Best Fabrics For Cold Weather
Polar fibers are generally made from polyester, PET (polyethylene terephthalate), and other synthetic fibers (sometimes recycled).
- Very breathable.
- Polar dries very quickly – faster than synthetic fibers, wool, and down fabric.
- Insulates even wet.
- Easy maintenance and washing.
- Insulation / average weight ratio is heavy compared to down, synthetic, and wool.
- Low compressibility – bulky compared to down and synthetic fibers.
Polar Clothing type
Fleece fibers are used in the clothing of the same name (fleeces with “short” hairs and “long” hairs). There are also pants, gloves, and fleece hats. Fleece is also used as a lining for some clothing.
Fleece clothing is very versatile because it can be used during intense exertion, moderate exertion and at rest, whether in dry or humid conditions (it insulates even when wet and dries quickly).
In addition, they are practical and often less expensive than clothes using other insulation. This is why many hikers use them for either day or multi-day hikes – even if they are not the most technical and performance clothing.
2. Synthetic fibers
Most of the synthetic fibers used as insulation in the second layers consist largely of polyester. These synthetic fibers are often constructed trying to mimic the properties of natural down.
- Insulate well, even wet.
- Dries fairly quickly – but less quickly than fleece.
- Less expensive than down.
- Fairly good insulation/weight ratio – often better than fleece.
- More compressible than fleece.
- Fairly easy maintenance.
- Insulation/weight ratio less good than down – heavier.
- Less compressible than down – bulkier.
- Less durable than down.
- Less breathable than fleece, down, and wool.
Synthetic fibers Clothing type
These synthetic fibers are mainly found in down jackets, vests, or jackets resembling down jackets containing down. Down jackets made from synthetic fibers are generally less compartmentalized (fewer small “socks”) than down jackets – because synthetic fibers stay in place better.
Synthetic Fibers Uses
Like fleece clothing, synthetic fiber clothing is versatile because it can be used at rest, during exercise, in dry and wet conditions. They are often more efficient in terms of insulation compared to weight and size than fleece clothing, but a little less practical and less breathable. On the other hand, they are less efficient than down.
It is therefore a good choice to have a fairly light and insulating garment without paying the price of down and to cope with perspiration and external humidity.
The down used in the second layer comes from geese or ducks – the goose down is generally of higher quality.
- Excellent insulation / weight ratio – very light. Better than other insulators.
- Very compressible – space-saving.
- Good durability.
- Insulates little if wet.
- Slowly dries.
- High price.
- Less breathable than fleece.
- Care and washing difficult.
- May cause allergies.
Down Clothing type
Down is mainly used in down jackets – although it is also found in a few other garments like gloves or pants. Down clothes are often very compartmentalized to keep the down in place and avoid cold spots (places where there would be no down).
Down is an excellent insulator in dry conditions. Moreover, currently, there is no real insulation (for clothing) with such good thermal insulation – about weight and size. Down clothes are best for rest or moderate efforts to prevent sweat from reducing their performance. Be sure that they will not take up water – in which case they will insulate little or no.
Therefore, down fabric clothes are a perfect choice to cover up in the evening at the bivouac, at the refuge, or during breaks. They allow you to limit the weight of your backpack and avoid having to stack fleeces when it is freezing.
Note: There are no specific treatments that allow the down to maintain good performance in wet conditions.
4. Merino wool
- Good insulation/weight ratio – better than fleece.
- It dries fairly quickly (but less than synthetic).
- Insulates from the cold even when wet.
- Good regulation of thermal comfort.
- Moderately fast drying – compared to fleece or synthetic.
- Quite expensive – especially compared to synthetic.
- Moderately abrasion-resistant – especially when the wool is wet.
Initially, merino wool was mainly used in the composition of the first layers, but it is now appearing gradually in the second layers. It is found in particular in some fleeces and down jackets, in different forms.
Clothing made from merino wool can have the same uses as clothing made from fleece or synthetic fibers.
On the other hand, they tend to perform better than synthetic clothing of the same type (but are often more expensive). For example, a merino wool fleece will generally be “warmer” for equal weight than a synthetic fleece.
Plus, merino wool garments provide great thermal regulation – although they tend to dry less quickly than synthetic garments.
5. Hybrid clothing
We have just seen the pros and cons of the 4 main insulators used as well as some types of clothing using them, but it would be way too simple if there were no exceptions and hybrids.
But why make hybrids? Here it is generally for one of the following two purposes :
- Use the advantages of two different things and minimize the individual disadvantages of each.
- Compromise between price and performance.
We find for example (non-exhaustive list):
Down has undergone a hydrophobic treatment to limit its main drawback – that is to say that it insulates little or not when it is wet.
– Down jackets with a part in natural down and the rest is synthetic. The idea is to have a good enough product at a fair price. Often down is used in the torso and back and synthetic fibers in the sleeves.
– Fleece in wool and synthetic fibers to provide resistance and elasticity to the thermal comfort of wool.
– Windproof and water-repellent fleeces – the famous softshells. It is therefore a mixture between a second and a third layer.
– Waterproof down jackets have the advantage of being able to be used in wet conditions, but which are often quite heavy and not very breathable. It is also a mixture between a second and a third coat.
So you see that choice is essential, and that is why it is necessary to understand what each garment does and does not do thoroughly.