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Ditch the cotton workout gear and try these cool technical fibers

If you routinely come back from spring runs or bike rides feeling chilled by sweat and the weather, your gear could be to blame. Hikers and snow bunnies must already know these tricks after one day on the mountain with soaked cotton clothes or a vicious chill. Clothes you can get away with in the gym are not necessarily the best for outdoor workouts, especially given the key to great outdoor winter gear is the fabric and fit. Certain trademarked fibers, like Thermolite and Lyrca, are ubiquitous in active wear, while Gore-Tex and others are a little more exclusive but equally indispensable. Still, others, like Voormi, use unique wefts or materials.

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Invista is the company behind Thermolite, Lycra, and Coolmax trademarked fibers, among others. Gary Lucier, Director of Invista Outdoor North America, was kind enough to talk with us about how they stay ahead of the competition.

“The end uses of our products span an enormous array of products to include active wear, outerwear, sleeping bags, and accessories,” said Lucier. Variety is the spice of life. The company doesn’t play favorites with brands because such a vast number use their fibers. Invista announced a new addition to its stable in January, Thermolite Infrared, which uses near-infrared (NIR) yarns to absorb heat from the sun and artificial light. Hollow fibers help with insulation, and the result is a very warm and lightweight coat without the need for down.

The NIR effect will last the lifetime of the fabric, too, and the high-performance technical fiber will be integrated into performance fabrics. More uses for Thermolite Infrared will be announced later this year, but it’ll be a couple years before the products begin to hit store shelves. The first applications will be for the outdoors, like in jackets and sleeping bags.

Trademarked fibers are still good quality indicator in the meantime, but failing that, look for polyester blends of decent quality so that the garment will survive. If you want to stay natural, try rayon-viscose jersey, which is made from bamboo. Merino wool is another tried-and-true favorite. Lastly, silk is one of the best natural options because it’s breathable, warm, dries quickly, and comes in a variety of weights.

The activity will determine a few pieces of specialized gear, however. Cyclists will need a helmet and probably some shoe covers if it’s really wet out, for instance, while runners might want nipple tape and some proper running shoes. Blanket advice still applies; take wind chill into account, dress to heat up, and forget the cotton. The trick is to anticipate temperature changes and layer up during winter and spring.

Tommie Copper Recovery Compression Crew Neck ($54 – $60)


Like a set of stretchy long underwear, a base layer serves as the right foundation for outdoor workouts. A good one at least keeps you warm and dry. A technical fabric will wick sweat away from your skin and discourage the microbe growth that leads to funky smells. Wearing quick-dry fabrics close to your skin will also help prevent you from getting chilled with every errant gust, or during stops when your body temperature is likely to drop. Staying warm on chilly wet runs or rides is almost impossible if your clothes don’t dry when you stop sweating, and, unlike cotton, technical fabrics don’t hold 25 times their weight in water.

In addition to sweat-wicking fabrics, look for compression designs. Most trainers agree that compression can aid muscle performance and recovery. In the spring (and fall), a long-sleeve crew neck and leggings under warmer gear can take you from a city run to a mountain hike. If you go with gear that’s lined with fuzz, splurge on something of good quality that’s less likely to pill after a few washes and become uncomfortable. Nothing is worse than a scratchy base layer.

Tommie Copper’s line of compression wear checks off many of the aforementioned boxes, so it’s a good place to look. Even if you exclude the possible recovery benefits of the copper-infused Znergy fabric, its anti-fungal and wicking properties will keep the stink down and your skin dry.

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Masterclass Deep Sea Compression Tights ($150)


Legs are the second half of the base layer. You shouldn’t forget your legs in favor of only a compression shirt. Wearing the newly-launched Masterclass luxury athletic apparel line will likely ensure you never forget, though, especially when you consider that the fresh American company provides high-quality poly blends that are as hip as they are classic. The Deep Sea Compression tights are a great exclusive, for example, and showcase a colorful tattoo-inspired design and a poly spandex blend that separates them from other active wear. The compression fit can even help prevent aches and pains.

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Masterclass Apparel

Voormi Men’s Access Pullover ($200)


On wet, windy days, you don’t want a lot of skin exposed to the elements. Even a mock turtleneck is a good idea, since wearing one can help keep chills from going down your back. A flat turtleneck is the best bet for the coldest days, or those 35 degrees and below. For temps warmer than that, a mock-neck will do, but a zip-neck pullover offers the most flexibility throughout a workout.

The pullover is also an opportunity for on-person storage. If you’re the type that doesn’t like to visit the locker room at the gym, a pullover with a small pocket can hold keys and a couple bucks. New, wool-focused apparel company Voormi makes a series of pullovers and base layers using Rocky Mountain Highcountry Merino Wool, each of which is water-repellent and comes outfitted with permeable side panels for added breathability. The Access Pullover even has a handy breast pocket.

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Gore Alp-X 2.0 Jacket ($280)


This is a key piece of gear that should serve as a weather seal for wind and water. Thin windbreakers that are neither water nor windproof are, for the most part, good only for the halcyon nights of summer. Windstopper fabric is a must; and it’s even better if it’s waterproof. A good jacket can reduce the number of layers you need to wear.

It’s worth splurging on a good jacket, and Gore makes some of the best. Gore-tex fabric posses a semipermeable layer with more than 9 billion pores per square inch, so it manages to be truly water-resistant and windproof while remaining breathable. The Alp X 2 jacket is intended for mountain biking, but with one zippered pocket on the chest, a zip-off hood, and a drawstring bottom, it’s flexible enough to utilize about town or with other sports.

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Adidas Standard 19 Pants ($110)


Though not necessarily the go-to for the casual gym visit, these are a good call if you’re in need of a layer to wear over your base compression, as pants offer another chance to seal yourself against the elements. Shorts over the baselayer would be enough if this was purely a gym trip, but the outdoors requires extra protection. Guys that run hot could get by with a pair of versatile shorts, but a full set of pants is a better bet to stay insulated, and easier to throw on during off-hours.

Adidas’ Standard 19 pants are made of viscose, which means they dry quick and offer a cotton-like feel. They utilize a wide waistband, along with a little taper at the ankle that’s designed to help keep them from getting caught under shoes or in bike cranks. Ankle zippers also make them easy to get on and off no matter your calf size.

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Run Steep Get High Trucker Hat ($30)

trucker hat, running, wearable

Trucker Hats never go out of style, and here’s why: the rear weft lets moist body heat out, while the brim keeps the sun and rain out of your eyes. Run Steep Get High (RSGH) was started by ultra-marathon runner Jamil Coury. It’s a company of people with personal experience running, not a big corporation made up of people that aren’t really “about that life.”

Jamil said, “I coined the phrase while spending time in Silverton, Colorado and it really is a reflection of the way I live. The ram is something that really calls out to me and my character.” He’s been been running ultra marathons since 2005 and has finished over 60. “I ran the infamous Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon back in 2007 (organized by the late Caballo Blanco) and I chose the “ram” or “el carnero” as my spirit animal.” Hence the ram on Run Steep gear. “I am most inspired by steep, technical terrain and love the challenge and burn of that type of running. The goal of our company is to inspire people to get out and challenge themselves.” Check out Run Steeps’s Facebook or Youtube Channel to see some awesome videos of RSGH tackling the unique challenges of trail running, including staying warm and dry through errant patches of snow and the occasional mountain stream or rain shower.

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Run Steep Get High

Injinji Liner Crew Toe Socks ($9 – $44)


Grabbing any old pair of athletic socks and hitting the road is fine, right? Wrong. Most pairs of basic athletic socks are made with cotton. It’s possible to ignore the cotton rule with few regrets, but likely not in footwear. Feet collect smells and moisture more so than other parts of the body, so anti-bacterial fabrics are really important here. Additionally, wet gear increases chafing and blistering, which could keep runners or hikers off the trails. Padding on the ball and heel helps prevent soreness, and knee-highs can offer calf compression. And for runners, a good workout is another excuse to wear toe socks, which are cozy around the house and can prevent blisters. Injinji’s Toe socks are a good example, incorporating both Lycra and CoolMax fibers. They’re thin enough to wear as a sock-liner under a heavy weather or hiking sock, even if they’re not compression socks.

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5 Water Socks ($22)

outdoor, wearables,

When wet weather rolls around, keeping your feet dry is a must. But, if you stubbornly refuse to wear anything but a plush cushion of cotton on your feet, consider 5 Water Socks. They’re made of a cotton, nylon, spandex blend. That may sound like typical athletic socks, but the fibers used for 5 Water Socks are treated with Rain Armor, a hydrophobic formula. This means the socks resist water and dry quickly, but are still porous, comfortable and breathable. Digital Trends took a look at them when they were still on Kickstarter. Since then, they’ve begun delivery and backers seem happy. Again, they’re not neoprene galoshes, so don’t expect them to be completely waterproof, but since they dry quickly and come in two sizes (small covers men’s size four through nine and women’s five to 10, while medium is for men’s nine and a half to 12.5  or women’s 10.5 to 13) they are more likely to keep feet from blistering.

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5 Water Socks

The North Face Recoil Glove ($80)


Frostbitten fingers are not a good look. Properly protecting your hands keeps them from cracking painfully around the cuticle, which can happen if you’re often subjected to cold conditions. These days, the catch is finding a pair of gloves that are sensitive enough to operate a touchscreen. These can become a little specialized — for instance, cycling gloves could use a little palm padding. Unless you’re a hardened rider, however, a decent pair of gloves you can use for runs or other common activities is a better bet.

The soft-shell Recoil Glove from the North Face utilizes the company’s Apex Climateblock, which helps keep the wind and snow out while keeping your hands toasty. The palm is 3M Scotchgard-treated leather, meaning it provides great grip and keeps your palms dry, and each glove features a pull tab for added convenience when pulling on or off. Unfortunately, they might not be as effective on touchscreen displays as your bare fingers.

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