After a long, hard day at work do you have a favorite pair of sweatpants and a cozy, cotton t-shirt you just love to slip into? Well so do I. There’s just something comforting about it. I love cotton as much as anybody. I mean, it is the fabric of our lives, isn’t it? But there’s just not much room for cotton in adventure racing.
Cotton is comfortable and affordable, and it absorbs moisture like a champ. However, cotton doesn’t have any wicking properties. When it gets wet, it stays wet, and believe me, you will be wet at some point in most adventure races. Wicking moisture away from your body helps prevent chafing and blisters, and if it’s cold, being wet can be miserable at best and deadly at worst.
When it’s hot, however, cotton can be a good thing – in moderation. In an article about beating the heat, the Gear Junkie recommends wearing a cotton cap while racing. In the article, he mentions that some people even go so far as wearing a cotton t-shirt in the heat. I’ve worn a cotton hat, but I haven’t worn a cotton shirt – and probably never will for fear of bloody nipples. Retaining some moisture can be a good thing in the heat, but you still want to avoid cotton in high chafe/blister areas like the feet, armpits, and nether regions.
The only other time I recommend cotton is for post-race festivities, award ceremonies, and libations. Nothing feels better after a hard race than a hot shower and comfy, dry, cotton clothes.
So, what should you wear for adventure racing? I recommend synthetics (polyester, polypropylene, nylon, fleece, etc.) and natural fibers other than cotton (merino wool, bamboo, etc.). For a nice rundown comparing cotton, synthetics, wool, and bamboo, check this article out. I agree with the author about synthetics becoming stinky over time, but there are detergents out there (most notably 2Toms Stink Free Sports Detergent) that will help reduce/eliminate the stink-factor.
Stay tuned for more specific clothing recommendations – what we at Team Virtus use and recommend. For now, though, just know that you should avoid cotton. Feel free to make cotton the fabric of your life. Just don’t make the mistake of making it the fabric of your adventure racing life.