Despite the attention often afforded to them, neither dehydration nor disease nor predators are the most common cause of death among outdoor enthusiasts…hypothermia lays claim to that crown. In fact, experts suspect that 1,000 adventurers die in just this way every year.
Your body is constantly producing and losing body heat to your surroundings. Normally, your body produces more than enough body heat to offset that which is lost to the environment. In fact, your body may need to sweat or take other steps to accelerate this loss of heat, to keep you from overheating in warm environments.
But when temperatures are low, your body may be unable to produce heat fast enough to offset that which is lost. This can cause your core body temperature to fall precipitously, resulting in a condition called hypothermia.
Most authorities define hypothermia by noting a body temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or lower (normal body temperature is about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Hypothermia is a serious, potentially fatal condition, which elicits a serious response from your body. In an attempt to keep your vital organs warm, your body will slow the blood flow to your extremities and skin, and you’ll probably start shivering violently.
Your body obviously loses heat more quickly in cold weather than in warm weather. If the temperature is low enough, hypothermia can set in within a matter of minutes. But there are other factors – namely moisture and strong winds – that accelerate this heat loss.
Water absorbs the heat from your body much more efficiently than the air does. In fact, people can suffer from hypothermia when sitting in water that is 70 degrees Fahrenheit! By contrast, it’s probably impossible to suffer hypothermia in similar air temperatures. The air just doesn’t transport heat away from your body quickly enough to be a problem.
However, strong winds also serve to accelerate the rate of heat loss. Winds effectively blow the heat right away from your body, and if they are of sufficient force, your body can begin the downward spiral of hypothermia. This is true even in relatively safe temperatures.
Clothing is your first line of defense against the dangers of hypothermia, and thus merits careful consideration when it comes to building your survival bags.
Planning for Regional & Seasonal Weather
Your region of the world can play a large role in the clothing selections you make. Seasons have an effect as well and should be accounted for when putting together your items.
Here in sunny Florida at the headquarters of Survival Dispatch, snow is not a major concern. Trying to stay cool and dry is more critical as the temperature gets below 40 degrees for only a small portion of the year. However, in the summertime we can expect to get rained on just about every afternoon. Having a way to stay dry is important as even a slight temperature drop with accompanying wind can be dangerous in wet conditions.
If you live in one of the more northern parts of the country, then cold weather and snow are larger concerns for greater parts of the year. You will need to prepare your clothing supplies accordingly.
It is quite likely that you will need to rotate your clothing selection a couple times per year to accommodate any dramatic seasonal weather changes your area might experience. At minimum you need to have a bi-annual review before the winter and summer months to be sure you are properly equipped.
It’s helpful if you set up your bag in a modular format so that you can quickly change the contents based on the season. For example, we keep our gloves, watch cap, scarf and thermal underwear in a ziplock bag that we can remove during warm weather months.
Quick Tip: Clothing can take up a ton of room in a BOB, especially if you include hiking boots. You can scale your pack down by using a second bag to hold just seasonal clothing. If something were to happen, you could augment your wardrobe with the clothing needed for the current weather conditions.
General Clothing Guidelines
Quality clothing is not cheap, but is worth its weight in gold when you need it. As a rule your bug out clothing should be:
- Moisture Wicking
You want to avoid cotton at all costs. Cotton is HEAVY…especially when wet. It also retains moisture and is very slow to dry.
Polyesters and nylons are your best bet for your base layers.
Wool can be very warm and is a viable option in extremely cold environments as it provides excellent insulation. Wool is bulky and will take time to dry, so it does have its downsides.
Color matters as well. If you are strolling down the street in full camouflage during a survival emergency, you are going to stick out like a sore thumb. You never want to advertise that you might be a prepared survivalist, and you certainly don’t want to be confused for being military. Darker, drab colors are a good rule of thumb here.
You want to be able to blend in, disappear, and not stand out. Looking too “tacticool” (like the guy in the picture above) can make you a target as people become desperate to acquire the supplies they never stored up in case of emergency.
As far as brands we recommend, we have had good experience with clothing by the following companies:
These are not the cheapest clothing manufacturers by any stretch. In fact, they are a bit more on the high end cost wise. Our bug out and get home bag philosophy doesn’t include carrying a large amount of clothing, so we would prefer to have quality over quantity.
Start with a light-weight moisture wicking shirt as your base layer. You want clothing in your base layer that actively pulls moisture away from your skin to keep you as dry as possible.
Unless you live in an extremely hot environment, we recommend you go long-sleeve if possible.
The extra sleeve length will provide you with a bit more protection from the sun, insects, and small scratches and cuts. You can always roll up the sleeves, or even cut them off if you are too hot.
For pants, you want lightweight and non-restrictive. You need to be free to move as easily as possible. Jeans are a big no-no. They are heavy, don’t breath well, hold moisture and tend to prevent freedom of movement. Nylon-polyester blends are your best option.
We recommend pants with extra pockets as well. It’s helpful to carry some of your gear in easily accessible places so you don’t have to stop moving to get something out of your pack.
You might consider shorts in an extremely hot environment, but the extra protection afforded by long pants makes them the better choice in a survival situation. Convertible pants can be the best of both worlds if you anticipate having to deal with high levels of heat.
Try to keep your extra clothes in a waterproof bag. This way if you are caught is a rain or snow storm, you have dry clothes to change into afterward.
Your outerwear selections are going to be driven by your region and season of the year. There are a couple of constants that come into play no matter where you live…outer shell and layering.
Your outer shell has two major goals:
- protect you from the wind
- protect your from rain and keep you dry
The outer shell doesn’t have to be thick and bulky. A rain jacket with a hood will be sufficient in most cases. Make sure that your rain jacket fits loosely enough that you can add clothing underneath as needed.
That brings us to the next outerwear constant – layering.
You are always going to be better off wearing multiple layers than one king-hell super arctic parka. Layering created dead air space between the different layers of clothing on your body. Heat is trapped in this dead air space making layering a much more efficient way to stay warm.
Layering also gives you the flexibility to add or subtract layers of clothing in order to keep your body temperature in check. Start with your moisture-wicking base layer, and add additional layers of wool or fleece as needed to stay warm in the temperatures you expect to encounter in your region of the country.
The 1/4 zip fleece jackets by Under Armour are fantastic for layering underneath your waterproof shell. Just be sure to get one without a hoodie as your outer shell should already have this covered.
If you expect extreme cold, packing long underwear is also recommended.
Top your layers off with your outer shell to keep the wind and rain off you and you’ll be good to go.
Having a pair of waterproof pants is also a nice addition to your kit if you can afford the space. Not only will keep rain off of your lower body, but they can also help with keeping you warm at night.
Look for jackets and pants made with Gortex for the best waterproofing performance. Buy the best all-around jacket that you can afford for you bug out bag.
Quick Tip: Wait until after the current season for large discounts on jackets. Last seasons jacket is 99% identical to this years model at half the price.
We also recommend you include a light, ripstop nylon military-style rain poncho in your bag. In addition to keeping you dry, this rain poncho will be one of the most useful pieces of gear in your kit. Look for a poncho that includes grommets in case you need to configure it as a shelter or rain collector.
Here are several more survival uses for your rain poncho:
- Build a shelter or lean-to
- Ground cover to keep you dry
- Collect water
- Drag heavy things
- Sun shade
- Rain gear
- Cut into pieces to use as cordage
- Cut a square out to make a sling
- Tie a split
- Wrap a piece around a bandage to keep it dry
You will want to have a pair of ankle-high, durable hiking boots for your kit. You don’t need to pack them in your bag as they will take up way too much room. Instead keep them close to your bag so you can quickly access them.
We don’t recommend getting waterproof boots. No matter what you do, some water is going to get into them, and then that water will be trapped inside. The only exception to this might be in an extreme cold weather situation where you are dealing with snow.
Be sure to break in your boots! A 20 mile evacuation on foot is not the time to break in your shoes. You will be in for a world of hurt!
A hat is a must have item for your bug out bag. Even if you wear one most days, still pack one in your BOB. A regular baseball hat will work, but having a hat with a full brim all the way around is a big improvement.
Keeping the sun off of your face and neck, along rain will help keep you going in hard times. A crushable boonie hat takes up very little space, yet still has a brim to protect your face.
For cold weather, you’ll want to be sure to pack a wool or fleece watch cap. Over 30% of your body heat is lost through your head. Having an insulating layer to retain this heat can go a long way towards keeping you warm.
Like the boonie hat, a watch cap takes up a negligible amount of space in your kit.
Merino wool socks are a must. Keeping your feet dry and blister free has to be near the top of your list.
Your feet are something you don’t want to have to worry about in a SHTF situation. The journey might be extremely hard to begin with to get home, and you don’t want to make it even more difficult.
Have at least two extra pairs of socks in your bag. This will allow you to change your socks every day, and have at least one pair drying out at all times.
Look for higher cut socks like crew length socks. This will help keep debris out of your socks, and will keep your boots from rubbing on your leg. They can also be used as an extra layer to keep your hands warm.
In very cold weather conditions, frostbite is a real and present danger. You need to keep your hands warm enough to function. Think about all of the survival task you need your hands for: cutting firewood, preparing food, using tools, building a shelter, and more. You’ve got to be able to use your hands to stay alive. Frozen, numb fingers make these tasks almost impossible.
We’ll cover “work” gloves in the tool section of this guide. But for now, make sure you pack a warm set of gloves in your pack. The weather at your location will determine how thick these gloves need to be.
If you are not familiar with this piece of gear, a shemagh is a cloth primarily used in the Middle East as a face and head covering. But, it is much more than a simple scarf.
A simple Google search will reveal dozens of survival uses for a shemagh including:
- Protection from the sun
- Wetting it down to help cool off
- Wear under a hood to keep warm
- Protection from dust, sand and wind
- Sling for an injured arm
- Splint tie for an injured limb
- Makeshift sling pack
- Fold up and use as a knee pad
- Use as a pre-filter for water
- Use as a towel
Optionally, you could include a neck gaiter or balaclava in your kit, but the shemagh can serve the same purpose adequately.
You may already be wearing a belt as part of your EDC, but it never hurts to make sure you have one available in your kit as well just in case. You’ll need a sturdy belt that won’t bend or flex under load. If you carry a concealed firearm, your every day CCW belt should do the job just fine.
NOTE: We realize this is a pretty darn expensive gear list. We didn’t build to this level right from the start (except for the socks & boots – you must have good sock & boots). We purchased less expensive items, then over the course of several years we replaced them with more expensive gear. Get the basics first, then upgrade over time.
** We are located in North Central Florida, so extreme cold weather is not an issue for us. Getting wet, however, is a big concern.
As we mentioned above, your clothing is your first line of defense against the weather. Buy quality items that will last. Depending on the situation, what you put in your bag might be the last set of clothes you get to wear for a while. Make sure they are comfortable, durable, and provide warmth and protection from wind and rain.
Your base layer items, boots, and a pair of socks can be placed in a secondary waterproof bag right next to your bug out or get home bag. Except for the most desperate of situations, you should have time to change before setting out. During cold weather seasons, be sure to include your layering clothing items in this secondary bag as well.
Everything else can go in your main survival bag. Do you carry multiple changes of clothing in your bag? This is really a personally choice and is dependent on how much space you have.
At absolute minimum you should have at least 2 spare pairs of socks in your bag.
If you can spare the room, a “skivvy roll” comprised of and extra shirt, underwear and socks would be a great addition. We don’t carry extra pants in our bag as we want save as much space as possible for other gear.
Never heard of a skivvy roll? Click here for quick tutorial on how to set up this space saving “gear burrito.”
If you have the equipment and really are sold on the idea of bringing additional changes of clothes, you can vacuum pack an extra outfit or two to save space.