When it comes to fabrics and materials used in outdoor gear, polyester is one of the most common materials you’re bound to find.
From jackets to shoes to tents to even backpacks, you’re bound to see polyester fabric across all kinds of different pieces of equipment.
Rayon is not too common in outdoor clothing and gear, but you can find it in some bomber and biker jackets where it’s used for the external fabric.
For some gear, there’s still a debate between Polyester versus Rayon as the ideal fabric for certain products.
This makes the two materials worth comparing, as both are able to provide different perks to a piece of gear, while each also has its own weaknesses.
There could be an argument for either being a superior fabric, but there are several traits of each that can make an argument in either material’s favor.
Below is a broad summary of what each fabric is and how they’re both made, as well as some key things to consider if you have a choice between polyester and rayon products.
- 1. Polyester
- 2. Rayon
- 3. Use in Jackets and Outdoor Clothing
- 4. Rayon vs Polyester: Comparison and Differences
- 5. Conclusion: Which is Better for Outdoor Clothing?
Despite resembling proper natural fabrics, Polyester is unique in that it’s a primarily synthetic fiber. It’s essentially a plastic substitute for materials like cotton that can be mixed with them to create stronger garments.
Pure polyester is quite rare, but it’ll provide a much-needed degree of strength to a material without needing to use as much higher-quality fabric.
One of the key reasons it appears so much in outdoor clothing is due to its hydrophobic nature. This means it directly repels water, rather than just absorbing and trapping it like other fabrics.
This makes it great for clothing since it’ll wick away moisture, which can help when you’re sweating or while you’re in wet and humid weather. As a result, it’s a great option for all sorts of shirts and jackets that fit tightly on the body.
The other aspect of polyester is its surprising amount of breathability, as it’s a fairly thin and non-absorbent material.
This leads to polyester clothing and items being quite comfortable, and wrinkle-free, which are features that make a great piece of outdoor gear for those looking to do a large amount of activity.
The main issues with polyester come when it encounters heat, as it can start to lose its form in high temperatures on account of its similarities to plastic.
There are certainly ways to iron polyester items, and it usually requires an intense amount of external heat to be visibly affected, but it’s still a major weakness that makes it unsuitable for certain items.
Also, one other issue comes from polyester’s oleophilic nature which means that it can hold on to oil-based stains and smells, for example, body odor, even if it will need some time for this to become a problem.
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Rayon is much harder to define as a fabric, but it qualifies much more as a type of cellulose-based regenerated fiber. It’s essentially made through either bamboo or wood pulp after undergoing a large amount of chemical processing, which helps it take the form of a thread that can be used to create items.
There’s some versatility in what can go into this style of material as well, with similar materials like Viscose using a blend of plant fibers and wood pulp.
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The result is a material that’s similar to an artificial silk, which ends up being used frequently in clothing items, sheets, and curtains. It usually has more of a glossy appearance and can be somewhat sensitive to rip, but for the most part, it’s fairly firm and sturdy, and it works especially great for shirts, scarves, and some jackets.
One of the rayon’s key advantages is its breathability, as its thin nature and lack of other additional fabric materials mean there are no extra additions to the material’s thickness.
Because of the silk-like quantity of threads in Rayon products and its breathability, it is used mostly in warm weather, but it can provide some insulation if combined with other layers.
The major problems most people encounter with Rayon have to do with its fragility, as it doesn’t resist water in any of the ways that polyester blends can.
It’ll absorb large amounts of water when it’s being washed while also suffering from serious wrinkles, and its ability to expel water while drying is poor. It can certainly keep you warm when used properly, but it will hardly keep you dry.
3. Use in Jackets and Outdoor Clothing
While both materials are used in quite a large number of products, both polyester and rayon are fairly capable of fitting in a large variety of both overlapping and unique products.
Jackets can usually involve either, as the needs of a jacket can vary massively between keeping you warm in dry colds and keeping you dry in wet weather.
However, Rayon’s fragility can sometimes result in poorer conditions in the rain and vulnerable items. This makes it more common with indoor clothing like dresses and loose shirts, which don’t usually need to be as durable as outdoor clothing.
This also means it is fairly less common as a material in outdoor clothing, despite much of your overall wardrobe likely featuring a moderate amount of rayon.
Polyester is essentially the reverse, as it has all kinds of traits – including hydrophobic surfaces and great durability – that make it superior for outdoor clothing.
Everything from jackets to shirts ends up being great items for polyester, but due to the lack of insulation, it usually requires other fabrics to be mixed in or layered for it to provide a hiker with sufficient heat.
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4. Rayon vs Polyester: Comparison and Differences
It’s clear that there are some comparisons in how these two fabrics are used, but that’s not to say they can’t be compared based on other, more interesting qualities.
When used in outdoor clothing, there are a few features that most hiking and camping experts will usually look toward, and it’s important to assess both rayon and polyester on how well they embody these ideal traits.
Stretch and Durability
Polyester is the immediate winner, as it has a much more stretchable exterior that helps it stack nicely against other natural fabrics like wool and cotton.
It can definitely tear, and it’s not thick enough to avoid being damaged by rocks or branches, but it’ll rarely happen by accident and it still requires some difficult conditions to break through natural use.
Rayon essentially can’t stretch, as its materials aren’t meant to resemble fabrics so much as physical resources like wood and bamboo. This also causes the fabric to be detrimentally fragile, failing to stretch in most positions and tearing easily when supplied with enough pressure or puncturing.
Performance and Versatility
Polyester is fairly powerful as a fabric, and while it can be used as a material for jackets and shirts, you’ll encounter it in all kinds of items, including backpacks and certain shoes.
It has some minor issues in holding in odors, but it washes well enough that this won’t be a concern, and its inability to wrinkle or easily degrade means it’ll likely last you a long time.
Rayon doesn’t have nearly as much diversity when it comes to outdoor clothing, as there’s only so much that can be done with a fabric that’s incapable of stretching.
It can definitely provide some insulation, meaning it’ll layer great with other fabrics, but its benefits aren’t entirely prominent when compared to the clothing items you might be pairing it with.
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When it comes to sustainability, Rayon uses natural products, wood, and bamboo, along with chemical processes to obtain the final product fibers. On the other hand, polyester is entirely synthetic, so at first glance, rayon is better in terms of sustainability.
But there are also downsides in Rayon production, the most important being the concern about deforestation, as it requires a lot of natural resources to produce these fibers in massive amounts.
Polyester, while it might seem the worst in this regard, you also have to consider its durability. Knowing that it lasts longer, makes it possible to manufacture fewer fibers over time.
Polyester can also be recycled, as you can see on many products of popular brands such as Patagonia, The North Face, etc.
Read also: Spandex (Lycra, Elastane) vs Polyester: A Comparison
5. Conclusion: Which is Better for Outdoor Clothing?
As mentioned before, neither fabric is specifically better or worse than the other. Polyester and rayon each have separate strengths, but it becomes clear that one material has some serious weaknesses when applied to outdoor clothing.
So, is Polyester or Rayon better for outdoor clothing?
Simply put, polyester generally appears to be superior for outdoor clothing. Rayon can make some wonderful pieces of indoor clothing, but its reactions to water and its fragile nature make it a poor choice for many activities, including hiking, camping, backpacking, etc.
You need something that can stretch, take damage, and move flexibly when you’re outdoors; polyester is far more capable of accomplishing each of these things.