We were 6 miles from the launch dock on the turquoise waters Alaska’s Skilak Lake when it began to rain. Just days before, Alaska State Troopers found a man’s body at the head waters of the lake, which is actually part of the Kenai River. He hadn’t prepared for Alaska’s most dangerous factor. That factor is not 1000 pound Brown Bears… it’s water.
Most of the deaths that will occur among outdoorsmen this summer up in the northland will be because they got wet and were the next victim of hypothermia. “Wet” is a real problem. It can kill you.
If you are like me you buy good gear. When it comes to clothes that includes performance fabrics. I have some great stuff and it was pricey. Base layers are getting a lot of press these days and it’s because they are critical to comfort and safety. If you sweat and get wet from the inside out you’re still wet. Cotton or cotton blends will hold perspiration and due to a principal you heard about in high school called the “latent heat of evaporation”, it can lower your body temp and get you into big trouble. The best base layers I’ve used are those chosen by the US military. It’s called XGO and you can find them on the web.
They wick up moisture like a mad man and then allow the moisture to evaporate away from your skins surface. Our special Forces wear it. I also have a lot of North Face gear and Columbia gear for use out in the wilds. Depending on the level of your passion you may need outer wear that is water repellent or even waterproof.
You may also need panel application of an aftermarket waterproofing solution on specific parts of your gear of on accessories like packs or hats. Regardless of your personal needs the one common denominator is that you understand how to keep your gear performing as it was designed. For some reason most outdoorsmen don’t know to do this. You’re about to find out.
From the latest blends, laminates, micro fibers and synthetics, to silk, cotton, and wool, every fabric needs proper care to deliver maximum performance. The enemy of every fabric is contamination and dirt. Air pollution, dirt of all kinds, chemicals, hard water, and especially the residue from soaps, detergents, fabric softeners, and dry cleaning all compromise the life of the fabric and the features you paid for. Residue stops water repellency, breathability, wicking, and moisture transfer.
It attacks fibers, adhesives, elastomers, colors, and coatings. Residue irritates skin especially in warm moist areas where the residue is activated and the skin is more permeable. Detergent residue even attracts insects, spooks game animals, and increases flammability.
Washing Performance Fabrics with ordinary laundry detergents destroys the very properties that you are trying to restore. Detergent residue is the chemical scum deposited on the fabric with every washing. Virtually all detergents are made the same way. The real difference is in marketing. Even the “Hunting soaps” that you often buy are simply private labeled detergents that your mom used, minus the perfume and put in a bottle with a deer on it. They are detergents engineered for house wives.
Regardless of what brand you choose, in about 10 washings detergent residue reaches 2% of the weight of the fabric (Clemson University Rinseability Test Results available at ATSKO. This soap scum consists of Perfume, Ultra-Violet Brightening Dyes, Salts, Surfactants, Processing Aids, Washing Machine Lubricants, and a variety of Oils, Fats, and Polymers to glue it all to the fabric. This stiffens the fabric by binding the fibers together. Now Fabric Softener is added to lubricate the fabric and make it “sooo soft”, adding more residue. Your performance fabrics work like junk when they are coated and all clogged up with soap scum.
The real solution to most high tech cleaning problems is to remove soil, stains, odors, and the oils that fasten them without depositing a residue. You can restore fabric features by thorough cleaning without residue. No residue means No Problems, fabrics work like new.
Here is how. You wash your performance fabrics with a unique detergent/soap with a straight carbon chain that pulls out dirt and then rinses completely out of the fibers of a garment. It’s called Sport-Wash. You may have seen it in the camping section of Wal-Mart or in leading outdoor department stores. It has blaze orange on the bottle. It’s made at a plant in South Carolina.
I was there when Product Development chief for Atsko, Mike Jordan, conducted a soap scum test in the Atsko Lab on a piece of blaze orange fleece. We weighed the panel of cloth and then washed it in a normal laundry detergent. After drying it we weighed it again. I was amazed. It gained weight. We washed it over and over only to document that it continued to gain weight after every washing. The detergent residue “scum” was “candling” like wax on a string. It wasn’t rinsing out of the fabric as I would have guessed. Like a bathtub ring it coated the fabrics fibers.
I shuddered to think about some of my gear that has been washed 25 times. The fibers must be scummed up like the inside of a sewer pipe. Then Mike took the sample which by now had gained a lot of weight and he washed it one time in Sport-Wash. Like magic, or better yet, Like science, when he dried the sample and put it on the scale it had lost all of the soap scum weight and it actually weighed less than when we began.
I was confused until Mike explained that Sport-Wash had not only removed all of the soap scum but it also removed the spray on sizing that cloth manufacturers spray onto new cloth to make it firmer so it can be pulled easily through the sewing machine.
That’s the real story about staying dry when relying on high performance wicking fabrics. Keep them clean and they can work like they were designed. Now you can enjoy the extremes like Alaska’s wilderness without the fear that your gear will let you down.