Dressing for warmth and comfort in an activity such as ice climbing, which can take place under conditions ranging from those found at the dry, frigid poles in winter to a near-freezing rain on Ben Nevis in a thaw, is an art in itself. Although new fabrics and insulations have greatly increased comfort and survival probability, there are as yet no true "miracle" solutions to the age-old problems of wet and cold, and to the threats of hypothermia and frostbite.
Until the advent of synthetic fibers, wool was the most efficient material for everything from socks to sweaters to trousers, mittens, hats, and underwear. Unlike other natural fibers, such as cotton, wool does not lose all its insulating characteristics when wet. For all basic garments wool is still an acceptable material, and it is often possible to find good secondhand or surplus wool garments at a modest price.
However, ever since Chris Bonington kitted out his 1970 expedition to the South Face of Annapurna with synthetic underwear and fiber pile jackets, the superior characteristics of these manmade substitutes have been recognized. Synthetics are much lighter than wool,- they wick moisture away from the body, provide better insulation, and dry very quickly. When effectively layered, synthetic garments can comfortably see you through widely varying temperatures and activity levels.
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