Survival “fashion” is not about donning trendy clothing or standing out in a crowd – it is actually about the polar opposite.
In this guide you will learn not only what to wear, but how much clothing, footwear, and outerwear you realistically need for your family both during a long-term disaster and the post-SHTF societal rebuilding phase.
Possessing the right survival clothing to wear during various types of disaster scenarios will help protect you not only from the elements, which can kill quickly, but help keep you safe from the marauding hordes, as well.
Factoring quality “survival wear” into your prepping budget is just as important as saving up money to buy beans, Band-aids, and bullets.
Survival Clothes And The Elements
Protecting your body from inclement weather, heat, and the overall impact of both natural and manmade disasters will help ensure you stay both healthy and able to move about freely to protect yourself, hunt, fish, and engage in a plethora of other forms of manual labor that will be required to keep your bugin location fully functional.
Clothing is not survival clothing if it is not designed to withstand extensive wear in rugged wilderness conditions.
Shopping at the camping or hunting sections of a local big box store will yield quality outdoor wear, but should not be confused with or substituted for real survival or tactical pants, boots, or outerwear.
Do not simply read reviews of various brands of supposed survival clothing and make a purchasing decision (and likely an expensive one) based upon the possibly paid words of a stranger who may or may not actually own the gear being reviewed.
Field testing of survival clothing is a commonplace practice among top quality manufacturers. Look for videos of field tests or the survival brand being worn in inclement and rugged conditions to determine its true value.
My tribe owns several different brands of survival clothing, but 5.11 is one of our very favorites. We were hit by back-to-back waves of extensive bad weather this week. The historic rainfall and flash flooding that has continually hit our region for the past four months has given us the opportunity to test the waterproof and durability claims of the coats, pants, boots, and concealed carry shirts rather extensively.
My son-in-law could not get across our flooded creek, so he parked his truck in the lower pasture on our survival homesteading retreat and then walked the round (which wasn’t easy because a massive cave-in/sinkhole caused by all the flooding has kept the eastern section of it closed for more than a month) until he could cross by a primitive hunting cabin and walk over an only lightly flooded culvert before climbing straight uphill to reach a field that eventually led to our property.
Because of the intensive rain we have received, my son-in-law had to use his knives like climbing hooks to help him climb the last leg of the steep hill. James’ journey home took nearly two hours, even though he only walked a mile to reach the cabin crossing and had about five acres of pasture to cross after cresting the hill.
Even though he was belly to muddy ground while climbing at least part of the hill and getting pelted with rain, when he walked in the door at our house and took off his 5.11 jacket and hook that had been tied tightly, he was completely dry.
In this video James shares some insights into 5.11 survival wear. The coat he is shown wearing is the same one that kept him warm and dry on his backcountry hike home during the most recent round of flooding:
Best Survival Clothing Attributes
Clothing that is graded effective on all weather conditions. It must insulate body heat, directly shield the upper body and head from the elements – at a bare minimum.
Survival wear must be designed to protect core body parts, and prevent them from getting exposed to the elements or allowing body heat to escape from them: head, hands, feet, neck, and legs.
Layering is the most efficient way to protect the body from exposure. A mid-layer of clothing should be worn between a waterproof outer layer and a base layer of clothing. Remember, both the temperature and weather can change rapidly during the course of a single day. Layered survival wear allows you to easily and rapidly adapt to changing weather conditions.
When browsing survival coats and pants to determine how best to spend your money, think about all the things you want the clothing to protect you from:
1. Cold – including frostbite and hypothermia
6. Snake bites
7. UV rays that can cause sunburns, and possibly increase the chances of heat stroke
8. Insect bites and stings
9. Scratches from briars
10. Getting cut or scraped from rugged terrain
The type of material the survival wear consists of is far more important than the brand.
Gaining a better understanding of how insulation works will help you better choose the best type of material to wear to protect your body during various weather conditions and temperatures.
Insulative materials trap air between the body and clothing to prevent both chilling and keep the body as warm as possible – without inducing sweating.
Before the invention of micro-fleece, when you purchased outerwear with lightweight insulation, it came in only three different weights: 100, 200, and 300. The lower the number the thinner and less insulative the liner or interior coat insulation would be.
Lightweight insulation is now not primarily made from fleece but micro-fleece to reduce bulk without sacrificing warmth, lightweight down, and several versions of synthetic materials.
If the survival wear also boasts a wind resistant shell, the body will not only remain better protected but the garment will be more breathable if it is vented adequately, allowing it to be worn during not only spring and fall, but possibly in the early winter (when performing strenuous manual labor outdoors).
Survival clothing that is flexible enough to offer both quality wicking and absorption properties may be the best choice for spring, fall, and during chores.
Best Liner Options
The old survival saying, “cotton kills” exists for a very good reason.
Once cotton becomes wet, either from inclement weather or sweating, it will no longer insulate the body properly.
Cotton clothing still holds a valuable place in your summer survival fashion storage tub, but should be reserved exclusively for warm weather months, when cooling the body and the need for a material that allows for the evaporation of sweat, is required.
Cases of heat stroke will likely increase during a long-term SHTF scenario because survivors will be engaging in significantly more manual labor and spending time on surveillance patrol shifts regardless of how high the temperature climbs.
It is one of the best natural animal fibers, and should provide the foundation for your cold weather survival wear. Its insulative properties make it the ideal fabric for coat linings, sweaters, socks, glove linings, scarves, toboggans, and weatherproof hat linings.
Merino wool is a soft wool that comes from domesticated sheep that is both wrinkle and odor resistant. It is quick drying, and provides excellent insulation when applied as a base layer in cold weather.
Merino packs up nice and small making it a great choice for a bug out bag as you round out your kit of proper clothing.
Wool likely offers the best insulation properties for the least amount of weight. It retains its shape well over time, Wool offers the most insulation with the least amount of weight, and naturally retains its shape. It is all an odor and fire resistant material.
This broad range of materials are perfectly suited as an out layering on rainwear and windbreaker coats and pants. Gore-Tex is most often used for the shells of cold and wind-protective clothing.
Polyester and Nylon are both commonly used in outdoor clothing and are not considered natural materials. These two materials are insulating and generally water resistant as long as they are coated with a hydrophobic solution.
The only downside to using polyfibers stems from wear during hot days because they can hold in moisture if they are not vented properly.
Lightweight jackets often contain the breathable synthetic fibers, Primaloft or Pertex. When these synthetic fibers are used as material for the outer shell of a jacket or item of clothing, the garment is typically exceedingly both windproof and waterproof.
Even heavy rain appears to just flow right off the material. The downside of using these synthetic materials involves its ability to wick moisture away from the inside and away from the body, particularly when the wearer is engaged in strenuous activity.
Fleece liners can be both thick or thin, depending upon the style of the garment. It’s a quick drying material that also wicks well. Waterproof and windproof survival wear that boasts a fleece liner is designed to be worn in harsh weather conditions during the winter months.
Fleece jackets without such an outer shell do not stand up to wind and rain but should keep the wearer warm enough during sunny or overcast days when spending time outdoors.
Fleece is usually a bulky type of liner insulator. In better quality outerwear, the fleece will be sewn into quilt-style grids to reduce its bulk, while increasing its warming properties by making it more dense.
Shelled microfleece is often composed of both fleece and micro-velour. It typically boasts significant warming and wicking properties. How breathable the microfleece liner is depends primarily upon the material that comprises the garments outer shell.
Sometimes, microfleece shells do not provide enough ventilation to allow perspiration to escape and can make the wearer feel clammy if the temperature increases or they engage in manual labor. Jackets made only of microfleece will not be waterproof.
This naturally insulative material boasts an incredible warmth vs. weight ratio. When the outer shell of the garment is covered in a weather proof material, a down coat could be your best choice for extreme cold weather survival.
Unfortunately, down is not a breathable material, especially when paired with windproof or waterproof shells that trap perspiration inside making the wearer oftentimes sweat profusely while causing the liner to become damp for potentially hours.
No one type of material, coat, overalls, or pants will work for all seasons and weather conditions.
This little factoid has only been appearing on the tags of garments in the past few years, leaving many to wonder what exactly “soft shell” means. Basically it means the garment is made of a flexible material that is designed with wind resistance and breathability in mind.
While garments with a soft shell are somewhat water resistant (light rain and light snow) they are not designed to be waterproof or to be worn as rain coats.
Soft shell jackets and pants protect the body somewhat from the weather while remaining flexible and breathable enough to be worn during strenuous physical activity without trapping dampness next to the body.
Sometimes, only a portion of the garment boasts a soft shell. In such cases, the soft shell is typically located in the armpits or crotch areas on pants.
Soft shell jackets and pants are often used by climbers because of their flexible, warm, and somewhat waterproof qualities.
You just can’t have too many pockets. You need pockets in your pants, and on the outer and inner shells of the jacket.
Fully inspect both the zippers and the teeth that close the pockets. A cheap or poor quality pocket will not hold your survival gear securely.
Stockpile zipper repair parts, Velcro, and similar sewing supplies so you can make repairs as necessary to both pockets and garments in your survival wear wardrobe.
Tactical jackets, shirts, and pants typically offer a plethora of pockets, sometimes hidden pockets, in a variety of dimensions.
Look for survival wear that is designed with pockets that are designed to double as a concealed carry compartment. You will most often find concealed carry and extra mag pockets and pouches on tactical clothing.
Some compression shirts and pants also feature nearly hidden concealed carry pockets. Survival clothing made out of compression material is perfect for layering and has extensive wicking properties. Although it is not really waterproof, it does dry very quickly.
Proper footwear will be essential to your survival during a SHTF disaster because it relates directly to foot health, preventing body temperature loss, and the feet dry.
Without proper boots you will not likely be able to traverse the rugged terrain, cross creeks and muddy areas, or be able to complete necessary chores without potential exposure or injury.
If your boots are not durable, waterproof, and comfortable, your chances of a successful bugout or continuing life on a survival homesteading retreat, will not likely be that easy.
Top 5 Survival Boots Attributes
1. Comfort – an improper fit will lead to blisters and potential injury
2. Insulation – to keep the feet warm
3. Waterproof – to keep the feet dry
4. Steel Toe – to protect the feet
5. Soles – the soles of survival boots should be non-slip and shock absorbent
Work Boots vs. Hiking Boots vs. Cowboy Boots
Work boots typically consisted of a heavy leather to make them more protective and durable when engaging in various types of manual labor. They often have a steel toe or a reinforced plastic toe. Work boots often weigh around six pounds each on average.
Work boots are sturdy and durable, but far more lightweight than work boots, and typically are made with an emphasis on weatherproofing instead of protecting the feet from working with or around dangerously heavy objects.
Cowboy boots are a bridge between hiking boots and work boots – if you spend a bit of time searching brick-and-mortar stores or online, you will likely find steel toe cowboy boots. They are taller than hiking boots, on average, to offer protection from snake bites and underbrush.
The quality of hiking boots and work boots is typically reflected in the price. When it comes to cowboy boots, the price can be almost entirely reflected based upon brand or style if the pair was created for fashionable wearing and not farm/ranch work.
Hiking boots, especially those designed for winter wear, will usually offer far greater insulation than work boots.
The height of any boot will have an impact on the quality and type of support the pair offers. Boots that are at least 8 inches tall should offer above-average ankle support, while protecting you at least somewhat from snakes. Boots in each of these three categories can be purchased in 10 to 12 inch heights.
The choice is ultimately yours of course. The main things you need to consider include will you be comfortable walking for long distances in them and will they protect your feet and keep them dry.
Hunting Boots and Military Boots
Hunting boots and military boots can be a good multi-use survival boot.
Both are made with weather proofing and insulation in mind, which will help keep your feet warm and dry during even harsh weather conditions.
Boots of this type also generally boast durable soles that are designed to sustain their quality even when frequently traversing rugged terrain and are equipped with non-slip gripping patterns.
Both military and hunting boots regularly come in tall heights to offer greater protection for not just the ankles, but the calves, as well.
Muck Boots and Rain Boots
Boots created solely to keep the foot warm and dry will allow you to walk through various heights or water and mud without getting your feet and socks wet and without slipping, should be included in your survival wear closet as well.
- Muck boots are typically well insulated with a breathable liner.
- The shell of muck boots is commonly thicker than the outer shell of rain boots.
- Lined rain boots are available, but not necessarily commonplace.
- Neoprene rain boots are a combo of the typical rain boots and muck boots. While they are not necessarily lined, their outer shell does help keep the feet, ankle, and lower leg both warm and dry.
Neoprene might, emphasis on might, help protect you from a snake bit, but that will be determined by the quality and thickness of the neoprene shell…and the snake.
Always investigate the sole of the muck boots and rain boots you are contemplating purchasing. Rain boots may be a one-piece type of footwear that has a thinner, yet possibly, slip-resistant sole.
Muck boots may also be a one-piece type of footwear to make them as waterproof as rain boots, but the sole and non-slip texturing on it, are almost always far more thick.
Consider buying your survival boots a half size bigger than what you normally wear, so thick wool socks or two pairs of socks can be worn when necessary to stave off frostbite and hypothermia.
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You should have at least one of each of the following in your closet and spares in your bugout, as space permits:
1. Wool socks
2. Wool scarves
3. Wool pants
4. Waterproof tactical pants
5. Lightweight long-sleeve cotton shirts
6. Midweight long-sleeve shirts
7. Heavyweight long-sleeve shirts
8. Lightweight short-sleeved cotton t-shirts
9. Cotton socks – multiple
10. Fleece hoodie or sweater that zips.
11. Thermal underwear – wool if possible
12. Waterproof Gore-Tex gloves
13. Leather work gloves
14. Jersey work gloves
15. Thin waterproof gloves
16. Waterproof wool lined mittens
17. Weatherproof wool or down lined coat with a hood
18. Raincoat – windbreaker
19. Disposable rain poncho
20. Mylar emergency blankets
21. Survival boots – multiple pairs and styles with at least one pair having quality insulation for the winter months
22. Muck or rain boots
23. One piece overalls or coveralls – Carhartt style
24. Fleece pants for sleepwear
25. Hat for sun protection
Survivalwear For Children
The options for true survival wear for children are far more limited than those of adults, but quality substitutes for tactical clothing do exist.
One-piece coveralls designed for farm work and hunting are usually readily available down to a child’s size six. It might take a little bit of looking, but it is possible to find these same types of durable, weather resistant, and highly insulated type of rugged clothing small enough to fit toddlers.
Denim bib overalls are also a wise choice when looking for survival wear for children. They are durable, can be worn with a shirt to suit the task or season, and have adjustable straps to better suit a growing child.
The bibs could be cut off and turned into shorts when the child grows too tall to wear them, making them a versatile and low cost option, as well.
Children grow at a seemingly never-ending pace. You will need to plan for this when prepping for a long-term disaster. I regularly pick up as many articles of clothing that are too big for our existing grandchildren that my budget allows when I pass a yard sale or rummage sale.
If you have teenagers or young adult children who have no babies of their own yet, plan on that changing during a SHTF scenario. Stockpile warm long-sleeve pajamas, socks, winter snowsuits, and onesies for layering.
Preppers who believe folks won’t have the time, energy, or desire when trying to survive a long-term disaster are fooling themselves, especially when it comes to teens and 20-somethings. The world as they know it has come to an end, each day may be their last, enjoying the time they have left when they can, WILL create babies.
Middle and high school students are typically about done growing and large enough to wear adult tactical clothing.
Survival Clothing Colors
Standing out is the last thing you want to be doing when bugging out or during a survival situation in general. Wear dark or natural shades of clothing that will help you blend in with your environment and the dark at night.
- Navy blue
- Dark green
Purchase hunting camo in all four seasons of designs. That fall camo deer hunting set of coveralls already in your closet will not help you blend in with the environment during the winter when snow is on the ground.
Speaking of hunting, here’s Ryan Dotson showing what he wears when hunting for deer:
What you wear will never be more important than during a long-term doomsday disaster scenario. Your life almost assuredly depends upon what is on your back, your feet, and your legs.
If you cannot stay warm and dry you will get sick and be useless to your loved ones. If your boots cannot get you where you need to go and allow you to complete the work you need to do, your chances of survival will diminish by the day, possibly by even the hour or the minute.
A pair of work gloves might last you a year now, and your favorite and still durable boots might be five years old, but do not expect to get a shelf life perhaps even half that long when wearing the same type of gear during a disaster and beyond.
Any available coats, boots, socks, shoelaces, gloves, etc. still on a store shelf or inside a home when the disaster starts, will be scooped up almost as quickly as food and ammo.
There will be a finite supply of outerwear and boots during the initial phase of the SHTF event – and then it will quickly dwindle and disappear. All of the items noted on the suggested purchases list above, will make great bartering items during a long-term disaster if you can afford to stockpile more than what you and your family will need.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.