What Will You Wear to the End of the World?
On this blog I have often tried to approach survival from a different angle. Recommended lists of survival gear are easy to find on the web. Many of these recommendations are products. We live in a consumer society so whatever your interest, someone will be attempting to sell you something to use. Many of these things can be very useful. Many of them can be classed as “gadgets”, which I do not intend to be derogatory. Regular readers will know that I love a good gadget or gizmo! I do, however, feel the need to urge caution. If the choice is between buying a belt buckle that can open any hex-nut, or a good blanket, the latter is a far better addition to your survival gear.
When discussing survival gear there is a common tendency to leap right to the contents of the pockets or pack. Many people on the internet will post photos of their bug-out bag without considering that these are of little use without an outfit of suitable clothing or footwear nearby. If you are going to be outdoors for any length of time then you need to first consider what you are wearing. Having the right underwear for the weather can make a massive difference. An effective clothing system is built outwards, and underwear is the foundation.
Underwear, whatever the material, should be open weave so as to be permeable. Outdoorsmen of previous centuries used light woollen underwear in all seasons, usually long in the leg and sleeve. If it was really cold they wore two sets. Some modern wicking synthetics that are good for cold weather may be too warm for some climates. I have used a CoolMax tee-shirt comfortably in hot weather.
You will often encounter the advice that several thin layers of mid-level clothing are warmer than a single thick layer and that individual layers can be removed to regulate temperature. You will also notice that outdoor shops are full of cosy looking thick garments to tempt your wallet.
Frequently stopping to undress and remove or add a layer of inner clothing may not be that practical in the field. Make sure your inner and outer garments can be easily vented instead.
If you are comfortably warm when standing still you are probably wearing too much insulation for hiking in cold weather.
Mid-level clothing for insulation should be open weave and thin. Use materials that remain relatively warm when wet and that dry easily. Select wools and synthetics, avoid cotton. You’ll note that outdoor shops are full of stylish cotton items they want to sell you! Shops often stock what sells, not what you actually need.
Down is best used in cold, dry conditions when the likelihood of wetting is low. Cotton garments should be reserved for hot dry conditions.
Outermost clothing needs to be tightly woven to protect from the sun, rain, wind and insects. It should be loose in cut to allow room for insulation or air circulation and for freedom of movement. Attention should be paid to the ability to easily ventilate the interior, even if the item is described as “breathable”.
Raincoats can also serve as windproofs. Even the breathable ones will need to be vented in certain conditions. Raingear is of limited use if it gets damaged. To reduce the chances of this happening wear it when you need it, pack it away when you don’t. Logically, you will need a windproof outer layer in addition to your raingear and should select raingear that is easily packable.
In previous decades the preferred outer layer of soldiers and outdoorsmen was of wool. Woollen outer garments are harder to find now and economy has many of us wearing cotton or polycotton, often of military origin or inspiration. Cotton and its relatives are easy to print but cold when wet and slow to dry. If you can find outershirts, tunics or jackets of wool they are worth considering if you can afford them.
Trousers take a lot of punishment out in the wilds. Expensive, ultra-lightweights may prove to be a poor investment. Cotton or polycotton trousers are probably a more prudent choice over the more expensive alternatives of wool or other materials. Thigh pockets are useful for carrying certain low weight items.
Generally, select neutral colours for clothing. Camouflage clothing can be counter-productive in certain situations. Read my articles on smocks and smocklets for ideas on camouflage garments that can be donned when needed. In other situations you will want to be seen so consider something in high visibility colours that can be worn when needed.
“Peripheral” clothing is important. The difference between comfort and misery or injury can often depend on whether your feet, head and hands are protected. Good underwear and accessories should be top of your survival list.
Your survival kit needs at least two hats. One of these needs a broad brim to protect you from the sun. A boonie hat is just about ideal for this. You will also need something to keep your head warm. A woollen or synthetic watch cap is a good choice. It can even be worn while sleeping wrapped in your blanket or sleeping bag. A headover is a good alternative or supplement to the watchcap. They are versatile and take up little room, so it may be prudent to carry more than one. They can be worn as warm hats but can also serve as balaclavas, scarves or neck gaiters.
Some form of neckwear is recommended. In hot weather this may be a cotton bandanna or keffiyeh. In colder climates a woollen, silk or synthetic scarf. The bandanna or keffiyeh has a number of uses including as a towel or headgear. If your hat lacks a full brim or the sun is particularly harsh they can be used to create a havelock. Depending on colour, they may be used either to signal or for camouflage. They are therefore an “all season” component for your kit. Triangular bandages and thin tea towels can also serve as bandannas.
Spare socks are a good addition to your kit. Ideally get several woollen pairs. You can work with cotton in certain climates and if you have enough pairs to rotate them. Change into dry socks whenever you can and carry wet ones where they can easily dry. Keep your clean spares in a waterproof bag. Sew a loop of ribbon to each of your survival or travelling socks so you can hang them up securely. Socks can be used as pouches or emergency mittens. Even if your kit only contains one outfit of clothing, pack spare socks.
Fingerless gloves maintain dexterity while protecting your hands when moving over rough country or in close combat. When using gloves for insulation remember the layering principle. Several thin pairs that can work in varied combinations are more versatile than a single thick pair that must be either on or off. I have personally operated in a -30°C windchill using just thin merkalon gloves and leather fingerless gloves. The leather gloves protected against windbite on the hand hanging by my side. The hand holding the walking pole seemed to better protected.
Gloves seem to be very good at finding their way out of pockets, particularly if you have stuffed a scarf and a warm hat in there with them. Most cold weather coats do not have sufficient pocket space for peripherals and other stuff you want to carry in them. Buy a mesh, drawcord bag and pin it inside your coat. Use this to store peripherals that you are not currently wearing. Sew ribbon loops onto all your gloves so they can be attached to a snap link on your pack or equipment if you remove them temporarily.
Last, but not least, you need footwear that you can travel in. Boots are a pretty good choice, particularly if you are likely to travel cross-country. Boots in an emergency kit should be worn in. If they are used for other purposes they should be stored close to the rest of your bug out equipment and clothing. A common tip is that you should replace your bootlaces with paracord. An important detail is that it should be the sort of paracord that you can pull the core strands from and still use the outer sheath as bootlace. Some budget stuff does not allow this. There is little point providing yourself with cordage if you can no longer keep your boots on. Also, ensure that the paracord you use is compatible with the eyelets and hooks of your boots. Aglets that function as small fire sticks or handcuff keys are available. Other items that might be concealed in boots will be discussed another day.
That is quite a shopping list so far, and not a multi-tool yet in sight! The second part of this article is available here.