By Capt. Mike Schoonveld

Not long ago, during the summer months, most Great Lakes 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 on a layer of SPF 50 sunscreen on their arms and hoped the fish wouldn’t notice the smell on their hands. 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 me 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, it doesn’t evaporate, 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.             

I had a few performance shirts in my fishing apparel last summer which were noteworthy, so please read the next few blogs.

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