Cotton vs. Poly in Clothing

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Aug 15th, 2005, 07:27 AM
  #1
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Cotton vs. Poly in Clothing

I have seen on this site that cotton is the way to go for safari clothing. While we took your advice (thanks), husband and encountered resistance when trying to purchase our safari duds. All the salespeople (I get the 'sales' part) insisted that a synthetic material was the only way to go. Does anyone have an opinion before we finish our shopping? What are the pro and cons?

Thank you!
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Aug 15th, 2005, 07:48 AM
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Hello,

This is a very personal choice, but here's my 0.02 pence...

I've been on safari several times, and I've always been glad that I chose cotton. Cotton is very comfortable on your skin, breathes well, and is easy to launder at camp laundries which may not be familiar with dealing with synthetic materials (sometimes they iron synthetics, with the expected result of melted areas and ruined clothing). Cotton clothes are also relatively inexpensive versus the 'hi-tech' materials the sales people would rather have you buy, and can be worn when you get home.

Being a bit of gadget freak, I've tried some of the high-tech materials (CoolMax, etc) and IMO they don't work as well as good old-fashioned cotton. They don't breathe as well and sometimes feel plasticy against your skin. However, they do have superior insulating properties and work better than natural fabrics in extreme conditions, which is an important factor for activities like mountain climbing -- if I was climibing Kili, I would go with synthetics.

Nice cotton clothes can be sourced from J. Crew, LL Bean, Lands' End, and Eddie Bauer (yes, the old preppie standbys). More hard-core outdoors stuff can be found at Orvis and similar places. They're classic rather than cutting edge in terms of style, but the animals won't care.

Cheers,
Julian
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Aug 15th, 2005, 08:52 AM
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Thank you Julian! My husband found several items at Bass Pro Shops (pretty decent prices too!) and a couple of other places. We found that it was actually rather hard to find 100% cotton as the "trendy" thing is/are the synthetics.

Have you had any dealings with the BuzzOff Brand items? If so do they actually work? We are also trying to determine which mosquito repellant to use...30%? 100%? It is my understanding that deet will destroy synthetics...
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Aug 15th, 2005, 09:15 AM
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Julian, is correct...but the big negative for cotton is weight. If you are faced with strict weight limits for small planes, or are pressing against the 44 lb weight limit because of other gear you are carrying, synthetics are usually alot lighter. If weight is not a problem, go with what you have or are comfortable wearing. (in neutral bush colors of course). Also if you are ever in situations where you will have to do your own laundry (eg a series of single night stops where there isn't time to send out laundry) you will appreciate how fast synthetics dry vs cotton.

In my experience in Southern Africa (Zambia and south of there) the camps and lodges know how to treat synthetics, and in about 180 days of travelling there, I've never had a single problem, nor has anyone else at the camps where I was staying. I think a few years back this might have been the case, but since then they've seen lots of synthetics and know how to handle them. Mistakes can occur everywhere with any kind of fabric, so take what you want , and don't worry about laundry problems.
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Aug 15th, 2005, 09:49 AM
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Hello,

By all means, avoid heavy cotton (and heavy anything) -- definitely no jeans! However, I packed an all-cotton wardrobe for my trip to Botswana and was well under the weight limit. Since the camps will do laundry daily, your wardrobe needs are minimal -- you can easily get by with 2 pairs cool weather trousers (for morning game drives) 2 pairs warmer weather trousers or shorts, and three shirts.

One area where I did go for synthetics was underwear, for the reasons Tashak mentioned. Some camps will not do any underwear -- more commonly, the camps will specifically not do women's underwear. I've never asked if that prohibition includes bras and such. Good sources for quickdrying comfortable underwear are Ex Officio and REI.

Another place where synthetics win out is in terms of fleeces to keep you warm. They're much lighter weight than a cotton jumper, and deal better with the dust -- you can just beat them and it comes off, rather than clinging on.

The key to dealing with weight + cotton is seersucker. It's lightweight, does not show wrinkles (being crinkly already) and is wonderfully cool because the little crinkles mean that only 1/3 of the fabric is in contact with your skin. Lands' End and LL Bean have some nice seersucker stuff for men and women. Go to their websites and enter 'seersucker' as the search word.

Another natural option is silk. Don't laugh -- silk keeps you cool during the day and warm at night, and takes up virtually no room in your suitcase. I always pack silk pyjamas when I travel, whether it;s Botswana or Prague (hope that's not too much information!)

Silk/cotton or linen/cotton blends also work well if you don't mind your linen getting a bit wrinkled.

I've never tried the Bug Off line of clothing, but one of the reasons I have avoided synthetics is the problems with DEET melting them. If you want to treat your clothing, a better option is permethrin spray, which does a good job. You'll still need DEET of some sort for your skin, though, which will inevitably end up on shirt and trouser cuffs.

I have tried a number of DEET formulations, including 100% and 50%. I find lotions easier to use than sprays, since you have a bit more control over where the stuff ends up. In the UK, some chemists (drug stores) stock little DEET wipes which make application easy.

I used 100% DEET on my first trip, and found that it really irritated my skin. The 50% stuff I used this time was not as bad. I got bitten about three times on each trip, always on my hands because I would sometimes forget to put it on after washing them.

If you are totally anti-DEET, there is another brand called 'Mosi-Guard' which has been clinically tested by tropical medicine specialists in the UK and found to be quite effective. I used Mosi-Guard for my face and DEET for my arms and legs.

Cheers,
Julian
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Aug 15th, 2005, 10:17 AM
  #6
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Sometimes this all sounds like science to me!
I'm wearing my stone-coloured 501s (the same as at home) and cotton shirts from the camps' souvenir shops, and for the cooler times I have a natural-coloured fleece (material unknown). I'm using the local brand of insect repellent (Sleep Well or similar), if any, and have swollen hands for the first three days. After that I'm accustomed to all kind of insects. Maybe I'm more a nature-boy.
 
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Aug 15th, 2005, 12:05 PM
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Re treated clothing or treating clothing: Mosquitos in Africa don't bite through clothing, so the cloth itself is protection. And the things that do bit thru (tsetse flies) don't seem to be stopped by anything.
So skip the pretreated clothing. It doesn't really offer you anything, and it does wear out with washing. I don't think pretreating yourself really keeps insects away anyway, and permethrin is really toxic, so why use it if isn't really needed?
If you are in the US, Ultrathon 30% deet works really well (for topical skin application.) The base helps keep your skin from absorbing the deet, and makes the deet longer laster on top of your skin. No need to put it on clothing, but if you happen to rub some off skin, it doesn't seem to do anything at all to sythetic fabrics. But don't touch anything plastic (including camera bodies) if it is on your fingers/palms (it will degrade them!) and don't do anything like spray it on your sandals. (A fellow traveller in South America did this to kill the mites/chiggers that took up residence in his sandal straps, and the sandals totally fell apart! I used permethrin on mine, and they were fine.)
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Aug 15th, 2005, 12:10 PM
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Tashak,

That bit about the sandals made me laugh. I've also heard tales of backpackers who decided to DEET their backpacks halfway through a trip for similar reasons, with similar results...

Cheers,
Julian
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Aug 15th, 2005, 01:01 PM
  #9
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Thank you so much for your thoughtful input, we greatly appreciate yout time and attention to this post! This is our first safari, and if nothing else, we hope to be comfortable in our clothing; As I understand it our ride won't be
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Aug 15th, 2005, 06:09 PM
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Julian,
Actually, it was even funnier (to me). Before doing this, we had a big long discussion about what to do about the sandals at dinner, with all people on the Earthwatch project involved. Several people recommended DEET...I told them it melted things, and offered the permethrin. The guy with the mite-y sandals decided to go with the DEET. Wrong decision!
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