Is Polyester Good for Hiking?

  • Last Updated On: May 22, 2019
  • / Hiking Tips
  • / By Ashley

The right outdoor gear can make or break your plans, which is why we take the time to do the research, providing you with the best information to choose the most reliable outdoor gear. Today we want to analyze polyester as a hiking material used for gear and clothing.

To do that we will take a closer look at polyester, its characteristics, how it differs from other fabrics, and our ultimate research-based choice on using the material when planning a day hike.

For the sake of clarity, some basic tenants of hiking should be broached.  While not all hikers will experience the following situations, most will in some way or another regardless of age, gender, trail location and difficulty. These constants that are typically experienced will allow for an analysis of polyester and how it handles these basic side-effects of hiking.

Is Polyester Good for Hiking? - HelloTrail

The first of these is sweat.  No matter the conditions, you will sweat some when hiking, which is your body’s natural response to exertion.

The body is trying to regulate your temperature, which is rising because of the exercise you are performing. This is a proper natural function, however the sweat can be uncomfortable if not evaporated in warmer climates, and it can be dangerous in cold climates.

Evaporating sweat can cool your body, which is not ideal when you are trying to stay warm.

The second constant of hiking is the exposure to sunlight. This may in fact be the reason you are outside hiking, trying to get out from the dark tucked away office cubicle.

Sunlight offers positive benefits such as Vitamin D, but also can provide some health concerns. Prolonged exposure to UVA and UVB rays from the sun can contribute to skin aging and other skin maladies including skin cancer.

What is Polyester?

Polyester is a man-made fabric.  In the early 1940’s, it was discovered that certain acids and ethyl alcohols could be mixed together to make a sort of fiber. Just as with cotton fibers, they could be woven into sheets to make virtually any clothing article made by its organic predecessor.

The process for making these fibers may sound familiar, because it is how most general plastics are made.  Go look on the bottom of a clear plastic food or drink container and you will likely find the recycle symbol with the number 1 inside, underneath will be written, PET.

This is essentially the same material as polyester fibers, just utilized in a different way. In fact, some polyester clothing is made from recycled plastic bottles, but more on that later.  

It is important to note that many polyester clothing options are not truly %100 polyester. Most times they will be blended with nylon or spandex to harness the properties of those materials.

Advantages of Polyester

Is Polyester a Breathable Fabric?

Polyester comes with many advantages, and it is evidenced by its widespread use today, more than 70 years after its creation.

To begin, polyester excels at “moisture wicking”. This is a buzzword in the clothing and advertising industry and you will often see it listed as a feature of an outdoor clothing article.

“Moisture Wicking” means that it is able to move sweat from your body to the fabric by absorption. From there, the liquid is evaporated, unless the humidity is incredibly high.

This is important in hot temperatures because it keeps your skin dry and the evaporation process will keep you cool making polyester an ideal breathable clothing choice.

Which Type of Fabric Dries the Fastest?

If you happen to get your polyester clothing completely wet, it will dry out fairly quickly, much faster than cotton would. Having a material that is fast drying and moisture wicking is important in the fight against chafing while hiking.

Chafing and blisters occur when there is constant rubbing between skin, material, and more skin. This problem can be compounded when skin or material is wet, so the faster your clothing and skin can dry off, the less likely it will occur.

Protection From The Sun

Another standout point for polyester is its defense against the sun’s UV rays. Typically, polyester is woven in a very tight pattern. This tight-knight weave lets very little light through, which keeps your skin safe.

Polyester is easily dyed, which produces two effects. The first is that it can be dyed lighter colors to reflect light. Certain dye types (of the same color) can even further protect against UV rays more so than regular dyes.

The second advantage of the ease of dying is that you can purchase your hiking clothes in almost any color imaginable. Bright colors are a good choice for hikers; in case of an emergency situation it makes you easy to spot.

Which One is Warmer, Cotton or Polyester?

Polyester is good for hiking and outdoor activities because of how lightweight it is. Heavy and thick materials such as cotton are the bane of the hiker.

If you are packing clothes to travel, or even for an extended hiking trip, items like polyester hiking pants will not take up much space or weight compared to cotton.

When it comes to staying warm the moister wicking properties of polyester and the ability to easily layer polyester make it a better choice for hiking in colder weather.

In colder weather, when you are wearing multiple layers, a polyester base layer will move the sweat away from your skin. This prevents your body from experiencing the effects of the evaporation, which can be dangerous when trying to maintain body heat in very cold temperatures.

In addition, polyester can be blended with other fabrics to make much warmer clothing than that made just of cotton.

Is Nylon or Polyester Better?

In short, the answer is up to personal preference. There are many benefits of polyester, and the same goes for nylon. Nylon will be thicker and a different texture, offering a varied selection of benefits.

However, our preference is a mixture of both.

A positive property of polyester is its ability to be blended with other materials. It can be mixed with nylon for a softer and stronger overall construction.

To make the material more “stretchy”, polyester can be intermixed with small amounts of spandex. Check the tag of a certain clothing item to see what it is made of.

Lastly, an advantage of this miracle material is its price. It is mass manufactured very easily, and therefore inexpensive.

Do not be fooled by high price tags on polyester big brand name clothes, most of the money you are paying is for the logo. You can often times get very similar products for much lower prices, just without the symbol of the Greek god of victory.

What Are the Disadvantages of Polyester?

While there are many reasons to love polyester, there are some downsides to this fabric worth considering.

The first of these is a long standing complaint about the feel. For decades, many people have disliked the way that polyester feels against their skin.

Those who have higher dermal sensitivity will likely find polyester materials to be scratchy or itchy, all around uncomfortable. If you are in that category, then polyester would not be a good candidate for walking many miles in!

While this problem is a common one, when blended, polyester can become softer and less likely to irritate the skin. Look for blended materials for a rash reducing remedy.

Secondly, polyester clothing has a reputation for being very smelly. This is because of its moisture absorbing properties.

While this is a good trait to have when dealing with water, which evaporates, sweat also contains natural oils from the body. These, unfortunately, do not evaporate like water does, leaving them in the fabric.

After hours of this process repeating itself, the polyester cloth can become rather inundated with these odiferous oils, a rather smelly situation indeed. Fortunately, washing polyester will remove most of the smells.

Lastly, the flammability of polyester is a definite downside. Pure polyester clothes are naturally very flammable, and care should be taken to avoid their proximity to open flames.

Most of the time this can be easily avoided, but it is something to be aware of.

Is Polyester Sustainable?

A common concern raised about polyester is that it is not environmentally sound or sustainable.

Both statements are true, and since it is a made-made “plastic”, it falls into the category of plastic bottles and bags, which have unfortunate byproducts when created. They also do not decompose very easily, which makes disposing of them in an ecologically sound way very difficult.

The good news is that, as mentioned before, they can be made of recycled plastics. More and more companies like Patagonia, are making clothing from recycled plastic bottles and other materials, reducing the impact these non-renewable resources have on the environment.

Of course, there is a higher price tag on these items, but many consider it worthwhile when weighing the cost of protecting our planet.

Our Verdict on Polyester for Your Hiking Clothes?

Overall polyester is a great choice when choosing clothing and material for any of your hiking activities.

There are several options when choosing polyester material. Having several options is a benefit to selecting products that are specific to your needs.

Choosing the right polyester for your adventure begins with knowing the use of the gear purchasing.

About the Author Ashley

Ashley's a Florida girl that didn't see snow until her twenty's. Andrew initiated her with a January trip to Breckenridge and the rest is history! A flatlander most of her life, Ashley now craves challenging trails but isn't a fan of log crossings over rapidily flowing mountain streams. Click here to learn more about Ashley's outdoorsy background...