Winter Sportswear: The Synthetic Advantage
Besides being more flexible, synthetic fibers are also more water-resistant and allow sweat to wick away from the body. These properties give synthetics the competitive edge against natural fibers (except perhaps wool) in athletic wear.
What you would need to stay warm in wintertime is heavily dependent on what you plan to do. For most people going on a stroll, the best materials for the job are usually fleece and down jackets, which do an excellent job of trapping heat. Today’s winter jackets and parkas for sports and other intensive outdoor activities use synthetic fabrics and fabric blends that are optimized for winter activity, providing breathable comfort and thermal insulation while being lightweight.
Most of the outerwear available to for sale today, therefore, is often a combination of water-resistant synthetic fabrics. Many Obermeyer ski jackets, for instance, utilize polyester as one of their materials. Synthetics and wool remain the materials of choice for winter sportswear, offering a host of advantages that make them suitable for high-impact, all-weather activities. Moreover, athletic gear made with insulating synthetic material can deliver subtle yet profound competitive advantages for athletes.
A Mobile Advantage
With the exception of wool, most natural-fibers that offer excellent insulation are also very thick. Although down and fleece can be compressed, they do tend to be very bulky, leaving very little room for layering unless they were already very large. It is very difficult to move around in the thickest of jackets, which make them less than ideal for competitive sports where speed and maneuverability is crucial.
Synthetic clothing often offers better insulating properties to most clothing with the exception of wool. Because they provide excellent insulation without necessarily being thick, synthetic clothes are also ideal to maximize layering. Most modern athletic wear is also designed to better facilitate the range of motion of the human body, made possible through the flexibility of many types of synthetic fabrics.
Whatever the Weather
One of the biggest dangers of being outdoors in the wintertime is hypothermia, which can be accelerated by being wet in subzero temperatures. Too often, many clothing materials—including down and cotton—lose their insulating properties when wet. Because they are not waterproof, it becomes increasingly difficult to wear clothes made of these materials in cold weather where exposure to snow and damp air becomes an increasing possibility.
Part of what gives synthetics and wool an advantage over most materials for active winter clothing is their ability to stay watertight. Synthetics are largely waterproof; the outer layers of fabric prevent water (in the form of snow or sleet) from melting and penetrating the clothes.
Thermoregulation is another challenging aspect of winter sports and other high-intensity cold-weather activities. Even in the coldest weather, physical exertion can still make you heat up significantly, and especially intense activity (such as sports) can still lead to sweating. Few fabrics can effectively allow sweat to evaporate from the body without letting it freeze on the skin.
Wool and synthetics alike also do a quick job of wicking evaporating sweat away from the human body, which is crucial in high-intensity activities such as winter sports. This combination of allowing water vapor to escape while keeping moisture from the environment out plays a crucial role in allowing winter athletes to stay at the optimum temperature without exposing themselves to the elements.