From shoes to GPS watches and more, runners tend to rack up quite the mileage on gear. A huge part of the sport includes making sure you have the right apparel to wick away sweat, prevent chafing and help you perform at your best. But what exactly is technical apparel made from, anyway? We talked to Mallory Bilenky, product line manager of Run Apparel and Kyle Blakely, VP of Materials Innovation at Under Armour, to find out exactly what fabrics you’ll find in running apparel and the right way to care for it.
WHY RUNNERS ARE TOLD TO DITCH COTTON
It is true cotton can absorb moisture, which is what most technical fabrics do, too. However, because cotton absorbs so much, it also holds onto moisture. This is the main reason runners are advised against wearing cotton; though the fabric is able to absorb sweat, it also keeps it right up against your body, which is bad for multiple reasons from weight to chafing to overall comfort.
“Runner’s need evaporative cooling and, because cotton dries so slowly, the presence of that much moisture actually makes a garment hotter (air permeability is cut down significantly when cotton fabrics are wet),” explains Bilenky and Blakely. “Also, because cotton holds so much more moisture than synthetic fibers, it tends to be extremely heavy and clingy, which is the last thing a runner needs.”
This is why technical apparel is made with sweat-wicking properties. You want your clothes to not only take on the moisture as you sweat, but also pull it away from the body by drying in a way cotton can’t. The Under Armour team adds that when you hear the term ‘sweat-wicking,’ it simply means the fabric is able to spread moisture. This means it dries faster and is more efficient at keeping you cool throughout your whole run (as you continuously sweat onto the fabric).
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT TECHNICAL APPAREL
As noted above, you’ll find synthetic fabrics in your technical apparel (though it should be noted that bamboo and wool have been having quite the moment as eco-conscious fabrics for runners). Bilenky and Blakely note that most fabrics are fully synthetic or a synthetic blend, made to be slick, light and stretch when needed. These fabric types include nylon, spandex and polypropylene.
“Under Armour’s point of view is to create a high/low texture to help the fabric stand-off the skin, enhance breathability and prevent cling,” they add. “That’s why in some run platforms, our fabrics are softer — that just means they are more dynamic.”
When it comes to actually purchasing technical apparel, you can take a look at the tag to get an idea of whether it’s fully synthetic or a blend, as mentioned. Then, based on your climate and the time of year, you want to look for other details and benefits such as water-resistant or waterproof textiles or breathable mesh, if desired. If you’re shopping Under Armour apparel, it includes specific information on each garment’s technology or benefits on its hangtags; other brands often note the benefits of their fabrics, as well.
“Along with performance fabrics — as noted above — runners will benefit from a fitted or compressive fit type in lightweight knits or stretch-woven fabrics,” advise Bilenky and Blakely. “This allows for maximum range of motion and comfort.”
HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR GEAR
When it comes to caring for your technical apparel, Bilenky and Blakely specifically advise using a performance detergent that doesn’t have surfactants (which are compounds that make up most detergents). An example is HEX Performance, which is dye-free and clear of any synthetic scents, but still has the power to get the grime, smell and sweat out of your technical fabrics.
If you choose to use your dryer, Bilenky and Blakely stress that you shouldn’t use dryer sheets, as they deposit a hydrophobic layer onto your fabrics that, over time, keeps it from wicking away sweat efficiently. Using an eco-friendly option such as reusable wool dryer balls is a great way to help your clothes dry faster and stay free of static cling (and means less waste, as well).