester isn’t a very breathable material. Actually, its breathability varies as it depends mainly on the yarn size and knit or weave. Note that there are modified polyesters such as COOLMAX that have excellent breathability.
Is polyester good for hot weather?
Many people are wondering if polyester can keep them cool in hot weather. Generally, polyester isn’t suitable for hot conditions because it isn’t a good heat exchanger in summer. Two of the main reasons for this are the following:
- It isn’t very comfortable to wear polyester close to the skin when the temperature is high. The moisture sensation makes polyester clothes feel damp. It turns out that the weak hygroscopicity of this fiber is behind this unpleasant dampness sensation.
- Polyester fiber isn’t breathable enough to keep the wearer cool in hot conditions. That’s why in some products it’s blended with fibers that would breathe well in the summer heat.
Nevertheless, some polyesters are modified to perform well in hot summer temperatures. If you need something suitable for hot weather, look for light, crisp, and porous fabrics and blends. They are ideal for summer pursuits.
Is polyester warm enough for winter?
Polyester clothes are preferred by many for winter hiking, especially when such clothes are designed for cold weather. They are moisture-wicking and transport moisture away from the skin surface to the outer surface of the fabric keeping the skin dry. There are also high-performance modified polyesters such as Thermolite, Polarguard, G-Loft, and Primaloft, engineered to provide warmth and comfort in cold environments and conditions. The high-performance polyester designed to provide extra insulation and thermal comfort is usually modified in such a way that the fiber traps air inside and/or between each fiber. The final result is better protection from the elements as well as enhanced warmth and comfort. Such fibers are among the constituents of sleeping bags, winter gloves, jackets, pants, and footwear.
Is polyester fabric stretchy?
No, polyester textiles aren’t stretchy. The reason is that polyester has poor elastic recovery properties. Hence elongations make elastic polyester clothes ‘baggy’. Interestingly, fine denier polyester was once used to make ladies’ hose. Of course, the experiment ended in failure due to the inherent properties of polyester. This experiment in the early days of polyester (specifically PET) showed that the fiber isn’t as suitable for manufacturing hosiery as some other man-made fibers (nylon).
The good news is that polyester can be easily blended with spandex and other elastomers. This way stretch properties are imparted to polyester yarns resulting in more elastic fabric. This is used in activewear as well as everyday clothing like trousers, skirts, shirts, and tops.
Does polyester dry fast?
Polyester is a fast-drying fiber. For example, it provides faster drying than cotton, wool, nylon, rayon, and spandex. Only rubber and a handful of other materials (fluorocarbon, saran, glass, and vinyon) have lower moisture regain value than polyester. However, there is no other major textile with as low moisture regain value as polyester. This property is among the main reasons why polyester has become a leading fiber for making high-performance outdoor clothing and gear.
Table 1: Moisture regain values of various fibers
Source: Materials and Technology for Sportswear*, p. 27
We’ve taken the adapted table from the aforementioned book. However, the primary source is the ASTM D 1909-04. If you follow the link to their standard regarding commercial moisture regains for textile fibers, you’ll get more specific information about the moisture regain used for a number of fibers.
Is polyester stronger than cotton?
This is pretty much the same as asking if polyester is more durable than cotton or not. Straight to the point: polyester is a strong and durable material with excellent mechanical properties. For example, two of the polyester’s biggest strengths are its resilience and resistance. This includes abrasion resistance, resistance to heat and chemicals as well as resistance to dirt, insects, fungi, and rot. All these explain why there are belts made of polyester. So, the answer to this question is ‘Yes’. Polyester is stronger than cotton.
Is polyester cheaper than cotton?
While synthetic fibers typically cost less than natural materials, the price of the latter usually depends on their quality. Normally, the quality of natural fibers ranges widely so do their prices. Anyway, let’s bring some facts to the table (as of late 2016; source: Textile and Clothing Design Technology**, p.22) regarding man-made fibers:
- Polyester’s price was around 0.80 £ ($ 1) per kg
- Nylon 6’s price was 1.70 £ ($ 2.13) per kg
- Rayon’s price was 2.20 £ ($ 2.75) per kg
- Spandex’s price was 3.50 £ ($ 4.38) per kg
Below, you can find the prices of some of the most widely used natural fibers (as of late 2016; same source):
- Cotton’s price was 2.70 £ ($ 3.38) per kg
- Merino wool’s price was 5.40 £ ($ 6.75) per kg
- Thrown silk cost the whooping 34 £ ($ 42.5) per kg
As you can see, both polyester and cotton were among the cheapest synthetic and natural fibers respectively. Nevertheless, polyester’s price per kg was roughly 30% of the cotton’s price per kg. Keep in mind that prices of fibers (polyester and cotton, in particular) depend on seasonal changes as well as other factors such as commodity prices, etc. So what’s true today may not be true tomorrow, next month or next year. However, naturally, polyester is (much) cheaper than cotton.
Is polyester fabric waterproof or water-repellent?
Polyester is naturally water-repellent but it isn’t waterproof. However, thanks to its strength and capability not to absorb water (See Table 1), aka hydrophobicity, the polyester fiber is perfect for the application of chemical treatments and finishes such as waterproofing. Hence its application in technical textiles for a wide range of products.
Polyester is among the naturally water-repellent fibers with low moisture regain value
Is polyester good for hiking?
Yes, polyester clothes (pants, shirts, shorts, and jackets) are good for hiking in most environments and weather conditions. Polyester is an ultraefficient fabric suitable not only for manufacturing hiking apparel but for all kinds of sportswear and performance clothing. While polyester is a popular choice for the production of base layers and functional jackets, polyester fleece is ideal for making mid-layers. Many models of hiking gloves and liners are also made from fleece.
Why are sports clothes made of polyester?
Polyester has been used in sportswear for more than 40 years. Its characteristics and properties make it an ideal choice for activewear applications for an array of sports and demanding activities. What are the characteristics and properties that make polyester so sought for sportswear? Well, it has a multitude of properties such as high strength, durability, resilience, dimensional stability, wicking abilities, low moisture absorption, easy-care properties, resistance to abrasion and mildew. Moreover, polyester can be readily modified in order to achieve various performance enhancements. All these make polyester preferred for activewear compared to the majority of manufactured and natural fibers.
Is polyester good for hiking? Yeah, it is. Polyester is a highly functional fiber used for manufacturing clothing and gear for sport and activewear. It’s strong, durable, water-repellent, hydrophobic, cheap, and resistant to abrasion, chemicals, dirt, wrinkle, and mildew. Moreover, it can be readily modified or blended with other fibers in order to improve its properties. It’s also suitable for use against the skin during strenuous activities. All these make polyester the most common fiber for demanding outdoor sports and pursuits in various conditions.
* S. Hayes, P. Venkatraman (Ed.), Materials and Technology for Sportswear and Performance Apparel, 2016, CRC Press
** T. Cassidy, P. Goswami (Ed.), Textile and Clothing Design Technology, 2018, CRC Press
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2 thoughts on “Is Polyester Good for Hiking: 10 Polyester FAQs”
I have had trouble with polyester shirts retaining body odor despite washing. I don’t have this trouble with other fabrics. I have tried various washing methods and materials without success. I end up throwing out otherwise serviceable shirts. It only seems to be a problem in really sweaty summer conditions. Any suggestions or thoughts?
You’re right that polyester isn’t good for summer and hot weather in most cases. And the stink of all-synthetic clothes after 1-2 hours of wear in hot weather is one of the reasons for this. But there’s no reason to throw out otherwise serviceable shirts. Just don’t wear them in the summer/when it is too hot. Merino wool works very well in various environments and conditions and I personally prefer wearing merino wool blends no matter the season. They work perfectly in both warm and cold conditions. Of course, 100% merino products also work great but I’m not a huge fan of these as they are much more flimsy than merino blends. So my advice is to get a merino blend shirt (Helly Hansen, Patagonia, Smartwool, etc. – whichever brand and model you prefer) where the merino wool is 50-60% or a bit more. Now, the rest will be polyester, polypropylene, nylon or another synthetic material but don’t worry – the merino blend shirt is way better than the 100% polyester shirt for summer and hot conditions. Also, look for thin models – 120-150g/m2 fabric is best but even 200g/m2 should work well for summer.