Which is Better for Compression Gear: Polyester vs Nylon

By: Ray / Published: December 15th, 2016

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For compression gear, whether that be for pants, socks, sleeves, shorts, or briefs, there is a typical pattern with the material used: It’s usually polyester or nylon. Some manufacturers like to create and synthesize their unique material, but popular choices are usually the two. But why? Why were these two chosen? What makes them a quality fiber to use and include in compression clothing? With those questions in mind, I’m going to go into some depth of the properties of each fiber and the benefits they promote.

What is Good About Polyester?

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We might as well get it out of the way: Polyester is the preferred fiber used in compression clothing. This fabric is primarily used in compression pants, socks, and shorts, because of their breathability, ability to regulate moisture, sweat-wicking capabilities, comfort, and more than I will delve into. Although nylon has the same job as polyester, polyester seems to do it better. But let’s talk about where polyester has nylon beat:

  • Moisture Regulation/Sweat-Wicking: For the most part, compression apparel is used in an exercise setting where sweat comes into play. Polyester’s natural properties allow it to efficiently transport liquids (depending on temperature and humidity) to the surface due to its hydrophobic nature and evaporating some of the sweat. While nylon can do the same, it absorbs some of the sweat in the process, thus taking longer to dry.
  • Combats Odor/Bacteria Efficiently: By having the ability to regulate sweat and moisture, it also, in turn, makes polyester great at combating odors that may develop throughout a workout or the day. This is due to the fiber having some antibacterial properties as well.
  • Breathability/Comfort: Thanks to the weave and overall structure of polyester it allows for a more relaxed fit. Keep in mind that polyester used to be a rigid fabric, which is why it was great as outwear. But thanks to the synthesized polyester today it is as comfortable to cotton.
  • Protection: As mentioned above, polyester is an excellent material to use as protective outwear. Its natural properties give it exceptional resiliency and high abrasion resistance.

As you can tell, These properties are helpful to come training or practice time when you go running, to the gym, or sports practice When you’re going ham out there, and the sweat starts pouring down, you can rest assured that you won’t be as sweaty or stinky in the areas you are wearing compression apparel. This is why I recommend at least picking up apparel for the areas that tend to sweat more often such as compression socks for your feet, compression briefs/shorts for your thigh and crotch area, or compression shirts to wick away sweat. And it doesn’t just have to be for exercise, and you can wear it as layering material under your clothes when you go out which will still have the same effect. You don’t have to be doing some intense training or practice to be able to wear polyester. It still works the same.

What is Good About Nylon?

So far I’ve been putting polyester on a pedestal and haven’t bought up nylon. Are there actually benefit to nylon compared to polyester? Actually, there are. A few factors that nylon has polyester beat are:

  • Durability: Nylon is significantly stronger than polyester and has the same protection to abrasions and damage to polyester but has the add-on to be resistant to oil.
  • Comfort: Nylon has a much softer feel against the skin that is more lustrous. Originally it was supposed to be an alternative to silk hence the attractive venture due to its smooth properties.
  • Cheaper: Nylon is used in more of the apparel that is budget-friendly. This is due to the manufacturing costs of nylon, which is more attractive for manufacturers and designers to use.

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I’ve found that the only article of compression gear that uses nylon commonly are compression sleeves. Why is that? Compression sleeves are generally worn on the knee or elbow of your body. These areas aren’t sweating centers compared to the feet, butt, and thighs. Manufacturers will use nylon as a somewhat cheaper alternative to polyester. So for areas like the knee and elbow, the polyester fibers aren’t being taken advantage as much as you’d want. Although not as good, Nylon is still able to do the same things that polyester can do. It keeps you dry, fights off odors, and is a protective piece of clothing. It just doesn’t do it as efficiently. Usually, it is the alternative budget choice when manufacturers go about developing their compression products. This means other pieces of apparel that made of nylon will usually mean a lower price compared to others.

Who Wins?

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In a sense, there is no real winner. Polyester is obviously the superior fiber, but there are certain cases where that would not be the case. If you managed to read everything in the article, I would use all the information to formulate where you stand with what you need in a piece of compression apparel. Nylon compliments the needs and functionality of sleeves while polyester goes in hand with the purpose of compression socks, briefs, pants, and shirts. My final thoughts would be to outline what you need specifically for your lifestyle and see what aligns with the properties and factors that I listed above.