Clothing you NEED to be prepared
Interstate 40 is the 3rd largest highway in the United States, running from Wilmington, North Carolina to Barstow California. Part of it used to be the old historic Route 66 that was popularized in the 1960s with a song and TV show. And I-40 runs right through my city where I work.
I have lost count how many times I have been called to assist with motor vehicle accidents on that interstate. At least 4 that I can remember were fatality accidents. (ALWAYS wear your seatbelt.) But what sticks out to me the most is just how often I came across people who simply were not dressed appropriately for the weather conditions outside.
So many times, when the outside temp was barely above freezing, (or colder) I’d pull up on an accident. Based upon the speeds traveled, the vehicles involved were usually damaged enough that they would not start. The people were not always hurt or not hurt very badly. But so many times the drivers and passengers did not have adequate clothing.
I always asked them the same thing. “Where is your coat?”
“I didn’t think I’d need one because I was only driving a few miles.” Or “it WAS warm inside my car” were the typical replies.
Normally, I would have been nice enough to let them stay warm in the back of my patrol car. But for many years, I was a K9 officer. I had no back seat as it had been replaced with metal bars/plates and a carpet for my loyal companion. And he was NOT nice enough to let anyone sit back there with him.
With all of my equipment I kept in the front seat, I had no room to place freezing passengers. (On the plus side, I never had to transport prisoners.)
Within a few moments a backup officer would arrive on scene, and the unprepared would cram into his/her back seat. People learned the hard way that they could not rely solely on their car’s heater or AC unit to keep them warm/cool. They should of had a backup plan.
Next to your need for oxygen, maintaining your core body temperature is the most important survival aspect you will face. Having a shelter from the elements is the number two priority in my opinion. It is more important than water, food, guns, or gear. Your clothing is, in a sense, a part of your shelter. What you wear and how you wear it could be the difference between life and death.
Over the past few decades, we have seen an increase in clothing made from synthetic materials. But sometimes it can become confusing as to how the material would be a boon or a bane in an emergency situation. So let me break down the main types of clothing/bedding material out there.
A very popular material on the market (at least in the America), cotton is hydrophilic. This means that it transfers sweat from your body to the material, causing it to become wet. Once cotton is wet, it feels cold and loses almost all of its ability to insulate. In the winter time, the saying is “Cotton Kills”.
In the summer time however, cotton is king. It will help you feel cooler and can block a decent amount of radiation from the sun.
Wool is a hygroscopic. This means that while it does absorb moisture, it does so within the fibers themselves. Basically, wool can absorb a lot more moisture than cotton before it starts to feel wet.
Wool can take on anywhere from a third to half of its weight in moisture before it begins feeling wet. Unlike cotton, wool is much better about keeping its insulation properties when it starts to get wet.
Wool is flame resistant, and the flame won’t spread as quickly or melt to your skin like synthetic material. It also helps to provide a hygienic barrier, helping keep germs at bay.
Down does an amazing job of keeping you warm….when it is dry. But it is hydrophilic like cotton, and is actually worse than cotton when wet. But it can be compressed, and the weight of down compared to its insulating ability (when dry) is wonderful.
As popular as cotton, if not more so, polyester is hydrophobic. This means that it transfers moisture away from the skin to the material, and then from the material to other material or to the air. It dries from the inside out.
Polyester can be blended with other materials, such as cotton, to help improve resistance to the elements such as wind and rain.
Leather, especially genuine leather, is fairly breathable. It is durable and resistant to abrasions. It is good at blocking the wind, and has some insulation properties. But leather can get hot, and it can be heavy. Also, some leather can shrink if it gets too wet.
Polypropylene, like polyester, is hydrophobic and is great for keeping sweat away from your skin. But it retains odor if not properly cleaned, and it will melt to your skin if exposed to heat sources. So be careful with it around the camp fire.
Depending upon how it is woven, nylon is extremely durable and can keep out the wind. If treated with water proofing material, it can be water proof. (At the expense of being breathable.) It is also light weight.
Typically, I tend to dress in the Layering system. This is especially true in the cold months. Dressing in layers will help add insulation by trapping air between the layers of clothing. It will also allow you to add or remove layers depending upon the changing conditions.
In the cold, you generally want to have 3 layers. First, a “skin” layer which stays against your skin. For this, typically you want a hydrophobic material that will keep sweat away from you. Known as “wicking”, the material pulls the moisture away from your body.
As I mentioned earlier, in cold weather cotton is terrible. Even if it is dry outside, your body may begin to sweat as you exert yourself. If this moisture is not allowed to escape, it can begin to chill you regardless of how many other layers you have.
You want your skin layer to be loose and non-irritating. For me, I try to have a polypropylene shirt as a base layer. Fleece is also good.
In the summer, in high heat and humidity, you want a base layer that will help keep you ventilated, and help the sweat on your body to evaporate as opposed to drip off of you. If the sweat is rolling off of you, you could be wasting what precious water you have in your body.
The “middle” layer is clothing that will help to keep you warm by adding layers. If you find yourself still getting cold and your skin layer is not wet, you can always add another middle layer to help trap more air. I have found that this is much warmer than simply having a shirt and large coat.
In the cold weather, you do not want to sweat. If you are outside working or exerting yourself physically, this is always possible. So you could remove some of the middle layer to help keep your body from getting too warm.
The “top” layer should be one designed to protect you from the elements. This layer should be able to shield you from the wind, sun, physical environment like brush, and from rain/snow. This layer should not be too constrictive, and needs to be durable.
In the past I would have recommended water resistant over water proof because water resistant is more breathable. But in the past few years there have been huge strides in water proof material that is still breathable.
In the summer, your want your top layer to help block UV rays from the sun, protect you from wind, and allow airflow to help slow evaporation of sweat, which helps to cool you.
For footwear, I recommend something sturdy that provides ankle support. In an emergency situation you have no idea what the road/ground conditions might be. So you need something that can hold up to the rigors of hard surfaces and hazards while still protecting your toes.
Rubber soles would be a must. Breathability is also very important. Hot, sweaty feet can lead to some big problems if you find yourself having to walk long distances.
Water resistant shoes/boots would also be wise for the reason I mentioned above.
There will be many occasions where you may not be able to dress as I have talked about. Some formal settings may require you to forgo many of the types of materials and clothing I mentioned. Your employer may require you to wear a uniform or certain other types of clothing. If so, then you should keep the appropriate clothing close by. In a bug out bag for example.
Dressed to Kill
I will give you a rundown of what I wear and/or keep in my GHB. (Get Home Bag) Hopefully this will give you some ideas.
I have a polypropylene undershirt in my GHB in the fall and winter. Under Armour makes some tremendous stuff. But I have had good luck with the off brand shirts you find at stores like Wal Mart. Just remember to wash it regularly or the odor will haunt you.
I have a pair of fleece lined jeans that I keep in the bag in the fall and winter. Yes, denim is cotton, and cotton kills. But I have ways of keeping them dry. More on that in a bit. My uniform pants are a 5-11 tactical pants made of a poly/cotton blend. They help keep the wind off my legs and stay reasonably dry.
At work I wear a pair of Danner tactical boots. Yes, they are pricey, but they are far and away the best boots I have ever owned. I have two pairs actually, and they have lasted me 8 years and 6 years respectively. They are comfortable, and I cannot think of a time where I had sweaty, damp feet in them at the end of a shift. Worth every penny in my opinion. (I have a pair of wool socks in my GHB also.)
In the summer I switch to a rugged Nike cross trainer shoe based upon my change in duty location. (I prefer Nike…just a personal choice.) I keep a pair of older Nikes in my truck in the off chance I’m in formal attire and
need to bug out.
A rain suit that I have packed in my GHB is a FrogTogg suit. It has a jacket with hood and pants. It is very light weight and water proof, and is also somewhat breathable. This is because it is made of a polypropylene material. It is not terribly expensive, and well worth the money in my opinion. You can read my review on it by clicking here.
Just keep in mind that it is not overly rugged. You certainly could not go rock climbing in it. But for walking, it will keep you dry and should last.
My brother has one he wears at work when he power washes buildings/equipment. It keeps him completely dry.
I have several coats and jackets. My favorite is the 5 11 Three in One patrol parka. (See top picture) It is actually a two piece coat, with an inner fleece lined jacket and a polyester outer shell. The inner jacket is a soft nylon with a fleece lining. It is very breathable and is machine washable.
The outer shell is water proof and very breathable. It has a water proof hood which you can roll up and zip into the collar, and large pockets with oversized zippers. Great for opening and closing with gloves on.
Both the shell and the inner liner (fleece) can function separately. The lining zips into or out of the shell. Essentially, you have three different jackets/coats. I’m here to tell you, I have NEVER had a warmer coat than this one. I say that after spending 2 hours standing outside in 10 degree with a wind chill of -10. It wasn’t fun, but I wasn’t cold.
I have several different pairs of various gloves and wool hats. And each coat/jacket I own has a pair of gloves and hat in the pockets. From the heavy duty winter gloves in my parka, to the Isotoner leather gloves in my formal leather coat. No matter which coat I am in, I have gloves and a hat to go with it.
As for hats, I don’t go all out. I have found sturdy, wool knit caps at Army Surplus stores for cheap. But if you want name brand, Carhartt makes a decent knit hat for less than $10.
I typically avoid bright, flashy colors or camo colors for OpSec purposes. But that is a whole other article.
If you have other prepper clothing tips, leave them in the comments section below.
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