How to Find the Best Cooling Fabrics to Wear on Unbearably Hot Days

During these dog days of summer, we can’t always sequester ourselves indoors to the comfort of the air conditioning. Sooner or later, we all have to venture out to run errands, go to dinner with friends, go to work, and for some of us, spending time outside is just a way of life. An outdoor lifestyle is more than just getting in a quick workout, run, or bike ride. We long for the ample sunshine and warm days that allow us to recharge before winter once again creeps in and relegates us to spending more time indoors than out. 

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Outdoor manufacturers tend to be proactive in choosing fabrics that are ideal for active endeavors as well as lifestyle-related apparel. In recent years, lifestyle brands have started utilizing some of these specific fabrics that allow the wearers to pull double duty should the opportunity arise. So whether you are camping, hiking, running, or just enjoying a concert in the park, it’s important to choose your fabric wisely as it can make the difference between feeling hot or feeling and looking cool.

Here are some key factors to consider when seeking out apparel that will not only be breathable, but also remain cool for those remaining sultry days of summer. 

Moisture-Wicking

We can’t always reduce sweating. However, we can assist our body’s natural cooling mechanism to transport the moisture away from our skin so that it evaporates more readily. Certain fabrics help facilitate this more effectively than others.

Fit

This depends on the activity. If you are engaging in an active pursuit, you will want to have a fabric that comes into closer contact with the skin. This will allow the fabric to perform its role in moving moisture away from the skin. If you’re spending the time pursuing a more leisurely activity, choosing a looser fitting option is ideal.

Fabric Weight

Fabrics designed for warmer weather are created using a looser weave pattern and tend to be much lighter than those used for creating more warmth.

Color

Choosing lighter colors can also affect how warm or cool you stay while outdoors. Wearing colors that reflect light versus those that absorb the sun can be instrumental in keeping your cool.

Additional Features 

Some of the features that are often added to warm weather apparel include pit zips, mesh panels, and vents. 

Here are some of the best fabrics to beat the heat this summer. Additionally, we have included some of our favorite manufacturers within each category to help keep you looking (and feeling) cool and stylish.

Best Breathable Fabrics

Banana Republic

Cotton

Cotton often gets a bad rap in the apparel industry as relates to outdoor endeavors. Once wet (and it can become easily saturated on active humid days), it typically stays wet. However, cotton is durable, soft, and highly breathable making it a great casual option for summer. And while cotton can be one of the most readily available fabrics, it’s important to choose manufacturers that utilize responsibly sourced organic cotton. Patagonia makes a multitude of apparel options, including pants and shirts, using organic cotton. 

Linen

This natural, luxurious, and durable material is created from the fibers of the flax plant. Historically, apparel made of linen has often been associated with society’s upper classes. This had to do with the laborious process required to produce the costly fabric. The fabric is highly breathable and ideal for summer attire. Banana Republic offers some great linen short and shirt options for casual wear while also offering linen suits for those potential outdoor weddings.

Synthetic

This is likely the most diverse group of fabric options as there are so many options. We will cover a variety of them below along with a few proprietary iterations that are making waves in the fabric realm. Most, if not all, synthetic materials used in apparel are petroleum based and therefore are non-renewable. However, with that being said, there are a lot of initiatives being utilized that source recycled products like plastic water bottles, fishing nets, and other plastic waste to find new life in the apparel industry. Patagonia is one such brand that has been pushing the limits with regard to sourcing sustainable materials and utilizing recycled (and recyclable) materials whenever possible throughout its line of gear and apparel.

Take note: it’s rather common for other fabrics in this larger list to be combined with synthetic fibers to increase the durability and longevity of the product.

Polyester and Nylon

Polyester is the most widely used synthetic material. It’s softer, more comfortable, and just looks better than earlier generations of the fabric. It’s ideal for use in gear and apparel as it is extremely durable and long-lasting. The fabric’s breathability is determined by how tightly woven it is and the size of the yarn. 

Nylon is another petroleum based product that is also widely used in an array of apparel options, though less than polyester. Polyester and nylon are often combined to create a blend that provides a fabric that combines the best of each.

Some of our favorite brands that are making both fashionable (looking cool) and functional (feeling cool) apparel using polyester, nylon, or a combination of the two include: Stio, Outdoor Research, and Howler Brothers.

A couple of unique fabrics that are worth mentioning include:

Silkweight 

Made from a blend of 88% recycled polyester with the remaining portion being comprised of new polyester fiber and Spandex. Corbeaux makes a line of Silkweight Tees that are great for high output activities or just cruising around town.

FlashDry

North Face
The North Face

This proprietary fabric technology from The North Face is designed to manage moisture while moving it as quickly away from the body as possible. 

Merino Wool

We’re not talking about your father’s wool sweater or that wool turtleneck that likely drove you crazy as a kid until you could shed its itchy embrace. Merino wool is often used in base layers and apparel for winter endeavors. However, its natural properties might it the perfect choice for trek, travel, and navigating the urban jungle all summer long. Icebreaker makes a multitude of garments utilizing this highly effective natural fiber.

Bamboo

This super fabric is derived from a natural fiber and is inherently antimicrobial (this also helps it fight odors if you do sweat a lot and need a little extra help) and is highly sustainable. Additionally, pandas love it as a food source. And while bamboo can stand alone in the fabric realm, it can also be combined with an array of other products like cotton and synthetic fibers to create a wider range of products. We really love the line of bamboo shirts and hoodies from Duck Camp.

Silk

Silk is super soft, has a luxurious feel, and is highly breathable and lightweight. It is most commonly used in producing underwear and often used in high-end casual wear. And while this luxurious fabric has many positive attributes, it is a fragile material and usually requires hand washing. Tommy Bahama Hawaiian shirts are often made with 100% silk.

 

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