Fashion: Wind? Rain? No sweat]: If you're serious about sport, you don't want to wear status symbols, you want state-of-the-art clothes that work hard. Belinda Morris discusses layering systems and moisture management with four men of action

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Indy Lifestyle Online
What to wear to be active? It can be confusing, what with Sympatex and Gore-Tex, Thermodress and Thermostat, Double-P-System Big Face, Polartex and Pertex. Baffled? Fibre and fabric technology changes fast and it is a challenge to keep up.

Sporting enthusiasts - not superheroes, just those who make active sport a part of their lives - are not interested in status symbols, the kind of cult kit that is more about fashion than function. They want clothes that work, fabrics which 'breathe', stretch, recover, last

and (perhaps most important in our climate) stop them getting soaked. These are the products of the current wave of sportswear technology.

Talk sport today, with hikers or mountain bikers, wave surfers or climbers, and you could get into the importance of moisture management (or 'wicking', the removal of sweat from the body) and of layering systems (a need that used to be fulfilled by a vest under a T-shirt under a jersey). Sport retains its elements of uncertainty, but clothes-wise, nothing is being left to chance.

HIKER

Frank Hawkins, 32, biologist

I do a lot of walking for pleasure in Scotland, but my work also keeps me outside most of the time. I'm writing a PhD on conservation biology of birds in Madagascar, where the rough terrain makes heavy weather of my footwear. There's a lot of walking between camps and study sites - lots of steep hills. I choose boots with stiff soles, to reduce the effort of each step. I tend to look for Zamberlan, which suit my broad feet, but Scarpa are also good.

I'm watching the wildlife while I'm walking, there's a lot of stopping and starting. So for clothing I need a layer system that will wick away sweat and keep me dry while I'm hiking, but will zip up and keep me warm while I'm stock still.

This jacket is good because it's very light and can be rolled up and shoved into a bag if you need to take it off. But that has a problem inherent in it. The waterproof potential of technology like Gore-Tex goes after about three years if the garment is constantly being scrunched up. Perhaps the membrane breaks up? So my cold-weather gear needs updating periodically. But nothing like as often as my rainforest kit. In Madagascar my clothes sometimes mould and rot before I have finished a three-month jungle stint]'

Frank is wearing:

Two-layer Gore-Tex Tactel Shearwater jacket with peaked storm hood and mesh and Pertex lining, pounds 189. Tactel, added to Gore-Tex, adds extra properties of recovery and breathability. His polyester Polartec fleece pullover, pounds 55, wicks away sweat, is brushed on both sides to trap air and provides high insulation, and is resilient, machine-washable and far less bulky than a wool sweater. Polyester/cotton Bags legwear, pounds 39, are hard-wearing. All by Rohan (0908 618888 for stockists). Scarpa Alp-M leather walking boots with stiff Vibram sole, pounds 136, with Gore-Tex and rubber Yeti Attak gaiters, pounds 55, both from Berghaus (081-346 2600 for stockists). Trail 25 Daysac, pounds 34.95, by Karrimor, as

before. Not visible: wool/acrylic blend over-calf climbing socks with padding at ankles, shin, instep, arch and heel for comfort and protection and worsted wool extra warm toe, pounds 13, by Thorlo (0250 873863).

WAVE SURFER

Jason Brooks, 25, fashion illustrator

Wave-surfing is very close to surfing itself. You need a force 4 wind at least, and once someone is standing on the board with the sail up it must keep moving to stay afloat.

For me, a non-competitive 'soul surfer', this appreciation of nature, the changing state of the sea and the light, is more important than the gear. But winter wetsuits, with arms that detach for summer, make sense. I choose black with fluorescent colour for decoration, not really for safety. It's pretty hard to be seen if you go down out here.

Jason is wearing:

A smoothskin neoprene 2mm and 3mm convertible wetsuit with detachable arms, approximately pounds 199, by O'Neill. The two different thicknesses of neoprene give stretch on joints, while the smooth skin means water runs off quickly, instead of waiting around to evaporate. This cuts down on wind-chill. Mistral wave-board, sail, mast, boom and harness, all from Windsurfers World, London W4, 081-994 6769 (further stockists 0243 673666).

WALL CLIMBER

David Sorapure, 23, unemployed

I started climbing as a child, in Dorset, but more recently I was in Thailand, where I climbed using a harness. It gave me the taste to do more, so I went along to Mile End climbing wall at North London Rescue Commando. What I like about vertical wall climbing is the thrill of the physical risk element, which really gets the adrenalin going.

You see a lot of the execs coming along after work in their skintight, fluorescent designer-label stuff, but it isn't necessary. What's important is your equipment: ropes, harness, a good pair of boots and helmet. But once you're outside in this country, you need to be protected against the weather. If you're up some remote cliff you can't suddenly stop and put on a jumper] You need to be wearing something that has the technical qualities to keep you dry and warm, but won't get sweaty if it's hot.

David is wearing:

A Double-P-System Big Face Shirt in polyester fibre pile with a Pertex shell, pounds 69.95, by Buffalo from Cotswold Camping, London W12 on 081-743 2976 (0742 580611 for more stockists). Double-P stands for pile and Pertex. This mountain shirt from Buffalo, a small-scale manufacturer, was widely seen recently when Jacqueline Greaves was brought down from the Scottish mountains by rescue teams wearing Buffalo. The Special Boat Service and some police units use Buffalo.

Instead of a three-layer system like Gore-Tex, with its inner layer to wick sweat outwards, its mid layer to trap warmth and its outer shell to keep out wind and rain, Buffalo has just a close-fitting, fibre-pile layer next to the skin and a windproof shell on the surface. It doesn't look substantial enough to wear in harsh conditions, but it is, and it is much cheaper than three-layered heavy-weather gear. Buffalo is not completely waterproof, but the fibre pile layer warms moisture up, dumps it into the Pertex layer and wicks it off.

David is also wearing nylon stretch pants, pounds 16.95, which allow movement and dry far more quickly than natural fabrics, from Cotswold Camping (061-366 5020 for more stockists). Ecrin Roc Sport helmet, pounds 39.95, Petzl; canvas-lined Ballet climbing shoes, pounds 65.95, Borbal. Harness and chalk bag, all from Snow and Rock, London W8 (071-937 0872) and Holborn, London EC1, and Birmingham (mail order: 0753 830868).

MOUNTAIN BIKER

Adam Horton, 24, works for Chas Roberts, building custom-made bicycle frames

Good waterproofs are essential. I wear Gore-Tex because I find it works best for recreational cycling. (For racing, fabrics need higher breathability, at the expense of waterproofing.) The helmet is for safety, but has a peak, which also helps to deflect the mud and grit from the bike in front of you as well as adding to streamlining.

Adam is wearing:

Taslan/Gore-Tex cycle jacket with reflective strips and a detachable hood, pounds 159.95, by Karrimor (0254 385911 for stockists). The jacket's body colour, an intense fluorescent lime, means super-high visibility. The jacket has a Gore-Tex membrane, a factor in its relatively high price. Gore-Tex and its main competitor, Sympatex, are similar microporous products: both are breathable skins between an outer layer and a lining, which allow sweat out but no water in. Both brands strictly control which manufacturers can carry their tags on clothes, because a poorly designed or incorrectly stitched product could undermine their properties of water protection with insulation. When used well, both work well. Not visible: zipped cycling jersey in polyester/ polyamide/ elastane, a combination that delivers stretch, recovery, longevity (it won't rot with sweat), plus breathability. He wears a Thermodress polyester/elastane 'tight' with padded crotch and shoulder straps, both pounds 49.50 and both by Castelli from On Your Bike, London SE1 (0782 393660 for more stockists). Cycling shoes with crossover strap and reinforced toebox, pounds 64, Nike Poohbah (091-401 6453). Peaked helmet, pounds 109, Giro Terramoto (0291 421800). Blue iridium sunglasses with Plutonite lenses, which are UV- and impact-resistant, pounds 90, Sub Zero by Oakley (0462 815757). Thermostat fleece gloves, for warmth, pounds 32.99, Castelli, as before.

Adam's mountain bike is a hand-built DOGS BOLX (Dirt Orientated Geometry System - Blend of Orthagonal Lodebearing Xtralight). Its combination of precision, lightness, sturdiness and speed made its designer, Chas Roberts, describe it as the greatest - or, as he put it, the dog's bollocks. Hence the name. (Roberts Cycles, 081-684 3370).

(Photographs omitted)

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