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High-Tech Fabrics For
Working and Playing Outdoors
by Weather or Not Fabrics & Findings

What are "Wicking" / "Breathable" Fabrics???

When clothing gets wet from perspiration it sticks to the skin and hinders the evaporation process. The evaporation process keeps our body temperature at its appropriate level to keep us cool in the summer and warm in the winter. In the summer months, keeping cool is pretty obvious, surprisingly, in the winter, the same process keeps us warm.

When we work or play outside in the cold our body temperature heats up, causing us to sweat. The sweat soaks into our clothing, causing it to stick to our skin and hindering the evaporation process. The wet fabric lies on our skin, keeping us cold even while we continue to work or play hard. Add rain or snow to this mix and we get some real problems trying to keep warm and dry!!

Cottons, nylons and polyesters have always been notorious for hindering our evaporation process. While wool has been known to be warm when wet, it weighs a TON when in this state. But, thanks to modern technology, we have learned how to battle the elements in a comfortable and fashionable way by turning fabric breathability into an art.

The new fabrics have one basic character, Breathability! They have special weaves that give them the ability to let our cooling process happen by "wicking" the sweat away from our skin. There are lots of different ways that the manufacturers have applied this weave to the clothing industry. Supplex nylon has a special weave that lets the steam out while keeping the wind and even the rain out. Gortex and Ultrex products have developed a special coating to put on fabrics to make them virtually waterproof while still being breathable. Polar products have developed a lofty fabric to make the clothing warm (remember air trapped in the weave makes little heat pockets) and breathable. The hundreds of variations on all of these styles have make the world of outdoor clothing fun and exciting!!

Always keep in mind that the idea behind clothing is to be comfortable while we are working or playing. These new products not only feel good but look great too!!


Don't be fooled -- not all polar fleece is the same.

You’re looking for a soft, colorful polar fleece to make that great pullover pattern for yourself or a cute coat for your kindergartener. As you shop around you find a HUGE DIFFERENCE in price from one store to another, and yet the difference in fleece is not that obvious!

Well here’s the scoop.

Polar Fleece is categorized as a performance fabric. Performance fabrics are meant to do more than look good. Performance fabrics can be waterproof, warm, light-weight when wet or dry, easy-care, fast-drying, breathable / moisture-wicking, wind-proof, sun, salt, and chlorine resistant, or a combination of these high-tech qualities.

Malden Mills first developed Polar Fleece, now called PolartecTM, in the 1970’s. It has the advantages of wool (warmth even when wet and breathability / wicking) without the disadvantages (weight, bulk, care / cleaning and comfort). Many Polartec products are waterproof and/or wind resistant. Malden’s Polartec is a high performance fabric that you can count on.

There are many look-a-likes on the market. A Polartec knockoff may not do what you want. When you purchase your fleece, ask who manufacturers it, and what it can do. Malden’s performance fabrics are guaranteed pill-proof, warm, light-weight, easy-care, breathable / wicking and have great color-retention.


When your clothing gets wet and sticks to your skin, it stops the evaporation process that keeps us cool. Coolmax was developed to keep an air space between you and your outer garments so that your body can perform its evaporation process.

Coolmax, a polyester, was originally designed to be worn under the hot uniforms of soldiers and police officers. The Coolmax Ultra Cool RVU (for "ribbed, ventilated undergarment") is specially designed to keep you cool in hot weather while other Coolmax products are designed to keep you warm in cold weather.


Supplex is a nylon fabric that Dupont created to have all the good qualities of nylon (easy-care, great color retention, little or no ironing, durability, softness, etc.) without the stickiness that nylon creates. Supplex is a high-wicking, highly breathable nylon that comes in many styles including wovens and knits, and can be found with many different treatments such as water proof / repellent treatments, sun-protective treatments or anti-microbial treatments. This fabric is used to line other breathable fabrics, it can be used as the outer layer of a breathable garment or can simply be used alone as outerwear or fashion wear.


Cordura is created from ‘high-bulk’ yarn, with filaments that are looped and tangled within the yarn bundle. This arrangement gives a "Cordura" weave bulk equal to or higher than that found in spun yarns, and offers greater abrasion resistance than either cotton or other man-made fibers. A comparison of Cordura to cotton duck fabric of equal thickness shows Cordura weighs half as much, has three times the tear strength and three times the abrasion resistance. This is one tough fabric that looks and feels like cotton canvas and it will out-perform and out-last cotton canvas by years.


The rate of skin cancer in the U.S. has grown from 200,000 new cases in 1990 to more than 1,000,000 new cases in 1996. Skin cancer is not something that you get upon immediate exposure to the sun, it is a disease that accumulates after repeated exposures over time and then surfaces later in your lifetime. And the age of onset is getting younger and younger. You don’t need to be sunburned to have harmful ultraviolet radiation absorbed into your skin. This is the challenge of the century: How to stop harmful UV rays without having to wear leather or lead protection? In the past we have put on cotton shirts and slathered ourselves with goop to keep these harmful rays at bay, but a typical cotton T-shirt will block only 50% of the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. Get it wet and it actually transmits 10% to 20% more rays. (By the way, straw hats and open-mesh hats are worse!)

Enter -- Solarweave and Solarknit fabrics from the Solar Protective Factory! These are highly breathable fabrics (either from the style of knit / weave and/or the addition of special wicking additives). They are light-weight, cottony, high-wicking, color-retentive, easy-care, odor and mildew resistant, and block 95% to 99% of the sun’s harmful UVA an UVB rays! Imagine that! This fabric will retain it’s sun-protective properties even after two years of wear and tear and it has passed extensive FDA requirements for skin irritation / sensitivity, abrasion and UV blocking abilities, just to name a few.

This wonder fabric is used for shirts, hats, pants, wind breakers and jackets. It can even be used for umbrellas, awnings and tents. Anywhere that sun-protective fabric might be needed!


Soft as silk, breathable as cotton, this fabric made from wood fibers is used for dresses, blouses, skirts, shirts, jackets or anywhere softness and comfort are a must. The difference between Rayon and Tencel is the process by which they are made. Rayon is made using a chemical process, Tencel is made using an "environmentally- correct" spinning process. It LOOKS GREAT, FEELS GREAT, and SEWS GREAT! Tencel lends a fluid quality when woven with other fibers. Wools drape better, linen has fewer wrinkles, even denims become softer.


ULTREXUltrex is a waterproof, windproof, durable and extremely breathable fabric system. The cross section view shows how Ultrex provides extreme protection for a wide range of weather conditions and activities. A microporous coating is applied to the underside of the fabric. The micropores are small enough to block out wind and rain, yet large enough to permit perspiration vapor molecules to escape. A durable finish causes water to bead up on the outside to keep the fabric dry. In testing to measure a materials ability to prevent water from passing through the fabric, Ultrex kept the wearer drier far longer than any other waterproof / breathable fabric on the market. And, in a "moisture penetration test," which demonstrates how well the fabric stands up to wetness under constant pressure, Ultrex retained its superiority even after repeated washings. Anytime it is cold and wet outside, Ultrex keeps you warm and dry inside.

Weather or Not Fabrics & Findings carries Solarweave fabrics in High-tech Supplex, Coolmax, Cotton and Blends.  All are high wicking and  U.V. protective.    

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