Fabric types and safety
Norman MacLeod (gaelwolf@magpage.COM)
Thu, 2 Apr 1998 07:54:05 -0500
Rick and all --
With the number of fabric types available to us today, there's really
not a great need to settle on one fabric to the exclusion of all
others. The problem comes in educating Scouts (and more importantly,
their parents) about the pros and cons of different fabric types.
For instance, while cotton can be lethal in a cool or cold and wet
environment, due to its ability to transport heat away from your body at
a rate of up to 240 times as rapidly as dry skin in still air, it is
really great for warm or hot sunny days, when you want that wicking
action to help keep you cooler. Remember, there's a lethal problem at
the high end of the thermometer, too. It's called heat stroke and can
kill far more rapidly than hypothermia can, and is MUCH harder to fight.
Yes, fire safety is a real concern when it comes to some of the
synthetics. That's why we don't allow open flames in tents. Makes
sense to choose a synthetic that doesn't have a low ignition
temperature, but there are plenty of synthetics and blends that fit the
bill for safety. Most of them might have a small melt hole if an ember
lands on you, but it doesn't go beyond that.
Makes a good argument for a cotton inner shirt under that synthetic
blend, I should think...
Nomex is the best in fire-resistance. However, many years of wearing a
zoom bag (flight suit) convinces me that it doesn't insulate you from
the cold, and leaves you sweating in the heat. At least, not on its
own. Need to layer if you use this stuff. It's not cheap, and it has
an annoying tendency to unravel easily unless reinforced a la rip stop.
Kevlar is incredibly strong, but it's not cheap. Probably not a
realistic alternative for most of us.
Wool is great for retaining warmth when wet. Works OK for sheep,
right? Some people are sensitive to wool against the skin, though.
We're talking layering again... Wool is also heavier than a lot of
other fabrics, and the prices of woolen clothing are right up there,
There are pluses and minuses to all types of fabrics. Common sense in
using them is the obvious answer. However, the main problem with common
sense is that it isn't as common as we would like. Never has been,
never will be.
In the back country, fire is less a hazard than cool, misty or rainy
days. Cotton is great when the air is dry, and you need to be able to
get heat away from your body. On the other hand, it can help you die
fairly quickly if an afternoon thunderstorm races up on you before you
can get to camp. Common sense says, prepare yourself for the full range
of weather you are likely to encounter, with a bit of a safety margin
toward the unexpected.
When you are in camp, and there are open flames around, common sense
says that you ought to be wearing a natural fabric next to your skin.
Most of us take care of this in the form of jeans and cotton t-shirts.
If the weather is cool or cold, we add wool or a synthetic insulating
layer on top of this.
We used to use a lot of down-filled clothing to keep ourselves warm in
the cold, However, down mashes and loses its ability to insulate when
it gets wet, so today's light-weight synthetics won us over for
every-day bush wear. I still have that cotton inner layer, though,
since moisture wicks through it on its way to the outside air. I like
to keep my innermost clothing layer (my skin) as dry as possible,
whether the weather is wet or dry. Again, using common sense.
Sometimes the cotton layer is the outer layer, too. However, as soon as
the fog, mist, rain, or snow begins, the synthetic outer layers get
added. Common sense.
As Leaders, we should all strive to become aware of the pluses and
minuses of each of the fabric classes and the clothing made from them.
Parents will come to us to gain some of that knowledge when they are in
purchasing mode for their Scouts. Money is an issue for most of us, and
we are all looking for the best value for every dollar we allow through
our fingers (hopefully). We need to be prepared to help the parents of
our Scouts temper that spending with quality knowledge.
After all, if they want us to be responsible for the safety of their
children, they should do their best to equip their Scouts appropriately,
consistent with their financial abilities to do so. At the same time,
we need to train their children to be responsible for their own clothing
safety, regardless of what they bring with them. (We need to be sure
they bring the right clothes for the activity, though...)
How many of us do a fabric check before we take the kids off into the
Can we all say, "Risk Management"?
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