Survival Tip #6

6. Stock the right clothing and gear

The debate about what constitutes the right gear or the best clothing will never end. It’s like asking a bunch of snipers which caliber is best; you’ll get a different answer every time, and they’ll all sound well-reasoned and persuasive. So don’t be overwhelmed by all the choices you have.

Instead of trying right away to figure out which set of gear and clothing is best for you, expect to work it out over time by trial and error. Learn what to look for, put a package together that addresses most of your needs, then use what you’ve acquired and make adjustments as necessary. As always, make sure your family participates. Consider their input, discuss the options, and explain your decisions so your kids will learn how to make reasoned decisions like you do.

We all know what we mean by clothing. We define “survival gear” as the equipment consisting of those articles needed (or particularly useful) for the learning and application of survival skills. Strictly speaking, some types of clothing are a subset of survival gear, but we’ll discuss clothing separately for convenience.

Clothing. You need to be able to adapt to various situations like weather, location, and finances, so before we make a list of clothing items, let’s look at the characteristics of good survival clothing. If you know these principles, you’ll be able to choose what you need in any given situation.

  • Protection from exposure. Clothing needs to protect you from heat, and from cold. Extremes of either will kill you. Cold temperatures above freezing are extremely dangerous if you get wet and have no access to shelter, because water rapidly sucks the heat out of your body.
    • Heat. This section is about clothing, but water is so important for heat regulation that it bears mentioning here; when you get dehydrated, your temperature regulator goes haywire, so drink plenty of water.
      • Wear lightweight fabrics that absorb and wick sweat, like cotton, silk, and linen.
      • Stay out of the sun. If this is not possible, “wear” your shade by keeping direct sun off of you, especially your head and neck.
      • Wear a hat. Or use a bandana, a shemagh, or even an extra cotton t-shirt to wrap your head. A shemagh is specialized for desert environments — it protects from heat, cold, and blowing sand.
      • Light-colored clothing reflects heat. (Some desert cultures use dark clothing for religious reasons, but don’t be misled; you’ll be far more comfortable in light colors).
    • Cold. Layering is the key, because this creates insulating air spaces between the layers. It also allows you to scale up or down as temperatures or your activity levels change.
      • In general, avoid cotton because it loses its insulating ability when it gets wet. Exception: a thin layer near the skin is often fine in non-extreme cold; any sweat will wick away and evaporate through the outer layers.
      • Wool is an excellent cold-weather fabric. When it comes in contact with water it reacts exothermally, releasing a non-negligible amount of heat, and retains its insulating ability when wet. Some synthetics are excellent choices.
      • Good quality polyester fleece is hard to beat as a lightweight, rugged, water-resistant insulator.
      • Even the most expensive synthetics can’t beat goose down for its ability to keep you warm in extreme cold. It is bulky, though, and make sure it’s housed in a water-repellent fabric.
    • Rain and drizzle. A cool rain on a 100-degree day can feel like a life-saver, but be very careful when working in rain at lower temperatures. It’s not a big deal if you’re in your own back yard, but if you don’t have shelter, being wet as a cold night approaches is potentially life-threatening. Even in moderate temperatures like the mid-50s you can die of exposure, especially if you’re in poor physical condition from too much TV and that desk job.
    • Other environmental considerations. Clothing offers protection from thorns, insects, and toxic or irritating plants. Shoes offer your feet protection from rocks, glass, and falling objects.
  • Light weight. Heavy clothes are a drain on your limited physical resources. It’s a zero-sum game; you can only carry so much, and whatever your clothes weigh, that’s one less battery, or one less pint of water you can carry. Every ounce counts.
  • Durability. To some extent, the more durable your clothes, the more they weigh. It’s a trade-off. Very light, very durable materials are expensive. Make your choices. Learn the indices of quality clothing; straight multiple stitches, tight weaves, well-sewn buttons, rugged zippers (YKK brand is good), and so on. Country of manufacture is less of an issue than ever. The quality of production all depends on quality control protocols, and some of the best manufacturing is now being done in China and other far-east countries. Don’t assume it’s better just because it’s made in Europe or the USA.
  • Comfort. In a survival situation, comfort is more important than ever. Uncomfortable clothes are a constant drain on morale, and can lead to chronic injuries like blisters, joint pain, and even infections. Here are two seemingly contradictory bits of advice, but you must heed them both:
    • Don’t overlook the cheapest option. On a week-long hike, your year-old $25 sneakers might be a better choice than those $120 hiking shoes you’ve never broken in.
    • Don’t be a cheapskate. That $45 synthetic fleece jacket might be a better investment than an itchy old 25-cent yard-sale wool sweater.

OK, so now let’s take a look at the list of clothing you need. Understand that it can’t be specific because your circumstances may differ substantially from someone else’s. In compiling our list we make the following assumptions: North American temperate climate (cold wet winters, hot and humid summers); varied terrain; adaptable for urban and rural environments. Also, we’re assuming you don’t have to carry your entire stock of clothing with you at all times. That is, we assume you have a base of operations and can select clothing from the following list as needed.

  • Cotton socks. Like the ones you wear with your sneakers at the gym.
  • Wool socks, or wool/synthetic blend. Get them large enough to layer over your cotton socks in cold weather.
  • Light sneakers for everyday summer wear. Optional: sturdy hiking shoes or non-insulated combat boots. This is certainly a good option, but be sure they’re comfortable.
  • Insulated boots for cold weather. There are hundreds or thousands of choices here. Make sure you’ve actually worn the ones you might be stuck with in an emergency. Imagine having to walk for several days in boots that hurt your feet and/or don’t keep them warm.
  • Underwear. I prefer boxer briefs, which offer support, but stretchy support. This is very important, particularly in hot, humid weather and when having to walk long distances. If you’re too loose in hot weather you’ll have to contend with chaffing and skin irritations (e.g. jock itch). Don’t risk it — it can be miserable. Ladies will want a comfortable bra. If you have a large cup size, you’ll want a bra that helps you avoid chaffing and skin irritations too (i.e., one that will prevent skin-on-skin contact).
  • Long underwear. I prefer silk or cotton, fleece is warmer and does a better job of wicking sweat so you don’t feel wet. I’m aware of the disadvantages of cotton, but it just feels more comfortable to me — I’m probably in a minority.
  • Tactical or cargo pants. Far better than jeans. I like mine “comfort fit,” which means loose and baggy (but not around the waist), with lots of pockets. Tip: removable lowers are great, but don’t lose them!
  • Insulated bibs. Be sure to get some that have two-way zippers on each leg. Zippering up from the bottom allows you to put on the bibs without removing bulky boots, and zippering down from the top will help you cool off when very active in cold weather (like the underarm vents in your coat).
  • T-shirt. Tactical shirts are great, and I suggest them as an option. But definitely have a t-shirt. Remember what I said about comfort.
  • Long-sleeve shirt. This is a light, stretchy pullover that helps you adjust to changing temperatures.
  • Fleece jacket. There’s a wide range of weight, quality, and options. Mine has zippers on the pockets and includes a breast pocket. Waist cinches are a nice option.
  • Water-repellent parka/shell/outer. This is the part that needs a hood. I like oversize hoods, and I wear a baseball cap under it to keep the hood from drooping over my eyes. Highly recommended: Zippered underarm vents will help prevent overheating when active in very cold weather. Yes, you read that right. If you’re very active in very cold weather, here’s what happens – you can’t remove the coat or you’ll be too cold, you can’t unzip it because then the flaps get in your way, and so you overheat. You sweat, and then when you stop, you chill. Extremely dangerous. Solution? Underarm vents to cool you a little and let the sweat escape (it evaporates very quickly in cold, dry weather).
  • Optional Down coat. Depends on how cold it’ll get. I have one.
  • Poncho. Get the kind that packs down into a small pouch.
  • Gloves. You need two kinds; work gloves and cold-weather gloves.
  • Fleece or wool hat and/or headband. In extreme cold I’ll break down and wear a hat. Otherwise I prefer just to keep my ears warm with a headband. I prefer fleece because wool is itchy, but suit yourself.

Gear. Good gear is equipment that assists you in learning and applying survival skills. Bad gear would either be irrelevant to these skills, or would actually impede your ability to survive. Let’s consider some of the factors:

  • Quality. Better quality is better, certainly, but it’s not the end-all of your purchasing decision. It’s not the factor; it’s a factor. For some items, quality is more important than others. A good survival knife is a must. An adhesive bandage can be “good enough” to get the job done. When cost is a factor, something is better than nothing.
  • Cost. Get the best you can afford, but shop around — you can find good deals. The SNO store links you to Amazon items that are the best for the money (that we could find). There are many other merchants, but I like Amazon because they’re the most trusted retailer on the web — and for good reason.
  • Versatility. In general I prefer multi-use items. It’s like a kitchen appliance — I don’t like to buy an item that does only one thing. Much of this is based on your imagination. I have a Swedish Mora survival knife that cost only $11, including the sheath. It’s rugged and has a blade made high-carbon steel that really holds an edge. Its four-inch blade is legal to carry in my state, so I have it in my everday carry bag. I can fell a tree with it by hammering it into the circumference of the tree. Versatility is largely in the mind.

Now let’s address the list. Again, I’m not going to give you an all-inclusive checklist because it can never be complete for every situation. Learn these principles and apply them in designing your own survival plan.

  • Containers.
    • Packs, wraps, and boxes. These will allow you to store, organize, and transport the items you need. Make sure they are comfortable and durable. You need an everyday carry bag, a bugout bag, and other means to store items that are not often transported on your person, such as a tool box, a hammock, a tarp, or a large tent.
    • Water. Glass, stone, or clay is best for long-term storage, plastic or metal is best for transported liquids.
    • Food. I store long-term supplies in glass jars (processed foods like pickles, stew, and jams), and in plastic vacuum packs for transportation.
  • Tools. Some tools are for carrying, some for storage at home or your bugout location. I recommend gardening tools and a good set of mechanic’s and woodworking tools. Focus on stocking your bugout location with hand-operated tools first; electrical tools will be useless if your power supply falls out. I keep them anyway because they’re so convenient, but I’m prepared not to rely on them.
  • Weapons. If you can have only one gun, make it a shotgun. See Survival Tip #4 — Keep and Bear Arms. Otherwise, keep as many as you can. You may never use them, but they keep their value and make an excellent medium of trade. Same goes for ammo.
  • Special-application supplies.
    • Medical kits. I recommend small-and-light for your everyday carry bag, a little more elaborate for your bugout bag, and the most complete kit you can assemble for your bugout location. Assume you won’t have access to professional medical services. See Survival tip #5 — Keep an Emergency Medical Kit.
    • Cooking utensils. If you can make a fire, you can cook. If all you have is a knife and some paracord (or even just your shoelaces) you can improvise a snare. You can trap game, dress it, and cook it. It’ll keep you alive. But stock your BOL with cooking conveniences; pots, pans, spoons, plates, and so on. The more the better if you expect to stay there long. Make sure you have metal plates or bowls; plastics and ceramics might break.
    • Lighting. For your BOL, assuming you’re off the power grid, if you can assure a steady supply of fat you’re in business with an oil lamp. Otherwise, stock candlemaking supplies. Have multiple lighting sources. For your BOB and EDC bag, have at least one flashlight and spare batteries.

Proceed to Survival Tip #7

2 thoughts on “Survival Tip #6”

  1. Roy Vanderleelie

    Great information, thanks a lot. We are looking forward to getting the next four survival tips.

Comments are closed.

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