Tactical Notes – Extra Clothing

Clothing Basics

Take a look around any trailhead during hiking season (generally late spring to early fall), and you’ll see a general outdoor uniform of shorts and t-shirt, obviously the minimum required attire. More stuff goes on as the weather gets cold or wet, or as it gets dark.

If you’re taking the trouble to carry extra clothing, make sure your “more stuff” is the “right stuff”!

Dress for Success

Clothing does a lot of things. It provides modesty, a modicum of fashion (for those who care), identifies one with certain elite groups, etc. etc. The list goes on.

We don’t necessarily care if your outdoor clothing has “style”, or where you bought it. We do care about it’s color, what it’s made of, and its application as adequate hiking apparel. There’s good, and equally bad (really bad) stuff out there.

You need to get past flashy stores and catalogs, beyond sales hype, and dig deep to find what counts. See what keeps you safe in an outdoor emergency situation, and what drags you down, hopefully not before it’s too late.

First of all, lets talk some terminology.


No Cotton!

What a garment’s made out of (the type or compostion of the fabric) determines if it’s suited for our purposes or not. You want a fabric that’s warm, lightweight, drys quickly, and most importantly doesn’t retain water and lose its insulation value when damp or wet.

Fabric selection is critical. Absolutely no cotton!

Good Fabric

  • Wool, or wool-nylon or wool-polyester blends. Wool was around long before synthetics entered the market, and has long been known for its ability to retain warmth while wet. Heavier than most newer fabrics, wool remains an excellent choice.
  • Synthetic fiber, such as acrylic, nylon, and polyester. Marketed to the athletic crowd as “performance fabric”. This includes polyester fleece and microfleece. Common brand names are Polar Fleece, Thermax, and Coolmax. Nylon or tightly-woven polyester is the fabric of choice for wind and rain parkas and jackets.

Bad Fabric

Cotton. Anything made of cotton loses all of its insulation value when wet. It’s worthless unless kept dry, and that may be impossible when the weather goes bad. Wet cotton actually sucks heat from your body.

Here’s a simple test. Take a pair of blue jeans (Levis, or similar), get them soaking wet, put them on, and enter a cool room. See how long it takes before they dry enough to keep you warm again. See how long it takes before you want out of that cool room!

You’re dealing with more than just comfort in an emergency survival situation. You’re dealing with life or death. It’s well know among search and rescue groups that COTTON KILLS!

Okay, I know what you’re thinking…it’s Summer, so what’s the big deal about wearing a cotton T-shirt and pair of hiking shorts? And how ’bout those favorite cotton boxers?

Well, you choose, but consider this: In an emergency situation, cotton drags you down. If you gotta wear it, keep viable good-fabric substitutes, item by item, in your pack so you can change things out. The weather may go bad (even in summer!). You might have to spend an unexpected cold night out.

It happens.