Cotton or synthetic fibres
November 15, 2009 10:52 PM   Subscribe

Should one wear cotton or synthetic fibres in a tropical country ? I'm visiting guyana and the tourism website advises "Bring clothes made of cotton (avoid synthetic fibers) ". What is the justification for this ? I prefer synthetic fibers in hot & humid weather.
posted by lahersedor to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There isn't much of a justification anymore. It used to be that cottons were better than nylons and scratchy wools and such, so any reference to "synthetic" fabric might still raise eyebrows among some people. But modern synthetics and wools, what with their moisture wicking and anti-bacterial properties and breathability and odor control and quickness to dry and UV protection -- and so on -- are certainly superior to cotton fabrics. You'll lose track of how many Patagonia, North Face, etc., logos you'll see on any tourist circuit in the tropics, simply because that stuff tends to work pretty well.
posted by SpringAquifer at 11:04 PM on November 15, 2009

I think they are suggesting not to wear 90% poly blend clothes.

Cotton is recommended because it's very breathable and is lite.

If you're going to be doing a bunch of sporty type things, or you are a heavy sweater synthetics are better because they allow the sweat to dry better.

This is all of course a personal preference. Since you know what you like already just bring what you like.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:07 PM on November 15, 2009

Many synthetic fibres don't 'breath', that is, they don't move heat and moisture away from your body. They are also often rougher on your skin than cotton.

On areas like your feet, armpits, genitals, and fat rolls if you have them, synthetic clothing can lead to uncomfortable chafing, or to sweat build-up which makes it easier for fungal infections to establish themselves. In tropical regions, there may be increased risk of sores and skin infections if chafing or fungus leads to skin abrasions.

There are some high-performance sythetics that claim to mimic natural fibres in their ability to breath, but in my opinion, even if you personally like synthetic clothing in hot humid weather, natural fibres for at least your socks and undies are probably a good idea in the tropics.
posted by girlgenius at 11:09 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

On non-preview, I apparently spaced out for 5 minutes before submitting this.

Their website also recommends to bring "unglasses" but I'd probably just bring sunglasses.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:10 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

girlgenius: natural fibres for at least your socks and undies are probably a good idea in the tropics

See, I do sort of the reverse when traveling in the tropics: cottons and linens for shirts, high-performance synthetics for everything else. So of course zephyr_words is right, in that it's a not a big deal to just go with what you like. For me, sweaty cotton underwear? No thanks.
posted by SpringAquifer at 11:15 PM on November 15, 2009

I've found that even the hi-tech "wicking" synthetics accumulate odors and stubbornly hang on to them. I like thin cotton, preferably the gauzy kind.
posted by PatoPata at 11:16 PM on November 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

A lot of the high-performance synthetic clothing has the legend "Do not use fabric softener" on the tag. I recommend religiously following this advice. As I understand it, fabric softener clogs up the pores in the synthetic material, rendering it unable to breathe.

If you like geeking out over this stuff, the clothing section of The Complete Walker is the ultimate guide to dressing for the outdoors. The book itself is a fascinating reference, even if you don't backpack.
posted by zachlipton at 11:27 PM on November 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Wear the hot weather garb that has worked well for you in other hot weather situations, whether cotton or synthetic. Guyana doesn't have some kind of special weather that makes CoolMax or whatever suddenly suck.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:48 PM on November 15, 2009

It may be that that's what the locals wear. Is it possible the site is trying to help you fit in and not look like a tourist? Just an idea.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:01 AM on November 16, 2009

When I first moved to Brazil, I brought a lot of natural fiber clothes with me. As I looked to replace my clothes, I realized that natural fiber clothes were fairly hard to come by. Most people wear synthetics.

I personally still love the breathability of natural fibers, especially linen pants, but synthetics are just so easy! They launder well, dry quickly and never look rumpled on those hot muggy days. (Although I just can't get into synthetic pants. They will always seem like "old lady pants" to me.) My husband's wardrobe contains a lot of coolmax-type polos.

So I guess all that is to say, I can't imagine that Guyana would be any different than my coastal city, unless it's some local custom.
posted by wallaby at 2:49 AM on November 16, 2009

I'm with the website. As a sweaty Brit who has spent a lot of time in hot countries, cotton (or linen if you're feeling flash) rock. While I might use the odd synthetic if I was climbing a volcano or something, I would be packing 95% cotton clothes. Of course, you're going to sweat anyway, but at least with cotton you won't have that tupperwear in the sun feel. Also, cotton stuff tends to be relatively cheap, which is good when you send your clothes to be washed and discover that they're being beaten on rocks by hand and then dried under a blazing tropical sun.
posted by rhymer at 3:12 AM on November 16, 2009

The only other tip that I haven't seen in here is that some parts of the Caribbean have a high crime rate or have active military conflicts, and synthetics have a tendency to *melt* when burned or scorched, where natural fibers have a tendency to just burn away and not interfere with the healing of wounds or burns.
posted by SpecialK at 6:03 AM on November 16, 2009

What type of 'hot and humid' weather are you used to? Hot and humid in the U.S. is a whole different thing than hot and humid in Guyana. If I could pull it off when I am in Trinidad, I would rock my Nike Dry Fit running gear when I left the house. When I am in the house, you'll be lucky if I ever put a shirt on. But sometimes, running gear isn't appropriate. In that case, go with light cotton. Avoid socks if possible. A lot of this is going to depend on what you will be doing in Guyana.
posted by jasondigitized at 6:07 AM on November 16, 2009

I'm pretty sure that "synthetic" here refers to garment polyesters, not specifically engineered fabrics. Polyester gets stinky and sweaty pretty quickly. They're not talking about your TriMaxCoolWick stuff.

Light cotton and linens (lightweight, not crisp/heavy) are good choices too, though.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:55 AM on November 16, 2009

Best answer: Travel clothing/synthetic breathability has gotten better over the last 5-10 years but I still find it less than ideal.

Hopefully you can find a good combo of synthetic things and cotton/natural things to wear. I bought a pair of mostly nylon trousers that seemed great (no-wrinkles! moisture-wicking!! UV resistant!!!) but when I wore them in SE Asia they didn't breathe, trapped the heat and gave me heat rashes. I had a pair of linen bottoms made and even though they were all wrinkly and weren't as stylish I felt much better.

It does depend on what you're doing (do you need to dress nice or are you camping?), what facilities you'll have access to and how long you'll be there. I usually wear trousers that are mostly cotton with a tiny bit of lycra for comfort, synthetic underwear (dries much quicker if you're washing it yourself indoors) and switch between synthetic and cotton shirts. The problem with synthetic shirts is they really hold in odors even after washing and require special treatment to smell clean after a while.
posted by Bunglegirl at 10:33 AM on November 16, 2009

Something I observed this summer while hiking in mosquito-infested swamps this summer, the Nike (and assumably other brands) moisture-wicking fabric isn't particularly mosquito-proof. A linen or cotton shirt has some small amount of barrier to bugs but the Nike stuff was like walking around naked with every bite going right through, even a few from biting flies.
posted by fiercekitten at 12:46 PM on November 16, 2009

I'm a backpacker, and I can't even imagine wearing a cotton shirt on a trip out in the heat. When cotton gets wet, it stays wet. Cotton means heavy, soggy clothes and chafing to me. Modern synthetics do a fantastic job of wicking away sweat and drying almost immediately. I'd ignore the website's advice.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 3:54 PM on November 16, 2009

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