We’re all told that cotton isn’t good for hiking but many of us, especially newer hikers, don’t actually know why. There is often a temptation to just bring the clothes you would wear down the street with you on a hike but as we’ll discuss, there is quite a few reasons why we say avoid cotton.
Cotton absorbs and retains moisture
Firstly, cotton is a highly absorbent material, which means it can easily soak up sweat and moisture, especially when it gets wet out on the trail. This can be a major problem for hikers who are hiking through the rain as once cotton clothing becomes wet, it loses its insulating properties, and can even cause hypothermia in cold weather. Wet cotton clothing can also cause chafing, blisters, and other skin irritations, making your time out on the trail uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.
Cotton takes a long time to dry
As mentioned earlier, cotton clothing can easily absorbs water really well and this becomes an even bigger problem when it doesn’t dry easily too. Cotton takes a long time to dry in good conditions and it can be even worse in humid or wet conditions. This means that hikers wearing cotton clothing may be stuck in wet clothes for hours at a time, which can be become really uncomfortable at best and dangerous when you’re out in the cold. If all of that wasn’t enough to put you off, cotton clothing can weigh down walkers, making the hike even more difficult and tiring.
Cotton doesn’t provide adequate protection from the sun
Many hikers may not be aware that cotton clothing does not provide adequate protection from the sun. Cotton clothing has a low UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating, which means it does not block out all the harmful UV rays from the sun. Cotton and synthetic materials also offer even less UV protection when they are wet, which is just another reason to not wear cotton – especially when wet. For all these reasons it is important for hikers to wear clothing that has a high UPF rating and not just the most ultralight gear you can find.
Cotton is not durable
Lastly, cotton clothing is not very durable, especially when compared to synthetic materials like nylon and polyester. Cotton clothing can easily tear or become damaged during a hike, which can be a problem when hiking through rugged environments. When choosing the right gear for your hike, you want to make sure it is something durable and can withstand the harshness of the outdoors. This doesn’t mean go and spend your money on the most expensive clothing from Arc’teryx but do be conscious about what you decide to take with you.
So, even though cotton may seem like a comfortable and practical choice for hiking, it can be dangerous out on the trail. Hikers should opt for either synthetic materials like nylon and polyester or Merino Wool products, which are moisture-wicking, quick-drying, provide adequate sun protection, and are more durable than cotton. By choosing the right clothing for a hike, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable trip no matter what conditions mother nature throws at you.
Written by Josh Welch