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Technical Clothing

There was a time when being active in the great outdoors could be something of a hassle, but no more. Nowadays, thanks to the continually improving quality, efficiency, and light weight of technical clothing, you can suit yourself up to get the most out of your outdoor adventures—whatever the weather.

BUYING

Worn next to the body or over a base layer, and made of water-repellent synthetic fibres such as polyester or polypropylene, technical garments wick away most of the perspiration produced by an active body, while at the same time have an insulating factor that can vary according to the model and brand.

Three different types of technical garments are generally used for summer wear: those made from polar fleece, so-called soft shell styles, and waterproof-breathable hard shell designs. Which should you choose? It all depends on what you need.

If you’re on a tight budget and you’ll only be out hiking, biking, camping, etc. occasionally, when the weather’s good, or if you’re looking for something to keep you warm on a slightly chilly summer night, start with polar fleece.

Made of lightweight polyester, polar fleece-type garments are tops at wicking away moisture while keeping you warm, and dry quickly. They can be worn alone in average temperatures, or over a synthetic fibre base-layer garment when it’s colder. Some styles also incorporate a wind-blocking coating. For summer use, a 100-weight fleece is more than sufficient.

However, if you’re the type that heads for the woods or the hills on a more regular basis, or in tougher conditions, opt for a soft shell style. Warm, stretchy and featuring excellent breathability, this kind of garment serves as a windbreaker, dries quickly and is relatively waterproof if you’re out in a fine rain shower that doesn’t last long. Their sleek, modern looks also make soft shell styles ideal for city wear. Finally, they are a good choice if you don’t feel you can afford a waterproof-breathable hard shell.

That last category of technical clothing is the best available on the market, but it’s also the most expensive. The main advantage of hard shell garments is that they offer total protection from wind and rain, while at the same time allow perspiration to escape.

They are able to do this because of their waterproof-breathable (or microporous) membranes featuring billions of pores infinitely tinier than drops of water, which completely prevents the latter from soaking through to the inside of the garment.

In order to reinforce the waterproofing used in this type of garment’s material, manufacturers apply a rain repellent to its outside surface. This means the body stays warm and dry, no matter what!

The best-known waterproof-breathable fabric is Gore-Tex®, but every manufacturer of this type of clothing has its own technology (for example, North Face’s HyVent™, or Marmot’s PreCip®).

USE

Polar fleece clothing should be worn as close to the body as possible to wick away the moisture produced by perspiration, as well as to maximize the chances of retaining body heat.

Soft shell styles are generally worn over other technical clothing (such as a base layer or a polar fleece garment), but they can also serve as the middle layer in a multi-layer clothing system.

Thus, if you’re wearing a soft shell and the amount of energy you’re expending ramps up quickly, bringing on a healthy sweat, all you have to do to allow the excess moisture to escape is unbutton or unzip the garment—and then do it up again once you return to a more relaxed pace.

For its part, a waterproof-breathable shell is always worn on top of another technical garment, simultaneously acting as a windbreaker and rain cover in summer and winter alike.


MAINTENANCE

Always make sure to thoroughly rinse technical clothing to remove any trace of detergent. You should also avoid using fabric softener: it fosters fabrics’ absorbing water and tends to remain in clothing fibres.

On trips to the seaside, rinse any garment that has been exposed to salt water in copious amounts of fresh water.

Dry polar fleece and soft shell clothing at the highest temperature indicated on the manufacturer’s label, but never a degree above, since synthetic fibres can be damaged by high heat.

Never dry technical garments near a fire (mainly because of the danger posed by sparks) or in hot, direct sunlight.

Dust and sweat eventually plug the pores of waterproof-breathable membranes, which adversely affects their breathability. They therefore need to be regularly laundered, but not in just any old way, or with just anything. You first have to obtain the proper type of cleaning product, and then wash the garment by hand or in the machine, following the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter. Be sure to rinse the garment thoroughly, even if it means running it through a second entire wash cycle, without soap.

Once it has been washed and thoroughly rinsed, put your waterproof-breathable garment on a hanger and spray it with a water repellent like Gore ReviveX or Scotchgard to refresh those features. Some water repellents, such as Nikwax TX Direct or Granger’s, can be added right into the washing machine, on the condition that the clothing being so treated does not feature water-absorbing linings. When the wash cycle is finished, you simply pop the garment into the dryer at a medium heat setting.