I've personally come to feel cotton is vastly over-rated as a clothing material for anything but cost-saving goals (which certainly is an important factor.) Of course there's the old adage "Cotton Kills", referring to cold weather, but it's also miserably subpar for hot conditions for some of the same reasons: as it absorbs sweat the fibers swell and reduce the fabric's breathability, leading to increased body heat retention. You may be inclined to think a wet fabric aids in cooling but that effect is short lived once evaporation can't keep up with the addition of more perspiration and air movement slows to almost none. And that's before we even get into the resulting bacterial overgrowth, AKA body odor, for which cotton is notoriously awful at mitigating.
So, anyhow, if you have the time, means, and inclination, I highly recommend looking at newer fabric alternatives like lyocell (typically found as the branded names of Tencel, Modal, or Viscose).
And you should always consider merino wool and hemp, which are most often found combined with a synthetic or two, typically for improved elasticity and shape retention, but also for increased comfort since they are both not historically known for their softness. Wool is in many ways the holy grail of fabrics (for reasons which you can find in fantastic detail online) and the relatively new variant of merino only improves on a well-earned reputation. Whereas hemp, despite reigning as the indisputable champion of strength and durability for literally thousands of years in non-clothing applications, has recently seen a resurgence thanks to various factors, notably improvements in comfort. (That said, my personal experience with hemp clothing has shown that it still leaves something to be desired in the area of real world durability, from the perspective of the several various pieces of clothing I've owned--mostly shirts, plus a couple pants--starting in the late 1990s and purchased as recently as 2019.)
Polyester and nylon are underrated in my opinion; they're very durable and breathable, and the odor can be mitigated with a blend, or by careful washing and use of enzyme-based stain treatments. I get frustrated a bit by the trend toward 100% cotton t-shirts, for example; cotton-polyester blends almost always last much longer and are more breathable. I understand the concerns about production of synthetic materials but it would be nice to see recycled polyester be used more often.
My favorite fabrics are wool and linen, but polyester and nylon can be extremely useful.
As a counterpoint to things like modal, viscose, etc. they're very soft but can take forever to dry, which I don't like. They're extremely absorbent but also hold on to moisture for a long time.
I do have some nylon clothes for camping, bit I wouldn’t wear them every day either. Natural fibers are just much more comfortable for me.
FWIW, cotton is very useful as an underlayer for firefighting.
It's very important to not have any synthetic fabrics as underlayers - especially in a wildland/forest fire situation where a flash of heat that might only result in a first degree burn of your skin melts the synthetic fabric to your skin.
For some PPE all you are looking for is no-melt (which would leave molten goo on your skin that would increase the damage)or provides a minimal level of protection, e.g. NFPA 70E PPE level 1 for arc flash, suitable to your expected risk exposure.
merino wool and hemp, which are most often found combined with a synthetic or two
They are made in both summer and winter weights. If you're hiking, doing other sports, or simply spending a lot of time on your feet they may be one of the best investments you can ever make.
A discovered one mistake I'd made was not starting with socks. Once I purchased my first pair of wool blend socks, I felt the same as you.
I have progressively replaced all my socks and boxers with ones made from these fabrics.
Anything with a combination of merino + lyocel (so tencel, modal, etc, there are different branded names) should be good.
It will also be way costlier than a bad quality cotton where you get five boxers for 5$, but it does not have to go to 100$ either.
I own and like :
- I have some tshirts and socks from icebreakers. The tshirts are great for working out too ! They can be great for some hard activities like trekking but you need to know that merino is not great with abrasion, so if you wear a weighty backpack your tshirt might get damaged faster than a cotton one. Still many trekkers still wear these since they are great at temperature regulation, very comfortable and don't smell.
- seagale has great boxers and socks
- ninjasox has merino invisible socks. I had to search for a very long while before finding truly invisible merino socks.
- outlier also carry some merino socks, although they might be costlier than the other brands I have mentioned. I don't think the quality of their socks is noticeably better though (their tech pants are awesome though)
This kind of melange is awesome for any garment in direct contact with your skin. it is very soft and does not keep any odor even if you sweat a lot in them.