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Thermal Underwear and How to Choose a Good Pair

Updated on November 25, 2013
anglnwu profile image

How-tos come easily when you're an expert at doing it. I'm quite an expert at cooking, floral art, personal beauty and health.

Thermal Underwear

Thermal underwear works to keep heat close to your body while transferring sweat away from the skin to help you stay dry and comfortable.
Thermal underwear works to keep heat close to your body while transferring sweat away from the skin to help you stay dry and comfortable. | Source

As the trees change color and rearrange its foliage, often shedding them to protect from the cold, it’s time to turn to our wardrobe for some stock-taking. You may have to set aside your shorts and tank tops to make way for warmer clothing. If you live in very cold places where snow and sleet are quite natural guests of the winter landscape, you may want to consider warm winter wear. Winter coats, boots, scarves and gloves are good but there is a secret to keeping warm that more about what’s under the garments. It’s called thermal underwear and as the name suggests it’s underwear that keeps you warm and as a result comfortable and happy. Thermal underwear may not make a fashion statement but its effects can make a great difference—you can possibly sit in the freezing cold stadium to watch football without constantly battling the bitter cold and getting distracted. You score and so will your team, if they have thermal underwear under.

Want to keep warm? Think Thermals.

Warm undies can keep you happy and cozy on  cold winter nights.
Warm undies can keep you happy and cozy on cold winter nights. | Source

Women's Thermal Wear

The importance of thermal underwear.

What is Thermal Underwear?

Thermal underwear by any other names—long johns or long handles—is still long underwear. Long johns is said to acquire its name after a manufacturing company based in Derbyshire, Engand, created an undergarment for the heavyweight boxer John L. Sullivan. Thermal undwear is s a two-piece separate ensemble, though you can choose to wear the top or the bottom or both, depending on the weather condition and the type of activities involved. Not all thermal underwear is the same—some offer more heat insulation than others and the choice depends on what you’re looking for.


How Does Thermal Underwear Work?

Thermal underwear works hard to keep your body warm, dry and comfortable. If you look at the dichotomy of the thermal underwear, there are essentially two layers of fabric. The ideal thermal underwear functions as an insulator by trapping heat within its fibers to protect the body, while wicking away any moisture (due to perspiration or wet weather conditions) so that you stay warm and protected from cold. Both layers work together to keep the heat from dissipating while keeping any moisture from your skin. This is best done if the material is breathable.

How do you pick one that works for you?

The question largely depends on your needs and the weather conditions. Material used is a great determining factor. Some materials provide better heat insulation than others. Often, thermal underwear may combine materials to tap the best of qualities. Comfort, type of activities, price and function are some of the main considerations when choosing a pair that works for you.

Cotton Thermal Underwear

Cotton is soft and comfortable and cotton thermal underwear works on that principle primarily. However, cotton also tends to absorb moisture and that moisture may counteract the warmth factor you’re looking for. They are relatively inexpensive and therefore would make good choices if you are looking more cost-effective choices.

Pros: Good choice if you’re planning on wearing them indoors or to the office where no perspiration is involved. They offer comfort and will keep you warm without over-heating you.

Cons: Not recommended if you’re doing any outdoor or strenuous activities such as skiing or hiking. Moisture from perspiration may take a while to dissipate.

Polyester Thermal Underwear

If you’re looking for thermal underwear that will not hold perspiration in and will keep you warm in outdoor conditions, polyester thermal wear may fit the bill better. Polyester is synthesized from polymers and often used as a synthetic fiber. Polyester thermal underwear is lightweight, easy to wash and dry. In addition, it keeps you dry by moving the moisture (sweat) away from the body to the outer layer, thereby reducing the cooling effects of evaporation from the body.

Polyester may go by different trade names: Polartec, Polypropylene or Capilene

Pros: Rather low maintenance as it can be washed and will dry easily. It is rather inexpensive (price comparable to cotton ones) and perform better in all kinds of weather conditions, especially outdoor sports.

Cons: Since it’s synthetic, it may smell due to interaction of sweat and bacteria. It is also flammable.

Compromise: Often thermal underwear using cotton-polyester blends will reduce the “smell” factor while providing more warmth than pure cotton thermals. However, if polyester ratio goes above 20 to 30 percent, it may have a plastic quality to it.

Merino Wool Thermal Underwear

Merino sheep are known to have the finest and softest of fur among sheep. It goes to say that thermal underwear made from merino wool or blend of merino wool with synthetic fibers offers more warmth, compared to cotton or polyester ones. Ideal for extreme cold conditions, merino wool underwear doesn’t hold water unlike cotton underwear. Unlike standard wool, they do not itch by virtue of the fact that merino wool is very fine and soft.

Pros: Plush and soft, merino thermals are resistant to bacteria and will not smell. Highly breathable, it will not hold moisture and is fire-retardant. Ideal for all kinds of outdoor activities.

Cons: Considerably more expensive than cotton or polyester and may not be a good choice for growing children since they grow out of them fast. Some wool thermals contains synthetic materials to make it softer but anything over 20 to 30 percent synthetic will not deliver the results expected of pure wool.

Cashmere Thermal Underwear

Cashmere sweaters and cashmere scarves are staple winter wear and they often come with a steep price-tag. Cashmere fibers come from certain breeds of goats. We’re perhaps, most familiar with the Kashmir (hence the word cashmere) variety. Since they are brushed or combed and not sheared like wool, it is more expensive than merino wool. They’re also softer and warmer by comparison.

Pros: Though a tad more expensive, cashmere offers ultimate comfort and warmth. They do not retain moisture and keep body warm under extreme cold conditions.

Cons: They are pricey and often, they demand more care since spot-cleaning is not recommended for cashmeres.

There are other types of thermal underwear. Often, they're blends of materials--cotton-polyester, rayon-cotton, polypropylene fleece or wool-polyester. Silk thermals are light and comfortable but they can be expensive. As always, read labels before buying.

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Submit a Comment
  • anglnwu profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Teresa, merino wool are quite warm, though I agree with you on the slight scratchy factor. Cashmeres are very comfortable though a little pricey but well worth the price. If you do buy cashmere, follow washing instructions and you'll be alright. Thanks for dropping by to comment.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Thanks, I was looking for something informative on women's woolies!

    I just bought some merino wool ones, and while they are a bit scratchy, I've heard that that will go away once they are washed. They are warmer and cozier than the capilenes I had before.

    I would consider moving up to cashmere, but I wonder about shrinkage. The "SmartWool" merinos I have are not supposed to shrink because the lanolin was bleached out of the fibers. I don't know about cashmere though.

  • anglnwu profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    BKcreative, time to dig out your thermals. Thanks for dropping by to comment.

    Om, I get cold easily too. For me, it's more about survival. Thanks for commenting.

  • Om Paramapoonya profile image

    Om Paramapoonya 

    8 years ago

    Great guide! The winter in Sacramento is usually not too bad, but I tend to get cold more easily than most people so I'm considering buying a pair of thermals. Up and useful!

  • anglnwu profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Prasetio, you're always so sweet and positive. Thanks for reading my hubs and voting it up.

  • prasetio30 profile image


    8 years ago from malang-indonesia

    Nice information from you. Keep on posting and I will always wait your next hub. "I love your new avatar....beautiful". Vote up!


  • anglnwu profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Pamela, so good to see u here. Thanks for adding to this hub by sharing what works for you. I'll be looking for those at Penny's. Have a great day.

  • anglnwu profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    mikey, way to go--sledding in your thermals! Thanks for dropping by to comment.

  • anglnwu profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Thanks, Arlene, we can hold hands regarding the wimp part--I'm always cold too. Having a pair of thermals beats wearing many layers. Thanks for rating it up.

  • BkCreative profile image


    8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

    You know I forgot all about these but have had them in the past - way, way back - and oh what a difference. I do not like to wear heavy coats or a ton of clothes or layers but this, this is so perfect.

    I'm glad you listed the natural fabrics - they feel so much better on my skin. I will look for a nice organic cotton. Yay!

    And thanks a lot. I'll be so ready for this winter! Rated up and more!

  • anglnwu profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Lesleysherwood, thanks for commenting. As a person who is always cold, thermal underwear is a must, especially in the winter months.

  • anglnwu profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    J.S. Matthews, thanks for being the first to comment. Thanks for validating the use of thermal underwear.

  • Pamela N Red profile image

    Pamela N Red 

    8 years ago from Oklahoma

    My favorite is Cuddle Duds. They sell them at Penneys. They are made out of microfiber that is real thin so it doesn't add bulk to your clothes.

    A nurse told me about them, they have to work in those cold hospitals wearing thin cotton scrubs so they wear these under them.

  • mikeyperk profile image


    8 years ago

    Great hub! Very informative! I always pack on the thermals when I go sledding here in the midwest! Voted up!

  • profile image

    Arlene V. Poma 

    8 years ago

    I am always cold and spend the year wearing different hoodies. I liked this information and will use it the next time I go shopping. Voted up, useful and interesting for a wimp like me.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Very informative hub. I live in the UK so every winter I should wear the thermals. Voted UP

  • J.S.Matthew profile image

    JS Matthew 

    8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

    Very useful with some history and suggestions! As a New Englander, I am used to cold winters and swear by these comfortable undergarments! Great Hub! Voting up and sharing.



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