Merino vs Lycra in the jungle

10:21 a.m. on June 13, 2013 (EDT)
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My son is going on a 3 day jungle trek with his school.  Bearing in mind that he is prone to prickly heat and has sensitive skin, would he be best wearing Merino wool boxer shorts or lycra shorts as underwear in a place with 90% humidity?.... both have their pros and cons.    

11:55 a.m. on June 13, 2013 (EDT)
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My question would be how does he react to wool in general. I would prefer wool in humid weqther because the other materials seem to feel like they hold in heat itself even if wicking the moiture. But that is me. I am good with all sorts of wool.

1:23 p.m. on June 13, 2013 (EDT)
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skin sensitivity is highly individualized.  if your son has worn merino before and didn't react, then he would probably be no more at risk of a rash with one vs. the other.

i was in a jungle environment in equatorial central america a couple of years ago.  i tried synthetic boxer briefs and merino briefs.  i tried a merino t, a synthetic t, and a synthetic short sleeved button-down shirt that has side and back vents.    

i'm a big fan of merino wool, but it was not the best choice for me in a hot and highly humid environment.  walking in those conditions, most people are going to be wet - from sweat, from rain, or from water dripping from the canopy.  or all of the above.  i was never 'dry' or 'cool' on those rain forest hikes.  while merino and synthetic both keep your skin feeling less clammy and wet than cotton, merino absorbs more moisture than most synthetics and also takes longer to dry out in humid conditions.  i was more comfortable, across the board, wearing synthetic.  i also felt like the button down/vented shirt kept me feeling a little cooler than a synthetic t. 

my opinion? go with synthetic stretch briefs or boxer briefs.  i prefer boxer briefs because i feel like they don't chafe as much.

the main downside of synthetics is that they can smell bad - really bad - in hot/humid conditions.  i rinsed mine regularly in clean water, wrung them as dry as i could, and wore them or let them hang for a day if i had a place to do that. 

2:30 p.m. on June 13, 2013 (EDT)
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go with the synthetics. wool stays wet, synthetics dry fast. in humid conditions, you want to stay a dry as possible, especially if prone to prickly heat.

6:32 p.m. on June 13, 2013 (EDT)
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Wool might stink less but it's not good when wet. Lycra, hands down. Wipe the trunks with pit stick and the stink is no longer a factor. the days of wool are past except for a few situations. Synthetics are always better.

1:54 a.m. on June 14, 2013 (EDT)
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Board shorts.  I was most comfortable in the upper Amazon wearing board shorts.  That is also what a significant portion of the locals wore too.


4:55 a.m. on June 14, 2013 (EDT)
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Until recently I would have agreed with StS, but after years of wearing capilene as my underlayer I got talked into trying a light wool top and have found it very satisfactory, but that's more in the cool climate here in Norway.

If there are no significant leech/chigger/tick problems then I'll second Whome, board or baggy shorts with a built in mesh liner for max cooling effect. But if there are any of the above or any kind of bushwhacking where you want to protect the legs then he'll need hiking pants. As to underwear, what's wrong with cotton? Lycra can feel sticky, and wool is hot. Wet cotton isn't so bad as long as you have a dry change at the end of the day.

7:57 a.m. on June 14, 2013 (EDT)
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Many thanks everyone, your advice is very much appreciated.

As the kids will be sweltering for 5 days/3 nights (I previously misquoted the duration), it sounds like lycra will be the best option.

Unfortunately, they have to cover up completely, as there will be a lot of leeches... actually, that was one of the lycra advantages pointed out to me by a teacher i.e. lycra is tight, so if they wear lycra boxer/cycle shorts as underwear, the leeches will be unable to crawl up the legs and access undesirable places!.

They have been advised not to wear cotton undergarments, as it can apparently cause chaffing when wet... with 20 kids to look after, I guess they don't want to risk having any problems at all.

Thanks again everyone!


8:01 a.m. on June 14, 2013 (EDT)
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While hiking in Taiwan (really hot humid and sticky) I used either board shorts with lining or cotton boxers (which dried very fast in that heat), as well as some lycra boxers (dried even faster) and usually some type of Columbia synthetic short sleeve dress shirt (I forgot which one I used as they have so many types), and a very thin short sleeve cotton Columbia shirt (again no clue what the model was). I also did some river trekking wearing a wet suit, and beneath that I just wore swimming trunks with mesh liner and they dried off right away. 

I don't know how your son deals with heat, but my body runs fairly hot, and I don't think I could deal with Merino (though I love using it in the winter).

11:55 a.m. on June 14, 2013 (EDT)
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i guess kids have to do what the group tells them.  with sweltering heat, i would stick with shorts and just pluck the leeches off my legs.  they don't carry diseases, don't hurt, and consume very small amounts of blood.  it's fairly easy to do, just slide a fingernail under the sucker where it's attached, and they come off.  on the other hand, removing them by pulling from the tail, applying salt or alcohol or shampoo, or burning isn't a good idea, increases the risk of infecting the small wound.   

2:39 p.m. on June 14, 2013 (EDT)
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leeches?! stick with the lycra boxer briefs. don't want those little buggars in the nether regions.

4:01 p.m. on June 15, 2013 (EDT)
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Hi guys! Went into town this afternoon to buy the lycras, but couldn't find what we needed (will have to resort to ebay me thinks). We did however, come across some other boxers called Under Armour heat gear, which are made from 95% polyarmour 5% elastane. I've googled 'polyarmour' which seems to tick all the right boxes (including odour control), but because it has moisture wicking qualities, I'm wondering if this is going to be slow drying like the Merino... have any of you used it or know anything about it please?

When I said that the kids would be "sweltering", I really mean't it... they'll be in full camos/black boots. Actually, thats going to be the next problem i.e. boots vs the tropics... the latest boot issue were obviously made with a view to budget not comfort! Not sure if normal plasters/blister plasters will stay on with all the sweat and moisture. Any suggestions as to the best type of socks to wear in the jungle under heavy boots?

Have a wonderful weekend all!

P.S. They've been told that an application of Deet around the top of the boots, gives good protection against leeches

1:00 p.m. on June 17, 2013 (EDT)
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My feet sweat ALOT and I use tapes made for the feet. FIXING YOUR FEET from can give info on good tapes for blisters etc. It wont matter what he wears and he will get wet, but you DO want wicking beccause that will bring the moisure away from the skin. I would want a wicking material if I were you.


3:09 a.m. on June 18, 2013 (EDT)
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I think in high heat and high humidity your sons feet will get wet and likely stay wet regardless of what you do (either from sweat or outside water coming in). So at that point you will just want a sock that is comfortable enough when wet, and can dry out quick enough at night so at least he gets a comfortable start to the day the next morning.

I think merino socks actually don't feel too bad when wet, but they take longer to dry.... so maybe some form of merino/synthetic blend would work?

All I used when hiking in the jungle was a pair of Merrell waterpro Manistee shoes which are basically overbuilt sandals.

7:48 p.m. on June 18, 2013 (EDT)
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What kind of jungle are we talking about?

For underwear, something like the synthetic briefs made by Jockey (not bikini style) would work great. I wear those in winter, but they should do well in hot weather as well. When I was in NZ, I wore a pair of Birdwell board shorts over long johns. They are almost indestructible, but very hard to find as the company is strange and hard to deal with, but worth it if you can find them. I found a pair on eBay of all places. You can buy them factory direct, online, but it's a hassle.

For boots, something like Viet Nam era jungle boots should work. A modern boot equivalent would  be a lightweight mesh boot like Hi Tec and similar companies make. Expect them to get trashed, even on a short trip, so don't bother buying something really expensive. Get something on sale at Big 5 or Sports Authority if you have one in your neighborhood.

3:19 p.m. on July 9, 2013 (EDT)
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Wool all the way if you can handle the fabric.  I started with wool went to the syntetics and am now happily back to wool.  The new Merino wools by smartwool and Ibex and top notch.  They are comfortable, do not dive you that wet feeling and dry quickly.  Not to mention you dont stink so much.  I may use the engineered fabrics for my outerwear but not what touches my skin. 

7:02 a.m. on July 10, 2013 (EDT)
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Hi Guys! Sorry for my tardiness in thanking you all for your advice.

After all my efforts, he had to leave a load of it at home, because he was so overweight on the luggage allowance (the school kit list took up most of it!)

In the end we decided on the synthetic under shorts (to keep his school happy). He took several different brands/fabric mixtures, so that if he became uncomfortable, he could switch to something else.

After shelling out on a nice new pair of comfy new boots, he was advised to leave them at home because the deet would destroy them! Again, he ended up taking a mixture of brands in socks/liners, so he had the option to switch if uncomfortable.

Tom D... he's in Borneo. All being well, they will be embarking on their 'jungle experience' in a few days time.

Thanks again, and happy travels to you all!

12:16 p.m. on July 10, 2013 (EDT)
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Hi Liz, my wife and I were in Borneo over Christmas; we spent a month there hiking, caving and boating. We wore an assortment of both synthetic and natural fibre clothing and spoke with a lot of people who wore the same. The results were - nothing worked at keeping us dry and comfortable in the jungle. Our clothing, no matter what it was made of, and no matter how long we left it to air dry, remained wet from the first day to the last. It actually started to smell mouldy because the humidity was about 100% and it rained daily. Our skin started to get water logged like we just came out of a long bath. My camera stopped functioning due to the high humidity.

However, these are minor discomforts and we had a terrific time, met some fine people, saw a lot of spectacular wildlife and scenery and are planning to go back again for a longer stay.

3:17 p.m. on July 10, 2013 (EDT)
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I think several here are being a little over dramatic about the difference in how much faster synthetics dry over wool. It's like the difference between how fast the Lamborghini is over the Ferrari. Compared to the common Chevy (cotton) they are both a WORLD better. For me, the little bit faster the synthetic dries isn't worth the difference when you factor in how they both feel against your skin, the stink factor, the lack of give/stretch/support you will get from many synthetics.

As North says, in some environments, dry is relative. Hiking/Climbing in the Rain Forests of Puerto Rico I always prefer Wool for my underlayers. Your never going to be dry, dry the whole time your there. Being wet in synthetics, they stick to you, stink like mad and for underwear it feels like you wrapped a plastic bag around your ass.

I've virtually given up cotton clothes all together and wear primarily wool every day including in my work as a building inspector for the realestate industry. New Jersey Summers are oppressive with heat and god awful humidity. Add to that hefting ladders, climbing up to and walking on a roof in the full Summer sun and the 130˚ to 150˚ attics are really a joy. The only thing not Merino Wool is my Cotton Carhartt pants.

If Icebreaker ever stops making these,    I'll just buy the material and have a tailor custom make them for me to the same pattern.

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