Do moisture-wicking fabrics work?
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Home › Forums › Campfire › Editor’s Roundtable › Do moisture-wicking fabrics work?
- This topic has 89 replies, 30 voices, and was last updated 1 year, 5 months ago by Aaron Reynolds.
Jan 14, 2022 at 1:58 pm #3736988Jon Fong / Flat Cat GearBPL Member
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
@Woubeir – I was on the same train of thought. Then I began to think that it really is all about water transport mechanisms. In the summers, I hike in the Sierras and many time I bring a cotton T-shirt ( I know, the death fabric). At that time of year, temperatures are warm and the humidity is generally low. Cotton does wick and the evaporation helps keep me cool. That being said, backpacking in the tropics (IMO) is brutal. The few times I have done it, I have been drenched in sweat and basically no evaporative cooling. In both cases, the temperature have been above 75 F. The greatest difference is how and when water is transported away from the skin.
I can image that in the Winter, a poorly set up layering system could generate high internal humidity (like the tropics). I am looking forward to the next article.Jan 15, 2022 at 1:39 pm #3737065
75° is still relatively OK. Hiking here is often above that. The issue starts really from 86° IMO. In combination with high humidity.Jan 15, 2022 at 2:02 pm #3737070
Hi Woubeir: Concerning your question about multiple base layers. I’d like to hold off on that until the 2nd article in that series. I am working this right now and doing a series of tests that sheds light on that very question. Interesting results, but not ready for prime time.Jan 15, 2022 at 5:00 pm #3737082
Hi Woubeir, again: In a prior post you asked about Air Vent fabric used in OR Echo. I ran a wick dry test on this in conjunction with a series of tests I am doing for which I wanted a light weight wicking layer. The one I have was heavily used for a season. I stopped using and got a similar Montbell quarter zip. I was ending up too wet in the Echo. So, it has lots of use for one summer and therefore lots of washes. It did poorly in the initial test. Slow to wet and moisture spread during the test was very uneven. It is now going through round 2 and behaving similarly. I did a 50ul drop test for wetting on it. The relevant standard says the drop test ends if absorption does not occur within 60 seconds. In the case of this shirt, it did not. I suspect it probably wicked fine when new, so, I would guess the hydrophilic chemistry has disappeared. Compare this to one of my Pat Capilene shirts that has been used heavily for several years and still wicks with the best of them. Difference in chemical treatments, I would guess. I guess I will substitute the Montbell shirt and see if that does better. Edit-Did dropper test on Montbell shirt. It wets just fine. Now, I will have to rerun two hours of tests. Based on this tiny sample size, I would put my money on Montbell and not Echo fabric.Jan 16, 2022 at 9:08 am #3737124
which Montbell-shirt is that because currently they seem not to have L/S zip-shirt (except in Japan made from their Wicron Cool-fabric) ?Jan 16, 2022 at 9:42 am #3737127
Hmmmm- I have a couple of OR Echo hoodies that have been service for 2-3 years (1000+ miles on each) and not noticing any drop in performance yet.Jan 16, 2022 at 9:47 am #3737128YoPrawnSpectator
“Hmmmm- I have a couple of OR Echo hoodies that have been service for 2-3 years (1000+ miles on each) and not noticing any drop in performance yet.”
I’ve been using the Echo as well. I’m surprised it isn’t being tested well here after some heavy use. If there is something that can transport moisture better, I would be interested to see how it works out in the real world.Jan 16, 2022 at 9:54 am #3737130YoPrawnSpectator
For those of you hiking in hot, humid conditions, I was under the impression that one should NEVER have tight fitting layers for such conditions? Or is this not true? I always go with a very loose-fitting, ultra-thin polyester button-up shirts, as the airflow through the loose fit seems superior to any transport through fabric? I pretty much dress like people from India, who arguably live in “some” of the worst heat on the planet.Jan 16, 2022 at 2:18 pm #3737149
Woubier, Mike and Johan:
I also have a OR Echo short sleeve. Not as much use as the long sleeve version. I just did a drop test. On the short sleeve, it took 8 seconds for the 50ul drop to start wetting. No great, but functional. I repeated the test on the long sleeve. At 58 seconds, it started to wet. However the drop was not fully absorbed for another 10 seconds. It really absorbed slowly after wetting started. It really looks like the chemistry has worn or transformed after lots of washes. With all due respect to folks with years of experience, I suggest that changes of this sort may be hard to discern in use. It is not that the shirt won’t wick. It just wicks poorly. Water is absorbed and disperses slower than it used to. I have not done a wicking test of the Montbell, but will and will post later. The Montbell shirt I have is found here: https://www.montbell.us/products/disp.php?cat_id=25023&p_id=2304126&gen_cd=1Jan 16, 2022 at 4:19 pm #3737159
Stephen what other physics (beyond wicking) are at work with an effective base layer? The Echo in long sleeve AND a hood, weighs a mere 4 oz in Large. This lightweight fabric has to play a role in it’s ability to dry quickly (wicking or not).Jan 16, 2022 at 4:47 pm #3737162
one thing a base layer can do is absorb body oils so they don’t get into the insulation and degrade it
maybe controlling stinkinessJan 16, 2022 at 5:09 pm #3737163
Mike: Go find figure 10 in the article and read the paragraph above. I think that a lightweight wicking fabric will have inherently fewer capillaries because there are fewer fibers in the yarns and more air spaces between the yarns. This means these really lightweight shirts probably have less capacity to move moisture than heavier shirts with more yarns. In a stronger wind this may have a benefit. Under a wind layer or at hiking speeds with exposure to still air, the increased air permeability of the lightweight fabric will be of little value.
I just tested the short sleeve and long sleeve shirts Echo shirts simultaneously. As expected, based on the 50ul drop test results, the short sleeve shirt did considerably better than the long sleeve shirt. But still not great. I stopped using these shirts because I soaked them during summer use in no time at all.
Now, wicking is only part of the story. As I discussed in the article, wicking can only occur as fast as evaporation. If you cannot maintain the evaporation rate, the shirt will saturate and wicking will stop. The way your ensemble deals with vapor leaving the wicking layer, especially in cold weather will determine your success in staying dry, particularly as your activity level increases.
This is what I am studying right now with multiple types of layers on various wicking layers. I think I am beginning to understand the relationships and this will end up in the 2nd article.
Later tonight or tomorrow, I will post videos and results of what I am doing today. A picture is worth a thousand words.
I don’t know that a new Echo is a bad garment. I thought it did well initially. I started searching for an alternative to the Pat Capilene when they discontinued the 1/4 zip. I got the Echos and the one Montbell. The Montbell developed little holes in the fabric, so it may have a durability issue. I hike above tree line and stay on trails to get above tree line. My layers don’t tend to rub on rocks or vegetation. I don’t have a new Echo to test. If someone wants to send me one, I will. But, at this point, there is clearly an issue in the chemistry used to support wicking. Based on one shirt, we don’t know if this is always the case. But, people should buy the pipette I described in the article and then they can check these things themselves. It is cheaper than buying the same failing shirt again and again. Of course, the question about whether lightweight shirts really make sense is another topic.Jan 16, 2022 at 5:28 pm #3737164Jon Fong / Flat Cat GearBPL Member
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
Water transport is such a difficult problem to solve. Steady State c0nditions are not bad (resting). Keeping warm while watching the Packers play at Lambeau Field is managable as your activity level can be pretty stable. Throw in activities and everything goes to hell.
While looking at the internet, I came across this statement from an article from Stanford;
“The average human, at rest, produces around 100 watts of power.  Over periods of a few minutes, humans can comfortably sustain 300-400 watts; and in the case of very short bursts of energy, such as sprinting, some humans can output over 2,000 watts”
While backpacking, this means that you have to manage / adjust your layers. Now, what would be kind of cool is a light weight temperature/humidity sensor that would forecast / advise when to adjust your layers. My 2 cents.Jan 16, 2022 at 6:19 pm #3737166
A thicker garment that is able to move more moisture via wicking it off the skin, but the moisture takes a longer time to move through that fabric vs a very light fabric that doesn’t wick as quickly, but dries more quickly- which is the better base layer?
If you have a fabric that moves moisture quickly AND dries quickly, the answer is easy then.Jan 16, 2022 at 8:41 pm #3737175
Hi Mike: May be a case of too light or maybe, you just need a different light weight fabric.
Here are the numbers on the tests:
If you look at the light wicking fabrics in my article, the two lightest fabrics-Thermocline and Coolfab had the worst wicking performance. If you go up just a little in weight to the Dozier fabric, you get great wicking performance. This may be one of those tradeoffs of which we are all familiar as we select out gear. I suspect as you get light, you simply give up wicking capacity.
You can watch a video of the wick/dry test for Montbell and Echo Long Sleeve here. When you watch the video you get very uniform spread of water on the Montbell shirt. You see a highly non-uniform spread on the Echo. The pattern on Echo typically means wetting is not easily occurring.Jan 16, 2022 at 11:24 pm #3737181Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
I always go with a very loose-fitting, ultra-thin polyester button-up shirts, as the airflow through the loose fit seems superior to any transport through fabric?
Loose-fitting is good, much better than thru-flow.
Ultra-thin is fine but won’t last as long. This may be acceptable.
Polyester is cheap and nasty and NOT good for sweating. It sticks to your skin, possibly the worst of all fabrics.
CheersJan 17, 2022 at 1:25 am #3737183
as the fabricweight of the Montbell is heavier at 98 gsm (vs 78 gsm for the Echo), which of them do you consider cooler and is the difference significant ? As I use the Echo in very warm to hot temperatures (+30° to almost 40°). Fit is loose BTW.Jan 17, 2022 at 2:00 am #3737184
BTW, am I seeing it right as that there is no table with the results from the dropper-test included in your article ?Jan 17, 2022 at 7:48 am #3737191
I think sun protection and bug protection are important for a base layer which I would wear by itself if warmJan 17, 2022 at 9:23 am #3737210Paul SBPL Member
It’s interesting hearing about others experiencing wetness in the OR echo, as I have. It is one of my favorite layers, but one characteristic that is undesirable is it essentially wetting out while going up a steep high pass then at the top where its windy, being cold as it dumps all your heat at once.
I have wondered if having a thin lightweight shirt that blocks UV and a shirt than wicks away moisture are competing objectives.
Thanks again for the article Stephen. The data and insight is helpful!
I’ve bought an alternative to try this year: a Rabbit running deflector hoodie. It is ~15g heavier but I’m hoping a little better in this regard; I’ve had good luck w/ their products for running.Jan 17, 2022 at 4:53 pm #3737243Scott EmmensBPL Member
I am really enjoying (probably not the correct word) reading other peoples experience with the OR Echo garments. I had purchased a couple due to good reviews elsewhere, along with the thought (incorrectly now it seems) that it is incredibly light so will dry quicker, wick better and protect me from the sun better. But my experience has been one of surprise at how wet (soaked) it gets and stays.
Living in New Zealand we do have limited access to the variety of brands and garments that are discussed here but OR is readily stocked here. I am now going to try and get a MontBell Cool Light top.
I have also just received a Finetrack SS top, as a result of a recommendation from Stephen, which I’m itching to test, but I think that is better suited to cold weather than the current warm summer conditions we are experiencing in Christchurch currently!Jan 17, 2022 at 5:27 pm #3737249
even if wicking fabric is not a very useful idea, there can still be clothing that’s advertised to be wicking that’s still very good clothing
if a manufacturer says their stuff is wicking, it will sell more, so they have to do it
maybe there’s some validity to the wicking concept so the manufacturer isn’t totally bad
personally, I just ignore whether something’s advertised as wickingJan 17, 2022 at 9:32 pm #3737268
Did you get the Finetrack from Japan or Canada? I got mine from Canada. Like Henry Ford said, any color you want, as long as it is black. In Japan, they have it in gray, as I recall, which would make it better for summer use. I cannot purchase from the Japanese web site and if I did, it probably would not fit, since they are sized for Japanese purchasers. I am told the sizing is different from the Canadian distributor. If it is hot in NZ, I suggest trying it as an outer layer. You might be pleasantly surprised.Jan 17, 2022 at 9:57 pm #3737269
Hi Woubier: I just took a quick look at the recorded thermal image of the two shirts. The Montbell is about 1F cooler so it has slightly higher insulation value than the Echo. That will be insignificant. Of course, that is only part of the story. The rest is air permeability, MVTR performance and fit. I have not measured any of these. I agree with Roger that in hot weather a loose fit is more important air permeability for ventilation, unless you are out in a pretty good breeze. At hiking speeds, there is not enough air pressure on the front of the garment to provide much ventilation until you get air permeability well over 400 CFM/Ft2. The Echo is 385 (just measured it). So, not terrible for ventilation through the fabric at hiking speeds but in hot weather, I would want more. The drop test numbers are not in the chart but are in the replies I previously posted.Jan 17, 2022 at 11:17 pm #3737270Bryan BihlmaierBPL Member
@bryanbLocale: Wasatch Mountains
Stephen, you have alluded to it in some of your responses, but I am really looking forward to part 3 of this series, which seems that it will examine wicking next-to-skin layers versus direct evaporation from the skin via highly-air permeable fabrics (such as PolarTech Alpha Direct or Brynje mesh). That was a debate more than a decade ago in the cycling world, when companies started selling tight, next-to-skin sleeveless or short-sleeved layers to be worn under cycling jerseys. Companies (Pearl Izumi, Craft to name a few) claimed that you stayed cooler wearing the wicking “base” layer than by having bare skin. Of course, as with any marketing claims, I was highly dubious!
It will be great to see your scientific evidence of how much moisture can be transported from or evaporate from the skin, and how much cooling that would create for your body, with various wicking or mesh layers contacting the skin compared to bare skin.
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