Sweating has been the cooling mechanism for Homo sapiens for all time, so, old problem. Did primitive people have a strategy to manage dripping sweat? Who knows? Was Tonto’s headband-with-feather for decoration, or to keep the sweat out of his eyes? In any case, modern man has devised a few strategies for “perspiration mitigation”. In this post, we’ll look into all we know of, there aren’t many. We start with background info.
FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO DRIPPING
How much sweat you produce is the fundamental factor in how much you drip, and therefore suffer, usually from burning eyes and/or smeared glasses. First, only a minority of us has the dripping sweat problem. If you are reading this there’s a high likelihood you are in the club of the “ultra-sweaters”, or are close to someone who is. We constitute approximately 25% of the total population.
FYI, the documented range of sweat production is between a quart and a gallon an hour, with a few outliers at either end. Some people produce less than a quart, and we have sold a few helmet liners to cyclists who bought them to wet them, and thereby get some evaporative cooling. Alberto Salazar, the great marathoner, set the gallon mark.
The second critical factor is humidity. Sweat evaporates far better into dry air than wet. Heavy work or play in hot humid weather? Lots of sweat, little evaporation, lots of dripping and suffering. Cool weather and dry air, with the same effort, same activity, maybe no problem at all. We make humid climate versions of most of our products, look for the “X2”.
The third main variable is individual and personal, namely hair. A full thick head of hair will disperse and to some extent even draw some sweat away from the scalp. And there’s some correlation with age here, as we lose hair over time. Shaved, bald, or balding? You’re getting little to no help at all, and will either have to learn to live with your misery, or you’ll have to acquire some helpful headwear.
So, what are your options for sweat management? How do you keep dripping sweat from burning your eyes or staining your glasses, or both? The products people turn to can be broken into several categories. The principles at work and corresponding primary categories are absorption, dispersion, and diversion. And then we add a fourth category composed of hybrids of these first three groups.
SWEAT MANAGEMENT PARAMETERS:
The most iconic example a product relying almost entirely on absorption for sweat management is the ubiquitous bandanna. Also a fashion statement in some circles, this is simply a piece of cotton fabric rolled up and tied around the head. You can purchase one practically anywhere for a few bucks. These are popular with wildland firefighters, wrapped around the brow band of their helmet. Bandanna advantages are their ready availability, price, and the wide variety of patterns and colors. This is a choice with some traditional momentum.
Some headband manufacturers boast “100% cotton terry cloth”. They make towels out of it, right? So it must be absorbent. Otherwise, however, cotton has no beneficial technical properties. Cotton is indeed hydrophilic (draws in water), that’s a plus, but sadly draws in little. Cotton only holds around 4x its weight in H2O. And it holds water tightly, does not release it, and does not wick. So in effect cotton headwear draws sweat in readily, saturates quickly, and holds on to it. And then comes the dripping we long to avoid, barely even delayed.
Simple headbands of synthetic fabric typically hold less moisture than cotton, but may perform slightly better since they wick and release moisture faster. Usually thin and lightweight by design however, they are rarely substantial enough to absorb and hold much moisture. As soon as your sweat production rate exceeds the fabric’s capacity to wick and dry...you’re dripping.
Accomplishing sweat control with low absorption fabrics quite simply requires large volumes of fabric. There is a product out there that is basically a long stretchy tube of synthetic fabric that ultra-sweaters have had some luck with. More fabric means more absorbency, and more time drip-free. But dealing with a bulky piece of headwear, maybe not so easy.
Dispersion is a quality we have touched on in the absorption section. Dispersion: to distribute over a wide area. In our case, we want to disperse sweat to stop the dripping. The factor of dispersion is present in all permeable fabrics and therefore in all sweat managing headwear. Even cotton, though barely.
All permeable fabrics have some degree of capillarity, the ability to move or wick moisture. The movement of moisture is a critical factor in effective sweat management. The more rapid the dispersion of absorbed moisture, the more available it is to evaporate, and thus the drier and cooler the user stays.
Wicking and evaporation alone however are insufficient to the needs of the ultra-sweater. Lightweight wicking fabrics alone, by far the most common design, don’t hold enough moisture to be able to buffer the user’s output of sweat unless the output is modest. The sweat-free window in the case of the ultra-sweater is simply that small bit of time before the user’s rate of sweat output overtakes the fabric’s limited wicking and evaporating capacity.
The third and most unusual approach to managing excess sweat is to mechanically collect it and divert it away from your face. Think of the gutters on a house. There is a product out there that is essentially a silicone gutter, worn like a headband, that collects sweat across your forehead. This then drains out either end, at your temples. These effectively intercept the sweat running off your head. As they rely on gravity, you need to remain upright yourself or the sweat spills out the front and onto your face and glasses. They will not serve you well in yoga class, the gym, gardening, aero position cycling, etc. Users complain about the volume of diverted sweat that now courses down the sides of their face, and the red stripe left behind on their forehead when the gutter is removed.
Most sweat managing headwear relies on a combination of the three mitigating principles, absorption, dispersion, and diversion. The exceptions to this rule are items made of either cotton or silicone. With almost no wicking ability, cotton headwear relies nearly entirely on absorption. And silicone’s impermeability spells pure diversion. The vast majority of products are made of synthetic fabrics that both absorb and disperse, and are therefore inherently hybrid.
Worth mentioning are two truly hybrid products that have each diverged from the predominant wicking-fabric-only model. Both have incorporated a second material in their designs to add functionality to their respective headwear lines.
One has added a silicone strip low across the forehead of their wicking fabric headwear. The strip helps to divert some of the run-off sweat to the sides of the user’s face. However, since the silicone strip is adhered to the underside of wicking fabric, ultra-sweaters still end up with a dripping issue. Sweat wicks through the fabric right over top of the silicone strip, and into their eyes and onto glasses
SWEATHAWG: ULTIMATE HYBRID HEADWEAR
The fundamental shortcoming for lightweight wicking-fabric-only headwear, at least for folks at the high end of the sweat production range, is their lack of absorbency. The dreaded dripping begins as soon as the fabric’s limited capacity first to absorb and then to disperse and evaporate is exceeded. In humid climates especially this can be very quick. SweatHawg products are unique in having an absorbent layer temple to temple that holds 10x its weight in water.
SweatHawg’s hybrid system employs two different fabrics, one wrapped up with the other. In every version of our headwear we have placed a strip of aggressively absorbent fabric across the forehead, then an aggressively wicking fabric overall. In this creative combination of lightweight fabrics, the absorbent layer gathers excess sweat at your forehead, and the other wicks it away, dispersing moisture to then evaporate. Evaporation results in cooling, the intended purpose of sweat from the start.
Fabric that holds ten times its weight in water retains excess sweat that is continually wicking away, evaporating, and cooling. This added absorptive capacity prevents the usual deluge of dripping, similar to the way a reservoir evens out streamflows and prevents flooding.
This is so simple and so effective! We stand behind our products as most effective for sweat management, guaranteed. No more drips, no more burning eyes, no more smeared glasses.