Clothing is only as good as its weakest link. With fabric having the largest potential to make or break a garment it stands as the foundation choice when beginning the design process. The most basic of fabric properties are warmth, water protection, wind protection, breathability, and wicking. With a correct balance of these 5, your goal is to stay comfortable, warm when wet, and to dry quickly. In some instances additional requirements may be added to these, such as fire resistance, increased durability, etc.
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Wicking: Movement of moisture away from the skin. This keeps the skin dry and usually spreads the moisture out for increased capacity to dry. These layers are usually touching the skin or only one layer away. Wicking can be accomplished through mechanical means in how the fabric is created, or through chemical means through a coating.
Warmth: If the ambient temperature is cooler than comfortable, or you are not active to create enough heat, a warmth layer is needed. These layers capture air and warmed by your body. Fabrics can include fleece, synthetic down, natural down, and wool.
Wind Protection: If in a cold environment wind protection is needed to keep the warm pockets from the warmth layer in, and the cold layer out. This can be accomplished through a membrane, a coating, or the weave of the fabric.
WaterProtection: In any environment where it is above freezing or you are active enough to melt the moisture on your apparel, water protection is important. It may be accomplished through a membrane, chemical application (DWR), a coating, or the weave of the fabric. Important: See breathability below.