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What are the qualities of various clothing materials?

From: Jim Carson
  • Polarlite - Fluffy, fleecy stuff also called Polarplus and Synchilla. Comfortable. Incredibly warm, especially under something that breaks the wind. Doesn't wick moisture out very well. Breathes very well.
  • Supplex (nylon) - Comfortable. It is breathable and water repellent (but NOT water proof). Seems to absorb a small amount of water if it is really getting drenched
  • Merino (wool) - From a "breed of fine-wooled white sheep originating in Spain and producing a heavy fleece of exceptional quality." I guess you could treat this as normal 100% wool.
  • Thermax - An improvement on Polypro. The big advantage is heat resistance so you can put it in the dryer. Balance that against the extra cost. 
  • CoolMax - This stuff seems more like a plastic bag than the revolutionary wicking material it is advertised as.
  • Dacron - Trademark name for Dupont polyester. Woven fabric made from dacron is similar to nylon ripstop or taffeta, but not as stretchy. Many of the better clothing insulations are made from dacron. They are usually refered to by more specific trademark names, like quallofil, hollofil, polarguard, and dacron-88.
  • Lycra - Used for its stretch, mostly a warm weather (>65 degrees) thing.
  • GoreTex - A teflon based membrane with microscopic holes. Gortex's claim to fame is that it will let water vapor (from perspiration) through, but not liquid water (rain). It blocks wind fairly well too. The membrane is delicate, so it always comes laminated between 2 layers of other material. It does not breathe enough. There are less expensive alternatives.
  • Polypropylene - Does not wick very well. Can be uncomfortable. Troublesome to care for (e.g. can pill badly) Will keep you fairly warm if soaked. Not very wind resistant. Melts in the dryer. 
  • Capilene - Wicks moisture away. Very comfortable. Comes in different weights for more/less warmth. [lots of favorable things about it... only really unfavorable thing is the co$t] 
  • 60/40 cloth - This is a cloth with nylon threads running one direction, cotton in the other. It was the standard wind parka material before Goretex came along, and is considerably less expensive. Good wind resistance, fairly breathable. Somewhat water resistant, especially if you spray it with Scotchguard, but won't hold up to a heavy rain.
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