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How can such a soft, snuggly, comfortable fabric like cotton be so hated among veterans of the high activity sports world? In this post, we'll cover the basics of why cotton is a definite no-no when putting together your wardrobe for any outdoor or otherwise high intensity sports activity.
The first part of the dilemma with cotton doesn't necessarily have to do with cotton. It has to do with you. Your body has a built in cooling system that tells itself to produce sweat when it gets hot. While sweat is great for cooling your body down, it can also cause extreme discomfort if it is able to remain against your skin through the duration of your activity and long after you have finished. And this is where cotton comes in. Cotton has the ability to absorb larger amounts of water than other fibers acting as a sponge when you sweat. This sponge-like feature of cotton does not allow your sweat to dry very quickly. So, after just a short while of hiking up that steep mountain, playing a friendly game of tag football at the park, or even just rowing your canoe across the lake, your cotton clothing will begin to get wet with sweat, soggy and very uncomfortable. If your activity lasts for an extended period, then the problem doesn't stop there. Remember when you were little and you would play around in the pool long after your mom told you to get out and your hands and feet would start looking like prunes? That very same thing happens within your cotton socks and clothing often causing chaffing and more discomfort.
Now, let's say that you are finished with whatever sport it was that caused you to sweat so profusely. Let's also suppose you don't have a locker room to change in and going home is not an option either. Your cotton underwear, cotton shorts, cotton socks and cotton shirt are no longer the warm, cuddly garments they used to be. Cotton is not able to retain heat very well when wet. You're now stuck in wet clothing with a drying out time ranging from hours to possibly days. For you, this might only mean a short period of discomfort. However, if you are going to be somewhere overnight or even for a few hours where the temperatures are around 50 degrees or lower, your wet clothing can become a killer. Many hypothermia deaths are caused by wet clothing in mild to cold temperatures. Your body just can't warm itself quicker than your wet cotton clothing cools you in colder temperatures. That's almost a tongue twister.
Until fabric companies really started digging into the whole science of fabrics, there really weren't many options. So the outdoor sports participants, team sports players, joggers, and anyone else who sweats just had to suffer through all of the downsides that cotton has to offer.
Cotton retains water, dries slowly, and does not keep you warm when wet so it is not ideal for high endurance activities that involve sweating.