Rules are Meant to Be Broken: Why Cotton Will Always Have a Spot on My Gear List

With the development of synthetic materials that boast lighter weights, odor resistance, and moisture-wicking capabilities, cotton has been curb-stomped as a viable option for an active lifestyle. The phrase “cotton kills” is almost as trendy as #vanlife, but it might actually be an unwarranted blanket statement that causes us to second-guess its inclusion in our trip planning. Sure, synthetics are still king. They keep you dry and warm–a key factor when any hike turns into a survival situation. But, what if cotton still has a place in your gear closet?

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1. Sweat and Temperature Management

We are all humans, and we all sweat. Living in the Northeast, we are graced with humid, sunny days, which contribute to frequent perspiration in even moderately active pursuits. That means sweat dripping off the tip of your nose and clammy creases behind the knees. Trying to wipe sweat off my face with a polyester shirt is like trying to mop up a drink spill with plastic wrap. Thus, for the built-in hand and face towel aspect, I prefer to wear a cotton shirt on a hot day at the crag or on a sunny, short hike. It may make my shirt a little heavier, but the sweat becomes a cooling agent on those dog days of summer.

Cotton does cool down your core temperature, especially when wet—perfect for a sweltering day. But, if you’re working up a sweat, and surrounding temperatures drop, a soggy shirt or pair of sweats will take your body heat down with it. If you’ll be doing moderate to high activity in temperatures below 55 degrees, synthetic or merino wool layers are important, as they do not absorb nearly as much moisture. When rain is in the forecast, hot or cold, opt for a water-resistant or waterproof shell instead of a hoodie. And, always think of the worst-case scenario. Even if it’s hot during the day, if a surprise storm rolls in, or if you end up stranded overnight, cotton certainly can kill.

2. Ease of Care

I like the care of my clothing to be as simple as possible. Cotton can be washed in water at any temperature and spin speed. You don’t have to worry about losing a few sizes in the drying stage, as most cotton is pre-shrunk these days. Likewise, you don’t need to worry about melting the material in the dryer.

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3. Campfire Staple

We’ve all been there: hovering around a fire trying to stay warm on a cold night when you’re camping, or you’ve gotten a little too close trying to roast the perfect marshmallow or arrange the optimum log-stacking situation. Out of the belly of the fire, a tiny ember jumps and lands on your favorite puffy, melting a hole in the outer shell. I hope you brought your gear tape.

Next time, wear a flannel shirt. They don’t just look cool when you’re hanging around a fire. They’re also rather favorable when flames come into play. Their cotton cellulose composition withstands exposure to embers and higher heats, when compared to the thermoplastic materials making up your puffy or fleece shirt.

My insulated jackets (yes, I have a variety) keep me warm, happy, and playing outside through all four seasons. But, save those prized investments for when heat sources are not available, when you have to retain all of the remaining body heat you have left, or when weight is a factor, like when you’re summiting a 4,000-footer in late fall or when you’re sleeping in subzero temps. Car camping and bonfire building on a cool summer night? Play it safe with durability.

4. Budget-Friendly

Cotton is a great option for every budget. And, chances are you already have a few T-shirts lying around your room from giveaways at the last ski movie premier. Compared to the other activewear fibers, such as wool and polyester, cotton is the least likely to break the bank and most likely to leave you with an extra $5 or $10 to buy a pizza after your hike.

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5. Post-Adventure Attire

I’m all about comfort at this stage in the adventure cycle. Maybe you went kayaking and took a spill, or kicked up a ton of mud biking through the forest after a rainstorm. Perhaps you’re like me and just sweat a lot when you ski. Nothing feels better than peeling off nasty technical clothes to throw on a dry pair of sweats, especially if you’re looking at a lengthy drive home.

For better or worse, no miracle material suits every adventure. As with any piece of gear, there’s a time and a place for cotton, and sometimes, it merely whittles down to personal preference. While it’s important not to forget the safety value of synthetics, it’s maybe time we remember cotton’s redeeming factors and how it can be a useful staple in everyone’s gear bin.


Top 10 Products with Northeastern Roots for Your Holiday Shopping List

This season, why just give the gift of rad gear, when you can give a gift that also supports your happy camper’s habits and the Northeast’s economy? While Eastern Mountain Sports carries brands from all over the map, consider adding some local flavor to your holiday shopping list. Most of the items mentioned are manufactured at their company’s headquarters, so spending money just got a lot more responsible.

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1. NEMO Wagontop 4P Camping Tent

Based in Dover, NH, Nemo has brought tent innovation to the next level. Nemo combines lightweight materials and strategic design to make shelters that can withstand the elements and won’t weigh your pals down. This Wagontop 4P is an excellent choice for the extended camping trip, with design considerations that keep comfort and space at the forefront. For instance, with its 80-inch ceiling height, everyone can walk in and out with their head held high.

2. Woolrich Sherpa Rough Rider Wool Blanket

Woolrich has a long tradition of keeping its customers warm and dry. Historically, this Woolrich, Penn., company has provided lumber camps, farmers, railroad workers, and even Civil War soldiers with durable outerwear and blankets. The Sherpa Rough Rider, in the brand’s classic Buffalo Check, will be a welcome addition for that friend who’s pursuing the van life.

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3. Good To-Go Weekender: Granola, Smoked Three Bean Chili & Herbed Mushroom Risotto 3-Pack

Based in Kittery, Maine, Good To-Go was created for backpackers by a fellow backpacker—who also happens to be a classically trained chef. The brand makes flavorful, easy-to-prepare dehydrated meals for every camper on your list. This 3-pack offers a breakfast, lunch, and dinner option, with two vegan choices. Just add cold or hot water, and your ravenous pals are “Good To-Go.”

4. Jetboil Flash Personal Cooking System

This Manchester, NH, company has revolutionized the way campers cook in the backcountry. Its line of stoves and cooking systems significantly reduces the amount of fuel needed to boil water. And, the Jetboil Flash is as simple as it gets. Fill the cup with water, push the button, and wait for the heat indicator to change colors. All together, this process takes approximately four minutes for the whole cup. A Jack-of-all-trades, the Flash packs all components into the cooking cup and works with all other Jetboil cooking accessories.

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5. Darn Tough Micro Crew 3/4 Hiking Socks

Tested in the Vermont wilderness and made entirely in Northfield, these socks are industry leaders for comfort in a myriad of conditions. The Micro Crew Hiking Socks (also available in women’s sizes) have cushioning and support where it’s needed most. And, their merino blend will keep the trailblazer’s feet dry and blister-free during those rainy-day hikes and super-sweaty summer treks. As a bonus, Darn Tough boasts that they do absolutely no outsourcing when making this and other products.

Courtesy: Adventure Medical Kits
Courtesy: Adventure Medical Kits

6. Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight 0.5 Solo First

Located in Littleton, NH, the heart of the White Mountains, Adventure Medical Kits knows how to efficiently stock a first aid kit for any endeavor. The compact Ultralight 0.5 is ideal for your pals on the fast and light track, or could make a clutch stocking stuffer. Waterproof inner bags keep contents dry in any condition, and it contains enough supplies for up to two days.

7. Sterling Evolution Velocity 9.8 mm x 60 m Standard Climbing Rope

Climbers in the Northeast are familiar with granite and how tough it can be on gear. Considering this, Sterling makes some of the most durable climbing ropes on the market at their home plant in Biddeford, Maine. The Velocity’s smooth sheath allows for easy feeding through belay devices, effortless clipping of gear, and minimizes rope drag. This all-arounder is arguably the best pick for rock and ice climbers alike.

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8. Princeton Tec Sync Headlamp

Headquartered in Pennsauken, NJ, Princeton Tec has spent 40 years paving the way for personal lighting. In this regards, the Sync is easily one of the most versatile gifts, offering something for the late-night reader, the after-dark grill master, the nighttime dog walker, and the outdoor enthusiast. It offers five different beam combinations (that’s more than your smartphone, FYI) and features an easy-to-use dial for changing between them. Include a four-pack of AAA batteries for the ultimate gift combo.

9. Nalgene Bottle Kit, Medium

Nalgene, born in Rochester, NY, debuted its lightweight, leak-proof bottles in the Adirondacks. And, made by the same company that brought you the indestructible wide-mouth water bottle, this kit is ideal for the traveler on your list. Each Bottle Kit container holds 4 fl. oz. or less and offers the globetrotter on your list a convenient solution for taking their favorite shampoo, moisturizer, or whiskey in the carry-on bag.

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10. Flowfold Minimalist Limited Card Holder Wallet

Located on the coast of Maine in Scarborough, Flowfold draws inspiration from the state’s textile and sailing history. Sleek by design, the Minimalist is constructed of ultra-lightweight X-Pac fabric. As a result, it keeps credit cards and cash protected from the rigors of nature…or your sister’s handbag.