Last Updated: May 19, 2021

Moisture Wicking Fabrics: Everything You Need To Know

Moisture-wicking fabrics are used to make clothing for hikes, workouts, and other activities that make you sweat profusely. These fabrics are somehow able to stay dry even though your back feels like you’re standing under a shower. In this guide, I’ll tell you all about the best moisture-wicking fabrics, as well as how they manage to resist getting soaked in sweat.

I will also give you examples of some great moisture-wicking clothes that are perfect for hikes, workouts, and even everyday life. Let’s get to it – here’s everything you should know about the best moisture-wicking fabrics!

What Is Moisture Wicking?

Sweaty Hikers

Moisture-wicking is a property of a material that indicates how a specific material reacts when in contact with moisture. Moisture-wicking means that a material does not absorb any moisture; instead, it pulls it away from the skin and allows it to evaporate.

This feature is most popular in hiking and workout clothes. If you’re going to sweat a lot, it’s best to wear moisture-wicking clothes. But it’s not just about moisture-wicking – you also need to consider odor resistance, breathability, and durability, among other things.

Wearing clothes that are soaked in sweat is neither fun nor comfortable, and in some cases, it can do more harm than good. Wearing sweaty socks is a recipe for blisters and a cotton t-shirt soaked in sweat is good only for catching a cold. That’s why it’s best to avoid certain fabrics if you know that you’re going to sweat a lot. It’s also where moisture-wicking materials come in, with their excellent features that help keep your body dry even during the most strenuous activities.

How Do Moisture Wicking Fabrics Work?

Non-Wicking Top

Moisture-wicking can’t work without breathability – both properties are essential in ensuring that the fabric does its job. But how does it work exactly?

Say you get sweaty – a cotton t-shirt would just absorb all the moisture and stay soaked. A moisture-wicking t-shirt won’t do that. Instead, moisture-wicking fabric pulls the sweat away from the skin and then lets it evaporate on the material surface. This process is known as capillary action because the fabrics have tiny conduits that are very similar to the capillaries in our bodies.  

So, even the moisture-wicking fabrics technically absorb the moisture – what’s that about? Consider this – cotton can absorb 7% of its weight in moisture, whereas that number is 0.4% for polyester. On top of that, polyester is woven in such a way that drops of moisture can move around the yarns of the fabric. Plus the material is quick-drying, so that moisture is gone in seconds. Cotton, as the prime non-wicking fabric, just absorbs the moisture without letting it evaporate, and then takes forever to fully dry in ideal conditions. If you keep sweating in an already soaked cotton t-shirt, you’ll only get colder and clammier as time goes by.

Quick Dry Fabric

Another thing worth noting is that the process goes like this only if we’re talking about the outer layer. It’s different if you have an extra layer of clothing over the moisture-wicking fabric. Then the material will transfer the moisture onto the outer layer, and if that’s not breathable and quick-drying, you’re in trouble.

This is easiest to explain with shoes – when you wear moisture-wicking socks, they transfer the moisture (sweat) onto the inside of the shoe. If you’re wearing breathable shoes that’s not a problem since the sweat will evaporate quickly and everything will stay dry. But if you’re wearing boots that are not at all breathable, the moisture may just keep accumulating inside the shoe.

Because of that, it’s important to layer moisture-wicking clothing. If you’re wearing a Merino t-shirt, wear a polyester hoodie or a woolen sweater over it, for the best performance.

Moisture Wicking Fabrics

Merino Wool

The best moisture-wicking fabric is Merino wool because it’s also odor resistant and great at temperature regulation. It keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer, all the while ensuring that your body stays dry and you smell fresh even after a long workout. This also means that you don’t have to wash Merino wool clothes as often because they stay clean longer and that ultimately improves the life of the item.

Synthetics are a close second. Polyester and nylon are the fabrics people go for – the differences between the two are minimal, but polyester is usually more common in hiking and workout clothes.

You can also find various cotton clothes that are specifically treated for moisture-wicking. They’re never as good as synthetics and wool, and it’s still best to avoid them when you’re engaged in activities that make you sweat a lot.

Polyester

Polyester fabric is moisture-wicking, but it’s not odor resistant at all. That’s why the fabric is not my first option – sure your t-shirt won’t get soaked, but you will stink if you get sweaty. Also, polyester absorbs odors and it can sometimes take multiple washes to get that nasty stink out of a t-shirt. That won’t happen with Merino wool because it doesn’t absorb odors.

Another thing to consider here is the price point, which is heavily in favor of polyester and other synthetics. Merino wool is very expensive – a plain Merino t-shirt will set you back $30-40 at the very least. You can get a pack of five polyester t-shirts for the same amount of money, so there’s that.

Then again, Merino wool looks expensive and luxurious, and you can get away wearing Merino wool clothing in your everyday life. Sure, you can also wear synthetic tops whenever you want, but they’re not going to look like high-end clothes.

 

On top of that, there’s also the durability of the fabric. Merino wool is the most durable material out of the bunch by far, which helps justify the higher price point. Although a Merino t-shirt costs as much as five polyester ones, the lonely merino top will likely outlive all the polyester shirts.

What about cleaning? Synthetics are easier to clean since you can just throw them in the washing machine. Genuine wool is also machine washable, but only at low water temperatures. Wool also must be hanged to dry and should never be exposed to excessive temperatures.

Additionally, synthetics that contain elastane should also be hanged to dry. Elastane melts when exposed to high temperatures (like in the drier), which can make clothes lose their shape. Instead of having a stretchy t-shirt, you’ll wind up with a relaxed bunch of fabric that doesn’t fit you well anymore.

Why Should You Wear Moisture Wicking Fabrics?

There are several pros to wearing moisture-wicking clothing. Some are fairly obvious, like the fact that nobody likes walking around wearing a t-shirt soaked in sweat.

Another reason why you should pick up a synthetic or merino t-shirt is that moisture-wicking fabrics will help you sweat less. When your body sweats and the sweat evaporates, that creates a cooling effect that lowers the temperature of your skin. Once your skin is cooled to a comfortable temperature, your body stops sweating even if you’re still engaged in strenuous activity.

Additionally, there are benefits to wearing moisture-wicking fabrics that are relevant to particular clothing items. For socks, it’s because they will prevent you from getting blisters on your feet – one thing that cotton socks are notorious for.

With pants and shorts, it helps avoid chafing, and with tops, it’s mainly the advantage of not walking around in a soaked t-shirt.


At A Glance: Best Moisture Wicking Clothes


With all of that in mind, here are some of the best moisture-wicking clothes you can pick up today!

Top Products


Moisture Wicking Tops

Merino. tech Merino Wool T-Shirt

Merino.tech 100% Organic Merino Wool Lightweight Men's T-Shirt (Woodland Grey Blue, Small)

Merino.tech t-shirt is easily one of the best moisture-wicking tops you can buy. It is made entirely from superfine Merino wool for excellent comfort and breathability.

Because the t-shirt is made from superfine wool, it is very thin and lightweight. That makes it an excellent option even for warmer weather, especially with the moisture-wicking and odor resistance.

The t-shirt is washer and dryer safe, so it’s really easy to clean. However, if you want it to last longer, it’s best to let it air dry. Wool can shrink when exposed to hot water and air, so it’s best to (hand) wash woolen garments with cold water.

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5 Pack Men’s Crew Neck Shirts

5 Pack Men’s Active Quick Dry Crew Neck T Shirts - Athletic Running Gym Workout Short Sleeve Tee Tops Bulk (Edition 1, XX-Large)

If you’re all about moisture-wicking but you’re on a budget, this five-pack of polyester shirts is a good option for you. They’re classic crew neck shirts made from polyester and spandex and they’re great for hiking and working out.

The shirts are moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and machine washable. The elastane in the fabric makes the tops stretchier, allowing for greater freedom of movement. This is great for working out and it just makes the shirts a lot more comfortable.

The five-pack of t-shirts costs about as much as one single Merino t-shirt, so it’s really good value for money. Plus, the tops are available in sizes from S to 3XL, making it easy to pick up something that will fit perfectly.

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Meriwool Women’s Base Layer Long Sleeve Shirt

MERIWOOL Womens Base Layer 100% Merino Wool Midweight Long Sleeve Thermal Shirt Pink Heather

Moisture-wicking long sleeve shirts are a must for hikes in cold weather. They’re the perfect top underneath a thick hoody and a warm down jacket, especially when they’re made from Merino wool.

The Meriwool shirt is made from superfine Merino wool that is very soft and comfortable. It’s moisture-wicking, breathable, odor-resistant, and perfect for layering!

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Best Moisture Wicking T-Shirt

Meriwool Women’s T-Shirt

MERIWOOL Women’s Merino Wool Short Sleeve T Shirt Lightweight Base Layer Pink Heather

Meriwool also has some great t-shirts for women. This particular t-shirt is a great option for warm weather because it is made from lightweight Merino wool. It’s not only super soft and comfortable, but it’s also much more breathable than the average woolen shirt. It’s great for warm and cold weather thanks to the awesome temperature regulation of wool, plus it’s quick-drying, moisture-wicking, and odor resistant.

The top looks fashionable and expensive, so it’s perfectly fine for everyday wear as well. Pair it with a cute blazer to look very professional, or just wear it with jeans for a more casual look.

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Moisture Wicking Bottoms

Metarino Leggings For Women

METARINO Merino Wool Leggings for Women,Midweight Pants Base Layer for Hiking,Running,Yoga,Blue,Medium

When it comes to Merino wool bottoms for women, the most common option is leggings. Merino wool is often used in women’s leggings because they make a great underlayer, especially under bulkier winter clothes.

Merino leggings are a much better option than cotton leggings for multiple reasons. They don’t absorb moisture, so even if you get a little sweaty on your hike, your leggings will stay completely dry. They’re also much more durable, feature better breathability, and they’re more comfortable.

Also, they are usually warmer, making them a decent option for chillier weather. One thing to note is that these leggings are made from a wool blend that includes 61% Merino wool, 31% polyester, and 8% spandex, so they’re very stretchy as well.

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Best Moisture Wicking Pants

Woolly Clothing Men's Merino Wool Sweatpants

Woolly Clothing Men's Merino Wool Jogger Sweatpant - Wicking Breathable Anti-Odor S BLK

A good quality pair of sweatpants can go a long way, and that’s exactly what you can expect from the Wooly Clothing pair. It’s made from 100% Merino wool, so it’s perfect for jogging, the gym, hikes, and more.

These sweatpants are moisture-wicking, odor-resistant, and have great temperature regulation. Also, the wool in these is medium weight, so they will keep you warm even when it gets quite chilly outside. You could even get away with wearing these in the winter, but only if you pair them with some warm long johns.

The Wooly Clothing sweatpants also feature ankle cuffs that ensure they stay in place, as well as convenient hand-warming pockets.

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Moisture Wicking Socks

Best Moisture Wicking Socks

Darn Tough Merino Wool Micro Crew Socks

Darn Tough (Style #1466) Men's Merino Wool Micro Crew Hiker Sock With Cushion - Lime, Large

Darn Tough socks are very popular among hikers. Unlike cotton socks, these don’t absorb moisture, they don’t bunch up inside the shoe, and they will certainly not cause any nasty blisters.

The socks are made from Merino wool, nylon, and spandex, for ultimate comfort when hiking. They are breathable, quick-drying, moisture-wicking, and so durable that the company promises they’ll send you a brand new pair if you get any tears in these.

Also, the Darn Tough socks feature cushioning in strategic places, for improved comfort and support when hiking. Throw away your worn-out cotton socks and replace them with excellent Merino wool socks – you’ll never look back!

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Merrell Cushioned Hiker Socks

Merrell mens Cushioned Hiker Quarter 3 Pair Casual Sock, Dark Brown, Dark Grey/Light Grey, Olive Green, Medium-Large US

Synthetic socks are a close second for hikes. They’re a lot cheaper than Merino socks – this three-pack of Merrell hiking socks costs less than one single pair of Merino wool socks, so it’s easily the better option if you’re on a budget.

Polyester socks have the same moisture-wicking capabilities as woolen socks, but not the same odor resistance. In other words, try to avoid taking your shoes off if you’ve spent a couple of hours hiking while wearing these socks.

These are also cushioned for extra support and comfort, and they feature NanoGlide technology in the heel and toes that increases the durability of the socks.

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