We all have these in our clothes collection. We may even wear them every day. They are either comfortable or maybe a little bit tight. There may be a stack for our current size, our slim size, and our after-the-holidays size. Whatever and however, there is not one pair that we can wear into the forest.
When we go into the woods, we need clothes that breathe, that wick moisture away from our skin, and that dry quickly so we don’t get hypothermia when temperatures drop. Your favourite pair of jeans just won’t cut it.
Jeans are made of cotton. Cotton is, of course, a natural product, so we assume it is good for the environment and for us. Pure cotton could never chafe our skin or cause allergies, right? And it’s so comfortable! We live in them, only changing the style when we are going out on a date.
But cotton doesn’t wick moisture. In fact, it holds onto it. Have you ever tried to air-dry your jeans? It can take hours and hours. Now imagine you are in the woods and you slip into the stream. Your pants are soaked. A cool breeze stirs. You start to shiver. Your body temperature drops. You can go into hypothermia quite easily. If you don’t get out of those clothes or get help soon, you could be in serious trouble.
And cotton jeans get heavy. Very heavy. If you get sucked into the water, it is harder to pull yourself out. Something I’ve learned as I age is that I’m not as strong as I think I am. According to Harvard Medical School, “after age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% (muscle mass) per decade. Most men will lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes. Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility.” *
So, what should you wear into the woods? Here are some options that are much safer and more comfortable than jeans. REALLY!
- One of the oldest fabrics ever made, it is very absorbent, so the more you sweat, the more it can absorb before getting uncomfortable for you.
- Linen comes from the flax plant. So, not only does it have multiple uses which reduces environmental impacts on the earth, the strands of linen are the strongest and longest lasting of almost any other plant.
- Flax uses less water to grow than cotton, which requires lots of sun and correspondingly, more water, to grow a good harvest.
- Linen becomes softer the more you wash it. Where cotton begins to wear and tear in the washer and with use, linen actually feels more soothing to the skin.
- It breathes, so you won’t feel too hot wearing it. Air flows beautifully around the fibres, unlike cotton, which traps air.
- As air flows around the threads of linen, it dries and keeps pollen and bacteria from collecting or forming.
- It also wicks moisture away from your skin, which means your body temperature stays in the best zone for your health. Thermoregulation is essential on your walks in the woods.
- Because of thermoregulation, it provides a great inside layer of clothing in winter to reduce your risk of overheating inside winter clothing.
- This natural fibre is processed with less water, produces up to three times the amount of fibre as cotton on only 1/2 the number of acres, and does not deplete the soil. No erosion, and more nutrients left in the soil after harvesting than with other fibre sources. Cotton fields have been depleted for decades, so pesticides and fertilizers are needed to grow the increasing demand. Because hemp grows quickly on many soils, it can be renewed annually, and is found growing almost everywhere in the world.
- Hemp fibres are ten times stronger than cotton, last much longer (resists abrasion), and feel softer after every wash.
- It has microbial agents to fight mould and little beasties in the field. These same qualities mean it doesn’t need pesticides (insecticides, herbicides) while growing, and those same properties reduce the beasties in your fabrics as you wear them.
- Every part of the plant can be used, and for so many things. It is used in construction, animal foods, medicine, oils, and textiles.
- There is a wide variety of thicknesses in textiles, from thin and breezy to upholstery-thickness. If you are using it to make a shirt or pants, you have many options. (Look for “industrial hemp.”) You can dye it any colour, and the dye will hold fast.
- It dries quickly, with great airflow.
- It wicks moisture from the skin, making you feel cooler and less clammy. Your own inner temperature gauge works better, so you only sweat what and where you are supposed to sweat.
- It repels UV rays, so it helps protect the wearer.
- We have been using bamboo for many things, from cutting boards to shoe trees to eating utensils to shoes. Bamboo also makes a great, lightweight fabric.
- It dries quickly and completely.
- It is naturally soft, feeling to many as silk.
- It is totally biodegradable.
- It requires very little water to grow, can be harvested several times a year, can be planted and sustained without removing habitat from koala bears and other wildlife who need it.
- Bamboo lasts a very long time and is very strong, so you will need to replace it less often.
- Its dye is retained much longer, even in sunshine. In fact, it requires less dye than cotton to get the same tint!
- Save on your laundry bill! Because bamboo reduces your stink factor, you don’t have to wash it as often (especially the socks.) Can you say anti-bacterial?
- Bamboo keeps its shape very well. No stretching, shrinking, or bulging. This, and the fact that the fibres resist abrasion, means you can wear it forever (almost!)
These alternatives to cotton are more costly initially, but their resiliency and versatility will make you seek them out more and more. Especially if you get into the habit of foraging!
Catch up on my other blogs at https://www.letseataforest.com/blogs