Some runners frequently blister and chafe, while other runners are abrasion-free. Some runners are hot and wet when they run, while other runners are cool and dry. The difference usually comes down to fabric. When it comes to running, we divide fabrics into two categories: natural and unnatural. Natural fabrics are the ones we can pronounce, such as, cotton, silk, and wool. Unnatural fabrics, or tech fabrics, are the fabrics we either cannot pronounce or wouldn’t be caught dead in if we actually knew the names, such as polyester, Goretex, nylon, and Airplex. There are benefits to both, but when it comes to running, comfort is the deciding factor, and what decides comfort on the run is whether you’re staying dry and cool in the summer and dry and warm in the winter. The key component is dryness, or what we like to call “moisture management.”
As you choose your line of running apparel, you first have to pick the right fabric, or more specifically the fabric that wicks moisture away from your body. “Wicking” is the fabric’s inclination to pull moisture from your body and evaporate quickly, which keeps you dry. If you are looking at natural fabrics, which are rare in running stores, you want to look for wool. Wool is great because it keeps you warm and dry. You’ll find wool in some sock lines, but rarely in shirts, jackets, shorts, or pants.
A good rule of thumb is to stay away from cotton. Cotton is an excellent material: it’s soft, it’s durable, it’s warm (when dry), and it’s relatively cheap. For a runner, however, cotton can be a nightmare. Cotton does not have the moisture managing capabilities found in other materials. When it gets wet, it becomes supersaturated and retains all the moisture your body is producing (this ability to retain moisture is why towels are made from cotton). When cotton is supersaturated, it has the effect on your skin that lying in a bath tub doesyou become prune-like. This is bad because when you add heat and movement to your already sensitive skin, the likelihood of blistering, chafing, or callusing is very high. When selecting apparel, avoid “cotton rich” clothing. A good compromise would be 50% cotton and 50% polyester, but in general, the higher the polyester content the better.
Polyester may have a bad rap, but for the runner it is the fabric of choice. There are plenty of advantages to polyester. It’s light, durable, smooth against the skin, and has tremendous moisture managing properties. It keeps you dry, and keeps you from chafing and blistering. Polyester is a very light and thin material, so it can be molded and fit into many types of clothing. It can be a light singlet or a t-shirt as easily as it can be included in a heavy winter “shell” jacket. Due to polyester’s great moisture managing properties it will keep you dry, which keeps you cooler in the summer and warmer in the winterall without those pesky skin abrasions.