Saturday, November 14, 2015

Clothes! And a Corollary on Moisture-Wicking Fabrics

   This week I bought most of the base-layer clothing I will be wearing in Antarctica! I leave in less than a month, and am getting finishing my preparation. My preparation has included not only the purchase of these supplies, but also research into the different types of fabrics needed to keep warm in a frozen desert. Since this research turned out to be surprisingly interesting, I decided to share my findings…

   All of the base-layer clothing (what I will wear beneath the heavy coat, pants, gloves, and boots) is made of moisture-wicking fabric. Moisture wicking fabrics work by transporting sweat away from a person’s body to the surface of the clothing where it can evaporate. Clothes obviously aren’t intrinsically heated—so what makes us think of certain clothes as being warm? Clothing that we think of as ‘warm’ is actually just good at insulating our body heat. The human body is constantly emitting heat (technically infrared radiation, which is why we appear bright on infrared cameras). Thermal insulation is essentially the confinement of air to a specific region. For clothing (as well as natural insulation such as fur, feathers, and wool), this usually involves materials with a foam-like structure that have the right size and composition to trap air heated by the body beneath the clothing. However, if moisture (water or sweat) becomes trapped beneath the fabric, this process is extremely impeded. When sweat forms on the skin, it is colder than the surrounding air. This means that it will take heat out of the air and from the body until it is evaporated (the absorption of body heat is why sweat keeps us cool). If sweat is not transported (‘wicked’) away from the skin, it absorbs most of the heat that would otherwise be trapped beneath clothing to keep the bod warm. Many fabrics like cotton do not wick away sweat, and therefore fail to efficiently keep the body warm when sweating. Therefore, it is extremely important that my base-layers are made of moisture-wicking fabrics. Since our research in Antarctica involves much physical labor, we will be sweating a lot (despite the frigid temperatures). If our clothes aren’t able to insulate our body heat, the cold could be very uncomfortable— to say the least.

   There are a lot of things to be excited about in Antarctica. I am looking forward to facing the cold, but I have to make sure that I’m prepared. (Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to brag about buying the thickest, warmest socks available J).

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