Sunday, September 28, 2008

Testing Nikwax Cotton Proof Treatment

Most of us have heard the phrase "cotton kills," when referring to clothing to be used in cold weather.  That's because cotton loses all of its insulation properties when it gets wet.

However, cotton does have some qualities which make it desireable for use in clothing.  It's common, mostly inexpensive, wears well, and the right weaves can be very windproof.  So, if there is a way to make cotton material less vulnerable to getting wet it's worth giving a try.

Earlier this month I bought a replica second pattern Denison Smock from What Price Glory.  The Denison Smock was issued to British paratroopers, commandos, and snipers during and after World War 2.  I'd wanted one since first learning of them in the book With British Snipers to the Reich.

The Denison Smock is made of tightly woven cotton twill fabric.  It should be pretty wind resistant (I haven't been able to test that yet since it's only September) but as it comes from WPG, isn't water resistant.  Wanting to use the smock while out in Fall and Winter weather, I looked around for a water repellency treatment.  After a bit of searching on the Internet I ordered a bottle of Nikwax Cotton Proof from Campmor.

Nikwax's directions instruct you to start with a clean article and then apply it with a brush or through washing in hot water.  You can do this in a clothes washer but I didn't want to have to get any residue out of my washer, so instead, I filled a 5 gallon bucket with hot water, and added the correct amount of Cotton Proof.  I then imersed the smock in the bucket, swishing it around to make sure all the fabric was wet.  I then let it sit for about 15 or 20 minutes, swishing the smock around a few times during the soak.  Afterwards I rinsed the smock until the water ran clear, and let it air dry.

Today was the first time I was able to test the water repellency.  It's misting and 64 degrees F.  I put on the smock and took a one mile walk around my neighborhood.  I was out in the mist for about 25 minutes.  It's a short test, but during my walk the mist just beaded on the outside of the smock.  Underneath I stayed dry except for my sweat (it's a bit warm to be walking around in one of these things).  After I got home I stuck my arm under the water dripping from my roof to simulate raindrops falling on the smock.  While the Cotton Proof kept the mist out, the larger drops went right through, wetting my arm.

Based on this short test, the Nikwax Cotton Proof treatment adds a limited amount of water repellency.  It will keep mist out for awhile but rain is going to get through treated material easily.  For rain, you're going to want actual rain gear made from modern materials.


Looking for The Enemy Within said...

Nikwax Treatment is not bad, but a person will have to go a “Long-Ways” to beat Gortex. I wear Gortex in the fall (Lots of Rain) and winter time (Layer-System). It works well, up here in Alaska. said...

Cold and wet is possibly the same be it in Alaska or New Hampshire (worlds worst weather: Mt. Washington near the town of Gorham)

You could also try testing it while standing in your shower at home.

I've never been a fan of Gortex and the like. Sure, they are rather waterproof (nothing is truely 100% waterproof) but the miracle of modern advertising has lead many to believe such fabrics will keep one dry in all weather even during high levels of exertion (sweat). Never found this to be so.

For me, the gold standard remains capilene (or other similar undergarment), wool, and "old fashioned" rain gear as an outer layer.

Virginia hiker said...

That smock is worse than useless unless you're into historical reenactments. (I owned one about 20 years ago.) It will probably double its weight when wet, too, then absorb all your body heat and kill you if the temperature is less than about 60 degrees. Hotter than that and it will kill you through overheating and sweating. But I digress. An umbrella and some capilene undies with a bit of medium-weight fleece with a wind shell are all you need. I would suggest a crash course in what works in the outdoors to be the following: Hike the entire Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail, from Pen-Mar Park to Delaware Water Gap in one shot. Resupply in Duncannon, Port Clinton (by mail) and Palmerton. You'll learn more about yourself, gear, and being in the outdoors than you ever imagined. It's about 230 miles, doable in 15 to 18 days worth of 12-mile days, YMMV. (Gore-Tex is worthless in humid summer conditions, btw.) Hint: Hike in sneakers with a light pack. Consider yourself to have been tagged with this challenge -- you'll learn more than you could have ever dreamed about yourself.

Va. hiker said...

By the way, here's a good place to start with your planning: The Appalachian Long Distance Hiker's Association online companion:


Dave Markowitz said...

While I would love to take off for two or three weeks in the woods, reality dictates that I go to work and spend time with my family.

zhochaka said...

The one question un-answered is how the treatment changes the look of the fabric. It's maybe practical in some weather conditions, but it doesn't sound like something just to buy for weather protection. It's the look that makes the diffference.

Dave Markowitz said...

That's a good point. So far as I can tell any change in the fabric is unnoticeable.

Kim said...

I am looking to re-waterproof an EZ-Up cotton canvas tent. I am hoping that this Cotton Proof stuff will work. As for keeping the rain off and you warm, I prefer wool to Gortex any day. If you have a good tight felt on the wool, it will keep out water for hours. Field tested in the Society for Creative Anachronism as well as the deep woods of Maine.

EuroHiker_Phil said...

Hi all,
I guess you know, but there is a much more breathable alternative to Goretex and eVent membrane waterproofs: Paramo (also Furtek, Finestere and Cioch). These companies use biomimetic waterproofing: i.e. they mimic animal fur.
I've used Paramo for 3 years now, in conditions ranging from -13f (-25 c) in Central Norway last year, to 8 hours walking in driving heavy rain aand low cloud in the Lake District area of the UK (54f or 12c).
The best thing about it is that it genuinely is breathable, as the same thing the pushes rain water away, wicks away the sweat. I wear mine with a Patagonia capilene 2 unless really cold, as in Norway last year, when I put on some merino. These type of waterproofs are also less rigid and quieter than membrane style waterproofs.
Incidentally, Nikwax and Paramo are sister companies, both owned by Nick Brown. They just won the award for most ethical outdoor gear company with Ethical Consumer magazine.

@Virginia Hiker, re: sneakers, I now hike (unless below freezing) in Nike Free 3.0 and a pair of sealskinz socks. Hiking is so much more enjoyable. re: humidity and Goretex: Paramo gear was designed by Brown to address this very problem, which they found when trekking in South America in very humid environments. Membranes are no good because the humidity just collects on the inside and makes you wet.

Patrick Hutton said...

With the exception of ventile as an outer layer, cotton isn't your friend in cold wet conditions.

Rather than breathable membranes such as gore tex and e-vent which can be overwhelmed by weather (they rely on water escaping as vapour). Look at direction fabric soft shell fabrics such as Nikwax fabrics used by Paramo or Pertex Pile fabrics used by Buffalo systems clothing (the original and best soft shell clothing).

Patrick Hutton said...

Just to clarify a bit on my previous comment. Both Paramo and Buffalo products wick in addition to being breathable wick liquid water away from the body which has a vital role in comfort and temperature management.

Paramo is pretty much waterproof too. It does need to be maintained though to remain functioning as it should.

Buffalo doesn't need special care to carry on working. It's water resistant not waterproof but maintains its insulating and breathable qualities even when it's weted through.