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#1
Old 11-25-2011, 08:34 PM
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Cotton kills? How much is lethal?

I've read on backpacking/camping pages that 'cotton kills.' It loses insulating properties when wet, and takes a long time to dry out. Wool clothing is recommended instead. Fair enough.

Flipping through a wool clothing catalog, I notice that the vast majority of items offered are 90/10 cotton-wool, or 70/30 acrylic-wool, etc. Few items are 100% wool. So the question becomes, what level of cotton is one trying to avoid? Are cotton/wool or acrylic/wool blends acceptable? What's ideal, and what is good enough?
#2
Old 11-25-2011, 11:13 PM
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unfortunately, you are going to have to think of this as a gradient. 100% Cotton doesn't kill in really hot places. A 50/50 blend may be ok in warm to cool places. A90% wool blend may be useful in cold places.

You will probably have to define for yourself what 'hot' 'warm' 'cool' and 'cold' means. Plus you have to deal with moisture...rain or sweat will make a difference. Added to that is your physical activity; are you sitting on a bench or are you chopping wood.

As such, I expect this will have to go to IMHO to give you some guidelines, but not true answers for yourself.


I wear 50/50 polypro/wool long underwear about 4 months of the year when I'm biking or walking outside in 30 to -20 degrees. I wear 100% cotton in the summer, and will wear 100% cotton as a layer in the winter too.


The reason you don't see so much 100% wool is because it doesn't always wear very well. Its itchy and its bulky and it will snag on a lot of things including burrs and branches.

Last edited by Sigene; 11-25-2011 at 11:15 PM.
#3
Old 11-26-2011, 04:05 AM
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It doesn't have to be wool. It can be nylon, polyester, polypropylene, silk, etc. It really does depend on the temperature, humidity, etc. Under Armor makes excellent lines of both "hot gear" and "cold gear". Polypropylene long underwear is divine in the cold. A silk t-shirt is a good bottom layer when it's both cold and hot. If you anticipate being both cold and damp, wool is a very good choice, as it insulates even when wet. And, when it's going to be warm-hot, and dry(ish), then cotton is perfectly acceptable.
#4
Old 11-26-2011, 04:26 AM
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Wool has largely been superseded as a material for serious outdoor clothing. You probably wouldn't want to go skiing a typical "wool" sweater you'd buy at a department store these days precisely because most wool garments these days are blends that retain the look and some of the cozyness of wool, but not the benefits when wet. I used to x-country ski with a group that included a lot of serious old-timers, and they wore a lot of wool, but it was definitely of the scratchy variety I'm not sure you can even buy any more.

Fortunately, there is a myriad of synthetic fibers (including some that are wool blends) out there these days that are much more direct replacements for cotton in terms of how they wear. They're sold under a variety of brand names, but these days they're most of what you'll find at outdoors-oriented clothing places.
#5
Old 11-26-2011, 01:29 PM
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Moderating: Moved thread GQ->IMHO

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Moved thread to IMHO.
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#6
Old 11-26-2011, 11:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreasyJack View Post
Wool has largely been superseded as a material for serious outdoor clothing. You probably wouldn't want to go skiing a typical "wool" sweater you'd buy at a department store these days precisely because most wool garments these days are blends that retain the look and some of the cozyness of wool, but not the benefits when wet. I used to x-country ski with a group that included a lot of serious old-timers, and they wore a lot of wool, but it was definitely of the scratchy variety I'm not sure you can even buy any more.

Fortunately, there is a myriad of synthetic fibers (including some that are wool blends) out there these days that are much more direct replacements for cotton in terms of how they wear. They're sold under a variety of brand names, but these days they're most of what you'll find at outdoors-oriented clothing places.
Absolutely untrue. There's boatloads of 100% wool outdoor wear out there. Just about any outdoor store like REI, LL Bean, Cabelas, etc, will have oodles of wool to choose from, and there's even more to find online. Wool is still very much a fabric of choice for outdoor folks, of all persuasions.
#7
Old 11-27-2011, 12:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Lucretia View Post
Absolutely untrue. There's boatloads of 100% wool outdoor wear out there. Just about any outdoor store like REI, LL Bean, Cabelas, etc, will have oodles of wool to choose from, and there's even more to find online. Wool is still very much a fabric of choice for outdoor folks, of all persuasions.
Well, I suppose that's technically true, but it's more that wool is making a comeback in the form of Smartwool and other treated wool materials than that it's always been the material of choice. My point is that wool is no longer the only or the usual alternative to cotton, which seems to be the assumption the OP is making.
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Old 11-27-2011, 01:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GreasyJack View Post
Well, I suppose that's technically true, but it's more that wool is making a comeback in the form of Smartwool and other treated wool materials than that it's always been the material of choice. My point is that wool is no longer the only or the usual alternative to cotton, which seems to be the assumption the OP is making.
I found it odd that a wool clothing catalog would have so many products that had so little wool (10-30%), and so few which were 100%, which got me wondering how much wool one needed to gain wool's benefits when outdoors. Do the other blends offer similar benefits to wool when wet? Should I be happy with a 70/30 acrylic/wool blend sweater if I'm going camping, or should I seek 100% to protect myself if I get wet? I figure there's a gradient in protection, but wondered if there's a cutoff point.
#9
Old 11-27-2011, 01:04 AM
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What do folks think of a layer of cotton between wool and the skin for comfort? Cotton feels comfortable and moves the sweat away from the skin.
#10
Old 11-27-2011, 01:35 AM
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Originally Posted by The Second Stone View Post
What do folks think of a layer of cotton between wool and the skin for comfort? Cotton feels comfortable and moves the sweat away from the skin.
Not in any kind of serious outdoor activity or sport that involves the possibility of needing insulation, no. What you want in that case is a bottom layer of any of a number of different modern wicking fabrics (or not modern...silk is a good choice). Cotton does not, actually, move the sweat away from the skin. It just soaks it up and then you have a damp layer of fabric against your skin. Whether you want to stay cool or warm, that's not a good thing.
#11
Old 11-27-2011, 02:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Patch View Post
I found it odd that a wool clothing catalog would have so many products that had so little wool (10-30%), and so few which were 100%, which got me wondering how much wool one needed to gain wool's benefits when outdoors. Do the other blends offer similar benefits to wool when wet? Should I be happy with a 70/30 acrylic/wool blend sweater if I'm going camping, or should I seek 100% to protect myself if I get wet? I figure there's a gradient in protection, but wondered if there's a cutoff point.
It's because a place that bills itself as a "wool clothing" place is going to be selling stuff that looks and wears like old-school 100% wool clothing, but is really some sort of cotton or acrylic blend so it doesn't itch like crazy. It's not really designed for intense outdoor activity. You look good in it sitting around a fireplace drinking cocoa. Treated micro-fiber wool like Smartwool looks and feels very little like old fashioned wool clothing, and so is more likely to be sold alongside synthetic clothes at more outdoors sports-oriented places like REI.

An acrylic/wool or even a wool/cotton blend sweater should be just fine for hanging out at a campsite, but will probably not be pleasant for anything where you work up a sweat.
#12
Old 11-27-2011, 02:52 AM
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Originally Posted by Lucretia View Post
Not in any kind of serious outdoor activity or sport that involves the possibility of needing insulation, no. What you want in that case is a bottom layer of any of a number of different modern wicking fabrics (or not modern...silk is a good choice). Cotton does not, actually, move the sweat away from the skin. It just soaks it up and then you have a damp layer of fabric against your skin. Whether you want to stay cool or warm, that's not a good thing.
Thanks, good to know.
#13
Old 11-28-2011, 01:16 PM
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The whole "cotton kills" idea doesn't apply to camping. If you're within a short walk to shelter, it's a non-issue. The idea comes into play only in a survival situation. As in, you're wilderness camping/camping remotely and some sort of injury or weather happens for which you're not prepared.

I wilderness camp in the BWCAW often, and I always wear/bring cotton. I have synthetic/quick dry clothes as well. But the only wool is my socks. Cotton is comfortable.

The one issue 99.9% of people are going to have with cotton is that, yeah, it's worthless when wet and takes forever to dry. So you have to bring extra clothes in case your cotton clothes get wet. With quick dry, synthetic or wool clothing, you can pack less because getting wet isn't as much of an issue.
#14
Old 11-28-2011, 07:07 PM
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Originally Posted by thatguyjeff View Post
The whole "cotton kills" idea doesn't apply to camping. If you're within a short walk to shelter, it's a non-issue. The idea comes into play only in a survival situation. As in, you're wilderness camping/camping remotely and some sort of injury or weather happens for which you're not prepared.
Is it not a warmer garment to wear in general, or are the synthetic blends better?
#15
Old 11-29-2011, 12:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Patch View Post
Is it not a warmer garment to wear in general, or are the synthetic blends better?
Are you referring to wool being warmer or cotton being warmer than synthetics?

Either way, it's all relative. Any material of a certain weight can be warmer (when dry) than another material of a different weight. A heavy cotton sweater will be warmer than a light polyester shirt.

And they all have their pros and cons.

Wool tends to be of a heavier weight than synthetics of the same warmth (for lack of a better word), but will take longer to dry (though will dry faster than cotton of equal weight). But wool retains heat when wet. I'm not sure if synthetics have the same properties.

And then there are all sorts of different synthetics with different properties - fleece, lycra, spandex, ect.

The thing about cotton is that when all else is equal - equal weight, coverage, etc. - pretty much any other common clothing material will retain heat more effectively wet or dry. Cotton, when wet, will actually sap heat from you.

That's why "cotton kills." You're better off naked and dry than covered in wet cotton.
#16
Old 11-29-2011, 01:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sigene View Post
unfortunately, you are going to have to think of this as a gradient. 100% Cotton doesn't kill in really hot places. A 50/50 blend may be ok in warm to cool places. A90% wool blend may be useful in cold places.
If I'm planning to work up any kind of a sweat during outdoor activities, I avoid cotton like the plague. It's either modern synthetics like polypro, or wool, or wool/synthetic mixes. Depending on the activity level and temperature. Cotton is fine for camping or walking on the beach, but not if you want to prepare on being sweaty and/or wet

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sigene View Post
The reason you don't see so much 100% wool is because it doesn't always wear very well. Its itchy and its bulky and it will snag on a lot of things including burrs and branches.
Modern high-quality wool underwear doesn't itch and isn't bulky. I have both extensive and very good experience with this brand. Also this and this, which incidentally works very well at higher activity levels and temps up into the mid-teens (C).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Patch View Post
I figure there's a gradient in protection, but wondered if there's a cutoff point.
If you're going for wool, I'd recommend something with minimum 50% wool, preferably >70%. Good wool products often have a little bit of synthetic fiber mixed in for durability and elasticity, but there's often a tendency to mix in more synthetics to save on material costs.
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