The Ultimate Guide to Natural Fiber Clothing for Outdoor Adventures
If you're looking for a more sustainable and eco-friendly clothing option, natural fiber clothing may be the way to go. From linen (flax) and hemp to alpaca and wool, there are a variety of natural fibers to choose from that offer unique benefits for outdoor activities. Learn more about the different types of natural fiber clothing and why they may be a better choice for you and the environment.
Introduction to Natural Fiber Clothing
Natural fiber clothing is becoming increasingly popular among outdoor enthusiasts who are looking for a more comfortable and sustainable option. Unlike synthetic fabrics, natural fibers are often biodegradable and longer-lasting. They also tend to leave a smaller environmental footprint when considering the full lifecycle of the product.
Not only is synthetic clothing made from oil, it sheds microplastic fibers when used and washed and while it sits in a landfill for centuries. In fact, synthetic textiles are the single greatest contributor to microplastic pollution in the ocean.
In this guide, we'll explore the different types of natural fiber clothing available and their benefits for your outdoor adventures.
What are natural fibers?
Natural fiber clothing is made from materials that come from plants or animals, such as hemp, wool, linen and lyocell. These fibers are breathable, comfortable, and often have moisture-wicking properties, making them ideal for outdoor activities.
Additionally, natural fibers are less likely to cause skin irritation or allergies compared to synthetic fabrics, that are essentially plastic fibers, and are often treated with chemicals.
By choosing natural fiber clothing, you can reduce your environmental impact and support sustainable fashion practices.
Let's take a closer look at some of the most popular natural fiber clothing options available.
Types of natural fiber clothing
Hemp and Linen
Hemp andlinen are spectacular natural fiber textiles. The fibers come from the inner stalks of the hemp and flax plantsrespectively.
Why we love them:
Hemp and linen possess ideal properties for outdoor clothing. They tend to be very durable and moisture wicking making them perfect for rugged outdoor activities like rock climbing and backpacking. They’re also naturally resistant to mold and mildew, making them a great choice for damp environments and sweaty pursuits. While they cost more upfront, they should outlast many synthetic garments as well as cotton.
The environmental impact of linen and hemp are typically far better than cotton. They require less water than cotton (even organic cotton) to grow and are often grown without the use of pesticides. They’re also considered regenerative crops as they rehabilitate the soil for future planting and they take in more carbon than they emit. Look for certifications including organic, Fair Trade and Masters of Linen to ensure responsible growing and production.
TENCELTM Certified Lyocell and Modal
TheTENCEL™ certification is crucial. It guarantees responsible growing, harvesting and processing of the modal and lyocell fibers. Modal is derived from the wood pulp of beech trees. Whereas, lyocell is derived from birch, oak and eucalyptus. These fibers fall in the in-between category of “man-made fibers” - not quite considered a natural fiber because of the way the fibers are processed, but also not a synthetic fiber because they are not petroleum-based.
Why we love them:
Both textiles offer ideal properties for outdoor activities. TENCEL™ Lyocell is especially known for its strength, breathability, absorbency and immediate softness. While hemp and linen take some time to wear in and soften up, TENCEL™ Lyocell is soft right out of the gate making it a preferred textile to combine with hemp or linen. For example,check out this hemp and TENCEL™ Lyocell towel. The first of its kind, it’s quickly becoming a favorite among those tired of microplastic polluting microfiber towels and slow-to-dry cotton towels.
Fair Trade Organic Cotton
Fair trade organic cotton possesses fewer of the preferred properties for outdoor activities, but it still works on some occasions. For example, lounging at the campsite on a mild-weather day, cotton clothing would be a comfortable option. The most important thing to know is that cotton is absorbent, but it is slow to dry. If you plan on getting sweaty, opt for a textile that excels at wicking and is more breathable like hemp, linen, alpaca, wool and TENCEL™ lyocell.
While there are often better options in terms of performance, cotton is the easiest textile to find in stores. And because it is cheaper to produce and is less durable than other natural fibers, cotton garments are typically less expensive upfront.
Wool and Alpaca
Considered protein fibers because they come from animals, both wool and alpaca are great alternatives to synthetic fiber clothing and are making significant inroads in the outdoor clothing realm. Wool is especially known for its antimicrobial properties as well as thermoregulating and flame retarding capabilities.
Alpaca is an incredibly insulating fiber and because of a slight difference in the fiber’s make up it does not impact human skin the way that wool does. If wool tends to itch, opt for alpaca fiber.
Climate Beneficial™ Wool and Textile Exchange’s Responsible Wool Standard are two certifications to look for.
Why We Don't Recommend Bamboo or Rayon
Rayon and bamboo are considered man-made fibers like TENCEL™ Lyocell and Modal. However, the most common production process is reliant on carbon disulfide, a compound known to cause nervous system damage, and sulfuric acid. During the production of TENCEL™ certified fibers, 99% of the chemicals are reused and the water is recycled. This is not typical of standard rayon and bamboo clothing.
Choosing the Right Natural Fiber Clothing for Your Adventure.
When it comes to choosing the right natural fiber clothing for your outdoor adventures, it’s important to consider the type of activity you’ll be doing and the climate you’ll be in. For example, if you’ll be hiking in hot and humid conditions, you may want to opt for lightweight and breathable fabrics like linen, hemp, or TENCEL™ certified lyocell or modal.
On the other hand, if you’ll be camping in colder temperatures, look to alpaca or wool for their insulating properties. It’s also important to consider the fit and comfort of the clothing, as well as any additional features like moisture-wicking or UV protection. For example, hemp may block up to 50% of UV rays as compared to cotton.
How do you know what you’re wearing?
Companies are required to include the fiber content on the product. Sometimes this information is printed on the garment, but most often it’s listed on a tag sewn into a seam. For pants, check the side seam near the front pockets or the back seam along the waistline. For a shirt, check the side seam near the bottom or along the back neckline.
Caring for Your Natural Fiber Clothing.
Maintaining the quality and longevity ofnatural fiber clothing is typically simple. A general rule is to wash your garments in cold water on a gentle spin and dry on low heat or hang/lay flat to dry. Always check the care label before washing and drying your clothing, as different fibers may require different methods. For example, some wool should be hand washed or dry cleaned, while cotton can typically be machine washed.
Always avoid using harsh detergents or bleach, and opt for gentle, eco-friendly options instead. Be careful not to use too much detergent and avoid fabric softeners. Both can build up in the fabric creating a habitable environment for stinky microbes to settle in. The build up may also void the natural properties of the textile such as breathability and absorbency.
Finally avoid high heat from the dryer as it can damage natural fibers. Keep it simple with the less-is-more mindset and your natural fiber clothing may last for years to come.
The Changing Environment.
While synthetic clothing is omnipresent in the outdoor recreation realm, that’s changing. As we learn more about the massive amounts of microplastics shed by synthetic clothing and the associated health impacts, it’s becoming clear - natural fiber clothing is the clothing of the future.
To learn more about how synthetic textiles are the leading cause of microplastic pollution in the ocean check out thisblog post.