High Performance Clothing

Sunday, 4 March 2007 | Tags: , , ,

Better, stonger, faster...can high tech clothing really give you that sporting edge? We learn about fabrics and finishing processes that claim to make you less sweaty, slimmer, and more sleek out on the track, mountain, or trail. Are you really getting what you paid for?

The Basics

  • The primary job of high-tech or high performance fabric is to “wick” perspiration away from the skin. Some fabrics are specially engineered to do this, while others use chemical or electrostatic treatments.

  • Engineered or treated fabric is said to thermo-regulate body temperature, i.e. control the loss and gain of heat, and is recommended for use during aerobic activities. It is also meant to prevent chills by removing sweat from the skin layer.

  • Thermo-regulating fabric is used in everything from t-shirts, running singlets, jerseys, golf shirts, socks, running tights, bodywear, sports bras, and more.

  • To make sure you get good quality items, follow these shopping guidelines:

    • Purchase from a store that specializes in sporting gear and clothing

    • Fabric that is water repellent (hydrophobic) is good, but you also want fabric that can “wick” moisture (sweat) away from the skin.

    • Clothes that will work in a wide variety of weather conditions are more versatile. Look at the tag to see the range of optimum temperatures recommended by the manufacturer.

    • The tag should give you information on the type of fabric. If not, ask the store clerks. If you still can’t get the information you need, shop elsewhere.

    • A snug fitting item is usually best. The closer to your body, the more effective the moisture-wicking properties.

  • Here are some of the more common fabric brands and their properties. You will find clothing made using these types of fabrics:

    • DuPont Coolmax / Coolmax Alta: made from engineered polyester with special channelled fibre and is often combined with a small amount of lycra. No chemical treatments. Claims to move sweat away from the body, provide enhanced breathability, be fast-drying, non-shrinking, non-wrinkling, provide UV Protection.

    • MicroSupreme: an acrylic microfiber claiming a 75% faster drying time than cotton, and also claims to be faster than Coolmax. Comfortable, shrink-resistant, colourfast, as well as odour and mildew resistant.

    • Akwaktek (polyester) and Akwadyne (nylon) use electrochemical properties to (as claimed) keep you cooler and dryer, and is suitable for cool or hot weather. The manufacturer also says this fabric can be worn more loose on the body.

    • MicroSafe fabric is made from acetate fibre and is known for its anti-microbial protection.

    • Biofresh fabrics are made from acrylic and are anti-bacterial.

    • Wool, not a new fabric, is also making a comeback as it offers comfort in a broader range of temperature conditions. Super-fine Merino wool isn’t itchy and feels warm and dry even when it is wet.

Other Considerations

  • Before you buy, read the fabric care label. Most are machine washable, but some require hand-washing. Many dry better if hung rather than put through the dryer, which should also help extend its life.

  • Some of these fabrics are known for undesirable odour-retention, so washing them after every use is a good idea.


We set out to test if high tech fabrics do indeed keep you sweat-free during intense activities. We took five different types of high tech fabric t-shirts and wore them for a week. We also took them to a lab to be scientifically tested and we played ultimate Frisbee with a team called “The Juicy Chicken”.

We tested:

  • “In Sport” Power Dry $52 (plated double polyester.)
  • “Running Room” CoolMax $40 (made of a fabric found in many hi tech shirts.)
  • “Patagonia” Capilene $70 (silky, uses a chemical treatment.)
  • “MEC” Dryline $32 (polyester inside, nylon outside, lycra interwoven for stretch.)
  • “Icebreaker” Merino Wool $110 (shouldn’t be itchy, super fine, won’t shrink, when wet should stay warm and dry.)

Wear Test

  • Capilene and Powerdry were favourites among our testers. They were our Frisbee players’ first choice because the were breathable.

  • Anna preferred the Coolmax. It kept her perspiration-free and dried quickly, but she didn’t like that it was hand-wash only.

  • Kristina’s favourite was the Capilene. She liked that it was silky, dried really quickly, had a nice cut, and was lightweight.

  • The other shirts, Dryline and Merino Wool were heavier and kept testers warmer.

Lab Test

  • In scientific tests Capilene, Dryline, and Coolmax performed almost identically, drying 4 times faster than cotton.


Capilene got the most votes from our testers and performed well in the scientific tests, making it our overall favourite.









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