As you begin to sweat while out hiking, moisture starts to get trapped between your body and your clothing. Polyester’s moisture wicking technology allows that moisture to escape into the clothing and then slowly evaporate back into the air. This feature of polyester keeps you much cooler than you might otherwise be in thicker or more water absorbent material.
So, is polyester good for hiking and backpacking? Yes, polyester is great for both hiking and backpacking. It does a good job of keeping you dry and wicking away any excess moisture. Furthermore, polyester is very breathable and will not chaff your skin unless you are very sensitive. Polyester is lightweight and durable by design which makes it an ideal clothing choice for any outdoor activity.
Most polyester products will not be 100% made out of just polyester. They may be blended with other synthetic fabric materials to harness the properties of those materials as well to keep the benefits of polyester.
For instance, polyester might be blended with nylon to make it a softer and stronger overall while still being light and breathable. Polyester can also be blended with spandex making it a much more flexible material.
Polyester was discovered by scientist in the early 1940’s and has been used consistently since then as a synthetic material. It has been used to make all different types of clothes and other items that are similar to fabric. However, polyester is much tougher than regular fabric and at times slightly more rigid.
To combat this, polyester fabric strands today are made to be hollow with ridges and kinks to make the fabric more comfortable. Ultimately this design is an attempt to mimic the feeling of cotton or wool.
Polyester is also a hydrophobic product. That means that unlike other fabrics, polyester does not absorb any water at all. Not absorbing water makes polyester very quick drying after it is submerged, and good for wicking away sweat from your body while out on a trail hiking or backpacking.
Popular Hiking Gear Made With Polyester
There are so many products today on the market that are made from polyester. Since polyester is essentially a fabric, companies will make basically every type of clothing out of it including pants, shirts, undergarments, jackets, and socks.
All of these clothing articles will be great for backpacking and hiking but keep in mind that there might be different pros and cons to the different type of garments made from polyester.
Don’t be surprised if you see some polyester clothing being sold for very high prices. But keep in mind, those articles of clothing are only selling for a lot because of the name brand they have, not the technology they offer. Look for more off brand polyester clothing and it should basically be the exact same thing without the fancy logo and insane price tag.
Pants made of polyester are great for their breathable fabric and how lightweight they are. Having lightweight pants while hiking is key because that can be one thing you bring that is heavy and takes up a lot of room in your backpack.
Now, with some polyester hiking pants, those are not problems anymore. I’d even recommend bringing just one pair of pants and two pairs of polyester hiking shorts so long as the trip you are taking will not be in a very cold climate.
Patagonia makes a great hiking pant out of 91% recycled polyester. You can learn more about their process here.
Having a good button down hiking shirt is essential to keeping the sun off your arms and neck. A good polyester shirt offers complete protection from the sun. It also has great moisture wicking technology for keeping sweat away from you. I’d highly recommend at least having a good polyester shirt for hiking and backpacking. It will be dual purpose for both long days on the trail and lounging back at camp.
Here’s an example of a good polyester hiking shirt available at REI.com. A long sleeve button up shirt that is great for sun protection and staying cool at the same time: Columbia Silver Ridge Lite
Leggings For Hiking
The leggings I have linked here for hiking will be a polyester blend between 75% polyester and 25% spandex. This makes these legging very flexible while also keeping the breathability and lightweight aspects that polyester offers. Don’t be afraid of taking these on a backpacking trip both for hiking during the day, and to wear underneath a pair of shorts or pants when it gets colder at night.
You can check out the leggings here.
These hiking socks will also have some spandex in the blend of the fabric to keep them flexible for your feet. However, the best part about these socks is the fact that they are also sweat wicking. So, when your feet begin to sweat while out hiking or backpacking, these socks will absorb that moisture, and help it to evaporate away keeping your feet dry and blister free.
While most hiking socks lean towards a high percentage of wool, these are 70% polyester which many reviewers state as excellent for keeping blisters at bay: wrightsock.com
Having a good polyester hiking jacket is great for being out hiking in slightly cooler temperatures. You’ll still need to layer in a bit more insulation depending on how cold it is. However, the moisture wicking technology will be great to keep sweat and heat away from your body when hiking steep terrain or carrying a heavy load backpacking.
Once you start to pool sweat within your under layers, you will get wet and cold. A good polyester hiking jacket will still be breathable enough to release this moisture. This 100% polyester hiking jacket by Outdoor Research comes highly recommended: Mens Foray Jacket. Worth taking a look at if you are in the market for one.
Nylon Vs. Polyester For Hiking Clothing
There are quite a few pro’s and con’s for both hiking in nylon vs. polyester clothing. Below I’ll detail a few reasons that each is good and bad, and then some key differences between the two.
- Lightweight – One of the best things about polyester is that it is lightweight. This makes it excellent for taking out on a backpacking trip and wearing for a couple of days in the wilderness. Having a few articles of polyester clothing will definitely help keep your backpack weight to a minimum.
- Moisture wicking – Polyester is also moisture wicking and does a good job of keeping you dry even when the material gets wet because it does not absorb moisture.
- Stains easily – Polyester stains easily and might not wash out.
- Odor – The fabric can sometimes smell when it is worn too long without a wash.
- Warmth – If you are hiking in very cold temperatures, I would recommend merino wool.
- Warmth – Nylon has slightly better insulating properties as it is a denser material.
- Durability – One thing nylon is better as than polyester is its durability. Nylon is more abrasive than polyester and thus is better for pants and clothing items that will get a lot of wear.
Weight – Nylon is not as lightweight as polyester.
Moisture absorption – Nylon is not as good as polyester at getting sweat off of you and evaporated into the atmosphere. It is still very fast drying but will absorb a small amount of water compared to polyester.
Is polyester good for hot summer weather? Polyester is great for hiking in hot weather and the summer because it does a good job keeping you dry from the sweat your body will be producing on a hike.
I will mention however that polyester is so breathable that if you are hiking where there will be a lot of bugs, I’d make sure to either leave the polyester at home and opt for some nylon, or make sure you have a second layer on to keep the bugs off of you.
Is polyester breathable? Yes, polyester is a very breathable fabric. Because of the way that polyester clothing is made, it is a very lightweight material and thus is breathable between the fibers of the fabric. It is a great piece of clothing for warm weather and especially when you are going to be sweating a lot on longer backpacking trips.
Does polyester make you smell? Polyester is a great fabric for hiking and does not generally smell. However, over time as you wear polyester more and more, and it works to wick away sweat from your body it will begin to have slight scent.
This is because although it is getting rid of the sweat from you body, that sweat is carrying oils into the fabric that in turn are not being evaporated. These oils will stay in the polyester fabric giving it a specific smell. Thankfully, once you wash the polyester, it should go back to hardly having any smell at all again.
Is polyester flammable? Yes, natural polyester is a very flammable product. Make sure you are very careful when wearing it in the outdoors and around the campfire at night. Also, if you have polyester socks or pants, do not put your feet up near the fire or else they might melt down and the garment will be ruined.
Is polyester environmentally friendly? Unfortunately, polyester is not totally environmentally friendly. The fact that it is a completely synthetic material makes it very hard to be broken down when discarded. However, it is a material that can be made from recycled goods so certain plastics can be melted down and turned into polyester fabric.
That polyester can continue to be used for many years plus it can be recycled again to be reused in new garments and polyester fabrics. Thankfully polyester garments have very long life spans so you should be able to use them for over a decade before they need to be recycled again.
Up Next In Hiking Gear:
Best Hiking Socks: 5 Top Picks and How To Choose
Best Budget Hiking Pants – 7 Top Picks
What Pants Should I Wear for Winter Hiking?
Cameron is a freelance writer with a focus on hiking, fishing and photography. He studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Colorado Boulder and now calls Chicago, Illinois home.
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