Moisture-Wicking: What It Is and Why It Matters for Outdoor Activities

Moisture-Wicking: What It Is and Why It Matters for Outdoor Activities

Besides being durable and antimicrobial, did you know that all of our neck gaiters and face masks are also moisture-wicking? You've probably run into this phrase before when shopping for outdoor clothing, so it must be important to consider. But what does "moisture-wicking" actually mean? In this article, we'll delve into this question and cover all the essential information you need to know about moisture-wicking fabric.

What Does "Moisture-Wicking" Mean?

Simply put, moisture-wicking fabrics have two jobs:

  1. They quickly move sweat to the outer surface of the fabric.
  2. They dry rapidly so your sweat isn't saturating the fabric.

The result? Your fabric never gets soaked, soggy, and sticky. Pretty neat, right? Whether it's a shirt, pants, or neck gaiter, wearing moisture-wicking clothing can make physical activity and exertion much more comfortable since your body can regulate its temperature more effectively.

How Does Moisture-Wicking Work?

A fabric's moisture-wicking performance is dependent on two properties: capillary action and permeability.

Capillary action is the movement of liquid (e.g., sweat, rain, etc.) through small spaces within the fabric due to molecular forces between the fabric's internal surfaces and the liquid. Permeability is the measurement of a fabric's capability to transfer moisture through its layers; the sizes of spaces within the fabric and the connections between them determine how permeable the fabric is.

Fabric makers refine both the capillary action and permeability through careful structural engineering of the yarns and chemical treatment applied to the surface of the fabric material. But there's no need to sweat the science. Just look for the phrase "moisture-wicking" and don't get too hung up on testing claims; there's no standard test for comparison, which means that brands can use a variety of analyses to measure how well their fabric wicks away moisture.

Why Should You Wear Moisture-Wicking Clothing?

Do you often engage in outdoor activities or physical exertion that raises your heart rate? If so, this probably means you'll be sweating to some degree. When you sweat, it evaporates and creates a cooling effect. You usually stop sweating once your body cools to a comfortable temperature.

If you're wearing normal fabrics, you'll be left with soggy, uncomfortable clothing. On the other hand, moisture-wicking fabrics help keep your skin dry and cool.

When Should You Wear Moisture-Wicking Clothing?

Generally, you want to wear moisture-wicking fabric for any clothing layer that comes into contact with your skin. You especially want to wear it when participating in aerobic, strenuous (i.e., sweat-producing) activities such as hiking, biking, running, yoga, and even walking.

Which Fabrics Are Best for Moisture-Wicking?

If a fabric's yarns absorb moisture, that moisture will stay trapped there instead of moving through the fabric. This is a recipe for disaster. Instead, you want the opposite — resistance to moisture penetration.


Polyester, nylon, and other synthetic fabrics are popular choices for moisture-wicking clothing. Because they resist the penetration of water, they excel at moisture-wicking. Not only are synthetic materials inexpensive and easy to dry while in use, but they also offer great breathability and are usually durable and long-lasting.

Synthetic materials can come with a few disadvantages, though. Some clothing using these fabrics don't retain heat efficiently in cold temperatures, and they may not be as odor-resistant as other fabrics. Still, the pros typically far outweigh the cons, which is why you see tons of outdoor brands utilizing synthetic fabrics in their clothing.


Wool is another fabric that wicks away moisture. But it differs from synthetic fabrics in that it actually does absorb a small amount of moisture into the core of its fibers. But it still allows moisture to escape through the fabric's small openings. The result? Wool surfaces stay dry to the touch.

Plenty of wool clothing can keep your skin dry while offering good breathability and some resistance to odors. But wool usually doesn't last as long as other fabrics, and it can be quite costly.

Are There Any Fabrics I Should Avoid?

If you're looking for moisture-wicking clothing, avoid cotton. Essentially, this is an anti-moisture-wicking fabric. Cotton gets completely saturated with sweat. To make matters worse, it takes a long time to dry.

If you're doing physical activity, cotton will initially make you feel overheated and sweaty. Once your body cools down, you'll feel cold and clammy. Cotton's anti-moisture-wicking properties are well known. That's why a ton of clothing makers specially treat their cotton offerings with moisture-wicking chemicals. Still, their performance is far behind synthetics and wool.

How Do I Take Care of Moisture-Wicking Clothing?

When washing moisture-wicking garments, avoid using fabric softener at all costs. Whether it's in the liquid or dryer-sheet form, fabric softeners release a waxy residue that interferes with a fabric's surface. Basically, if you use fabric softener, you'll get a softer feel — at the expense of moisture-wicking performance.

We hope you enjoyed this brief overview of what moisture-wicking is and why it matters so much when you're doing physical or outdoor activities. This fabric property may seem subtle, but it can make a big difference in the comfort and enjoyment of your experiences.

Are you looking for neck gaiters and face masks that wick moisture away effectively? Stop by our shop!