When hiking in cold weather, you have to wear the right clothing to stay warm. If you like to use your hiking backpack regularly, you have probably heard of the cotton kills myth. This myth suggests that cotton is not an ideal clothing material for when the temperatures are low.
In this article, we will discuss cotton and hiking. We will tell you why you could end up regretting your decision to hike on a cold day if you wear cotton.
Reasons Why the “Cotton Kills Myth” is Popular
1. Poor Insulation
Clothing, especially the mid-layers, keep you warm by trapping air close to the skin. The trapped air helps ensure that the warmth generated by the body does not get lost to the surrounding environment.
When cotton gets wet, it ceases insulating you because the air pockets present in the fabric fill up with water. After donning your hiking boots and getting on the trail, avoiding perspiration will be impossible – any cotton touching the skin will absorb the sweat like a sponge.
If the air outside is colder than the body temperature, you will end up feeling cold – this is because you will start losing warmth to the environment. As you probably already know, heat generally moves from a higher temperature zone (your body) to the lower temperature zone (the surrounding air). The thermal conductivity of water is much higher compared to that of air – the moisture trapped in your cotton clothing will increase the rate at which you lose heat to the environment.
If you keep losing warmth to the surrounding environment, you may end up dealing with disorientation and hypothermia. If you become too chilled, the cotton kills myth may become a reality for you – extremely low body temperatures could kill you. Basically, due to the poor insulation, cotton and hiking in cold weather are a bad combination.
One thing you will need to keep in mind is that hypothermia can occur in temperatures above the freezing point. The condition becomes serious if you get chilled or wet.
2. Poor Wicking
Wicking fabrics will move water from the wet areas to dry ones through a process known as capillary action. The layer touching the skin will move the moisture from the surface of the skin to the outer layers, leaving the part that touches the skin dry.
If you decide to wear cotton and hiking gloves before heading out on your adventure, you shouldn’t expect the cotton to aid with wicking. As noted earlier on, instead of wicking the moisture, the cotton fabric will absorb it. On top of making you uncomfortable when you are using your trekking poles, the moisture trapped in your clothing will cause you to lose warmth at an incredibly high rate.
3. Long Drying Time
Cotton is very good at absorbing moisture and very slow at getting rid of the moisture. If you combine cotton and hiking, you will have to wait for a long time before your cotton layers can dry if they absorb moisture.
This tells you that you will have to deal with high conductive heat loss for an extended period. Ensuring that you stay at the natural body temperature will be pretty hard, especially when you are resting on the trail, with no access to a source of heat.
If you are hiking alone and you get too cold and chilled, getting to your camping tent may be tough. The fact that the cotton won’t dry quickly could put your life at risk.
4. Cotton is Heavy
The cotton kills myth originated from the fact that cotton does not feature great insulation nor offer great wicking capabilities. This means that cotton being heavy may not be a major concern – this cannot lead to the loss of life when you are exploring the wilderness.
However, before deciding to combine cotton and hiking, you need to understand that the fabric is much heavier than other competitive fabrics. Also, because the fabric is capable of absorbing so much moisture, its weight will keep increasing as it gets soaked with sweat. The discomfort and weight could end up slowing you down.
Globo Surf Overview
Although appreciated for being durable, non-itchy, and soft, cotton is not an ideal material for hikers. Combining cotton and hiking in cold weather could make the cotton kills myth a reality for you.
Clothing for mountaineering, hiking, and other aerobic activities is supposed to offer ideal temperature regulation. Additionally, the clothing should be moisture-wicking, odor-resistant, and quick-drying. Cotton lacks most of these qualities.
This tells you that even if cotton does not kill you, it will make you extremely uncomfortable when you get on the trails. If you have to wear cotton, consider wearing it at home, where you won’t be risking hypothermia.
More Backpacking/Hiking Reviews:
- Cotton Kills” Fact, Myth or Marketing?, Misc.survivalism.narkive.com