Hardcore Survival: What To Wear in the Harshest Conditions

winter
This article is going to give you some pointers on dressing for the winter weather to maximize your heat, minimize your moisture, and to enable you to be ready if the SHTF.  The article’s title holds the word “tactical,” and in this New Year I feel it is important to make this emphasis to you:

Every situation is either tactical or has the potential to become tactical in the blink of an eye.

Needs and Capabilities

Your needs and capabilities in this regard are going to vary in accordance with where you live (geographical/climate locale), and what you do during the course of the day.  Some may have an easier time with this, as they may be employed where they can wear what they want…few and far in-between as this may seem.  Others must wear a uniform or a suit and tie/business apparel.  No matter.  The first group (to paraphrase the band “Nirvana”) can “come as you are…as I want you to be.”  The second group will have to rely on the telephone booth akin to Clark Kent as he did when he “changed” into Superman.

Footwear

Footwear is as varied as the imagination.  I prefer military footwear and wear it all the time.  I have a pair of desert winter boots with Vibram soles that I switch up with a pair of Rocky Gore-Tex issue boots.  The majority of the time these days, I have a good pair of rubberized boots with leather instep, Kamin waterproofs, a necessity here in Montana where it snows about every day.  With socks, I like a thin pair of cotton, covered over with a thick pair of wool.  The cotton absorbs the moisture from your foot, and the wool wicks it away.

Essential Layers

I layer with long johns, a decent synthetic type by Russell, and over these I wear nylon jogging-type/sports pants with a thin cotton underlining.  They lock in the heat and they do breathe.  Over this are the pants, and as I mentioned in previous articles, only cargo pants will do for me, my preference being Riggs by Wrangler.  This triple layer keeps layers of air circulating between them and also insulates me thoroughly from the cold.  Here it has been about 20 degrees F during the day, and 0 – 7 degrees F at night.

Topside I wear a cotton t-shirt with a synthetic/polypro long sleeve undershirt.  If you can find shirts with wicking ability, it can help your body maintain your core body temperature. Over this I have a sweatshirt with hood, and I wear an Army issue uniform top: they’re durable, and I like the newer generation tops because of the amount of pockets.  Over this I throw a nice Marmot Gore-Tex jacket, and then it’s just my gloves and a hat. Remember, folks: wearing a hat will keep warm heat from escaping on your head. This is very important! When I’m all suited up, JJ’s ready to go!

The Doctrine of Contrasting Colors

You all know about the importance of layering, and now let’s cover a few things from a tactical perspective: the doctrine of contrasting colors.

What if “big daddy government” morphs into that totalitarian state we can all foresee and dread?  You are on the run.  Here’s the principle: they’re looking for a guy with a red jacket, and he disappears into a public restroom.  As people come out, there is nobody with a red jacket, but you went right by them…because you stripped off your top layer, discarded it (hopefully you can recover it!), and emerged in a gray sweat top.  The key here is to be able to alter your appearance and “change up” on the target they are looking for…and expecting.  The mind and eyes tend to focus on a target and keep it in mind.  This is our honing instinct, and it is as old as mankind.

If you’re wearing tan khaki cargoes and a red jacket (does that classify you as a SF ’49er fan?), how much better if you emerge wearing black nylon sweats and a gray sweatshirt?  The colors must contrast; that is, bear a marked difference to one another in the combination you’re wearing them both before you’re followed and after you give them the slip.

Now I’m sure a lot are going to comment that it “doesn’t matter with infrared,” and “you can’t avoid the cameras.”  No, actually, it does matter.  The goons that are on the ground do not have all of that equipment in their hands and right in front of them.  Not yet.  There’s a disconnect between what Stanley the Tech-guy is reporting to him in his ear and what he sees on the ground.

In addition, you want to wear hats and gloves, maybe a good scarf or a balaclava to keep warm and also to break up your outline that gives a signature.  I want to put in a word about the Gore-Tex.  It is the best thing since sliced bread in my opinion.  I wear the civilian Gore-Tex jacket so as not to be so obsequious, although here in Montana camouflage is a year-round sight and in some areas can be easily confused with evening formal wear.

The important tactical consideration here with the Gore-Tex is that you want to stay warm and dry, and a fire may be “inconvenient” for you until the initial fervor of the disaster passes.  A good acid test is to dress in the manner I outlined and then lay in the snow for about 15 minutes with no ground pad or insulation between you and the snow.  If you can say you’re still warm even after 15 minutes, then you may have found a winning combination for yourself.  Layers also help enable your skin to breathe and to reduce heat that could potentially be trapped and elevate your temperature too high.

The cargo pants and Army top help you with the pockets to store things that are essential to you…small tools, fire starting equipment, and the like.  You want your ensemble to be as rugged and durable as it can be.  When it hits the fan, you don’t know when you’re going to have a change of clothing.  You’ll start it out “as is,” so to speak: what you’re carrying and wearing is what you’ll have, at least initially.  Remember: when you have to hide, a lot of times you’ll be hunkered down or in the prone.  You have to keep warm, dry, and insulated, especially if you must lay on the ground.

So whatever your environment, dress accordingly for that environment.  Remember this doctrine of contrasting colors, and choose your garments for their utilitarian functions rather than for style or appearance.  Take the time to consider any physical limitations and plan your wardrobe accordingly.  Always take the time to assess the situations in the news and what is happening around you, and be ready to do the Clark Kent to Superman change as soon as the balloon goes up and you have determined it’s genuine.  Have a great day, Guys and Gals, be prepared, and stay warmly-dressed, and “frosty” in your mind!  God bless!  JJ out.

Jeremiah Johnson is the Nom de plume of a retired Green Beret of the United States Army Special Forces (Airborne). Mr. Johnson was a Special Forces Medic, EMT and ACLS-certified, with comprehensive training in wilderness survival, rescue, and patient-extraction. He is a Certified Master Herbalist and a graduate of the Global College of Natural Medicine of Santa Ana, CA. A graduate of the U.S. Army’s survival course of SERE school (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), Mr. Johnson also successfully completed the Montana Master Food Preserver Course for home-canning, smoking, and dehydrating foods.

Mr. Johnson dries and tinctures a wide variety of medicinal herbs taken by wild crafting and cultivation, in addition to preserving and canning his own food. An expert in land navigation, survival, mountaineering, and parachuting as trained by the United States Army, Mr. Johnson is an ardent advocate for preparedness, self-sufficiency, and long-term disaster sustainability for families. He and his wife survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Cross-trained as a Special Forces Engineer, he is an expert in supply, logistics, transport, and long-term storage of perishable materials, having incorporated many of these techniques plus some unique innovations in his own homestead.

Mr. Johnson brings practical, tested experience firmly rooted in formal education to his writings and to our team. He and his wife live in a cabin in the mountains of Western Montana with their three cats.

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published January 16th, 2016
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  • Steve LaFontaine

    BS! everyone who actually lives and plays/works in the ice/snow wear COVERALLS. we also know that, except for plastic snowmobile suits we wear cotton overalls because they breathe. and i saw no mention of SILK…. the ULTIMATE natural fabric. beats cotton by a mile. he is right about gore-tex though.

    • 98ZJUSMC

      As long as it’s a dry cold, cotton is fine and can be used as an intermediate layer over polypropylene. You have to be able to ventilate it though. Wet cold? Wool. It continues to insulate when wet/damp (see Tom’s comment). One of the first things we were issued whenever we deployed to Korea (wet cold) was the old Korean War era wool shirt and field pants. Fleece is an approximate, but not as good. Silk is an outstanding insulator.

  • Saxon14

    Cotton kills in cold weather because cotton goes from an insulator to a conductor when it gets wet.
    Wool.

  • Chris

    Hemp.

  • Rumplestiltskin

    Any material made from a smooth fiber would be ok for undergarments, as smooth fibers wick away moisture because of capillary action. Most synthetic fabrics work fine but not all, because it also depends on the weave of the material.

    Cotton undergarments are a no no as cotton absorbs moisture and holds against your body. Nylon on the other hand may wick moisture for a time but it also absorbs moisture, so for short outings it may be fine, but if you are in for the long slog, Polypropylene is the material you should have underneath.

    Most synthetic yarns have approximately the same molecular structure, with only minor variations, and it is those small variations that allow Poly Pro to not absorb moisture and Nylon to absorb moisture.

    Do yourselves a favor and look up fabrics before putting down hundreds of dollars for garments because you bought into a good line of BS by a manufacturer. Generally most manufacturers do list what their garments are made from, but leave it at that. Check out what those yarns are made of. When they list something as being Goretex which they charge a fortune for, look up what it is made of. You may find a product that is just as good and keeps you just as warm without the high price.

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