by: Matt Simerson
Monday 28 Sep 20

On Mon, 5 Jul 1999, Heather E. Sprague wrote:

> Hi! :-)
> I was just wondering if you could help me with some info/ideas for workout
> clothes. I think you told me all of this once--about 2 years ago, maybe
> more--but I have forgotten.

Well, lucky for you I haven't forgotten. :-) I still keep up on the best
stuff, and better yet, I've gotten smarter by testing more fabrics and
deciding based on empirical evidence what works and what doesn't. In
addition to what I'm writing below, there's a few tips in my backpacking
pages at

> What kind of material and names should I be looking for to find something
> that gets the moisture away from my skin but that also dries quickly?

Hmmm, you must be like most people and took off wearing good 'ol cotton.
After a little exertion you find it's all sweat drenched, stinky, and just
plain nasty to wear. You may even have noticed your garment failing you
and allowing such fun things as chafing, blisters, and heat rashes on your
skin. You, being wise enough to know you don't have to tolerate that, have
come seeking wisdom. Seek and ye shall find. :-)

First off, you need to define which layer we're dealing with. A fabric
that makes a good outer shell might not make such a great base layer next
to your skin. Since I know you're talking about running/biking apparel in
hot conditions, we'll first talk about your base layer. There's several
choices of fabrics: good synthetics (wicking), bad synthetics (neutral),
good natural, and bad natural fabrics. I'll briefly describe each.

Your good synthetics go by names such as Bergelene, Caprilene, and
CoolMax. These are the absolute best choices you can make in performance
fabrics. When you're hot and sweaty they wick moisture away from your skin
and release it into the atmosphere. This is a VERY good thing because it
accelerates cooling when your sweaty and keeps you dry when it's cold.

Then you have your "neutral" synthetics. I call them that because they
really don't absorb (like cotton) but they don't really wick either. They
have the advantage of drying quickly and they don't absorb sweat and odors
(like cotton) so they're a better choice than cotton. Examples would be
nylon, polyester, rayon, supplex, and spandex.

Then we have our good old fashioned natural fabrics. Mother nature
produces some of the best and worst fabrics available. For instance,
looking for a nice base layer that wicks, is thin enough for everyday use,
and feels good? Look no further than silk. However, silk tends to stretch
and doesn't stay close to your skin. Worse yet, it costs as much or more
than your best synthetics and doesn't perform as well.

The only other good performance fabric is wool. Everyone knows the merits
of wool and wool wicks away moisture as good as anything but it tends to
be a little warm for wearing during the summer heat. The absolute worst
performance fabric (although the most popular) is cotton. Cotton soaks up
sweat, stink, and dirt like it going out of style. It's difficult to wash
(when you're in the back country) and just plain nasty to wear when you're
all hot and sweaty.

> Any ideas of where to look for that (what stores)?

You're only looking for the best if you've made a firm commitment to the
sport you are getting into and are prepared to cough up $12-$15 for your
spiffy new undies. I will say, although my cotton briefs far outnumber my
Caprilene ones, the synthetics are the ones that go with me on runs, bike
rides, and hiking trips. They're worth every penny I paid for them. Still,
being the conservative spending bargain hunter (cheap skate) that I am, it's
taken a couple years to find everything I want at a price I'm willing to

Bergelene and Caprilene are trade names of the fabric used by their
respective companies. I believe EMS (in Traverse) carries Bergelene and a
package of two undies will run you $20. I don't recall whose fabric
Caprilene is but you won't have much luck finding it locally. There's a
whole bunch of links on my backpacking page to places that sell outdoor
gear. The best prices will normally be found at Sierra Trading Post
( as they're a clearance center for slow selling
merchandise. Campmor also has pretty good prices but I tend to favor going
somewhere I can see and touch what I'm about to buy. That usually means a
trip to G.R. and visiting EMS, Gander Mountain, Gazelle Sports, and a
couple others.

CoolMax is being marketed well by Dupont and you can often find
performance wear made of CoolMax at all of the above mentioned places and
even WalMart and Dunhams. Pay attention to the details of the garments
though. Poorly placed seams and/or bad stitching will make any fabric an
unpleasant experience to wear. Your better CoolMax garments will have
90-95% coolmax fabric and something else like spandex to keep the garment
tight to your skin. The price will be about double your cotton garments
but you'll enjoy wearing them a lot more. Just pay attention to where the
seams fall. I've bought biking shorts I can't wear because the seams are
in the same location as where I sit on my bike seat. Cheap, but not a
good bargain.

If you're getting into running (you said you had a running suit) then you
may want to consider running socks too. Most of mine are cotton socks
(cause they're cheap) and they work fine for everyday wearing but my feet
_really_ sweat when I run. If I wear cotton socks and run for very long,
my feet will blister. There's no if, it's a sure thing. A couple guys I
run with wear cotton socks and have no problem so your mileage may vary.
I've bought CoolMax socks locally from Meijer and Dunhams. The ones from
Meijer are really thin and I don't like them. The ones from Dunhams cost
more but are a much more substantial sock. They fill my shoe like a good
cotton sock and keep my feet dry. Everything you want in a good sock.

The last thing you'll want to consider (depending on how late into the
season you plan to run) is a good outer layer. If you're committed to
running (I decided that if the Post Office runs, so do I) then you'll
want to collect some extra outerwear. On days when it's cold, rainy, or
both, you may need a shell to help keep you warm. I've found that unless
it's below 30 degrees or raining, I can get by with just an uninsulated
windbreaker type jacket.

You've got several alternatives there. For the longest time I used a
windbreaker from Dunhams that cost me $20. It kept the cool breeze off but
when it rained, I got soaked. That never seemed to matter though because
it took about 10 minutes for the water to penetrate the shell and ten
minutes into a run I was pumping out heat fast enough that I didn't need
the shell any more. I have since replaced that shell with a Pearl Izumi
jacket. It's made of Activent which is a water resistant but breathable

There are really only two names you need to know for performance
outerwear. Goretex and Activent. Goretex is the absolute best you can get.
If it's a Goretex fabric it will proudly proclaim it on the garment and
the price tag will reflect it. Goretex is a waterproof fabric that keeps
water out but still lets moisture permeate through it. It's the ideal
fabric for almost everything outdoors because of that. Someday I'll be
able to afford a nice Goretex outer shell. They start at around $200 and
go up from there. The ones I've wanted seem to run about $500 for just the
shell. :-( Someday I'll catch them on sale for 75% off and buy one.

The only problem with Goretex is the fabric density. It's a three layer
material and it's just too warm for high octane sports like running and
cycling. Meet Activent. It's made by the Gore people and like it's big
brother Goretex, it's breathable but instead of waterproof, it's only
water resistant. However, it's the most water resistant fabric (next to
Goretex) that I've ever worn.

I got my Activent jacket on sale (55% off) for $50 and it's money I wish I
had spent sooner. I've tested it during a rain storm by going for a 4 mile
walk with my Goretex rain paints, Activent jacket, pack hat, and Caprilene
undies. Before I left I jumped into my parents pool so I started out
soaked (to test the breathability of the fabric). After a 4 mile hike (in
the rain) through dense underbrush I came back nearly dry. My shorts
weren't quite dry yet (3 layers) but my CoolMax shirt was and I felt good.
There's been several hiking trips when it rained and I trudged out of the
woods soaked. Every time I had my rubber Columbia rainsuit but I wouldn't
wear it because it didn't breathe. If I didn't wear it, the rain soaked
me but if I did wear it, I soaked myself in sweat. Water always seemed the
better choice to bathe in.

If you're going to keep running when the weather gets chillier, you'll
want something like this. I also have one Dunhams el cheapo special
insulated running suit (top and bottoms) that I used to wear when the
temps got below 20 or so. It has a nylon shell that can keep me dry in all
but very slushy conditions (it doesn't rain when it's colder than 20
degrees) but the problem is breathability. It doesn't, so I'd end up
drenching the suit from the inside out.

Once cotton is wet, it's useless. If you were watching you'd see me
running along the road with my drenched jacket tied around my waist and
frost-cicles covering my skin hugging long sleeved Caprilene shirt. Cool
thing about wicking fabrics, they wick the moisture away and release it.
When it's that cold, it freezes before it can evaporate. :-) Just knock
off the ice crystals and I'd be a little cold but dry again. I stopped
wearing that suit because of that.

Now my running attire consists of:

Warm/hot weather - Caprilene briefs
CoolMax socks
Supplex shorts (inexpensive from lands end)
CoolMax T-shirt.

Cool weather - same except wear the T-shirt instead of carry it. :-)

Cold weather - same except add Caprilene long underwear and maybe
Activent jacket.

Freezing - All of above except wear the jacket. :-)
Goretex rain pants.
Wool gloves.
Tight knit hat.

Subzero - Neoprene facemask and/or neck warmer to pull over nose and
mouth, ski goggles, fleece sweatshirt.

> My running outfit from this morning is still quite icky over 4 hours later.
> :-(

Cotton huh? :-)