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Clothes for survival: survival clothing guide

3 layer clothing

After water, clothes for survival is the most crucial thing in your survival kit. When trekking out of an emergency on foot, suitable clothing can mean the difference between life and death.

The Kind of clothing you pick for survival is determined by your climate and the time of year, but the concept is the same regardless of the season.

5 Goals When Planning Clothes for survival

  1. Design a three-layer system of clothing so you can add and remove items to match the weather
  2. Include a layer or layers that wick moisture away from your body for cooling or heating
  3. Pick a layer that Retains body heat with insulation
  4. Choose a layer that blocks wind and rain
  5. Minimize pack weight by choosing lightweight, high-efficiency gear

What Does Survival Clothing Protect You From?

Consider eleven hazards that you need protection from during a natural catastrophe or emergency. Keep in mind that you may be without shelter for some time so consider your clothing as a shelter for your body.

11 Hazards You Need Protection From Clothes for survival

  1. Low-Temperature Environments
  2. Hot, Dry, or Humid Environments
  3. Sweating: Survival clothes need to wick moisture away from your skin and retain body heat
  4. Snow, Sleet, and Rain
  5. Wind: you need an outer shell that will protect you from wind to keep you from cooling down too quickly.
  6. Sun causes
    • Water loss from perspiration
    • Overheating
    • Sunburn from U.V. Rays
  7. Insects: biting or stinging insects can be poisonous, spread disease, or hamper morale.
  8. Skin Damage: caused by
    1. Extreme cold
    2. Sun Burn
    3. Direct contact with rough surfaces like rocks, cacti, sharp grass, or corral.
  9. Foraging: Make sure you have the proper clothing for collecting wild food abundant in your area to keep from being injured.
    1. Harvesting wild edibles-protection from hazards like poison ivy
    2. Digging for clams-sharp may need gloves.
    3. Fishing: Consider safety clothing for filleting or skinning fish.
  10. Poisonous Plants:
    1. poison ivy
    2. poison oak
    3. poison sumac
  11. Poisonous Snakes: Consider snake-proof clothing

Don’t Want to Read, check out the video on YouTube

5 Environmental Factors (Clothes for survival)

  1. Weather
  2. Elevation
  3. Climate
  4. Exertion-level
  5. Metabolism

Let’s take a look at the first layer of clothes for survival, the base layer.

base layer clothing

1. Base Layer: Moisture Wicking

The purpose of this inner layer is to wick perspiration away from your skin, which will keep you warm or cool, depending on the temperature. This is the underwear layer that touches your skin.

3 Elements of Choosing a Base Layer

#1 Material

The type of fabric you pick is the most important of the three elements. Synthetic fabrics are the best choice for the average person because they give superior performance in wicking and sweat dissipation. They are also the least expensive, most durable, and readily available.

  1. Polyester– The most common synthetic fabric used to make outdoor base layers.
  2. Nylon: Super tough
  3. Polypropylene
  4. Rayon
  5. Synthetic Blends
  6. Merino Wool-wicks water away, but you will still feel some dampness even when wet Merino wool will provide you with insulation.
  7. Silk: Not great at wicking but feels super soft on the skin, it isn’t durable, but it is expensive.

#2 Weight

A heavier material in your base layer will provide more insulation, but the primary purpose is wicking. The base layer generally comes in three weights.

  1. Lightweight – Choose for cool temperatures
  2. Mid-weight – Cold
  3. Heavyweight- 32° Fahrenheit and below

#3 Fit

With the base layer material contact with your skin is what allows for the wicking action to take place. The base layer needs to fit your body like a second skin.

#2. Mid Layer or Insulation Layer: Body Heat Retention

Mid layer clothing

Retains your body heat and protects you from the cold. This is typically a polyester fleece jacket or a wool blend sweater.

Insulating Materials for The Mid Layer

  1. Merino wool
    1. Midweight-200-300g
    2. Heavyweight-300 to 420g
  2. Wool Blends: You often see wool blends in hiking socks or lightweight shirts and sweaters.
  3. Polyester Fleece: Comes in three weights: lightweight, midweight and heavyweight
    1. Insulates when it’s damp
    2. Breathes well.
    3. Doesn’t protect from the wind
  4. Down Insulated Coats and Jackets:
    • Crushable for stowing
    • High insulation factor to its weight
    • Loses insulation factor when wet
    • Slow to dry
  5. Synthetic Insulation
    • Less crushability/storability than down
    • Retains insulation factor when wet
    • Usually inside a Nylon or Polyester shell that is wind and water-resistant
shell layer clothing

#3. Shell Layer or Outer Layer: Wind & Rain Protection

Armor from wind, rain, and snow. This is an essential layer because it keeps the other layers relatively dry.

Your Shell Layer Provides
  • Breathability: perspiration escape
  • Mobility: Lighter weight high-efficiency materials offer more mobility
  • Durability: Synthetic Materials are the best for durability
  • Rain Protection
  • Wind protection

Two Types of Outer Layer

#1 Waterproof and Breathable

This is the kind of jacket you’d take on an expedition or a long trek. It keeps water out but still breathes, allowing perspiration to escape.

  • For Extreme Weather
  • High-Quality
  • Expensive

#2 Water-resistant and Breathable Shell:

Water-resistant jackets keep light rain and wind at bay, but you wouldn’t want to depend on this jacket to survive a squall or a snowstorm.

Best Use:

  • light wind and rain
  • high exertion or activity level
3 layer clothing

Choose 3 layers of clothing for Survival

Choose each layer of clothing for the worst possible weather you will face. You can always remove clothing and stow it. You can’t add clothing you don’t have.

For a better idea of the types of clothing in each layer, look at the charts below.

Characteristics of a Warm Weather 3-Layer System

You are looking for clothing that will wick sweat away from your body for cooling action and you need protection from the sun.

Characteristics of a Cold Weather 3-Layer system

Pick clothing that wicks moisture away from your body to keep you warm contains your body heat with insulation and blocks wind and rain.

Base Layer Examples

light, mid and heavyweight
light, mid and heavyweight
Polyester Short Sleeve T-shirtPolyester Boxer Brief
Polyester Long-Sleeve T-ShirtMerino Wool Briefs
Merino Long-sleeve T-ShirtMerino Wool Long Underwear
Merino Zip TopPolyester long johns

Mid Layer Examples

light, mid and heavyweight
light, mid and heavyweigh
Patagonia Down JacketSimms Fleece Bottoms
REI Down JacketPatagonia Shield Pants
Patagonia Insulated HoodiePatagonia Men’s Trail Pacer Joggers
Arc’teryx Insulated HoodieBrooks Spartan Pants
Columbia Polyester Fleece JacketREI Teton Fleece
Bass Pro Shops Polyester Fleece JacketRocky Silent Hunter Fleece Pants
Walmart Polyester Fleece JacketLL Bean Fleece Wader Pants
Mackinaw Wool JacketREI Hyperaxis Fleece

Outer Layer Examples

light, mid and heavyweight
light, mid and heavyweight
Patagonia 3 Layer Torrentsshell JacketOutdoor Research Rain Pants
Columbia 3 Layer JacketsBass Pro Shops Goretex Rain Bibs
Duluth Waterproof JacketsOutdoor Research Rain Pants
Bass Pro Shops Gortex Rain JacketsCarhartt Foul Weather
Columbia Watertight Rain ShellsDuluth Trading Company Whaleback

5 Characteristics to Look For (Clothes for survival)

  1. Breathability or Wicking ability
  2. Insulation Factor
  3. Effects of moisture on insulation
  4. Quick Dry Abilities
  5. Material compactness, crushability, and ease of stowing
  6. Material Weight

5 Clothing Materials

The material your clothes are made from matters. It affects obvious things like thermal insulation, moisture transfer, volume, and pack weight.

#1 Cotton: Avoid ItCotton Clothing in a Survival Situation

Ever heard the saying, “cotton kills?” There is a good reason for it. If you are outside trying to survive with just the clothes in your bug-out bag, avoid cotton.

  1. Once wet, cotton does not insulate your body.
  2. Cotton absorbs moisture and doesn’t move it away from your skin.
  3. If the ambient temperature is less than the core body temperature, cotton will have a cooling effect.
  4. Cotton does not dry quickly
  5. Cotton does not work in wicking-layers
  6. Most cotton garments are fairly bulky and heavy

Fact: Two positive attributes of cotton, it doesn’t burn easily like synthetic fibers, and you can use it in a hot-dry climate.

#2 Pros and Cons of Merino Wool

Wool is a natural material you can use for your survival clothing, especially for socks and watch caps. It isn’t the best choice for wicking moisture. Synthetics do a better job.

6 Pros Of Merino Wool

  1. A great insulator
  2. Water-resistant
  3. Insulates when wet
  4. Dries Quickly
  5. Anti-bacterial
  6. Odor resistant

3 Cons Of Merino Wool

  1. Wool will soak up 36% of its weight in water
  2. Wool is expensive
  3. Synthetic materials do a better job of wicking moisture

#3.Synthetic Materials

Nylon and Polyester are both excellent materials for survival situations. Both materials are manufactured to meet specific needs and are often impregnated with chemicals that make them waterproof while maintaining breathability and wicking characteristics. They are also used to wrap materials like down, fleece, or synthetic insulators to make warm jackets.

7 Pros of Synthetic Material

  1. Nylon and Polyester both allow moisture to move away from the skin and out through your outer layers.
  2. They are both lightweight and stowable/crushable.
  3. Most high-end brands like REI, Columbia, and Patagonia use polyester and Nylon in their foul-weather gear.
  4. Both take breathable laminates that allow for waterproofing while maintaining breathability.
  5. Polyester is one of the most durable materials.
  6. Polyester is a good choice for hot weather because it wicks moisture away from the body.
  7. Polyester works well as an undergarment material because it breathes, has wicking characteristics, and does not chafe.

2 Cons of Synthetic Material

  1. Polyester and Nylon are prime materials for bacterial growth. If you are sweating a lot, you will stink.
  2. Fleece: is a form of polyester that does not insulate when soaked, but it drys out quickly; fleece also requires a shell layer because it provides no protection from wind or rain—an excellent choice as a mid-layer.

#4 Natural Down As An Insulator

Big, fluffy, and crushable for stowage, Down is the best insulator as long as you can keep it dry. Made from duck and goose plumage, Natural Down is an option for your mid-layer.

4 Pros of Down Insulators

  1. Higher warmth ratio than synthetic down.
  2. Extremely compressible for storing in your Bug Out Bag
  3. Durable
  4. Wicks moisture away from your body

5 Cons of Down Insulators

  1. Loses insulating ability when wet; rain, snow, humidity, and sweat affect the thermal efficiency
  2. Does not repel moisture
  3. Slow to dry once wet
  4. Expensive
  5. Not good for high-exertion activities

Tip: Natural Down Fill power ratings range from 300 to 900; fill power is the amount of down in cubic inches, one ounce of plumage fills. A high insulation rate starts at 550.

#5 Synthetic Insulation

This is the most common insulation option when it comes to down insulation. It is readily available and the least expensive.

4 Pros of Synthetic Insulation

  1. Extremely Water Resistant
  2. Less expensive than natural down
  3. Insulates when wet
  4. Hypoallergenic (Some people are allergic to natural down)

3 Cons of Synthetic Insulation

  1. Heavier and less crushable than natural down, so it takes up more space in your pack
  2. Less warmth for its weight than natural down
  3. Less durable than natural down

Survival Pants

Survival Pants (Clothes for survival)

The high-tech clothing and materials come from those who play hard under brutal conditions. Hiking, climbing, and other outdoor pass times provide excellent pants for survival conditions. Avoid wearing jeans as survival clothing because they are made from cotton, don’t dry well, and cause chafing if hiking long distances.

  1. Quick Drying: Polyester and Nylon: Especially important in cold weather. Nice to have if you are being rained on and make it back to camp. Also good if you are working in a marine environment such as fishing from a kayak or foraging for mussels in a marshy area.
  2. Self-wicking: Polyester and Nylon: Even if you don’t get wet, you’ll sweat. If it’s cold outside, you need to move the moisture away from your skin, so you don’t get hypothermia.
  3. Insulated: Opt for a base layer like wool or synthetic longjohns instead of insulated pants. You can scale down your clothing and not get overheated. Long-distance hikers use base layers. Avoid cotton base layers as they don’t dry quickly, and they remove heat from the body when wet.
  4. Durable: Nylon is the toughest synthetic. It is self-wicking and quick-drying.
  5. Ultralight: lightweight pants may be a good choice if you are in a warmer environment
  6. Loose Fitting: Make sure that your pants are large enough to wear a base layer of long-johns comfortably
  7. Protection from Chafing
  8. Pockets for Storage
  9. Convertible Options with zip-off legs for warmer climates
  10. UPF Rating or Sun Protection: Especially important, the closer you get to the equator or if you are surviving in a desert area.
  11. Anti-microbial: Some pants have an anti-microbial lining to keep things a little fresher down there. Another option is naturally anti-microbial Merino Wool undergarments
  12. Bartacking: Bartacking or Higher density stitching in stress areas adds to the durability
  13. Reinforced knees
Fast drying underwear

Underwear as Survival Gear

The word is in, cotton tighty-whitey-underwear is out. For a survival situation, you want synthetic polyester, a polyester blend, or Merino wool underwear. The warmer the environment, the lighter the garment should be, and vice versa.

  • Weight of base layer: Choose light-weight, middleweight, or heavyweight fabric to meet your insulation needs
  • Wicking Material: Undergarments should wick moisture away from your body
  • Fit like a glove with direct skin contact-Wicking action will only occur if your underwear makes contact with your skin.
  • Synthetic or Merino Wool: Products that offer wicking action or insulate when wet

Socks As Survival Clothing (Clothes for survival)

Socks are super important in a survival situation because your feet may be your only transportation mode out of a dangerous environment. A blister on your foot can take you out of action or slow you down. Avoid this by taking care of your feet with good socks.

8 Characteristics of A Good Pair of Survival Socks

  1. Stop Blisters
  2. Keep feet cool in warm weather
  3. Keep feet warm in cold weather
  4. Provide wicking action to get moisture away from your feet
  5. Insulate when wet
  6. Provide Cushioning
  7. Don’t slip down your calf
  8. Don’t bunch up in your shoe or boot
  9. Antimicrobial

Tip: Choose the best weight of sock for your situation. Make sure they fit comfortably inside the shoes or boots you are using for bug-out.

As an example of a fine sock company, Darn Tough socks are an excellent choice for your survival needs. I wore Darn Tough socks when I hiked the Vermont leg of the Appalachian Trail, and they were spot-on when it came to comfort and reliability. Darn Tough might make the best hiking sock on the planet.

Characteristics of Darn Tough Socks

  • Provide all 9 characteristics of a good survival sock
  • Lifetime Warranty: no questions asked.
  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • Worn by through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail
  • Worn by American soldiers in combat
  • Expensive

3-Layer Glove System (Clothes for survival)

To survive in cold weather, you will need a three-layer glove system. Keeping hands warm and dry is a challenge even for professional outdoorsmen: gear testing is a necessity.

  1. Base layer that wicks moisture away from your hands
  2. An insulating layer that retains body heat
  3. Shell Layer is waterproof and windproof
  • Layering your glove system will allow for maximum flexibility when it comes to changing weather conditions and Physical exertion. Your glove or mitten system should allow you to keep your hands warm and dry.

Layer #1: Thin, Lightweight, and Breathable

Your base layer glove should have excellent wicking and breathability. Synthetic glove liners are a solid option, as are the more expensive merino wool liners.

Layer #2: Insulated Glove or Mitten

Often made from synthetic fleece, this layer retains body heat.

Layer #3: Shell

The outer layer is wind and waterproof but breathable. Under arduous conditions, it can be challenging to keep perspiration from building up inside your glove. Test your gear before you depend on it.

Tip: Look for glove or mitten shells that are waterproof but still provide wicking.

Tip: For a cheap waterproof shell check out the blue water-resistant rubber gloves made from polyurethane. These are pretty inexpensive and can act as an excellent shell that allows for dexterity.

Hats For Surviving the Elements (Clothes for survival)

survival hat

Summer Survival Hat

A Summer Survival Hat should protect your head and neck from sun, wind, and rain and provide wicking for evaporative cooling. A Boonie-style hat is one of the best options.

Warm Weather Hat: 8 Characteristics

  1. Quick-drying Synthetic Material that will wick moisture away from your head keeping you warm.
  2. Drawstring so you can keep the hat on your head when it’s windy
  3. Wide brim to protect you from the sun and provide some shade.
  4. UPF sun protection
  5. Mesh Bands or Vented Grommets allow perspiration and heat to escape
  6. Lightweight
  7. Crushable so you can stow it
  8. Head Net Compatible: Your hat should allow for a head net to be placed over the hat for mosquitos and flys.

Winter: 2 Layer Hat System (Clothes for survival)

  1. Base Layer Hat: Choose a thin base layer made from wicking synthetic materials like Polyester or Nylon or a natural layer like Merino wool that will still insulate when wet. Runners wear this type of hat in foul weather. Here are some examples of solid base layer hats.
    1. Smartwool/ Merino Sport Beanie
    2. 3M Thinsulate Beanie.
    3. Under Armour Beanie
    4. Outdoor Research Wind Pro
  2. Outer/Insulating Hat: this should provide maximum insulation, wicking, and protection from wind, snow, and sleet should be made from a material that will dry quickly and wick moisture away from your head. Good examples of winter outer layer hats:
    1. Trapper Hat/Aviator Hat/Ushanka Hat: Kept trappers and woodsmen warm from the Appalachian Mountains up into Canada. A similar style of hat was worn by WWII bomber pilots in unheated cabins up to 30,0000 ft.
    2. Chullo Hat: Andean hat with ear muffs and a string, made from alpaca, llama, or sheep’s wool. Worn by indigenous people in the Andean mountains for thousands of years.

Sunglasses For Protection and Comfort (Clothes for survival)

Consider putting a pair of sunglasses in your bug-out bag or keep them with you as part of your everyday carry. Choose polarized lenses that offer UV protection from the sun and give a cleaner, clearer picture.

5 Reasons To Have Sunglasses in a Bug-Out Bag

  1. Snow: Sunglasses reduce sun glare coming off of snow and ice.
  2. Reduce Eye Strain by reducing the amount of sunlight that hits your eyes
  3. UV Rays: Protect eyes from harmful Ultra-Violet Radiation
  4. Wind: Protect eyes from dust and debris in windy conditions.
  5. Polarized Lenses: With polarized lenses, you can see things more clearly

Tip: If you wear contact lenses or prescription glasses, give thought to a pair of back-up glasses.


Buffs and Gaiters (Clothes for survival)

There are so many uses for these inexpensive cloth tubes. Having one in your bugout kit is a no-brainer.

Buffs are extremely versatile and useful in a survival situation as they improve the ability of your 2 layer hat system and your coat layers to protect you.

8 Uses For a Summer Buff In a Survival Situation

  1. Worn as a face mask
  2. Hood
  3. Beanie
  4. Neckerchief
  5. Headband
  6. Balaclava
  7. Provides sun protection
  8. Wicks moisture away from your face and neck

Tip: With a polyester buff and a Boonie hat, you have complete UV protection from the neck up.

Winter Balaclava & Neck Gaiter: Survival Clothing

A winter gaiter is similar to a summer buff but it has a higher insulation factor. A tube made from synthetic fleece or other synthetic fibers that protect your neck and face.

8 Reasons To Have a Gaiter for Survival

  1. Protect neck, face, and ears from cold winds
  2. Backup/ Redundancy for headgear
  3. Allows for flexibility in how you stay warm
  4. Smaller and More Lightweight than a scarf
  5. Wear it around your neck
  6. Wear it around your neck, face, and ears
  7. Wear as a bandana to keep sweat out of your eyes
  8. Wear on your head as a base layer hat

Tip: Avoid The Tactical Look to Minimize sticking out and looking like a threat. Try to avoid walking into a town for supplies with full battle rattle gear.

If you enjoyed this article you may enjoy reading Ready Squirrel’s article, What Type of Knife is Best for Survival?


Winter Survival Clothing System: Black Thorn USA PDF

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