A moisture-wicking fabric has two jobs: one is quickly moving (or wicking) sweat to the fabric’s outer surface, and the other is drying rapidly so that your sweat doesn’t saturate the fabric. The result is that you’re more comfortable because your body can regulate its temperature efficiently and the fabric touching your skin has a dry, non sticky feel.
Which Fabrics Are Moisture-Wicking?
Most moisture-wicking fabrics are synthetics: When moisture gets absorbed into a fabric’s yarns, it’s trapped there instead of moving through the fabric. That’s a recipe for poor moisture-wicking performance. Synthetic fabrics are “hydrophobic,” which means they resist the penetration of water. That’s why you see a lot of synthetic fabrics, like polyester or nylon, excel at moisture wicking.
Wool is also considered moisture-wicking: Wool is a slightly different animal. It actually absorbs a small amount of liquid into the core of its fibers, but it also wicks moisture out through small openings within the fabric. The result is that the surface of wool yarns remains dry to the touch.
Cotton is the “anti-moisture-wicking” fabric: The classic example of a non wicking fabric is cotton, which gets completely saturated with sweat and then takes forever to dry. Initially, it makes you feel hot and sticky; ultimately, it leaves you feeling cold and clammy. You can find cotton fabrics that have been specially treated to make them moisture wicking, but their performance lags behind synthetics and wool.
Why Choose Moisture-Wicking Fabric?
When you’re breaking a good sweat, that sweat evaporates and produces a cooling effect. After skin temperature cools to a comfortable level, your body stops sweating. It’s a super-efficient process and one that an effective moisture-wicking fabric will complement.
Generally, you want moisture-wicking fabric on any apparel that touches your skin, like a base layer. You also want it on clothes you plan to wear while you’re doing aerobic (sweat-producing) activities like hiking or running.