Is Polyester Good Material for Skiing? (Polyester vs Merino Wool)

by Emily Nicholls | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

I can see why the question of which material is best for skiing comes up so often. They all have their pros and cons, but you are likely to find a personal preference.

Polyester certainly has benefits for being used for skiing, it’s lightweight, durable, and inexpensive. However, there are environmental implications of plastic. Natural alternatives such as Merino Wool are excellent insulators and more breathable.

skier in complete cloth

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What is a Base Layer?

ski layers clothing

A base layer acts as an insulator next to your skin. It helps regulate your body temperature moving sweat away from your skin and helping you to keep warm.

Base layers can be t-shirts, leggings, tights, briefs, or sports bras. They come in different weights and thicknesses to suit different temperatures and levels of activity. Some are loose-fitting, while others contour your body.

Merino Wool (Winner)Highly breathable & warmMore expensive & less durable
Polyester (2nd Place)Cheap, warm & durableFaster to hold sweat odours

Polyester vs Polypropylene

Most base layers are Merino Wool, or synthetic fabrics such as Polyester or Polypropylene, or sometimes a blend of the two. These fabrics aim to wick moisture and sweat away from your skin, dispersing it on the outer surface so that it evaporates.

Both of these fabrics aim to do the same thing, moisture management and regulating your body temperature. They both dry quicker than cotton, meaning they maintain a more consistent body temperature.

What is the Difference Between Polyester and Polypropylene?

The main difference between Polyester and Polypropylene is that polypropylene is more water-resistant, making it quick-drying which can be beneficial for skiing.

Polyester does not have such quick-drying properties but is washable and easy to care for. Both materials are commonsly used as base layers for skiing and are considered a good alternative to wool.

What Are the Benefits of Polyester?

Polyester is a widely used fiber for skiing. It is inexpensive and provides great performance, wicking away moisture while still remaining breathable. Polyester fibers can potentially absorb 0.4% of their own weight in water enabling them to dry quickly during strenuous activities like skiing.

It is also a very durable fabric with a long lifespan. It uses engineered plastic which enables it to be washed repeatedly while also making it considerably resistant to abrasion.

Other benefits of Polyester are that it is a thin and light material, which is great for outdoor pursuits where you might not want to carry too much weight. It is also a cheap material compared to other options.

What Are the Cons of Polyester Layers for Skiing?

Polyester base layers cannot wick away as many vapors compared to other materials, which means you can get clammy and cool while skiing. It also does not have odor-free properties; after exercise, it can start to smell and must be washed regularly. Although it is durable and can withstand many washes, it is also the hassle of adding to the washing pile.

Another consideration of the cons of using Polyester layers for skiing is that it isn’t a particularly sustainable fabric, and most polyester fabrics are not biodegradable. It is a type of plastic usually derived from petroleum. Petroleum is non-renewable, with several social and political implications to consider. Polyester's production, use, and disposal are often thought to impact the environment negatively.

Are There Any Positive Implications of Using Polyester for the Environment?

using ski poles

There certainly is some argument for the use of polyester, such as its durability and that they require less energy, heat, and water for washing. However, recent research has found that microplastics from polyester can enter our water supply and be ingested by marine life and other animals. We do not know the true extent of the impacts of microplastics on the environment yet, and further research needs to be conducted. 

What Are the Benefits of Merino Wool?

Natural fibers like merino wool offer more breathability and better management of moisture than synthetic materials. In fact, it can be worn for several days without needing to be washed and it will remain free of odor. Merino wool fibers retain potentially can absorb 30% of their own weight in moisture and yet still will feel dry. It also disperses moisture before it has a chance to reach the item of clothing, something that is unique to Merino wool.

Although when you tend to think of wool you think good for cold weather, Merino wool can also be worn all the year around. Due to its unique make-up, it can actually help regulate body temperature, much like it does on a sheep. Sheep obviously do not have the opportunity to just take their woolly coat off when they are too hot, so instead nature does it for them allowing them to self-regulate their body temperature.

Merino wool fiber is very durable and its natural curl called the “fiber crimp” means it has elasticity and resilience. It is very flexible, and it is possible to manipulate it in any direction or shape over 30,000 times before the fiber of the wool is damaged. [Editors Note] - In my personal tests, using my Merino base layer from Ibex, I find it far superior to polyester.

Does Merino Wool Have Drawbacks?

Nowadays, wool tends to get a bit of a bad name from grandma’s Christmas knitted jumpers to just not being trendy. We probably all remember that one wool jumper when we were little that was itchy and uncomfortable. However, this most likely was not due to the wool itself but rather to the shape of the fibers.

The bigger the fiber the less flexible it is which can lead to it feeling scratchy on your skin. Merino wool on the other hand is made up of finer fibers that bend flexibly meaning it will not be itchy or uncomfortable.

Merino wool is also the more expensive choice compared to synthetic fibers like polyester. There are certainly pros and cons for both synthetic fibers like Polyester and natural fibers like Merino wool.

Saddleback Maine
Photo by Ashley Pollak licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Polyester is lightweight and substantially cheaper than Merino wool. It is also highly durable. However, on the other hand, there is research that supports that polyester is damaging to the environment and pollutes our water supply. Polyester is very popular and is considered a good material for skiing, but ultimately, it comes down to personal preference.