Pros and Cons of Cotton Clothing

Hayley Hucks01 Feb, 2019

As we move into the new year, parents and students begin to look ahead to summer and make their 2019 Bold Earth trip selection. There are so many options taking place around the world—we know it can be hard to choose! With trip selection comes trip planning, and it’s important to know that no two trips are the same, so no two packing lists are the same. An age-old question we always get from parents looking over packing lists is “What material is best for active activities: cotton, wool, or synthetic?” Given the countless options both in store and online, it’s understandable that you may have trouble deciding which fiber is best suited to your student’s specific adventure. The answer is simple, kind of: They are all beneficial in their own way on a Bold Earth trip.

Bold Earth teens posing for picture

Synthetic and Wool

Synthetic clothing is usually made up of a blend of polyester, nylon, spandex, or any combination thereof. When you see active wool clothing, it is typically merino wool, a fine and soft fiber. Both synthetic and wool are typically the go-to choice for any outdoorsy individual. Even though most Bold Earth trips do not take place solely in the backcountry, there is still a time and place for these types of clothes in your child’s suitcase.

Pros: Whether it is pouring rain or you’re sweating, synthetic and wool materials will wick moisture away from your skin and dry quickly. Synthetic and wool clothing increases in benefit when layered. They will preserve body temperature, helping you stay warm and dry if conditions are sub par. An added pro to wool is that you can wear it multiple times because it doesn’t retain body odor!

Cons: When looking at synthetic clothing, always check the label. If the item is a synthetic/cotton blend, know it won’t be as effective as 100 percent wool or synthetic. Synthetic options will be less expensive and durable; however, synthetics tend to retain odor a little more. Wool can be the more expensive option between the two, but some find it to be a little itchy.

Good for: Hiking/trekking, whitewater rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, canyoneering


For those who are active in the outdoors, you have probably been told at one point to stay away from cotton. Sure, cotton clothing has its limitations, but it also can provide comfort and functionality in certain outdoor settings.

Pros: Light, breezy, and comfortable, cotton feels great in hot temperatures where it is safe for your shirt to retain moisture. For example, wearing a cotton shirt mountain biking in California or exploring a European city is totally OK! In a dry climate, I would rather wear a cotton shirt over any other material because it’s just plain comfortable. When it comes down to it, cotton is acceptable as long as you do not depend on it to keep you warm or dry. If choosing to wear cotton it is always best to keep an additional layer on hand in case the weather turns cool or it begins to rain.

Cons: Cotton clothing retains all moisture (sweat, and participation). If you chose to wear cotton on a cold, wet rainy day, not only will your cotton shirt be unable to dry, but you will not stay warm—leaving you at risk for emergencies like hypothermia. Wearing cotton in extremely humid environments can have negative effects as well.

Good for: More relaxed activities in dry climates; camping, sightseeing, bike tours, community service

We understand packing for a multi-week trip can be overwhelming, so before making any big purchases, make sure you check out your student’s packing list! Lists will be uploaded to student homepages in March, and they can also be found on each specific trip page. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call at 303-526-0806 anytime with questions!


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