Why you shouldn’t wear cotton when trekking
Apr 10 2014
Let us begin with socks. You will be told that cotton socks are best because they allow the skin to breathe and feel cooler than nylon socks. The truth is that there is no place for cotton socks in the rucksack of an adventure sports enthusiast. Banish them from your outdoor life.
They have three major drawbacks. One, they get wet easily through sweat or when you are passing through areas with streams. Second, once wet, they do not dry easily, unlike nylon socks which can be hung on the outside of your rucksack to flap about in the sunshine and breeze, and dry in a jiffy.
Third, and this is the worst problem, a cotton sock dampened by sweat can rub against the tender skin above your heel or on your toes and lead to a blister. Just the motion of walking can cause this during a long day of trekking if a boot is a little roomy or pinches a bit. Chances of this happening with a nylon or fine wool sock are less because they do not soak and retain the moisture of sweat like cotton.
To keep your feet cool while trekking at lower altitudes or mountain biking, thin nylon socks are best. As you gain altitude, add a thin or thick wool pair over them. At the end of the day, when you reach the night halt, change immediately to a dry pair of nylon or thin wool or thick wool socks, depending on the temperature after sunset. If your socks and shoes get wet while crossing a stream, you can change into a dry pair and hang the wet pair on your rucksack or bike.
When it comes to trousers, cotton seems to work, but only at lower altitudes. Cotton tracksuit pants feel soft and comfortable, and allow for a thermal base layer to be worn under them when it is cold. However, avoid them during the monsoon and in terrain with rivers and streams. Even if only the legs get wet, they are uncomfortable to wear in a tent or mountain lodge after nightfall and it is very difficult to dry them. For such times, use polyester pants. Depending on the expected temperature, choose plain thin pants or those with fillings for warmth.
Cotton T-shirts are useful only when it is really hot at lower altitudes. When rafting or kayaking in sunny weather on the lower reaches of rivers, a cotton T-shirt is ideal. It gets splashed with water and, as the moisture evaporates, your skin is cooled. Mountain bikers pedalling in the hot sun soak their T-shirts for the same reason.
However, a cotton T-shirt is not the best wear for a Himalayan trek with a heavy rucksack. Your back runs with sweat and, because the rucksack is resting on it, there is no scope for evaporation. You end up walking for hours with the soaked fabric sticking to your skin under the rucksack. Silk or synthetic long-sleeved shirts, kurtas, kurtis or tops are far better. The thin, light fabric feels more comfortable and dries quickly.