The must have outdoor glossary

By Sarah Howcroft, Rohantime, 04 April 2011
The following is a glossary of terms and phrases that you may come across when looking into the possibilities of purchasing an item of clothing suitable for outdoor activities. The glossary is intended to help the newcomer to outdoor clothing and gear. Many terms arise from the fabrics and components used by the manufacturers.


Abrasion Resistance

Ability of a fibre, yarn, or fabric to maintain physical properties or appearance despite surface friction from rubbing against another material or against itself. Abrasion resistance is an important element in the durability of fabric. Common methods for testing fabric abrasion resistance include Wyzenbeek, Martindale, and Taber test methods. See also Durability and Pilling.

Active moisture management
Fabrics with active moisture management capabilities to move moisture rapidly away from the skin.

Alpaca Fibre
A fine, lightweight hypo-allergenic fibre from the Alpaca, an animal native to South America.

Alpine Fit

This is not your physical condition it is often used to describe the general fit of a shell garment often also called Athletic Fit. It means the garments are cut close to the body.

Fine, lightweight and extraordinarily soft fibre produced from the fur of the angora rabbit.

Antibacterial finish
A treatment of a textile material to make it resistant to or to reduce the growth of bacteria.

Articulated knee
The knee position on the trouser is slightly bent, often by the addition of darts to mimic the bent leg. Thereby offering greater freedom of movement.

A natural fibre from the bamboo plant. Bamboo has natural, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Bamboo fabric can absorb up to four times more moisture than cotton. It is because of this it has attracted interest amongst outdoor garment manufacturers. Bamboo viscose is a fibre which has been reconstituted from the original bamboo fibre and therefore small amounts of original bamboo fibre remain.

Base layer
Next to the skin clothing that forms part of the layer system. Base layers should be made of fabrics that can manage the bodies moisture efficiently. See also Layer System.

Exhibiting the capability to be being broken down by decomposing (composting) or by exposure to light.

The more you exercise, the hotter you get and the more you sweat. As the sweat evaporates it cools you down. Breathable garments allow the sweat vapour to escape, keeping you comfortable. If the sweat vapour is allowed to build up in your clothing, it becomes damp. Once you stop exercising, the damp clothing draws heat away causing your body to cool down very quickly. This can be dangerous in cold weather. It is important to maintain breathability in outdoor clothing.

Breathable Coatings
All coatings are created by spreading a thin layer of resin directly onto to the inside face of the chosen fabric. Two distinct types of breathable coating exist: Microporous, the pores in the coating being large enough to let water vapour pass through but small enough to keep water droplets out and Hydrophilic or water loving membranes or coatings on outdoor garments. Triple Point Ceramic
(Lowe Alpine) is an example of a multi-layer microporous coating.

Breathable Membranes
The development of breathable membranes revolutionised outdoor clothing. Increasing the comfort level of outdoor shell garments and footwear. Being both breathable and waterproof means the wearer does not get clammy from the inside and the rain does not penetrate from the outside. That's the theory, all such membranes work to a degree depending on a number of factors. The level of
exertion, the age of the garment, the care of the garment and external climatic conditions. First to the market was Goretex which is based round an expanded PTFE membrane.

Carbon Footprint
The impact of a certain activity on the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere

A type of wool made from fibers obtained from the Cashmere goat characterized by luxuriously soft fibres.

An organic woody substance found in vegetation. It is base of rayon and acetate fibres and also the major constituent of paper.

Chlorofluorocarbon a compound consisting of chlorine, fluorine and carbon. CFCs are commonly used as refrigerants, solvents and foam-blowing agents; uses of CFCs in aerosols are prohibited due to ozone depleting potential.

Closed Loop
A type of manufacturing process that utilizes a cyclical material flow in order to minimize waste. An example of a closed loop fabric see Tencel®

CoCona is activated carbon made from recycled coconut shells. The manufacturers states it provide effective evaporative cooling, odour adsorption and UV protection.


The brand name for a collection of fabrics made using synthetic fibre or in blends with cotton or other natural fibres. Cordura® is ten times stronger than cotton and three times stronger than ordinary polyester fibre.

A fabric engineered to keep users dry and comfortable. Coolmax® fabrics are made from polyester fibres with an increased surface area.

Cotton in outdoor garments
Cotton is a natural fibre obtained from the seed pod of a cotton plant. It is highly absorbent.

A unit of weight indicating the size of a filament. The higher the denier number, the heavier the yarn.

Durable Water Repellency a water-repellent finish applied to the outer fabric of most outdoor clothing and equipment. It prevents the fabric from absorbing water by making water bead up on the surface and roll off.

Down Fillings
Down is fine feathers and has a very good warmth to weight ratio and excellent insulating properties and can have a small pack size. Wet Down dries slowly and any thermal properties are virtually eliminated. Compressed down is also a very poor insulator. Most top of the range insulated jackets in the outdoors have a goose down filling. Down has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than synthetic insulation, although the gap is closing.

The ability of a product to retain its appearance and physical properties after being subjected to wear and dynamic stresses.

Fair Trade Clothing
Clothing made by businesses that have a commitment to social justice in which employees and farmers are treated and paid fairly, sustainable environmental practices are followed, and long-term trade relationships are fostered.

Fibre Pile
The original fibre pile fleece was developed by Helly Hansen in 1961. Most companies now use polyester fleece because it's lighter, more compact and has a sleeker look. Helly Hansen still use Fibre Pile in their range. It's also still available in combination with Pertex from companies like Buffalo, Montane and Rab.

Flat-locked seams
Often used in the production of base layer garments. The seams are sewn flat not rolled. This reduces the probability of a chaffing seam.

Fluorocarbons and often have a particularly harmful type that chemists call PFOA. Fluorocarbon is an umbrella term for a number of perfluorinated substances that, because of their characteristics, are frequently used for outdoor products and in other contexts. They are often found in water and dirt repellent for impregnating rain gear or backpacks.

A tough, tightly woven fabric. The fibre used can be wool, cotton, texturized polyester, or a blend. Gabardine has a prominent diagonal rib on the face and smooth back.

Green Labelling
Oeko-Tex Standard 100 has become the best known and most successful label for textiles tested for harmful substances. The Oeko-Tex label is a recognized benchmark for the consumer and also serves as a quality assurance tool for the manufacturer.

Hand Warmer Pockets
Pockets positioned and usually lined with a layer of fleece that hopefully increase the probability of warming up hands.

Hard Shell
Outer layer garment. It will probably be waterproof. see also Layer System

For centuries the hemp fibre has been used for paper, rope and cloth. Hemp fibre is extremely durable and makes great clothing (Levi jeans originally made with hemp). Because of its strength it is again being used by some outdoor clothing manufacturers but to date it is being blended with other fibres.

Or water loving membranes or coatings on outdoor garments. Cotton and Rayon are hydrophilic fibres.

Water-resistant (or hydrophobic). Something with a fear of water. Many of the fabrics used in outdoor gear are hydrophobic by nature. Polyester is a hydrophobic fibre.

Hydrostatic head
Indicates the pressure of water needed to penetrate a fabric usually noted in mm. It is used to define how waterproof a fabric is. For example a lightweight waterproof coat designed for use in showers will have a low (typically
1200mm) hydrostatic head. Whereas the ground sheet of a tent where the pressure of you walking/ sitting in it could force water through (typically 10,000 mm).

Layer System
The Layering System is based on the concept of wearing a numbers of layers of mutually complementary clothing to achieve the best results rather than one or two thicker, heavier layers. It's not a new idea, many of the outdoor brands lay claim to inventing the layer system. The three layers system consists of a base layer or thermal underwear that is capable of efficient moisture management and very importantly not cold when wet. Next is an insulation layer, usually fleece. The pile of the fleece allows warm air to be trapped and thereby maintaining body heat. Over the top of all this is the Outer Shell garment usually Waterproof. There are a number of variations on the Layer System. To name a few, the development of the soft shell has meant it is possible to dispense in some circumstances with the waterproof outer shell because the soft shell offers a degree of waterproof. Synthetic filled, ultra light weight garments could be considers a mid layer. Combination garments of pile and and outer shell are sometimes used to replace either of the three layers.

Term used for natural flax fibre or fabrics made from flax fibre. Characteristics include rapid moisture absorption, natural luster, and stiffness. Fabrics made out of flax yarn have many benefits, including being absorbent and cool to wear under a variety of climatic conditions. Organic flax is grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides

The trade name of Spandex, a synthetic fibre known for its elasticity. Used in combination with other fibres where a close fit and freedom of movement are required.

Lyocell Fibre
Also called Tencel™. Produced from cellulose, the main material in plant cells usually from trees. The production process for Lyocell is extremely environmentally friendly – the fibre has all the advantages of a natural material and is 100% bio-degradable

Martindale Test
A wear abrasion test used extensively in Europe. The fabric's warp and weft are abraded at the same time.

Merino Wool
The Merino is a breed of sheep prized for its wool in New Zealand. Merinos are regarded as having fine and softest wool. Merino base layers regulate body temperature by controlling the rate of cooling. They are soft next to skin and odour resistant without the addition of any coatings or additives. A merino base layer is generally priced at the top of the range.

Very fine yarns with one denier per filament or less. used in lightweight, high-density fabrics

Mid layer
An Insulation Layer usually fleece. The pile of the fleece allows warm air to be trapped and thereby maintaining body heat.

Nano Technology
Nanotechnology is the science of micro engineering. Atomic and molecular manipulation is the essential core of nanotechnology. Used in the outdoor fabrics industry in the form of additives, surface coatings that resist spills and wrinkles.

A generic name for manufactured fibre made of synthetic polyamides. Nylon also known as polyamide is known for excellent strength, elasticity and abrasion resistance.

Organic Cotton
Cotton grown without the use of artificial chemicals such as herbicides or pesticides

Outer Layer
The Outer Shell garment usually Waterproof or Ventile.

Pack Size
This is the cubic size an outdoor garment will reduce to if compressed. It's important when thinking about packing a rucksack etc.

A tightly woven, light weight, fast drying and wind resistant fabric made from nylon yarn. It is also highly breathable and extremely efficient at transmitting moisture vapour.

Pilling or Bobbling
The formation of fuzzy balls on a fabric surface caused by the rubbing off of a fiber's loose ends that are too long or strong to break away.

Pit Zips
Usually found in shell garments designed for high mountain use. The garments have opening zips usually positioned under the arm. To allow users to ventilate the garment. Some manufacturers are now positioning the zips on the front of the garment rather than under the arm believing them to be more accessible and less prone to chaffing.

Polyamide see Nylon

Polyester is combined with natural cotton to produce a versatile durable fabric. Polycotton retains its shape and colour and can easily be cleaned. Rohan pioneered the use of lightweight polyester cotton in outdoor clothing with Airlight™ in the 1980's, Rohan Bags are still in production today

Polyester is a man made fibre. It is extremely strong and hydrophobic in nature. Very durable, resistant to most chemicals, stretching, shrinking, wrinkle resistant, mildew and abrasion resistant. All this makes polyester the choice of fabric for outdoors use. Some brands treat the surface of the polyester to make it more attractive to water whilst the untreated core remains unattractive to water. Often the fibres are coated with a water-resistant finish to further intensifies the hydrophobic nature. It is easily washed and dried.

Polyester Fleece
A man-made fibre. Fleece refers to a finishing of the fabric. Fleece, by definition is soft to the touch and fluffy. Fleece comes in several weights and finishes including micro grids and laminated fleece which is windproof.

Polyester in Padded Garments

By creating hollow fibres it is also possible to build insulation into the polyester fibre. Air is trapped inside the fibre, which is then warmed by the heat of the body. This keeps the body warm in cold weather. Another method to build insulation is to use crimped polyester in a fiberfill. The crimp helps keep the warm air in. Polyester is an ideal fabric for this kind of insulation because it retains its shape. Cotton and wool tend to flatten over a period of time and loose the warming effect.

Polylactic Acid (PLA)
Fabrics manufactured from polylactic acid (PLA), a polymer synthesized from corn. What is PLA, exactly? Like other fibres used in the outdoor industry, PLA is a synthetic polymer. Unlike fibres refined from petroleum, PLA is produced from a renewable resource: corn.

A manufactured fibre made from polymers that is strong and resilient, relatively inert, and does not absorb water or dirt. Used to have a bad reputation for odour retention and shrinkage if washed or dried hot. Many of these problems have been reduced.

Polyvinyl Chloride a synthetic thermoplastic polymer made from vinyl chloride. PVC has excellent transparency, chemical resistance, long-term stability, good weather ability, flow characteristics and stable electrical properties. However, its stability makes it nearly environmentally indestructible.

A cellulose based fibre produced from wood or cotton pulp. Newer additions to this group include Tencel™ and Lycell™ produced in a closed loop process with high environmental credentials and are excellent at moisture management. Rayon is the oldest commercial man made fibre

Regular Fit
A more casual and relaxed cut.

Rip Stop Fabric
Ripstop fabric has a characteristic grid pattern this is the nylon thread that is interwoven throughout the base material. The advantages of ripstop fabrics are that small tears and rips are prevented from spreading further across the fabric and the fabrics are often very light.

Roll-away hood or Concealed hood.
A hood that can be roll up into the collar of the garment.
Scotchgard™ The original brand name for a soil and stain repellent finish applied to fabrics.

Silk is a very old fibre in the outdoor industry, used as a base layer by many early expeditions. It has been superseded by modern synthetic fabrics.

Silicone Finish
A liquid fluorocarbon treatment that is either sprayed or padded on to the fabric to make it resistant to water and oil-borne stains. See Scotchgard™ and Teflon™.

Silver technology
Anti-odour, anti-microbial employs ionic silver to inhibit the growth of micro-organisms and the associated build of odour. The use of silver for its medical and therapeutic benefits dates back thousands of years. More recently, it has been used in the medical field. From its incorporation into wound dressings to its use as an antiseptic and disinfectant in medical appliances. In all cases where infection control is the priority and its anti-static.

Soft Shell
Lightweight, low bulk and abrasion-resistant garments, that provide warmth, breathability, and wind resistance. A soft shell can replace the traditional combination of an insulating mid layer and a waterproof shell outer layer, in all but the wettest conditions.

Cultivated in China for 3,000 years, soya is natural, renewable and biodegradable. Soya fabric is a by-product of the soya food industry. The Soya Fibre is made from the hulls of the beans.

A synthetic fibre or fabric made from a polymer containing polyurethane, used in the manufacture of elastic clothing. see Lycra. The name "spandex" is an anagram of the word "expands".

Synthetic Fillings
Synthetic fillings are non allergenic and therefore do not stimulate any allergic reaction. Modern day synthetic fibres are lighter than in the past and the best qualities imitate natural fillings in terms of lightness and drape. Made usually from a polyester fibre. They are not effected by moisture and long term compression is not an issue.

Taped Seams
Waterproof tape is applied to the seams of a garment to ensure no water can work its way through the fabric seams.

A registered brand name for a stain-resistant finish applied to fabric.

Tensile Strength
The ability of fibre, yarn, or fabric to resist breaking under tension.

Thumb Loops

Usually found on base layers and some intermediate layers. Small loops or holes that the wearer can put their thumb through and secure the garment to their wrist.

Touch-and-Close Fasteners
Velcro™ is the brand name of the first commercially marketed fabric hook-and-loop fastener.

UPF Sun protective Clothing
UPF ratings indicate how protective a fabric is against solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR). The higher the UPF rating, the lower the UVR penetration and better the protection against sunburn and skin damage.

Vegetable Dyes
Dyes made from vegetable matter such as indigo, safflower, weld, madder and many other flowers vegetables and trees.

A tough tightly woven high quality 100% cotton fabric. It offers a high degree of wind resistance and when wet the cotton swells to stop water penetration. Popular with birdwatchers and naturalists because unlike synthetic fabrics such as Gore-Tex, it produces almost no noise when in use.

The European word for Rayon. A manufactured fibre made of regenerated cellulose, commonly obtained from wood pulp.

Waterproof Zips
Zips that prevent the ingression of water. Not all zips are waterproof.
Water-Repellent Fabric Materials treated with various substances so as to make them impervious to water by degree.

Welded Seams
Welded seams reduce bulk, weight and improve a garments performance by eliminating the needle holes found in seams, a potential area for leakage in hard shells.


Wicking is the movement of moisture through a fabric i.e. sweat through clothing. Of particular importance in base layer garments worn next to the skin which need to be able to absorb moisture and move it away from the skin. Wicking fabrics have microscopic holes through which the moisture can pass others work by allowing moisture to travel along individual fibres from one side of the fabric to another there are many different types of wicking fabrics to choose from.

Windproof Clothing
Reducing the effects of wind chill when in the outdoors is important. To achieve this through the addition of a light windproof layer means the wear can keep the weight of the garments down. Whilst waterproof fabrics are by their very nature windproof they are not as comfortable as just windproof fabrics. The market leader in windproof fabrics are Ventile, Rohan Airlight™ a tightly woven polyester cotton and Pertex used in Buffalo clothing. None are totally waterproof. All are very windproof. Airlight™ formed the bases of the ground breaking Rohan range that included the iconic Rohan Bags (trousers still made by Rohan today) and the Hyde windshirt the first mountain windshirt.

Wired Hood
A section of the hood is stiffened with lightweight wire to allow the hood to form a peak or visor.

Wyzenbeck Test
A test used to measure a fabric's resistance to wear and abrasion.

Provided by Sarah Howcroft - Rohantime

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