Which is Better for Outdoor Clothing: Wool or Polyester?

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When it comes to choosing the right fabric for your outdoor clothing, you want something that is durable, comfortable, and capable of handling the elements. Two popular options are wool and polyester, but which one is the better choice?

In this post, we compare wool vs polyester by discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each. We also discuss their suitability for different kinds of outdoor clothing to give you insight into the appropriateness of their use in the backcountry. In addition, you will find some of the best wool and polyester designs crafted with top-notch features to ensure optimal performance during your outdoor adventures in 2023. Various fiber combinations for optimized performance a.k.a. blends are included too. These wool and polyester blends bring together the best of both natural and manmade fibers to provide optimized performance and ultimate comfort.

Wool: a natural fiber with many benefits for outdoor wear

Wool is a natural fiber that has been used for clothing, textiles, and other purposes for thousands of years. Here is a brief overview of the history of wool:

Wool: a short history

Wool is believed to have been one of the first fibers used by humans for clothing and other purposes. It is thought that early humans discovered the insulating properties of wool when they wrapped themselves in animal pelts to keep warm. Wool was an important resource for ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. These civilizations used wool for clothing, blankets, and other textiles, as well as for trade and commerce.

Wool was a major industry in Europe during the Middle Ages, with England and the Netherlands being particularly important centers of production. Wool was used for a variety of purposes, including clothing, blankets, and tapestries. The Industrial Revolution brought about significant changes in the wool industry, as new technologies were developed for spinning, weaving, and finishing wool. This led to an increase in the production of wool textiles and a decrease in the price of wool products.

Today, wool continues to be an important fiber for clothing, textiles, and other purposes. It is used in a wide range of applications, including clothing, blankets, carpets, and upholstery, and is valued for its natural, sustainable, and versatile properties.

Wool has a long and rich history that spans thousands of years. It has played a significant role in the development of human societies and continues to be an important resource in modern times. In recent years, the world production of wool remains relatively unchanged (around 1 mln tonnes in 2021).

Wool advantages

The popularity of wool for clothing can be attributed to many of its properties (see below). It is a popular choice for many people and can be suitable for an array of different clothing applications.

In comparison to other natural fibers, wool has more inherent benefits when it comes to outdoor clothing. Here are some of the most important advantages of wool:

  • Resilience and strength

Wool fibers are naturally elastic thus they can stretch and bounce back to their original shape without breaking. This makes wool a good choice for clothing that will be subjected to a lot of wear and tear, such as socks or gloves.

  • Breathing and moisture-wicking properties

Wool fibers are able to absorb and release moisture giving the perception of drier skin. This helps to regulate your body temperature and keep you comfortable in a range of weather conditions. It is one of the reasons why wool is a great choice for clothing that will be worn in both hot and cold environments. In addition, wool releases heat when absorbing moisture in much larger quantities than any other fiber. The effect can last for several hours reducing the total heat loss.

  • Insulation

Wool fibers are able to trap air. Air has great thermal insulation properties, which helps to keep you warm in cold weather. This makes wool a good choice for clothing that will be worn in cold or wet conditions. What’s more, lightweight wool clothing insulates against heat keeping the wearer cool in hot weather.

  • Comfort

Most of the time, wool is seen as cozy and warm. It is true as some kinds of wool such as merino have excellent moisture-wicking abilities and feel nice and soft. That’s why they’re used primarily for next-to-skin garments. However, the not-very fine wools cause a prickle sensation, which makes them feel rough and itchy.

  • Anti-static properties

Unlike manmade textiles, particularly polyester, wool has anti-static properties, i.e. reduces static electricity. It is one of the main reasons why wool is used heavily for fire safety.

  • Non-flammable

Wool is non-flammable due to its relatively good natural flame-retardant properties. This is because wool requires more oxygen to burn than is available in the air. Moreover, when burns, wool does not melt or stick to the skin.

  • Odor resistance

Wool has natural antimicrobial properties, i.e. it is resistant to odors. Moreover, wool apparel retains less body odor than either cotton or polyester clothing and gear. Even clothing designed for long-duration wear in cold conditions will stay fresher for longer and not retain any unpleasant smells. This makes wool apparel suitable for long periods of wear. In other words, it works great for multi-day or even multi-week trips where cleaning and or replacement is less available.

  • Versatility

Wool is a versatile fiber that can be used in a variety of clothing applications, including activewear, workwear, casual wear, and formal wear. It will take dyed colors nicely. Wool can be easily blended with other fibers, such as acrylic, nylon, polyester, cotton or spandex, to create a range of different fabrics and textures. For more on this, see the ‘Blended fibers‘ section.

  • Eco-friendliness

Wool is considered sustainable, green, and eco-friendly, making it more attractive in the early 21st century when environmental issues are given greater importance. Wool is natural and annually replenished resource that can be recycled and has the ability to biodegrade. All these make wool a great eco-fiber.

Wool disadvantages

Disadvantages of wool for outdoor clothing:

  • Cost

Because wool is a relatively expensive fiber, wool products are typically positioned at the luxury end of most markets. This, of course, means that wool is usually more expensive than most other fibers on the market today including polyester. The main reasons for this – wool production, processing, and transferring are labor-intensive. Moreover, the amount of wool produced per animal is finite. As a result, the higher price may make wool a less appealing choice for those on a budget.

  • Care and maintenance

Wool is a natural rival of the wash-and-wear culture that is so widespread nowadays. Why? Because wool may shrink or stretch if it is not washed and dried properly. It is best to hand wash or machine wash wool on a gentle cycle and lay it flat to dry. This can be time-consuming and may require more effort than caring for synthetic fibers. On the other hand, home laundering and drycleaning of wool garments are easy. One of the solutions to the problem of care and maintenance is the use of wool in fiber blends. It’s important to note that wool products should not be dried under direct sunlight or in a dryer. Both can be harmful to your garments and can cause color fading and shrinkage respectively.

  • UV light exposure

Sunlight exposure for extended periods can have a damaging effect on all woolen products. This causes color changes or the so-called ‘yellowing‘ or ‘photoyellowing‘, which results in a loss of strength. While some coatings can be applied to improve the resistance to UV light, fabric yellowing is definitely one of the severe shortcomings of wool.

  • Susceptibility to moths

Generally, there are two types or classes of natural fibers – cellulose (plant fibers) and protein (animal fibers). While the so-called cellulose fibers such as cotton are more susceptible to fungi and mildew, wool, as well as the rest of the protein fibers, is known to be more susceptible to moths.

  • Allergies

Wool may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some people who are allergic to it. This is a rare occurrence, but it is worth considering if you have sensitive skin or a history of allergies.

Wool is an excellent choice for outdoor clothing as it offers many advantages, such as resilience, eco-friendliness, breathability, insulation, and odor resistance. However, it may be more expensive and require more care and maintenance than synthetic fibers.

Merino vs regular wool

Merino is a type of wool that is obtained from the merino sheep. It is known for its soft, fine fibers and is often used for high-end clothing and activewear. Merino wool is considered a more luxurious type of wool than regular wool because it is less prone to pilling and has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio.

Merino sheep
Merino wool is eco-friendly

Photo by Leonhard Durst

There are several key differences between regular wool and merino wool:

  • Fiber diameter

Merino wool is softer and more comfortable to wear because it has a finer fiber diameter than regular wool. This is especially useful for clothing that will be worn close to the skin, like base layers or socks. Merino ensures a no-itch feel, i.e. it is less likely to irritate the skin. Furthermore, every micron in wool offers an advantage as finer wool is more costly.

  • Cost

Merino wool is considered a luxury yarn, and as such, it is more expensive, particularly when it comes to fine merino wool. This cost is one of the main drawbacks of merino wool in comparison to regular wool.

  • Wool production per animal

The annual yield of clean wool fiber (per animal) varies from 1 kg for most sheep breeds to around 4 kg for Australian Merino (Source: Handbook of Natural Fibers*).

  • Moisture transportation

Merino wool is highly breathable thanks to its ability to absorb and release moisture. Merino fibers create more airspace for moisture movement, making it an excellent choice for clothing that will be worn in hot and humid environments. It helps regulate body temperature, keeping you cool and comfortable.

  • Insulation

With its ability to insulate even when wet, merino wool helps retain body heat for longer. Whereas wool can also insulate when wet (both can absorb up to 30% of its dry weight in moisture), merino fiber construction gives it an edge in this compartment.

  • Weight

Merino is lighter, which is another important advantage over regular wool attracting all those who’d prefer lightweight functionality.

  • Odor resistance

Merino wool has natural antimicrobial properties, which makes it resistant to odors. This can be particularly beneficial for outdoor clothing, as it will stay fresher for longer and not retain any unpleasant smells.

  • Care and maintenance

Merino wool is generally easier to take care of compared to regular wool because it doesn’t shrink or felt as easily. It can usually be machine washed and dried on a gentle cycle, but it’s always best to check the care instructions on the product label.

Merino wool is a high-quality type of wool that is known for its lightness, softness, breathability, odor resistance, easy care, and excellent insulation abilities. It is commonly used for high-end clothing and outdoor gear. It can be a great option for those looking for a comfortable and functional fabric.

Outdoor clothing crafted from wool

There are several types of outdoor clothing that can be made from wool, including:

  • Base layers: wool is a good choice for base layers because of its breathability and moisture-wicking properties as well as the next-to-skin comfort it provides. Wool base layers can help regulate body temperature, keeping you comfortable during physical activity in various weather conditions.
  • Mid-layers: wool is a reasonable choice for mid-layers because of its excellent insulation properties. Wool mid-layers can be worn as a standalone layer in mild weather or as part of a layering system in colder weather.
  • Outer layers and accessories: jackets, hats, gloves, and scarves can be made from wool. It is generally not as durable, abrasion-resistant or waterproof as synthetic fibers, so wool may not be the best choice for extreme weather conditions or activities that require a high level of abrasion resistance.
  • Socks: wool is a good choice for socks due to its moisture-wicking, insulation, and odor-resistant properties. Wool socks can help to keep your feet dry, warm, and comfortable during hiking, running, and other outdoor activities.

Wool is suitable for a variety of outdoor clothing that is ideal for layering, such as base layers, mid-layers, outer layers, and socks. Many of wool’s properties and characteristics make it a great choice for outdoor activities in different weather conditions.

Wool base layers

Wool and specifically merino wool are one of the most suitable textiles for technical baselayers. Here’s why:

Wool and merino wool can absorb and release moisture without making the wearer feel damp, which can greatly affect his/her comfort. This is especially beneficial for base layers as they are worn directly against the skin and are known to greatly impact the overall water vapor permeability of a layered system. In addition, wool base layers help regulate body temperature during physical activity.

Wools are good insulators that are able to trap air and retain heat, even when wet. This makes them a great choice for undergarments you’ll wear in cold or damp conditions, as they can help keep you warm and comfortable.

Wool, particularly merino wool, has natural antimicrobial properties that make it resistant to odors. This makes it a great choice for clothing that is worn next to the skin, like base layers. With its soft comfort, not only will it stay fresher for longer, but it won’t retain any unpleasant smells during or after physical activities.

All these make merino the preferred material for versatile undergarments. Some of the most renowned outdoor brands such as Helly Hansen, Smartwool, Icebreaker, and Odlo make great merino base layers. Among the best models on the market today:

  • Icebreaker 175 is a 100% merino wool base layer top. Designed for comfort and easy layering, it is suitable for everyday use as well as a number of outdoor activities.
  • Helly Hansen LIFA Merino Midweight is a versatile technical top with a great weight-to-warmth ratio. It manages moisture well and does a great job at keeping the wearer comfy. You can check out our review of its predecessor – HH LIFA Merino. Hint: there’s no big difference between these two. Together with the LIFA Merino Midweight Base Layer Pants, this top makes a great set for winter sports and activities.
  • Odlo Merino 200 is another base layer for getting active in cool-to-cold weather. Made of 100% merino wool, it is lighter and more versatile than the X-Warm version (260g). As with other all-merino garments, durability is its biggest weakness.
  • Smartwool Classic Thermal 250 with a weight of almost 300g is the heaviest among these base layers. The improved functionality of the Classic 250 makes this flatlock seam construction suitable for all kinds of outdoor sports and pursuits.
  • REI Co-op Merino 185 is a long-sleeve merino shirt made of ultrafine 185g merino wool. Nice and comfortable, this thermal layer is perfect for multiple sports. Though $20-30 cheaper than the options above, we can hardly call it budget-friendly as it costs around $80. Anyway, it is still among the most affordable options on the market.

Wool mid-layers

Mid-layers are usually the second layer in a multi-layered clothing system. They’re a type of clothing that is worn over a base layer and under an outer layer during outdoor activities. Their primary role is to trap air next to the skin for added insulation. Wool is one of the most popular textiles for mid-layers because:

Wool is able to trap air inside its fibers, creating insulation and warmth. This is convenient for most cold-weather activities. Wool sweaters are a paragon for warmth and comfort, right? However, for high-intensity activities, the garment should be able to breathe well and dry quickly. It should be also easy to pack and lightweight but sturdy enough to withstand the challenges you’d encounter during wear. Although wool is not the most widely used material for mid-layers for obvious reasons, there are some excellent mid-layers crafted from (primarily) merino wool such as:

  • Icebreaker Descender Zip Fleece Hoody is designed with aerobic activities in mind. It’s a bit pricey but insulates and breathes sufficiently well for a wide range of activities in cold conditions. The nice design, soft fabric, lightweight side panels, and flatlock stitching make it fit and feel great.
  • Helly Hansen LIFA Merino Midlayer Jacket is a high-performance mid-layer. Crafted from a blend of 65% merino wool and 35% polypropylene, the LIFA interior wicks moisture and transport it to the breathable merino exterior. The garment provides sufficient warmth and doesn’t restrict movement for comfort during cold weather sports and activities. The main minus we see is the weight which is around 40-50g heavier than a comparable all-synthetic technical mid-layer such as the Odin Power Stretch Half Zip.
  • Minus33 Merino Midweight is a 100% merino wool garment. The 1/4 zip design allows for easy temperature regulation, so you can zip or unzip as needed to stay comfortable in varying conditions. The fabric is a bit coarser (18.5 vs 17.5 microns) than the fabric they utilize for their base layers.

Wool is not as commonly used for mid-layers as polyester fleece, but it can be a great option for hikers. Woolen mid-layers can be worn on their own in mild weather or as part of a layering system in colder weather, making them a versatile and effective choice.

Wool pants, socks, hats, and gloves

As we hinted earlier, the wool may not be among the most popular textiles for outerwear but it is very popular for socks as well as accessories such as hats, gloves, and scarves.

Wool headwear for cold weather such as beanies, headbands, neck gaiters, and scarves do a great job of keeping the warmth in and preventing excessive heat release when it isn’t necessary. Smartwool Thermal Merino Reversible Headband is among many outdoorsmen’s favorites because of the warmth and comfort it provides during winter and cold weather sports and activities. With a weight of a mere 30g and a streamlined construction, it has a reversible design. In addition to all its pros, this low-profile headband can also be used as a neck gaiter.

Gloves and mittens made from wool and wool blends are extremely popular. Functionality and comfort, and the ability to provide superior thermal insulation are among the best characteristics of wool so needed for cold weather. Solid gloves and mitts often have synthetic shells because of them being lightweight and durable and merino lining because of the warmth and incredible softness it provides in freezing temperatures. Wool and wool blend liners with acrylic are a great option for outdoor activities. They are versatile, functional, and often bulk-free, providing excellent manual dexterity.

Although wool isn’t commonly used for hiking pants, there are still options available such as base-layer bottoms and jogger pants. These are great for activities like running, travel, or fishing, but they may not be the best choice for backpacking trips on rough terrain due to their lack of durability.

Unlike many alternative materials, wool is suitable for both summer and cold-weather socks. Its fineness, softness, natural ability to breathe, and all the benefits it provides, make wool and especially merino wool perfect for top-quality hiking socks. Good winter and cold weather socks should be warm enough without compromising on durability. Typical is the thick, heavy padding for heel and toe support and comfort during outdoor activities. Socks designed for extreme cold come with extra padding and work well even in very low temperatures. Whereas cold weather socks wool can be thick and coarse, mainly fine merino wool is utilized for summer socks. Note that summer socks are rarely made of pure merino (not durable enough), but rather from a blend of wool, nylon or polyester, and elastane.

Polyester: a synthetic fiber with its own advantages for outdoor wear

Polyester is a synthetic fiber that was first developed in the 1930s and has later become a widely used material in a variety of applications, including clothing, textiles, and other products. While there are many forms of polyesters, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is usually considered the term ‘polyester‘ is used. Here is a brief overview of the history of polyester:

Polyester: a short history

In the early 1930s, a DuPont employee, W.H. Carothers discovered the polyesters during his experiments. However, polyester was first developed in the late 1930s by a team of British scientists led by Sir James D.W. Frazer. They were looking for a synthetic fiber that could replace silk, which was in short supply due to the onset of World War II. In 1941, they created the first known polyester called ‘Terylene‘. The discovery and development of polyester can be ascribed to either of the parties (DuPont bought the rights for the material developed by the British scientists in 1946) but what is important is that polyester was born and developed in the years between the early 1930s-early 1940s.

In the 1950s and 1960s, polyester started to gather traction as people started using it in a variety of applications including clothing, bedding, and other textiles. It was also used to make films, carpets (the first synthetic fiber for use in carpets), and other products. Later, in the 1970s, its characteristics and properties made it a key component in the production of synthetic fabrics, such as polyester/cotton blends, which were widely used for clothing and other purposes. This decade marks the beginning of the usage of polyester in activewear because of its resilience, strength, durability, abrasion resistance, crease resistance, wicking abilities, dimensional stability, easy-care properties, etc.

Since its demand surpassed the cotton demand in the early 2000s, polyester has become the most widely used material in modern times. It is used in a variety of applications, including everyday and high-performance clothing, textiles, films, carpets, blankets, upholstery, and myriad other products.

Polyester has a rich history that spans several decades. It was first developed in the 1930s as a replacement for silk and has become a widely used material in a variety of applications. Known for its resilience, durability, crease and abrasion resistance, low maintenance, and moisture-wicking properties, polyester is still widely used in modern times.

Average annual growth fiber production between 2011 and 2021
World production of fibers, annual average growth

Source: CIRFS

Polyester advantages

Polyester is the most used fiber today (57 mln tonnes or 52% of the global production in 2020; 60.5mln tonnes or 54% of the global fiber production in 2021), a workhorse for many applications. The reason is clear – polyester has too many properties that cannot be ignored making it suitable for a wide range of functional products.

Some of the most important advantages of polyester include:

  • Durability and strength

Polyester is a strong and durable fiber. This makes it a good choice for clothing that will be subjected to a lot of wear and tear, such as activewear or workwear.

  • Resilience

Resilience is an important mechanical property closely related to shape retention. Highly resilient, polyester fiber has great bending recovery properties leading to low permanent deformation. This is especially useful in pile fabrics (fleece). The excellent tensile resilience of polyester is directly related to crease resistance.

  • Crease resistance/retention

Polyester is resistant to shrinking, fading, and wrinkling. It is able to retain crease for a longer duration and does not wrinkle easily. These properties make it ideal for everyday wear.

  • Abrasion resistance

The abrasion from laundering and everyday wear degrades the fabric. Polyester has good resistance to abrasion adding to the comfort but also prolonging the normal life of the garment.

  • Easy care and maintenance

Excessive heat can cause shrinkage and damage to your clothes because polyester fiber is sensitive to heat. Nevertheless, it can be machine washed and dried on low or medium heat settings without any issues. This makes polyester a convenient and low-maintenance choice for clothing. The easy care and maintenance make it suitable for everyday wear. Beware that polyester’s hydrophobicity makes it less resistant to chemicals (see more about this in the ‘Polyester disadvantages’ section below).

  • Water-repellency

Water repellency has important applications, especially in water-repellent and waterproof clothing (e.g. hydrophilic polyester membranes play an important part in the foul-weather clothing industry). The inherent water repellency of polyester is often improved further by applying different coatings. The improved hydrophobic property of the polyester fabric provides extra protection against wind and water.

  • Quick drying

Directly related to hydrophobicity. Because of the wetness of the garments, polyester garments usually dry fast. This is especially important for base layers. Additionally, reduced time of drying is an important factor for drying outdoors in cool-to-cold climates.

  • UV stability

Walking outdoors naturally means increased skin exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Prolonged and repeated exposure to sunlight can be detrimental to human skin leading to skin cancer and other skin injuries. A viable solution is wearing textiles blocking UV light. Luckily, polyester has excellent resistance to UV radiation limiting the skin’s exposure to sunlight.

  • Modification

Unlike many other fibers, polyester can be readily modified. Modification of polyester fibers is an effective way to improve desired properties (e.g. elasticity), suppress unwanted properties (e.g. pilling ability), and add new properties. There are three types of modifications – physical, chemical, and combined.

  • Recyclability

The environmental impact of materials is becoming a very important factor. Some polymers including polyesters are not biodegradable, which is a problem. Polyester is made from fossil fuels, which can have negative environmental impacts. However, the good news is that polyester is recyclable making it a sustainable alternative in the eyes of some people.

  • Good resistance to microorganisms and insects

Unlike natural fibers, synthetic fibers are rarely attacked by microorganisms and insects. That’s why polyesters are resistant to biodegradation. This property widens the end-use applications.

  • Affordability

Relatively inexpensive, polyester is generally much cheaper than natural fibers and even nylon. The lower cost is a huge advantage over more expensive textiles such as wool. This may make polyester apparel a more appealing choice for those on a budget.

100% Polyester fabric with a label
Polyester fabric is the most popular fabric today

Photo by Markéta (Machová) Klimešová

Polyester disadvantages

Some of the disadvantages of polyester for outdoor wear include:

  • Breathability

If you’ve worn polyester clothing in hot weather, you know that in such conditions, it generally feels uncomfortable to wear it next to the skin. This is because polyester doesn’t absorb moisture and has poor vapor transmission abilities and low thermal conductivity. Low breathability does not allow for proper air circulation. The breathability can be improved by increasing the hydrophilic character either by modifying the polyester fiber (e.g. Coolmax – one of the most popular modified polyesters – is made of lightweight hydrophilic polyester) or by blending it with hygroscopic fibers (e.g. wool or cotton).

  • Insulation

Just like other manmade fibers such as nylon and acrylic, polyester is a decent insulator but it is not as effective as wool at trapping air and retaining heat. This may make it less suitable (except for some modified polyesters and polyester blends) for outdoor clothing that will be worn in cold or wet conditions.

  • Feels clammy and chilly when wet

The fact that polyester has low moisture absorption – it can absorb just a little liquid without daring to feel wet – makes it feel clammy and chilly when wet. This is directly related to the comfort sensation when using polyester clothing.

  • Odor retention

It is one of the polyester’s biggest disadvantages because odor-reducing properties generally make a garment suitable for multi-day trips. Unfortunately, this means that polyester clothing worn close to the skin should be washed after each use making it less suitable for multi-day hikes. Various antimicrobial finishings are used to try to curb the problem.

  • Generates static electricity

The build-up of static charge on fabric can be really annoying. If you hate static electricity, think twice before buying and wearing polyester clothing because its antistatic properties are lackluster. What to do to reduce static electricity: 1) use fabric softener and 2) avoid overdrying as it can create a build-up of static electricity in your garment.

  • Resistance to chemicals

Although this may sound good at first, resistance to chemicals means that polyester clothing is much less readily penetrated by cleaning products and other chemicals. Undoubtedly, this affects cleaning efficiency and makes polyester clothing harder to clean.

  • Weight

One can hardly imagine how heavy polyester fiber is because clothes made with it are often lightweight. Manufacturers typically utilize lightweight or thin fabrics for polyester clothes to reduce the overall weight of the garment. Sometimes this negatively affects durability. Nevertheless, reducing the bulk and weight of activewear is a positive trend.

When it comes to outdoor clothing, polyester has a lot to offer. It’s durable, resilient, and can withstand a lot of wear and tear. It’s also resistant to creases, UV rays, and doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. Additionally, it’s great at wicking away moisture. However, it’s not as breathable or insulating as wool, it can create static electricity, and it can hold onto odors. Whether or not polyester is the right choice for you depends on what you’re looking for in a fabric.

Outdoor clothing made from polyester

Just like wool, polyester is used for making different types of outdoor clothing, including:

  • Base layers: when choosing a base layer for your outdoor activities, polyester is a great option. One of the best things about it is that it wicks away moisture and dries quickly, which helps keep you dry and comfortable while you’re out doing sports, walking around town, or working. Additionally, it’s resistant to creases and abrasion, and it’s easy to take care of. All these properties make polyester base layers a reliable choice for keeping you comfortable during any outdoor activity.
  • Mid-layers: polyester fleece is engineered to improve the thermal insulation offered by regular polyester. Fleece is a great synthetic alternative to wool and it’s more budget-friendly. It has its own set of pros and cons. Polyester mid-layers are versatile and can be worn alone in mild weather, or as part of a layering system when it’s colder.
  • Outer layers: polyester is a popular choice for outer layers, like softshells and rain jackets, because it’s durable, resistant to abrasion, and repels water. Plus, it’s relatively inexpensive. These properties make it an ideal fabric for use in windy, rainy, or even extreme weather conditions. Many of these jackets use polyester for both the face fabric and lining.
  • Pants: it is used in many outdoor models because its characteristics and properties make polyester suitable for changing weather conditions as well as hot or cold weather. The combo of polyester and elastane is the main competitor to nylon/elastane blends for making lightweight, water-resistant, and rugged hiking pants that do not restrict the movement of the wearer.
  • Socks, gloves, and headwear: polyester and fleece make great materials for accessories like socks, hats, face masks, neck gaiters, and gloves. They’re durable, soft, and affordable, so they’re perfect for keeping you dry and comfortable while you’re participating in outdoor sports and activities. If you’re looking for gloves, hats, socks, or other accessories for variable conditions, consider choosing polyester or a polyester blend.

Polyester is a great option for any type of outdoor clothing, from base layers to outer layers, pants, gloves, and socks. It’s known for its moisture-wicking, quick-drying, low-maintenance and durability properties, making it a perfect choice for outdoor activities in a range of temperatures and conditions. Whether you’re going on a hike, camping, or just enjoying a day out, polyester clothing can help keep you comfortable and dry.

Polyester base layers

Polyester is a synthetic fiber that can be suitable for base layers, depending on the specific product and your needs and preferences. Most good polyester base layers utilize either modified polyesters or special technologies (e.g. ZeroScent) that change some of the polyester’s inherent characteristics to improve or impart certain needed properties for the intended use. Breathability, moisture management, odor reduction, and anti-static properties are frequently worked on.

When it comes to base layers for physical activity, polyester may be a good option due to its moisture-wicking, easy maintenance and quick-drying properties. However, it’s important to keep in mind that it may not be as breathable or insulating as natural fibers and may not be the best choice for extremely cold or wet conditions. Additionally, some people may find polyester less comfortable to wear as it can feel synthetic and slippery against the skin.

Hiker wearing polyester T-shirt on the trail
Polyester shirts and base layers are extremely popular

Nevertheless, polyester is among the most preferred materials for functional undergarments. Some of the most renowned outdoor brands such as Helly Hansen, Patagonia, Craft, and Odlo make high-quality polyester base layers. Some of the best models worth mentioning include:

  • Patagonia Capilene is a versatile technical top. This legendary base layer is lightweight and quick-drying for maximum comfort and performance on the trail and in town. Note that it works best in cool to hot conditions hence the 153 g (5.4 oz) weight. Made with close to 100% recycled polyester.
  • Craft Active Extreme X is made with 40% SeaQual polyester, 39% Coolmax, and 21% recycled polyester, i.e. 100% polyester. This baselayer is built for high-intensity activities in mild to cold winter conditions. This top is made with a unique fabric that is designed to keep you comfortable by managing your body temperature. It’s great for wicking moisture away from your skin and quickly moving it away to prevent clamminess. It’s an interesting choice for those who prioritize comfort and breathability during their activities. As with other functional models, there’s a bottoms option – Active Extreme X Baselayer Pants. Craft, a Swedish company, is known for making some of the most awesome base layers that are lightweight and follow body movements to ensure unrestricted mobility.
  • Helly Hansen LIFA Active Crew is another very good base layer that comes from Scandinavia, in this case, Norway. It relies on Helly Hansen’s own LIFA technology that delivers excellent moisture management. Fits well most body types and holds up well. Could easily become your go-to long-sleeve base layer top. The top and the LIFA Active pants make a great set for winter walking, cycling, running or cross-country skiing. Just like the base layer top, this 2-layer construction is crafted from a blend of 65% recycled polyester and 35% polypropylene.
  • Marmot Polartec Long-Sleeve Crew is made with a midweight recycled polyester fabric. The design is cool, the material is soft and comfortable. There are also base layer tights: same material, flatlock seams, and solid construction. Both are engineered for long days of wear and have excellent moisture-wicking and quick-drying properties.
  • Active F-Dry Light Eco is another great base layer (this time bottom) by Odlo –  a Swiss company born in Norway nearly 80 years ago. There is also a base layer top (same name). The Active F-Dry Light is breathable and versatile and is made with 88% recycled polyester fibers. Designed for all-weather performance. Utilizes ZeroScent (which is a silver-ion) technology to provide a long-lasting fresh feel.

Polyester (fleece) mid-layers

One of the biggest disadvantages of polyester – its not-so-good insulation abilities – was overcome with the invention of polyester fleece or just ‘fleece‘ by Patagonia and Malden Mills in the 1980s. Malden Mills is known as Polartec today. The fine polyester fibers in this textile trap air in a similar way to fur providing insulation. The name they gave to the fleece material made by PET (the material widely used for soda bottles) was ‘Synchilla‘. Another fleece version called ‘Technopile‘ was developed by Pontetorto, an Italian company at about the same time. ‘Capilene‘ were also among the first trademarks.

Polyester (fleece) mid-layers are a type of second-layer clothing that is made from polyester fibers and is often used for insulation and warmth during outdoor activities, such as hiking and backpacking. Today, polyester fleece dominates the market of mid-layers because fleece is not only a cheaper version of wool but it has all the advantages of polyester fiber minimizing most of the disadvantages. Unlike polyester, fleece is breathable and warm providing excellent thermal insulation. Unlike wool, fleece has a soft non-itch feel and is easy to care for. The great warmth-to-weight ratio of fleece is indisputable. The biggest disadvantages of fleece are its high air permeability and bulk.

Some of the best models on the market today:

  • Mountain Hardware Polartec Power Grid is a half-zip technical mid-layer made with 60% recycled polyester. This fleece mid-layer is designed for high-intensity sports and pursuits – climbing, bouldering, and backpacking among them. Built for the mountain, it works well enough for all kinds of outdoor activities including camping and casual hiking.
  • Helly Hansen Daybreaker Half Zip is a classic fleece top. Crafted from Polartec fleece, it is lightweight and highly breathable and doesn’t add bulk. Plus it is super soft and comfortable to wear. In addition, this pullover is made with 100% recycled polyester. Versatile, suitable for a wide array of cold-weather activities. The 1/2 zip allows for a quick release of excessive heat. The rich color palette guarantees that even the picky ones won’t be disappointed. No doubt, one of the most affordable base layers on the market, with a great price-to-quality ratio.
  • Columbia Steens Mountain 2.0 is the descendent of the Steens Mountain – a Columbia classic. This mid-layer jacket comes in full zip and features soft but durable fleece fabric. The streamlined design makes it work well enough as a part of a layered clothing system or everyday wear. Overall, a great budget-friendly option.
  • Marmot Drop Line 1/2 Zip is a lightweight fleece pullover for chilly weather. This flatlock-seam construction is not only comfortable but also looks stylish. Comes with zippered chest pocket and a collar lined with Marmot’s DriClime mesh material for added comfort in a wide range of temperatures.
  • Spyder Bandit Half Zip has all one would need for his/her winter adventures. Very well made and looks cool enough for everyday wear around town. Works best as a mid-layer, but can also be worn as an outer layer depending on the conditions. Has a rich color palette, which is another plus. For those who’d need a performance jacket, this mid-layer also comes in full zip.

For outdoor enthusiasts, polyester (fleece) mid-layers are a great choice. They are durable, low maintenance, and have properties like moisture-wicking and quick-drying which makes them perfect for outdoor activities. They also provide thermal insulation and warmth even when wet. Fleece mid-layers can be worn alone in mild weather or as part of a layering system in colder weather. Overall, fleece mid-layers are versatile and practical choice for outdoor activities.

Polyester outerwear

Polyester is commonly used for softshells and waterproof jackets for outdoor pursuits. Each of these types of outerwear has its proponents and opponents.

Snowboarding in the mountain
Synthetic fibers are a popular choice for winter sports

Photo by netster


Softshell jackets are an interesting solution designed to cover the gap between mid-layers and classic outer shell layers a.k.a. rain jackets. Softshells are typically made from synthetic materials and designed for casual wear. They provide moderate wind and water resistance, making them great for everyday use. Softshells are more breathable than hardshells and rain jackets, making them ideal for layering and allowing for a full range of motion. They are perfect for people who are looking for something that can be worn all day long, providing some protection from the elements while still being comfortable and versatile. Built for all weather conditions, they’re water-repellent for better protection from the elements (yet, they are rarely waterproof). Here are three great softshell jackets made with polyester:

  • KUHL The One Hoody is an ultralight insulated hoody with a clean design. This jacket is designed for excellent protection against high winds, as it is windproof. However, due to its windproof nature, it is less breathable than a typical softshell. It also provides protection against light to moderate rain. Despite its lightweight design, it has a great weight-to-warmth ratio. The materials and construction are top-notch. We did an in-depth review of this jacket a couple of months ago, and we shared all the information we gained from wearing and testing it. You can find it in the ‘Gear Reviews‘ section on our site.
  • Columbia Ascender Hooded Softshell is a good budget model made with Nexgen Contour Soft-Shell 100% polyester fabric. This jacket is intended to be a wind and water-resistant versatile option for those looking for a simple but solid design without many hi-tech features. The material is nice and soft. The softshell is comfortable and will keep you warm in spring or fall or on mild winter days. It is roomy enough to allow for easy layering. In short, the Ascender does what it is intended to do and is a great bang for the buck.
  • Helly Hansen Paramunt Hooded is a multifunctional softshell jacket designed to satisfy both those looking for a cozy softshell and those craving a more technical softshell jacket. The Paramunt jacket is a great example of what makes HH garments so popular – solid construction with high-quality materials and packed with useful features. It offers good weather protection, especially when it comes to cutting the wind. The design is appealing, with two classic color options available, black and navy. Additionally, it’s an eco-friendly option, as it is a bluesign product and made with 90% recycled polyester.

Hardshells and rain jackets

Manufacturers of waterproof breathable jackets often utilize polyester. Yes, it is used as a face fabric or lining but its role is still prominent in the process of making rainwear.

Rainwear is expected to ensure a dry and comfortable outdoor experience. The shell material of rain jackets and hardshells needs to be durable and highly abrasion-resistant to hold up well in inclement weather and generally harsh conditions. It should also be treated with waterproof or water-resistant coatings to keep you protected from wind and water. Polyester is an ideal material for this purpose as it can stand up well to wear and tear and is a great option for repelling water.

The lining should be soft and breathable with a decent warmthtoweight ratio for maximum comfort on and off the trail. For this reason, polyester fleece is extremely popular for creating rainwear lining.

There is a ton of great shell jackets using polyester. Here are a few:

  • Outdoor Research Foray II is utilizing GORE-TEX PACLITE technology – a 2-layer unlined laminate construction. When designing this garment the guys from OR tried to strike a balance between functionality and comfort. This resulted in a shell jacket that is suited for every activity. The modernized bluesign design, TorsoFlo underarm zip ventilation, six size options up to 3XL, plenty of colors to choose from, and a number of technical features make this award-winning rain jacket a true favorite of ours.
  • Marmot GORE-TEX KT Component is an interesting 3-in-1 solution. This hardshell is fully seam-sealed, whereas the face fabric is treated with PFC-free DWR (durable water repellent) for added water resistance. The construction consists of a 2-layer GORE-TEX technology shell, tightly woven wind-blocking Pertex Quantum fabric, and a removable Thermal R polyester insulation liner. The combination works well on days with freezing temperatures. On milder winter days, you can just remove the liner jacket and use the GORE-TEX shell. The Marmot KT Component jacket comes with a helmet-compatible hood designed to maximize peripheral vision and an integrated RECCO reflector to increase the search and rescue possibilities in case of a mountain accident. This jacket weighs in at just over 1200g (2 lbs 11 oz) which makes it not exactly lightweight. However, it is designed to block unexpected weather while still keeping you warm and comfortable.
  • Helly Hansen Seven J Jacket is a versatile weatherproof jacket with attractive features. The HELLY TECH PROTECTION fabric is used to provide a dry and comfortable outdoor experience on all occasions. The Seven J jacket offers water and wind protection on and off the trail and can be used as both a rain jacket and a windbreaker. It is well-made and fairly packable. Both the shell and lining of the jacket are made of 100% polyester. Its stylish and elegant look makes it a desired top layer. The jacket also allows for easy layering underneath, providing additional warmth on colder winter days. Furthermore, it is one of the most affordable options among the 2-layer constructions, available at around $100.
  • REI Co-op XeroDry GTX is another reliable option on the waterproof breathable jackets market. Just like the Foray II by Outdoor Research, it utilizes the GORE-TEX PACLITE technology. Lightweight and easy to pack, the XeroDry GTX is designed to make the user feel comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. This shell features articulated patterning for increased freedom of movement, as well as adjustable cuffs with hook-and-loop closures for added warmth retention. This jacket may not be a technical hardshell jacket built to withstand the harshest conditions and environments, but it’s of good quality and will keep you dry and comfortable every step of your trip in the rain.
  • The North Face Antora Triclimate is a waterproof, breathable 2-layer shell jacket. Similarly to the Marmot GORE-TEX KT Component, the Antora Triclimate jacket is a 3-in-1 system built for all-weather comfort and warmth. The Triclimate technology combines a waterproof shell and breathable fleece to ensure an awesome experience no matter the weather conditions. The DryVent 2L shell treated with non-PFC DWR will keep out the elements in bad weather. The insulation layer provides extra thermal protection for colder days. The two layers can be easily attached or detached when necessary.

Polyester pants, socks, hats, gloves, and belts

Polyester trousers

Many types of outdoor pants are made with synthetic fibers such as polyester. You can find polyester shorts, lightweight pants, zip-offs, hardwearing trousers, rain pants as well as snow pants and bibs. Polyester is a versatile fabric that can be used for both hot and cold-weather outdoor pants. While some of its characteristics make it suitable for travel and hiking pants for hot weather, polyester is much more extensively used for durable stretch trousers for colder temperatures. It is because of some of the characteristics and properties polyester has. There’s more relevant information in our post about some of the most frequently asked questions people ask about polyester.

There are even polyester fabrics and blends suitable for year-round weather conditions. The  G-1000 by Fjallraven (see the ‘Polyester blends‘ section below for more on this fabric) and KUHL Freeflex are nice examples of such a fabric. Polyester is also a popular fabric for pants for snow and rain. Rain pants are a must for wet weather, especially for those working outdoor jobs as well as for people who’d hike in the rain. There are some great models such as the Outdoor Research Foray where the 2L GORE-TEX PACLITE is combined with an all-polyester plain weave fabric. Ski pants and bibs are also strong candidates for manmade fibers. Many models are made with nylon but there are also designs utilizing polyester. One of these is the Obermeyer Force Snow Pants, hardwearing and reliable trousers for snow sports. The 15k/15k HydroBlock Pro fabric (15 000mm WP & 15 000g/m2 per day moisture vapor permeability) and fully seam-taped construction provide adequate protection against the elements. While in most similar designs, the face fabric and lining are composed of nylon and polyester respectively, the shell content here is 100% polyester whereas the lining is 100% nylon.

Polyester socks

Unlike wool, polyester isn’t a very popular solution as a main fiber for all types of socks. However, it is among the preferred materials for waterproof socks. There are socks for summer and hot weather made with polyester. Coolmax and other modified polyesters that can deliver cool dry comfort are among the favorite textiles for summer socks. Note that despite the fact that it is called Coolmax, this polyester fiber has an all-season version too. The all-season technology works reasonably well in both hot and cold environments. Darn Tough Coolmax Hiker Micro Crew is a nice example of an all-year sock that’s comfortable in low and high temps. Thermolite (durable, hollow polyester fiber) is another modified polyester that is not only popular for socks but also for a wide range of outdoor products from underwear and outerwear, to sleeping bag liners, gloves, and even insulated boots. It is a warming technology for cold weather. The Thermolite technology aims to provide lightweight insulation warmth by enhancing the warmth-to-weight ratio of fabrics. This polyester is also durable, water-resistant, and has excellent compression and recovery characteristics.

Polyester gloves and mittens

Though merino wool is probably the best material for liners, some liner gloves are made either partially or fully with polyester fleece. For designs like the Smartwool Liner Glove polyester is about half of the content. These touchscreen gloves are soft and relatively warm for liner gloves. Some brands use polyester for touchscreen-sensitive pads. It is used for the thumb and index fingertips. For some reason, there is no abundance of effective touchscreen gloves on the market. We like a model by Santic (the fabric is made with 87% polyester and 13% spandex). These touchscreen liners are advertised as cycling gloves, but they are an excellent pair for a range of activities. Their touchscreen function works well, however, it fades over time. There are models with 100% percent polyester. One of these, the Patagonia Capilene Midweight, is made of 100% recycled polyester. Another design worth checking is the Marmot Rocklin Fleece Glove. Made with 100% fleece fabric, these gloves are lightweight (only 60-65g) and warm. A fun fact about these all-fleece gloves: they have touchscreen-compatible fingertips. A mere two or three years ago, touchscreen compatibility was a somewhat rare feature. Nowadays, each and every pair of gloves seem to have this feature. It is as if manufacturers want to add this feature to as many models as they can without worrying too much if you, the wearer, could actually use a touchscreen or not.

Polyester liner gloves are cool but polyester for gloves and mitts is used primarily for insulation. It comes in the form of fleece, PrimaLoft, Thermolite, Thinsulate, EnduraLoft, G-LOFT, etc. These synthetic textiles offer some of the best insulation available. Each of these polyesters is engineered to perform well in cold conditions for additional warmth. The high thermal efficiency, low weight, water resistance, and breathability are among the features they have in common. For cold environments, you’d need insulated gloves or mittens. These heavier designs rely on a weather-resistant and breathable shell and effective thermal insulation. Here come the polyesters we mentioned several rows above. An excellent design that utilizes PrimaLoft Gold insulation (highest performing PrimaLoft), the Black Diamond Soloist offer high-end functionality. These gloves have a removable liner made of PrimaLoft Gold and recycled fleece.

For some of their best classic models like the Army Leather Heli Ski, Hestra (a nearly 90 years old Swedish glove company known for the high-quality products it makes) uses another fiber technology called G-LOFT. This bi-component hollow polyester fiber is optimally suited for cold and wet environments. The most impressive properties it has include its ability to always return to its original shape, easy maintenance (unlike high-quality down, it can be washed in a washing machine without losing its abilities), and an unrivaled warmth-to-weight ratio.

The glove market has an amazing variety of polyester fibers. There are even heated gloves with EnduraLoft insulation suitable for exploring alpine environments.

Polyester headwear

When it comes to keeping your head and neck warm, you might think of merino wool as the go-to material for beanies, skull caps, balaclavas, headbands, and neck gaiters. But polyester, and specifically fleece, is just as popular and widely used, especially as a budget-friendly alternative. Fleece and fleece blends are a staple in the market for all types of warm hats, from beanies to bobble hats to ushanka-style hats.

Strange though it may seem, the use of polyester isn’t limited to warm hats. It is also a popular choice for sun hats. There are boonie hats, Tilley hats, bucket hats, baseball caps, etc., and even head nets.

If you are still unimpressed with the abundance of polyester hats, what about polyester rain hats? Some of the most interesting designs on the market are made with 100% polyester.

Polyester belts

Polyester is probably the second most widely used material for hiking belts just after nylon. Such belts are light but durable and abrasion-resistant. Generally, the polyester webbing is strong and durable, dries quickly, and holds up well in most situations making polyester belts a preferred option for many outdoorsmen.

Historical world production of fibers, 1975-2030
Historical world production of fibers and future projections

Source: Textile Exchange

Blended fibers

Manufacturers often use different combinations of natural and synthetic fibers in order to achieve the needed properties or to achieve better economical results. The blending of two fibers should produce a textile that obtains the advantages of each fiber minimizing the disadvantages or weaknesses of each fiber. Of course, blending any two or more fibers can pose a challenge because of possible technical issues. That’s why fiber selection is crucial for yarn manufacturers.

Both wool and polyester are susceptible to improvement by blending with other fibers. Polyester and wool are often blended with other materials to achieve a balance of performance, durability, and comfort in outdoor clothing. The specific material that they are blended with will depend on the desired properties of the final fabric.

Wool blends

The ability to blend with various fibers is one of the advantages of wool. Wool is often blended with other fibers for outdoor clothing to achieve a balance of performance, durability, and comfort. Some of the most common wool blends include:

Wool blends with synthetic fibers


Wool/polyester is a popular blend used for a wide range of clothing (see below in the ‘Polyester blends’).


Nylon and wool are often blended to create outdoor clothing that is both durable and warm. Nylon provides abrasion resistance and water resistance, while wool provides warmth and insulation. These blends are often used in outdoor clothing. Various wool/nylon combinations can be found on the market of socks, jackets, sweaters, etc. These combinations are suitable for a wide range of outdoor activities.


Acrylic and wool are often blended to create outdoor clothing that is both warm and affordable. Acrylic provides abrasion resistance and softness, while wool provides insulation. These blends are often used in outdoor clothing such as socks, sweaters, and warm hats, and are suitable for cold-weather outdoor activities. The main reason for such a blend to exist is the better economical result because acrylic is a cost-effective alternative to wool that closely mimics many of its properties. However, it’s important to note that wool and acrylic blends may not provide the same level of warmth as pure wool, and the fabric may not be as breathable, which can result in discomfort from overheating and moisture buildup.


Spandex is a synthetic fiber that is known for its stretch and recovery properties. When blended with wool, it provides a fabric that is stretchy, warm, and moisture-wicking. These blends are often used in outdoor activewear such as leggings, tights, and base layers, as they provide the freedom of movement and warmth needed for activities such as hiking and skiing.


These blends tend to have properties similar to polyester/wool blends. Among big manufacturers of outdoor clothing and gear, Helly Hansen is probably the company that uses the most extensively wool/propylene blends (the most common consists of 57% merino wool and 43% polypropylene). In their product range, wool/polypropylene can be seen in undergarments, base-layer pants and tops, mid-layers, gloves, balaclavas, and socks.


Lyocell/Tencel or just Tencel is a cellulose-based manmade fiber that is made from wood pulp. It is known for its softness, absorbency, and drape or adaptability to various forms of twisting. Such a blend is often used in hot-weather clothing (for underwear, base layers, mid-layers, shirts, shorts, socks, etc.) and high-intensity activities as it is soft, moisture-wicking, and breathable. Icebreaker uses merino wool and Tencel blend called cool-lite. The resulting fabric naturally regulates the user’s body microclimate.

Wool blends with natural fibers


Silk is one of the oldest fibers. It is an important natural fiber known for its softness and drape. That’s not all. Silk has other valuable qualities too – strength, elasticity, absorbency, low conductivity, and an affinity for dyes. The unique luster, unusual mechanical properties, and the feel of comfort in warm weather and warmth in cold weather have made silk so sought after. Today, silk is still considered a premier textile material used mainly for luxury apparel and high-quality specialized goods. When combined with wool, silk creates a fabric that is light in weight, yet warm and soft to the touch. It also effectively wicks away moisture, making it a popular choice for outdoor clothing, particularly for skiing. You can find this blend in various outdoor gear like jackets, shirts, scarves, thermal underwear, and socks.


When it comes to fibers, cotton is second only to polyester in terms of popularity. In the past, wool and cotton blends were often used for high-end clothing such as Viyella, Clydella, and Colana. However, these blends are not as commonly found on the market today. Nevertheless, wool/cotton blends are of some importance because the resulting product has a superior appearance and breathes well and thus has enhanced comfort. Clothes made from wool/cotton blends tend to be bulkier than all-cotton clothing and can offer a more economical alternative to woolen garments. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these blends can shrink, so manufacturers often use special technologies and treatments to prevent shrinkage. You can find wool/cotton socks, shirts, pants, and other garments worn next to the skin.


Wool is sometimes blended with other natural fibers such as cotton or linen to improve the comfort and breathability of the fabric. This can be especially useful for clothing that will be worn in warm and humid conditions or in direct contact with the skin.

Polyester blends

When it comes to blending fibers, polyester is a popular choice due to its ability to blend well with both natural and synthetic fibers. This makes it a versatile option for outdoor clothing. Below are some of the most widespread polyester blends for outdoor clothing:

Polyester blends with synthetic fibers


A blend of polyester with elastane or spandex can result in a fabric that is more stretchy and more comfortable. Polyester/spandex is a classic combination used in outdoor clothing because of its durability, moisture-wicking properties, and stretchability. These fabrics are often used in outdoor activewear, such as hiking pants, running tights, and technical shirts. They are also commonly used in outdoor gear, such as tents and backpacks, because of their resistance to abrasion and the elements. Polyester provides the durability and moisture-wicking while elastane adds stretch and flexibility. This makes the fabric ideal for active outdoor activities where freedom of movement and quick drying properties are important.


A cheap alternative to wool, acrylic is another synthetic fiber produced from oil. Although acrylic imitates wool, it has good abrasion resistance, is non-hygroscopic and quick-drying, dyes well, and has exceptional resistance to UV light degradation. Acrylic is not recyclable, pills easily, and is heat-sensitive so it may shrink. Polyester/acrylic blends are used in items such as fleece jackets, sweaters, and hats. The polyester in the blend provides durability, while the acrylic provides warmth and softness. Blends like these are commonly used for winter apparel because they offer a good balance of warmth and breathability. These blends are also lighter and more budget-friendly choices than natural materials such as wool or down, making them a more affordable option for outdoor clothing.


Nylon is another important synthetic fiber. It is hydrophobic and quick-drying and has excellent strength and resilience, abrasion resistance, and mildew resistance. Nylon is a lightweight material, which makes it comfortable to wear and easy to pack for outdoor activities. Nylon offers a good balance of durability, resistance to water and UV rays, and lightweight properties. The disadvantages of nylon include nonabsorbency, relative stiffness, and inability to keep its strength after long sunlight exposure. Nylon can be combined with other materials to create a variety of blends that have different properties such as stretch, breathability, and insulation. Nylon/polyester blends are commonly used in outdoor clothing, particularly in items that require durability and resistance to the elements – jackets, sweaters, pants, and even socks like the Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew. Outdoor clothing and gear often utilize these blends because they are tough and can withstand wear and tear, as well as resist water, UV rays, and abrasion. Additionally, their light weight makes them ideal for activities like hiking, camping, and backpacking.

Microfiber towels in different colors
Microfiber is another widely used polyester fabric

Photo by Gabriele Lässer

Taffeta, which was traditionally made from silk, is now often made from a blend of nylon and polyester. It is commonly used in outdoor apparel and is ideal for outerwear. It’s easy to take care of and makes a distinct rustling sound when the fabric moves, though this can be avoided by using microfiber. Taffeta is also a great choice for water-resistant clothing used in snow sports.


Olefin, also known as polypropylene, is a type of synthetic fiber that is commonly used in a variety of applications, including textiles and outdoor clothing. One of the main advantages of olefin is that it is lightweight, strong, moisture-wicking, quick-drying, cost-effective, and very resistant to moisture, mildew, abrasion, and chemicals. It also has good UV resistance. In textiles, polypropylene is often used in combination with other fibers, such as polyester or nylon, to create a variety of blends that have different properties.

While most types of the 3M Thinsulate are 100% polyester, one of its versions,  Thinsulate Type C consists of 65% olefin and 35% polyester. It is a microfiber insulation that is lightweight, compressible, and warm. One of the main advantages of Thinsulate Type C is that it provides a high level of insulation while being relatively thin, making it easy to incorporate into clothing and gear without adding bulk. The microfiber construction of the insulation also allows for good breathability, which helps to prevent overheating and moisture buildup. Type C is designed for use in cold weather. Thinsulate Type C is often used in conjunction with other materials, such as Gore-Tex or other membranes, to create clothing and gear that is both warm and waterproof. This type of Thinsulate is suitable for use in a variety of outdoor clothing and gear, but it’s used mainly in clothing, gloves, and footwear. For example, Helly Hansen typically uses Thinsulate for their warmer gloves and mittens. The Swift HT Mittens have 150g 3M Thinsulate insulation, Type C, inside. These mitts are for alpine adventures in cold winter weather. Having a warm and comfortable pair of mitts like these makes going to the slopes for skiing or snowboarding even more enjoyable.

Viscose rayon

Viscose rayon also known as ‘viscose‘ or ‘rayon‘ (it’s popular with this name in the USA) is a natural-based, cellulose fiber made from wood pulp. Though natural-based, this fiber is classified as manmade cellulosic, i.e. artificial. It has interesting characteristics that make it suitable for apparel end-uses. Rayon is a versatile, hollow fiber that has high absorbency making it super useful for producing comfortable clothing. In addition, it does not shrink when heated and has soft and smooth touch. It dyes well. Viscose is often blended with other fibers as one of the most widespread blends is polyester/viscose.

Polyester blends with natural fibers


A popular blend in outdoor clothing is polyester and wool, also known as poly/wool. This combination of fibers offers the best of both worlds, making it a great choice for a wide range of outdoor activities. The polyester in the blend helps keep the wool from shrinking, pilling or losing shape, and also dries quickly. The wool provides warmth and insulation, making the poly/wool perfect for cold weather. One of the main advantages of polyester/wool blends is that they offer a good balance of warmth, durability, and moisture-wicking properties, making them suitable for a wide range of outdoor activities. These blends are often used for base layers, sweaters, gloves, and socks.


Polyester/cotton fabrics also known as ‘poly-cotton‘ are among the most popular polyester blends for making outdoor clothing. Such blends have enhanced crease-resistance, easy care, and comfort. The two examples below are a small part of all the poly-cotton blends on the market.

Drirelease is a fabric technology for combining synthetic and natural fibers with the aim to engineer a blend that optimizes the wicking and drying abilities as well as enhancing comfort. The goal is to blend fibers that are hydrophilic (used for the evaporation layer) and hydrophobic (used for the wicking layer) to create a fabric that can quickly wick moisture away from the skin to the exterior of the fabric so that it can evaporate quickly. Drirelease yarns achieve this by using a blend of 85-90% hydrophobic fibers (polyester) and up to 15% hydrophilic fibers (cotton). This blend is used for clothing worn next to the skin such as base layers, T-shirts, shorts, liner gloves, neck gaiters, balaclavas, etc.

The  G-1000 by Fjallraven is a nice blend of 65% polyester and 35% cotton. Fjallraven’s heavily woven fabric, known as G-1000, is a staple material used in a variety of products like jackets, pants, and backpacks. It’s known for its durability and resistance to wind, making it suitable for year-round hiking. Additionally, it’s breathable enough for comfortable use while providing good protection from UV rays. When rubbed with Greenland Wax (water repellent that enhances the wind- and water-resistance of the material), this poly-cotton blend becomes water resistant thus making it suitable for variable climactic conditions. Fjallraven Vidda Pro Ventilated is a pant for year-round trekking. Made with the G-1000 Eco fabric (this type of G-10000 is made from recycled polyester and organic cotton), it is durable, weather-resistant, and packed with technical features – reinforced knees, buttoned strap adjustments at the leg endings, ventilation openings from the hips to the knees, openings for knee pads, knife pocket, loop for an axe among them.

Summary: wool vs polyester for outdoor clothing

When it comes to outdoor clothing, the choice between wool and polyester comes down to a matter of personal preference and the specific needs of the activity or environment. Each material possesses its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. Wool is a natural, breathable, and moisture-wicking material that is also naturally insulating and resistant to odors. However, it can be 10-15 times more expensive and may require more care in terms of washing and maintenance. On the other hand, polyester is a manmade material that is cheaper, more durable, and easier to care for. It also dries quickly and is resistant to shrinking and wrinkling. However, it lacks enough breathability and feels clammy and chilly when wet. In addition, polyester generates static electricity and tends to retain odors.

While both materials have their own strengths, a blend of both wool and polyester may be the perfect solution to strike a balance between warmth, durability, and cost-effectiveness. One possibility is to use both materials together and get the best of both worlds by looking for blended fabrics that combine wool and polyester. Ultimately, the choice between wool and polyester will depend on personal preferences, budget, and the specific activity or environment in which the clothing will be worn.

When it comes to outdoor clothing, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The best choice is one that is tailored to your unique needs and preferences, whether that be the natural warmth and moisture-wicking capabilities of wool or the unbeatable durability and cost-effectiveness of polyester.


* Kozlowski, Ryszard M., Mackiewicz-Talarczyk, Maria, Handbook of Natural Fibers, Volume 1, 8th ed., 2012, Woodhead Publishing Limited


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