Do your summer shirts perform for you?

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Performance fabric shirts and other clothes can comfortably replace sunscreen even on hot, sunny days. (Photo courtesy of Mike Schoonveld)

Not long ago, during the summer months, most Michigan fishermen pulled on a tee-shirt if the day came with a prediction for warm weather and sunny skies. Then, if they were worried about too much sun or wanted to shield themselves from the sun’s UV rays, they slathered a layer of SPF 50 sunscreen on their arms and hoped the fish wouldn’t notice the smell on their hands, bait, or lures. They also hoped the sun-salve they slathered wouldn’t sweat off or wear off and that most of the sun’s rays wouldn’t penetrate the cotton or cotton/poly blend from which the tee-shirt was made.

Then “performance” fabrics were invented.

Shirts made from performance fabric are thin (thinner than most cotton tee shirt material), have a slick, silky feel to them, and they “perform” a couple of useful functions besides hiding the fisherman’s belly-button. First, they carry an industry standard UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating of 50, meaning only 1/50th of the sun’s rays penetrate through the fabric.  (A cotton tee-shirt has a UPF of 5.)  Another “performance” factor of these shirts is how they seem to be more comfortable on a hot, sweaty day than wearing a tee shirt or even going bare chested.

Think of how sweat works. When we get hot, we perspire. The perspiration, when subjected to the air, evaporates and as that happens, it cools down the skin – keeping us more comfortable.

Okay, now put on a cotton tee-shirt, work up a sweat, and what happens? The cotton absorbs the perspiration faster than it can evaporate. The shirt gets wet and stays wet. The cotton holds the moisture, the moisture just heats up, it doesn’t evaporate and your skin doesn’t cool. You just sweat more.

Performance fabric is made from “plastic thread” so the fibers of the fabric don’t absorb moisture. The weave of the fabric is “engineered” to be woven just tight enough to actually suck moisture into the almost microscopic space between the fibers through capillary action. As that happens, the water can evaporate and will actually evaporate faster than it would from exposed skin. As the moisture evaporates it cools and the material against your skin feels cool – never damp.

That’s plenty of reason for me to be wearing long sleeve performance shirts on my hot summer days on the lake, and I do. My wife also encourages me to grab one of my “performance” fishing shirts each time I head for the lake. Sure, she’s worried about my exposure to dangerous UV rays. More importantly, she enjoys the fact the shirts dry quickly so they don’t sit wet in the dirty clothes pile until laundry day. Performance shirts are relatively hard to stain since the plastic thread doesn’t absorb the fish blood. In fact, one brand warranties their shirts against fish blood staining for a year.

Many companies make them and they come in anything from plain white to extravagant patterns or camouflage. You expect top performance from your boat and fishing gear, make sure your shirts perform for you, as well.

Categories: Blog Content, Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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