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Best Fabrics for Activewear

Whether you need a new pair of leggings for your weekly yoga class or a good jacket to take up jogging, you probably wonder if it matters what kind of fabric your activewear uses. Will yoga pants containing cotton fibers work, as well as yoga pants made out of spandex? To find out, you need to learn what makes the best fabrics for activewear.

The best fabrics for activewear have the durability to withstand the friction of rapid movement. They also offer good breathability or airflow during a workout to keep the athlete cool. Many good types of activewear fabrics have a design that enables them to wick moisture away from the skin and into the air.

In this article, you will learn about the key properties of sportswear fabrics. You will discover which types of material work best for activewear clothing. Finally, you will find out which of the big three types of material works best for the gym.

Best Fabrics for Activewear

Sportswear Fabric Properties

Sportswear fabric has properties like breathability, durability, moisture-wicking, elasticity, protection, and easy care. Of course, this varies from one type of activewear material to another. The exact amount of each property that works best for you depends on the kind of activity you plan to do.

For example, hoodie fleece, with its warmth and soft stretchiness, will make a great jacket for a cold morning jog, but it would not work so well for biking shorts! No one type of sportswear fabric scores perfectly in all the categories of good activewear fabric characteristics. This means you should ask yourself what characteristics you want most for your activewear garment.

  • Breathability: air can move through the fabric’s weave either through the spaces between threads or through the fibers in the cloth. Breathable fabrics can feel cooling and comfortable even in hot weather.
  • Moisture-Wicking: the fabric can suck your sweat away from your skin to the outside of the garment, where the moisture evaporates. This means you will not feel sticky or soaked in sweat during a workout. It also means that your clothes will not soak up the sweat and stay wet, as they have a special design allowing the sweat to evaporate into the air.
  • Durability: how well the fabric maintains its condition after hard use or for a long time. Have you ever had a pair of leggings get annoying bobbles all down the inner leg after a few days of jogging? This happens because the fibers in the cloth broke under consistent friction and stuck up on the surface of the material, meaning that the leggings did not have good durability.
  • Protection: in some sports activities, you need your clothing to provide protection. This characteristic seems similar to durability, but it describes how well the fabric can protect you. For example, if you fall off a bike at high speed, will your shirt protect you from scrapes and cuts?
  • Elasticity and flexibility: how well the fabric can stretch with your movement. This is a key factor for many types of sportswear, such as bike shorts, yoga pants, sports bras, and more. Some fabrics can stretch a bit because of their structure, like jersey knit t-shirt material. Other types of sportswear contain elastic fibers to help them stretch.
  • Easy care: how easily you can keep the fabric clean and return it to its original appearance. This one proves challenging for some types of sportswear fabrics because many specially designed materials can’t survive hot water or ironing, for example.

While not every activewear fabric can score high marks in every characteristic listed above, you should look for as many characteristics as possible as you pick the best type of fabric for your activewear.

Best Fabrics for Activewear

Now that you know the key characteristics to look for in the best fabrics for activewear, take a look at the most popular types of material for sportswear garments, including natural and synthetic materials.

Natural Fabrics

Natural fabrics come from a natural source, such as plant or animal fibers. All-natural cloth includes cotton wool, silk, linen, and hemp. Like all fabrics, these types of materials come with some pros and cons for sportswear purposes.


BALEAF Women's Workout Tank Tops High Neck Athletic Yoga Loose Gym Running Casual Pima Cotton Sleeveless Shirts Blue MCotton is a popular choice for sportswear today because of its soft texture and excellent breathability. Many of your favorite t-shirts probably contain 100% cotton jersey knit.

Whether or not cotton works well for activewear depends heavily on its structure, though. Denim contains 100% cotton in a thicker, more rigid twill weave. But denim jeans do not work well for most sports activities because they don’t stretch very well and can rub on your skin.

On the other hand, jersey-knit cotton–t-shirt fabric–does stretch and flex with your movement because it uses a looped thread structure to create the cloth.

This means that you need to consider what kind of cotton will work well if you choose cotton for your sportswear garments.

The main downside to using cotton for sportswear is that while it has great breathability, it does not have moisture-wicking abilities. In fact, it has the opposite ability of quickly soaking up lots of moisture.

This means that if you wear a cotton tee while on a bike ride or long run, you will come home with a damp, gross shirt soaked through with sweat.

Another downside to cotton is that it does not have great durability. You can wash it easily in the washing machine, but it will wear out and soften over time.

Merino wool

Smartwool Women's Classic Thermal Merino Wool Base Layer — Quarter Zip (Slim Fit) Ultra Violet, X-SmallBelieve it or not, super soft merino wool makes a popular choice for some types of high-end sportswear.

Merino wool has many benefits, including its soft texture, breathability, and moisture-wicking properties, and has a natural anti-microbial property that helps prevent it from getting stinky.

When made into a type of fabric with a knitted structure like jersey knit, it can also have good flexibility.

The main downside to merino wool for sportswear is that it costs a lot, and you only find it sold by a few activewear providers today. Another downside is that wool requires careful washing, so you can’t just chuck it into your washing machine.


Semi-synthetic fabrics start their lives as natural plant fibers but go through a chemical treatment process to become partially synthesized before turning into the fabric. This includes many types of fabrics that come from tree or bamboo fibers, like rayon.


Latuza Women's Soft Viscose Lounge Pajama Leggings 3X Dark GrayViscose has popular uses in certain types of sportswear because it has a light, silky texture and good breathability. Viscose or rayon comes from the cellulose inside plants like birch trees and bamboo. The cellulose goes through a chemical transformation in factories, turning it into semi-synthetic fabric.

Viscose/rayon is lightweight and soft or silky to the touch. In fact, you sometimes see rayon called “poor man’s silk” because it often serves as a silk substitute in off-the-rack clothing. Depending on the structure of the cloth, it can have good breathability.

The main downsides to rayon include its lack of moisture-wicking properties and its less-than-easy care.

Rayon absorbs huge amounts of moisture. Like cotton, it holds onto that moisture. This means that if you swear into a rayon shirt, it will remain damp and wet instead of quickly drying to cool you down.

Plus, rayon grows weak when wet and can stretch or tear if you do not care for it. For this reason, sportswear that contains rayon often blends with other tougher types of fabric to help it maintain its shape after lots of use.


QUALFORT Men's Soft T-Shirt Short Sleeve Tee Shirt for Men Dark Red XX-LargeMost bamboo fabric goes through the same process as viscose rayon, making it semi-synthetic rather than purely natural. However, some manufacturers use bamboo fibers without chemical soaking and treatments, meaning that you can also find actual organic bamboo cloth, though this is rare.

Bamboo rayon has many benefits for sportswear. Bamboo pulp and bamboo fibers have a lightweight and durable quality. When treated in the rayon process, the bamboo fabric feels soft, light, and silky.

Better yet, bamboo has anti-microbial properties like wool and also features moisture-wicking properties! This makes bamboo a popular choice for high-end sportswear.

Of course, like all fabrics, it does have some downsides. The main con to using bamboo for sportswear is that it costs a lot and you typically only see it in high-end brands. Another is that it can require more complex care procedures than a fully natural material such as cotton.


Nui Organics Merino Wool & Tencel Tank Top Women, Base Layer, Ultra Soft Natural Fabric, Breathable Year-Round Comfort.Tencel is a brand name for a type of sustainably produced rayon that comes from birch trees. Unlike many types of rayon manufacturing that use wasteful amounts of chemicals that can harm the environment, Tencel guarantees sustainable production and full biodegradability of the product.

Tencel makes two types of fabric: Lyocell and modal, which has extra softness and uses finer yarns.

You can find some pricey sportswear made with this sustainable version of rayon, but it will cost a lot. That said, Tencel does have a soft texture and good breathability.


Synthetic fabrics come from a factory rather than a natural source, meaning they are fully man-made. This includes popular types of material like polyester and nylon, as well as many brand-name sports apparel fabrics like Dri Fit.


HIGHDAYS 5” Biker Shorts for Women - High Waist Tummy Control Stretch Spandex Workout Shorts for Yoga Running Athletic GYM, Green, Plus SizeSpandex is one brand name for fabric made out of elastic fibers that come from rubber. Other brand-name versions of this material include Lycra, Elaspan, and Acepora. You can find certain types of skin-tight sportswear made from 100% Spandex, but more commonly, you see elastic fibers blended with another type of material like polyester to add stretch.

Spandex has lots of pros and cons when it comes to sportswear. First, it can stretch a lot, up to as much as 8 times its original length! This means that clothes containing Spandex will easily move with you as you run, bike, or do yoga. Plus, Spandex fibers have a good recovery, meaning that the fabric will snap back into its original shape after it stretches instead of sagging or losing its shape.

On the downside, Spandex fibers have zero breathability. They also don’t moisture wick at all. On top of this, any garment containing Spandex requires special care and should never get washed in hot water or go in the dryer, as this can damage the elasticity of the fibers.


Beyond Yoga Men's Supplex Jacket, Graphite Grey, SmallSupplex fabric comes from the company Invista and is a trademarked type of moisture-wicking jersey knit. Supplex contains nylon fibers and has great elasticity, which makes it a good choice for some types of sportswear.

But the most popular feature of Supplex for sportswear is its quick drying time. It has amazing moisture-wicking properties, allowing it to dry completely in under an hour after getting soaking wet!

Like many synthetics, it is durable and can hold its shape without getting worn out over time.


LeeHanTon Men’s Athletic Shirts Quick Dry Workout Summer Short Sleeve T Shirt Active Crewneck Running Gym Tee Tops Performance Activewear WhitePolyester is probably the most used type of fabric for activewear today, largely due to its affordability and durability. That said, this tough synthetic material does have both pros and cons when it comes to use in sportswear garments.

Polyester comes from a by-product of petroleum and is essentially a plastic crafted into tiny fibers that spin together into threads. Whether or not these threads can form good sportswear fabric depends on how the manufacturer weaves them together.

Polyester is super durable and can have some elasticity depending on how it is woven. Sportswear manufacturers often blend it with a small percentage of elastic fibers to increase its stretchiness.

On its own, polyester fibers do not absorb water. They also do not have good breathability. But if the fabric has a special type of construction, it can have good moisture-wicking properties, allowing the garment to quickly evaporate sweat away from your skin.

Whether or not polyester works well for sportswear depends on the shape of the holes between the threads in the piece of cloth. When structured properly, the fibers in the fabric can transport moisture through these holes because of their shape in a process called capillary action.

One of the big advantages of polyester for sportswear is that it has a very low cost compared to almost any other type of cloth. The downside is that you can find good-quality polyester sportswear and terrible polyester sportswear. Another downside is that polyester is hydrophobic and does not absorb water, but it does absorb oils, meaning that it can hang onto body odors unless you wash it carefully.

Dri Fit

Dri fit fabrics

Dri Fit is a brand name for a type of activewear microfiber polyester fabric produced by Nike. This type of cloth has famous moisture-wicking abilities and a lightweight, soft feel because it uses fine microfiber threads. Unlike many types of synthetic sports fabrics, Dri Fit also offers breathability and can have good elasticity as well.

The downside to even this high-end version of polyester fabric is that it does hang onto odors and can require washing with special detergents to prevent this. Plus, brand-name Dri Fit garments often cost a lot.


G4Free Men's Workout Pants Lightweight Travel Pants Drawstring Casual Jogger Pants for Sport, Athletic, Exercise, Lightweight, Stretchy(Light Gray,S)Aside from polyester, nylon is one of the most popular fabric types for sportswear. This synthetic material is built out of polymers like polyester but has a silkier texture.

Nylon has great durability and tensile strength. It also feels silky, making it a popular choice for items like sports bras. However, it does not have good moisture-wicking properties and has very little breathability in a plain-woven form. This makes it more useful in items like bathing suits and jackets than for leggings or t-shirts.

Like with polyester, the construction of the fabric can change the use of the material, though. Nylon made using a knitted structure has good stretch and is the most popular material used in swimwear worldwide.

One of the most popular brand-name versions of nylon for sportswear is called Meryl. This sportswear cloth has a structure that increases moisture-wicking and also provides good stretch and anti-odor properties.


Gore-Tex is a brand-name fabric with unique characteristics like a windproof and waterproof surface that also provides moisture wicking and breathability to prevent you from feeling suffocated inside a jacket or other type of outerwear. Gore-Tex has many popular uses in sportswear and outdoor equipment like tents.

Gore-Tex works in this special way because it has an inner membrane that blocks water molecules from soaking through but has pores just big enough to allow water in a gas form to slip through and evaporate into the air.

Gore-Tex equipment often includes special features like sealed seams to create waterproof garments perfect for rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, or canoeing.

The main downside to this material is its price tag, as brand-name items can cost a lot.

Thermal Fabrics

When you want to work out in the winter, you should look for active-wear fabrics that provide insulation on top of other key characteristics like durability and elasticity. Some of the most popular types of thermal fabrics for sportswear include polar fleece and hoodie fleece.

Notably, most thermal materials and types of fleece commonly contain either polyester, cotton, or a blend of these two materials. The fabric content will change the properties of the cloth significantly. For example, a sweatshirt made from 100% cotton hoodie fleece will feel softer than a sweatshirt made from 100% polyester, but it will have less moisture-wicking ability, too.

Polar Fleece

Little Donkey Andy Womens Winter Warm Polar Fleece Pullover Hoodie Lightweight Thermal Sweatshirts Running Hiking Rose Red LPolar fleece usually contains polyester fibers and has a double-sided pile, which feels soft and velvety on both sides of the cloth. This gives it fantastic insulating properties because all the tiny raised fibers on both cloth can trap heat and keep it close to your body. The fabric gets its name because it was invented by a company called Polartec.

Plus, this material is super durable when made from polyester. It also has hydrophobic characteristics, meaning that while it is not waterproof, it can resist allowing moisture to seep through.

Like many types of fleece, polar fleece can come in various weights. Heavier-weight fleece feels thicker and can keep you warmer than lighter-weight fleece.

Polar fleece makes a popular choice for sportswear like jackets. It can feel scratchy to people with sensitive skin and get too warm for some highly mobile activities, though.

Hoodie Fleece

COOKFIP Men's Zip Up Color Block Hoodie Fleece Gym Workout zippered Sweatshirt Fashion Long Sleeve Hooded WIth Pocket (10# blue, XL)One of the most popular types of warm activewear fabric is hoodie fleece, also called sweatshirt fleece. This material has a soft knitted surface and a velvety brushed nap inside.

Depending on the fabric content, hoodie fleece may have good or bad breathability. It always has a good stretch because of its knitted structure, and it always feels soft and insulating because of the brushed interior.

Unlike polar fleece, hoodie fleece does not offer great water resistance and does not have good moisture-wicking abilities. This makes it more suitable as an outer layer during an outdoor activity. Wear a base layer that offers good moisture wicking and you should feel comfortable engaging in outdoor sports in chilly weather!

French Terry

RBX Women's Fashion Yoga Lightweight French Terry Jogger Mineral Wash Light Blue SFrench terry fabric uses a knitted structure to create a stretchy, soft material with one smooth side and one side covered in tiny loops of thread.

It usually feels lighter and more breathable than hoodie fleece and works as a base layer instead of clothing you would wear over the top of something else.

French terry has popular uses in sportswear, such as jogging suits and sweatpants.

You see it a lot in athleisure as well as in clothing designed for active use.

What Fabric is Best for a Sweaty Workout?

Polyester is the best fabric for a sweaty workout and is the material you will find in most workout clothes from popular brands. Polyester works well for people who sweat a lot because it does not absorb moisture. Instead, it uses capillary action to cause the water molecules from your sweat to squeeze through the cloth and evaporate into the air.

That said, the quality of polyester in workout shirts can vary a lot. Cheaper polyester may not have a structure that creates this capillary action, as well as a brand-name type of polyester like Dri Fit.

Avoid cotton and natural fabrics for a sweaty workout, though. These materials have great absorbency but will stay wet, leaving you feeling hot and clammy when you sweat.

What is the Best Fabric for Sportswear in the Summer?

The best fabric for sportswear in the summer includes types of cloth like polyester, cotton, and nylon. The best fabric choice for you can vary depending on what kind of activity you want to wear the garment for, such as boating vs jogging.

Cotton and bamboo offer great breathability, meaning they will help you feel cool in hot summer temperatures. You may want to choose cotton for activities where you will not sweat a lot.

On the other hand, if you engage in lots of fast action and get sweaty in your summer sportswear, you should look for a synthetic fabric that provides moisture wicking. This can include garments made out of polyester or nylon.

Finally, you also need to think about the protective abilities of the fabric. If you plan to go backpacking in the summer, you should bring a weather-resistant jacket made out of cloth like nylon or GoreTex for protection.

Best Fabric for Gym Tights

The best fabric for gym tights will contain a high percentage of Spandex to allow these form-fitting garments to cling to your legs and provide support. Because spandex alone feels suffocating and lacks breathability, most tights also contain either nylon or polyester fibers in a stretchy knitted structure.

Generally speaking, cotton is not a great choice for workout tights or close-fitting leggings because of its moisture absorption rate. Look for polyester or nylon instead.

What is the Best T-Shirt Material for Working Out?

The most popular t-shirt material for working out is polyester, though you will find arguments for other popular types of sportswear fabric like nylon, cotton, or bamboo.

Good-quality polyester made with a moisture-wicking structure works super well for a workout tee because it keeps you cool and dry. But lower quality polyester may feel scratchy and will not wick moisture either.

Cotton feels breathable but does not wick moisture, so if you choose the light, soft comfort of this material, you may end up with a wet shirt at the end of your workout.

Like polyester, whether or not nylon works well for a workout tee depends on how the cloth is made. It can provide great moisture wicking, but it can also lack breathability and leave you feeling sticky.

Semi-synthetics like bamboo can offer a pricey but useful solution, as they feel soft and breathable and provide moisture wicking.

Popular Sportswear Fabric Choices:

Now that you know the key characteristics of the most popular types of sportswear fabric take a look at how to choose between the top contenders!

Nylon vs Polyester for Workout Clothes

Nylon and polyester work well for many types of workout clothes, but each type of material has pros and cons.

Polyester is cheap, durable, and can have good moisture-wicking abilities depending on the quality of its construction. But it also has a bad tendency to retain body odors and can feel less soft than some types of athletic materials.

Nylon is durable and silky. Like polyester, it can have good moisture-wicking depending on its construction, as in the brand-name fabric Meryl. It has an advantage over polyester in that it has anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties, meaning it does not tend to smell after use. However, nylon does pill more easily than polyester, making it less durable.

Cotton vs Polyester for Gym

Polyester often works better than cotton to wear to the gym because cotton does have moisture-wicking abilities. Cotton will simply soak up your sweat and stay wet, leaving you feeling uncomfortably clammy.

Good-quality activewear made from polyester can send your sweat out into the gym to evaporate into the air.

If you prefer the soft comfort of cotton, one solution is to look for gym clothes made out of blended polycotton. This way, you get moisture-wicking from the polyester fibers and the breathable softness from the cotton!

Activewear Fabric by the Yard

You can buy activewear fabric by the yard from physical shops like Joann Fabric or online stores like Mood Fabrics. A yard of fabric consists of three feet of fabric. When you buy activewear fabric by the yard, you can sew your own workout or sports apparel!

Common terms to look for when you buy activewear fabric are 4-way stretch, activewear, sportswear, workout fabric, power fabric, and knits.

  • Mood Fabric is a famous fabric store with both a physical and an online presence. You can find any kind of specialty material here, though sports fabrics will cost an average of $18 per yard. When you consider that you likely need two yards for a shirt or two to three yards for leggings, that adds up quickly!
  • You can also look for activewear fabric by the yard at a brick-and-mortar store like Joann Fabric or Hobby Lobby. Here you will have a more limited selection, but you can often find good deals to score lower prices. Make sure you research the fiber content of fabric before making a purchase, though.
  • You can also search discount fabric stores such as Denver Fabrics to find the activewear cloth you want at a lower cost. Discount fabric sites often sell sports material for a lower cost of around $10 per yard, though you may not find the brand-name material you want here.


The best fabric for activewear fits the particular needs of your sports activity. Sportswear fabrics can have many special properties, like elasticity, protection, and moisture-wicking. These qualities help you engage in your favorite sport while staying cool, dry, and safe.

Moisture-wicking synthetics like polyester and nylon are the most popular choice for activewear. Cotton and bamboo offer breathability and can feel more cooling than synthetic fabrics. And Spandex adds lots of stretch to your workout clothes so you can bend and move without discomfort.

Have you ever looked at the fiber content in your favorite workout clothes? What kind of fabric do they contain? Leave a comment below to let us know!