Moisture wicking is an essential quality for anyone who needs their clothes to get going when the going gets tough. Moisture wicking clothes help you keep cool, dry and fresh and are essential requirements for anyone with adventure on their mind. We cover a range of topics in our moisture wicking clothing guide from what it means, to how it works and the best sustainable moisture wicking materials.
Moisture wicking is the process of transporting moisture away from your skin using microscopic capillaries within the fabric, to the outside of the material for it then to be evaporated away. The process is twofold, relying both on the properties of the fabric to carry moisture away and your body, to heat and evaporate the moisture away.
Ultimately, this mimics and aids your body's natural temperature regulation, helping you keep cool when activity starts to heat up. Moreover, it helps you to keep fresh and dry whilst avoiding that damp, clingy feeling.
Moisture wicking relies on a phenomenon known as capillary action. Capillary action is the process of a liquid flowing without the need of an external force – think about how water can climb up a paper towel, even against gravity. In fabrics, sweat is drawn from the body along microscopic channels to the outside of the garment. From here, the moisture then spreads across the surface of the garment so it can be evaporated more quickly.
If you're interested in the physics, capillary action occurs when the adhesive force of water to the microscopic channel is greater than the cohesive force of the water molecules. The adhesive force is generated as some fabrics are hydrophilic (attracted to water) which causes the leading edge of a narrow tube of water to move along, even against the force of gravity. The leading water molecules then pull up their neighboring water molecules due to the same attraction responsible for surface tension.
The physics demonstrate that the smaller the diameter of the capillaries, the greater the moisture-wicking effect. This is because, with a smaller diameter, the lesser the effect of gravity. As we always look to develop our materials and work with fabric providers to reduce the size of the fabric's capillaries, our moisture-wicking clothes and fabrics are increasingly able to wick moisture away, keeping you drier and cooler.
Moisture wicking fabrics aid your body's natural thermoregulation process. The reason we sweat is it's your body's way of keeping you cool. By absorbing excess body heat, sweat beads are turned to vapor and evaporated away from your skin, helping to cool you down. Instead of trapping your sweat, moisture wicking fabrics allow it to reach the surface of your fabric, where your excess body heat converts it into vapor.
Whilst some materials wick sweat, others absorb it. This may obstruct the evaporation process as the sweat doesn't reach the surface of the material. This can lead to the fabric reaching saturation, resulting in that damp, sticky and clingy clothing feeling. Moisture wicking fabrics, however, ensure that sweat is carried and then evaporated from your body ASAP. The fabric layer touching your skin will therefore remain dry as moisture is wicked away.
Moisture wicking fabrics are also breathable, as by definition, they allow air and moisture to pass through them. This helps to keep you feeling fresh, as moisture wicking fabrics can react to your activity levels. In higher activity instances, breathable moisture wicking fabrics help to aid with heat regulation, increasing comfort as excess heat created from exercise can easily escape. Equally, however, due to the hollow fibers in moisture-wicking fabrics, they also help trap tiny pockets of air to keep you insulated.
As we have noted, sweating is one of your body's key temperature regulation methods. However, the downside of that is that it does tend to leave a smell. Yet sweat itself is virtually odorless, what you're actually smelling when you smell sweaty, are the by-products of bacteria breaking down protein molecules within the sweat. By quickly wicking sweat away, moisture-wicking fabrics reduce this bacteria frenzy helping to reduce sweat-related odor.
Recycled polyester shares all the benefits of regular polyester, including being incredibly versatile, durable, wrinkle-resistant and of course, moisture-wicking, except instead of adding to global plastic manufacture, it takes away. This is because, instead of using virgin plastic in its creation, it uses existing plastic such as plastic bottles, and repurposes them into recycled polyester fabric. As the fibers are plastic, water droplets rather than being absorbed, stay on the surface and run along the weave where they reach the outside of the fabric and ultimately, evaporate.
Hemp fabrics are made from the stalks of the industrial hemp plant and are woven to make clothing that is exceptionally strong, breathable and moisture-wicking. Hemp is very porous meaning its exceptionally breathable and naturally wicks moisture away from the skin. It is also far better for the environment as it requires 80% less water to grow than conventional fibers, captures double its weight in carbon dioxide and is also biodegradable.
Merino wool, very fine and soft wool deriving from Merino sheep, is naturally hydrophilic and actively draws moisture away from your skin allowing easy evaporation due to both the tiny holes in the fabric and also the unique properties of the merino wool fibers themselves. Not only is the fabric velvety smooth but as it is a natural fiber, it is renewable and biodegradable too whilst also being naturally odor-resistant meaning you don't need to wash it as often.
TENCEL™ and modal fabrics are evolutions of rayon, the first generation of wood cellulose fabrics made from beech trees. They are naturally moisture wicking and can absorb 20% of their weight in water. This is then wicked away as the fabric contains tiny fibrils, small filaments along which moisture can be drawn. Not only are TENCEL™ and modal fabrics made from renewable materials, but modal is also far less water-intensive than other fabrics.
Anything that incurs exploration requires moisture-wicking fabrics. From exploring snowy peaks to pine forests or urban attractions, you need materials that can keep pace with you. Moisture-wicking fabrics actively react to your body through thermoregulation. This is primarily through the transport of sweat but also as it's breathable in hot conditions to keep you cool and insulating when cold. This allows you to remain fresh no matter your level of activity.