Performance Fabric Blends

Fabric blends are often found in performance apparel with the hopes of capturing the positive properties of different materials while removing as many of the negative as possible. While it’s impossible to be comprehensive with all the blends, brands, and technologies that are out there now, this overview captures the major categories.

Natural/Synthetic

There are many great natural/synthetic blends out there. These blends are often made to improve the strength/durability (merino blends), or moisture wicking ability (cotton) of a natural fiber.

Merino Blends

Merino blends can vary greatly in their performance (especially odor resistance) depending on their merino content. Blends can range anywhere from over 75% merino to less than 10%. Of course, the more merino the more merino properties can be expected, but the other fibers present (and any treatments) can also make a difference.

The common co-fibers in merino blends are polyester and nylon (and sometimes Tencel — see the Icebreaker Cool-Lite line). Often, these blends are designed to give the relatively fragile merino some extra strength. In addition to just mixing the fibers into the yarn, merino can be “corespun” with a nylon core or woven in a “double weave” where the fabric has one side that is 100% merino and the other side some other fiber. Corespun fabrics give the look and feel of 100% merino while adding strength to the yarn with the nylon core (see Smartwool Merino 150 line). Double woven fabrics also allow allow for the feel of 100% merino, but can add a more durable/different looking material for the face of the fabric (see Y Athletics SilverAir Merino).

Wool can also be made into a batting and used as insulation. Wool insulation is a good machine washable natural alternative to down. It typically offers a similar weight to insulation ratio and is often a similar price point as down (see Smartwool Smartloft and Icebreaker Merino LOFT).

Tencel Blends

Tencel is seen blended with both synthetic fibers and merino. Tencel is blended with merino as it has higher water vapor absorption and drying speed than merino, it is a stronger fiber, and it improves the hand feel (smoothness) of the fabric (see DryWeight fabric from Western Rise). When blended with a synthetic fiber, it can help improve the odor resistance as the fiber holds moisture in its core, making it less hospitable to bacteria (see Pistol Lake Eudae fabric). Tencel also doesn’t get staticky like polyester, so it can help with static as well.

NYCO

While not a “performance” fabric as we typically talk about here (no odor resistance), NYCO (nylon/cotton) is increasingly seen used in hard wearing pieces like jackets or in button down shirts where the look or feel of cotton is desired. For a full rundown of NYCO, check our our previous article.

All Synthetic Blends

In some cases, 100% synthetic can perform better especially when durability and abrasion resistance are key. A full synthetic blend is also sometimes used as a cost reduction measure. Typically seen in these blends are polyester and nylon. When it’s really hot and humid, this is also typically your best choice since light synthetics hold less moisture and typically dry faster then merino (see the Nike Dri-FIT line).

Brand Name Blends

Outlier

It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Outlier here, as they make many of our favorite pants. They develop a lot of their own fabrics with various blends of nylon, polyester, cotton, merino wool, and elastane. Our favorites are the F.Cloth (200 gsm, 97% nylon, 3% elastane) which can be found in the Futureworks and New Way Shorts, the Workcloth (275 gsm, dual layer synthetic) which is found in the Slim Dungarees, and the Strongtwill (Supplex nylon/elastane blend) which is found in the Strong Dungarees.

Schoeller

Some of our favorite fabrics are made by Schoeller. Some names you might recognize are schoeller-dryskin (double layer, functional fabric on the inside, durable synthetic on the outside), 3XDRY (moisture wicking and fast drying), c_change (wind and waterproof membranes), NanoSphere (self cleaning).

Some of these are fabrics and others technologies/coatings, but any line of Schoeller fabric can vary between manufacturers, as they customize the fabrics to the specific use.

For example, Outlier Workcloth (Slim Dungarees) and 60/30 Cloth (60/30 Chinos) utilize the NanoSphere technology. The Outlier OG Classics and OG Climbers OG Cloth is Schoeller Dryskin Extreme fabric with NanoSphere. The NanoSphere technology acts as a DWR to repel water, but also helps keep dirt and oils on the surface of the fabric so they can be cleaned easily with a quick wipe of a damp cloth.

drirelease

drirelease is a line of blended fabrics. The yarns are made with a mix of hydrophobic synthetic fibers and hydrophilic natural fibers. The combination is advertised to do a good job at both pulling moisture from the skin and getting the moisture to the surface so you feel dry and it easily evaporates. They also claim an odor reducing technology called FreshGuard this is neither antibacterial or antimicrobial. The natural fibers can be cotton, merino wool, machine washable silk, Tencel, linen, rayon, cashmere, among others. The synthetic portion is 85-88% polyester (or nylon in one case) with the balance being the natural fiber. They have a huge number of brand partners, including Outdoor Research who uses drirelease Wool in their Sequence line (including the L/S Zip Top).

The wool is the only one we’ve tried, and it does provide more odor resistance than you’d expect for only being 12% merino wool. It does, however, tend to pill fairly easily. The other blends that could be interesting include Tencel, linen, and cashmere.

New, Cutting Edge Technologies

Of course, there are also some new, cutting edge (and sometimes out there) technologies like ceramic coated t-shirts, graphene coated jackets, and a fabric that is an FDA certified medical device. But those are for another time.

Wrap-up

Even though two fabrics may have the same fiber composition, no two fabrics are the same. When comparing fabrics, always take into account the structure of the fabric in addition to the composition. The structure can be just as important for some attributes such as the look, hand feel, and drape of the fabric.

Performance Fabric Blends

Triple Aught Design Rogue RS

A while back I picked up Triple Aught Design’s Rogue RS Jacket which is made from a nylon-cotton blend. It’s a light layer, suited to cooler weather, and is overbuilt as most items from Triple Aught Design are. I was hoping to find a layer which was versatile, but mostly suited to casual wear. After a year of wearing and using the jacket, here are my thoughts.

Fabric

This is a heavy 52/48 Nylon Cotton (NYCO) ripstop which comes in at about 6.5oz and has a DWR coating. Surprisingly, the DWR is quite good, and even though the jacket mostly feels like a heavy canvas, it repels light water well enough that you won’t regret wearing it if a light sprinkle happens. I would not wear it in the rain though.

Because of the high cotton content, the jacket looks standard. The nylon gives the jacket added strength, which has proven effective for car camping outings I have taken the jacket on. Overall the fabric looks heavy it doesn’t feel too heavy, it generally looks good. Performance wise, it dries slow, repels light water, but is very durable. After more than a year, it still looks brand new.

Fit and Looks

The fit was tricky for me when I bought the jacket. I originally bought an XL in Deception but that proved much too big. However, I liked the jacket enough that I exchanged it for a Large in ME Green, as that was the only color available in size Large. The large fits me perfectly, however TAD has since redone the sizing on the jacket, so be sure to read the size guide.

The fit is listed as “standard” but I would say it’s more of an athletic fit, which I find quite nice. The overall style is very military inspired. Note that TAD sells two variants: with and without patches. I chose the version without, and the difference is that on the biceps of each arm, the patch version has an area of Velcro loop for applying morale patches. There is still one small Velcro loop area with a TAD logo on it. This can be removed and replaced by any hook backed patch (the size you want is “eye”).

Still, the jacket trends towards military/tacticool look. I think it looks less tacticool and more military without the patches on the sleeves. Overall, I think Deception (which is like a deep olive, but constantly changes depending on surroundings and lighting) is a better color, but it is harder to pair with other clothing.

If you like the looks of the jacket, it looks as it does on the web, it is nice as a non-rain light jacket for spring and summer.

Comfort and Performance

The jacket itself is unlined, so wearing it means you feel the heavy seams. This is the only uncomfortable part of the jacket, and something that I stopped noticing after a few wears. Overall, I find the weight to be very nice, and comfort wise it is familiar and easy to wear.

On the performance side, it’s fine. The garment design allows for a ton of range of motion in the arms, even though the fabric itself has no stretch. The DWR is more impressive that I would have assumed, however, the material itself picks up odors (like from a campfire) quickly. The performance this jacket gives you is durability.

To that end, I’ve taken it camping and worn it to work in the garage and other projects. The jacket shows no wear, and the reinforced elbows give me a lot of confidence that this jacket will last for a long time.

There are a few other really nice touches with the jacket. Both hand warmer pockets have a smaller inner pocket stitched inside which is angled towards the pocket opening. These are large enough to hold most knives or flashlights and go a long way to keeping your gear accessible. During the fall and spring I often keep all my gear in this jacket, so all I need to leave the house is my jacket and shoes. The back of the collar on the inside has a heavy duty hanging loop which works really well to hang the jacket.

The zippers are robust but are problematic for me. They are not the smoothest zippers I have used and can be frustrating to pull closed at times. Typically they require more than one hand to get going and can be a bit annoying. Since the pockets have space to securely stow gear, you have to work the zipper less frequently but still I wish they were better.

Overall

I really like this jacket. It’s a solid weight for fall and early spring, and is great even on rainy days if you are going to spend most of the day in the car or dodging rain drops walking in and out of buildings. The only negative I have beyond the zippers is that the style isn’t for everyone.

Triple Aught Design Rogue RS

Outlier Strong Tee

One of the common complaints I have about t-shirts is that it is hard to find a t-shirt that is white and performs well. There are lots in the undershirt realm, but few in the wear everyday, performs better than cotton, realm. It seems Outlier wanted to do their take with a 100% nylon shirt, called the Strong Tee (currently noted as discontinued, but available on the secondary markets).

Material

This shirt is 160 gsm nylon, which sounds very boring. In fact, it’s quite interesting, as Outlier notes:

A jersey knit made from fibers that are chopped and spun like cotton to create a soft and comfortable yet remarkably durable fabric. It breaks in like an old cotton jersey except its strong enough to feel a bit like it will stay that way forever.

It feels like cotton in a very uncanny way. It’s not quite right, and you can sense that with the handfeel, but I cannot describe how it doesn’t feel like cotton. The closest I can come to explaining this is it feels like it has less friction than cotton, but don’t take that to mean it is smooth.

Texturally this is a fantastic fabric and I do hope they make more garments out of this.

Comfort & Performance

I am lumping these two sections together because this doesn’t fall into the normal performance category we talk about. It has no inkling of odor resistance — it needs a wash after every wear. It does dry quickly, but that’s about it.

From a comfort perspective, it’s fantastic. I’ve been wearing and washing it a lot to break down the fabric as Outlier notes it will do. It gets softer each time, without ever feeling like the material itself is breaking down. This is not a shirt I pack when I travel, but it is shirt I wear often solely because of how comfortable it is. When I need something with more performance, I opt for merino.

Issues

There are two issues with this shirt: pilling and the cut itself. Almost after the first wash you will see that the fabric has begun pilling on the surface. From 4-5 feet you can’t see it. Get closer and you can see it. It’s not like a sweater where you are pulling off fuzz balls, but the texture goes from smooth to worn. Many have noted that this is a deal breaker (and perhaps why it is discontinued?), but I personally don’t take issue with this at all. Looking at some of my softest cotton t-shirts, this pilling is exactly on par with them.

This is nylon mimicking cotton.

The big issue for me is the cut. The shirt is extremely long, even on my overly long torso. Because of that my wife often notes that it looks like an undershirt on me, which is exactly what I don’t want. I have considered getting it hemmed, but I’ve yet to do that.

Instead I tend to wear it around the house, and I suppose if tucking in a t-shirt is your thing this would be great. For me, it’s just too long.

Overall

I’m surprised this shirt was discontinued, and I wonder if a revised shirt based on this might come out some time in the future. The biggest complaint about merino is durability. The biggest complaint about nylon is looks and softness. This shirt is durable, soft, and looks like cotton. For me, I love it. I don’t need every shirt I own to be worn for days in a row, but I do like my shirts to be comfortable and to last.

This checks both those boxes.

Outlier Strong Tee