Heat and Cool: Sun Wear and Clothing to Stay Comfortable in the Heat

Searing heat has been scorching the nation over the past few weeks, including the Northeast. If you're outside in the swelter, a few clothing tips and accessories can help keep you just a little more comfortable.

Cotton Cools! Cotton Cools!
In baking heat, cotton doesn't kill. It helps keep you cool. Why? The same reason that cotton is such a hazard in colder conditions: It absorbs a lot of water. It takes a lot of body heat to transform that liquid water in your cotton garments to water vapor. This can be dangerous in cold conditions, when retaining body heat is essential for safety and comfort. But when it's hot, that same effect helps cool you down by withdrawing heat from your toasty self, a process known as evaporative cooling.

Consider wearing a lightweight cotton T-shirt if you're out for prolonged periods in the sun—and also think about soaking it with cool water. (If you're out hiking, you can take advantage of the water in cool streams or ponds.) The cooler temperature of the water provides an instant and refreshing chill-down, while the longer-term evaporative cooling provides more sustained comfort. You can also consider soaking a cotton bandana and wrapping around your neck, or wear a wet cotton baseball hat to cool down the heat pump of your head.

Keep in mind that the effectiveness of this technique depends on the relative humidity. If the air is already saturated with water vapor (those sticky, high-humidity days), not much water will evaporate from your clothing and you won't gain much long-term relief from a soaked T-shirt. In drier, lower-humidity conditions, this technique is much more effective.

Color Counts
The color of an object is determined by which wavelengths of light it reflects. And the more light it reflects, the less heat it absorbs. White garments appear white because they essentially reflect all wavelengths of light—and are thus the coolest color option. Black, on the other hand, absorbs all wavelengths and is consequently the warmest color you can wear.

White is certainly the coolest color you can wear, but other light colors can also provide benefits, especially lighter shades of red, orange, and yellow.

Other Cooling Accessories
Kool Tie Bandana, $10.
A few outdoor products are filled with a water-absorbing substance that retains water for a longer period of time, extending the evaporative cooling effect over a longer time period. Most of them are modified, around-the-neck or over-the-head designs, like the products from Kool Ties.

You can also always wear a broad-brimmed hat to shade your face, head, and neck from the heat—as well as protect yourself from damaging UV rays. And, of course, don't forget the sunscreen! Your skin will thank you for it, both over the short- and long-term.

Stay cool out there!

Learn more about sunscreens and UV from these recent posts and articles:
Code Red: Pale is the new tan (2008)
The Best Sunscreens (2011)
How Much UV Radiation Does Snow Reflect? (2011)
Dermatone Sunscreens (2010)
Best & Worst Sunscreens (2010)
Super Sunscreen: Vertra Elemental Resistance (2009)

Equipped is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Top Image: NOAA

Labels: , , ,