American Survival Guide - - LAUNCH FAMILY - BY REUBEN BOLIEU

If you had to aban­don a ve­hi­cle or airplane crash site and head a few miles through the wilder­ness with only your cloth­ing to pro­tect you from the el­e­ments, could you? Many peo­ple con­sider tents, tarps and bivvy bags as shel­ters, which they are. How­ever, even be­fore conventional shel­ters are set up dur­ing a camp­ing or bug-out sit­u­a­tion, your cloth­ing is your first line of de­fense against the el­e­ments. Lay­er­ing cloth­ing and us­ing ac­ces­sories such as scarves, ban­danas and gloves can help make all the dif­fer­ence in pro­tect­ing you from sand, cold, wind and the sun.


When it comes to pants and shirts, I pre­fer keep­ing them long. Loose-fit­ting is best; it keeps the air cir­cu­lat­ing and aids in cool­ing. It also traps warm air in the spa­ces if the weather is cold.

The ex­tra pro­tec­tion from both long sleeves and long pants also car­ries over to some de­fense against bugs. Noth­ing beats cov­er­ing up with cloth­ing. My only time wear­ing my sleeves rolled up in the jun­gle was short lived: I dropped some­thing in the tall grass and, upon re­triev­ing it, the blades of grass sliced up my fore­arm and hand, draw­ing blood. That was the last time I kept my sleeves rolled up in any jun­gle. Loose-fit­ting, long-sleeved shirts and long pants are the best de­fenses in the trop­ics.

Many trips to the jun­gles of South Amer­ica and South­east Asia have taught me that bug/mos­quito spray sim­ply doesn’t work. It does, how­ever, ruin cloth­ing and gear, espe­cially if the bug spray con­tains DEET.

I grew up hik­ing in the high-el­e­va­tion moun­tains of Cal­i­for­nia that fea­ture all sorts of nasty ter­rain, as well as ex­po­sure. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts have

al­ways been the right choices in case of slips and falls and will of­fer pro­tec­tion from mi­nor abra­sions.

Many peo­ple feel that in warm weather, shorts and short sleeves are bet­ter than long sleeves and pants, but that leaves the skin open to sun ex­po­sure—which leads to heat-re­lated ill­nesses and de­hy­dra­tion. (Be­sides, when a per­son over­heats to the point of col­lapse, it is from their head and their core be­ing too hot, not their legs or arms.) Do your­self a fa­vor: Keep them long!


No other type of cloth­ing of­fers more uses than scarves and ban­danas. Think of them as multi-func­tional tools. Us­ing these items in a sur­vival or out­doors sit­u­a­tion has been rec­og­nized in books about wilder­ness liv­ing go­ing back to the late 1800s. Some even go as far as to say that ev­ery woods­man should al­ways wear or carry a hanky or ban­dana.

Ban­danas should be made of cot­ton so they can ab­sorb wa­ter when be­ing used as “util­ity rags” for clean­ing your­self or for dry­ing off. There is an art to us­ing a ban­dana as a hanky for blow­ing one’s nose



… and as a wa­ter fil­ter. It can get messy— lit­er­ally. Keep­ing track of the clean and con­tam­i­nated ar­eas is not that easy. The late, great Ron Hood, of the Woods­mas­ter se­ries DVDS, had an in­ter­est­ing way of keep­ing track of the cor­rect area of his ban­dana: He would use a black per­ma­nent marker and write FACE on one half and BUTT on the other half. Hope­fully, this ap­proach worked for him.

In 2014, I did a long ex­pe­di­tion up to Mount Roraima in Venezuela. I en­coun­tered all types of weather—mostly ex­treme sun and wind ex­po­sure. I had a small, light back­pack for the trip, as well as my reg­u­lar sur­vival items. I can hon­estly say that no one piece of gear was used as much as my cot­ton ban­dana. It saved my neck and face from lit­er­ally burn­ing up on the moun­tain.

On the hike in and out of the jun­gle and on the rolling sa­van­nas, the ban­dana acted as my mos­quito swat­ter and sweat rag, as well as my wash cloth in the small pools we’d bathe in. It also served as my only source of toi­let pa­per, be­cause lit­ter­ing the moun­tain with conventional toi­let pa­per wasn’t ac­cept­able.

That thin, cot­ton ban­dana was very easy to clean in pud­dles with sand and small peb­bles, which served nicely as an abra­sive cleaner. Be­cause it was very thin cot­ton, the ban­dana would dry in min­utes un­der the harsh sun on the moun­tain’s ex­posed ter­rain. Hik­ing around the top, it played a vi­tal role in con­junc­tion with my brimmed hat by sup­ply­ing shade, cov­er­ing my neck and face from the sun and hot winds.

A scarf or ker­chief is best made from syn­thetic ma­te­ri­als or wool. Larger than a ban­dana, it pro­vides more shade, and its ex­tra length can be used to lash a tri­pod or serve as a makeshift arm sling. In cold weather, a warm scarf/ker­chief is ideal to wrap around one’s neck and over the face to trap body heat. Over the past few months, I have been us­ing a merino wool ker­chief and neck gaiter from North x North. I used it all over Scan­di­navia and the Eastern wood­lands, as a light blan­ket on air flights and also stored it in my bivvy bag to use as a scarf, towel and all-pur­pose cloth.

On a re­cent trip to the Yu­catán Penin­sula in Mex­ico, I used the wool ker­chief ev­ery day for hik­ing up large Mayan pyra­mids, as well as for a sweat rag and bug pro­tec­tion in the

For decades, we have been told that most body heat is lost through the head and neck. More-re­cent stud­ies have shown this not to be true— as­sum­ing you wear a sim­i­lar level of weather pro­tec­tion on your head as you do on the rest of your body. Cov­er­ing your head, neck and hands will keep your core closer to a cozy 98.6 de­grees (F) than if you don’t.

When you’re ex­posed to the sun, a wide-brimmed hat is best for shad­ing your eyes, head and neck. A hat has many ad­van­tages in the out­doors, and the va­ri­ety of ma­te­ri­als and styles avail­able to­day makes find­ing the right one eas­ier than ever. A beanie in the win­ter, a scarf or ker­chief, and a brimmed hat or base­ball cap will do the body won­ders and keep you pro­tected from the sun.

Be­low: Winds, flash floods and sand­storms are fre­quent oc­cur­rences in the South­west. Cov­er­ing up against the el­e­ments, in­clud­ing the sun, is para­mount.

Left: Be­sides ap­pro­pri­ate cov­er­age, weather pro­tec­tion and mo­bil­ity for a given en­vi­ron­ment, the right cloth­ing will help you get res­cued or stay con­cealed, de­pend­ing on your needs.

Left: On a kayak­ing camp trip, the au­thor wore his ban­dana “bon­net” style to block against the harsh Ari­zona sun.

Above: On an ex­pe­di­tion to Mount Roraima in Venezuela, Bolieu was cov­ered up for pro­tec­tion from the bugs and the sun for most of the hike.

Above, right: In South Amer­ica, Bolieu cov­ers up with a hat and ban­dana ... which was also used as a hanky, wash coth, toi­let pa­per and bug swat­ter.

Above, left: Au­thor Bolieu wears a North x North merino wool neck gaiter for cold or buggy con­di­tions in the Eastern wood­lands.

The au­thor got into some swamp wa­ter and fil­tered it through his cot­ton ban­dana. After­ward, a quick rinse in the creek, and it dried fast.

Broome, Aus­tralia, is where the au­thor learned a valu­able les­son about cov­er­ing up against the sun.

In Ari­zona, the au­thor keeps his head and arms cov­ered up for pro­tec­tion from the harsh sun, and his con­trast­ing cloth­ing keeps him highly vis­i­ble.

Above: A sim­ple cot­ton ban­dana is the “multi-tool” of a camper’s wardrobe. The au­thor of­ten uses his ban­dana to grab hot han­dles while cook­ing in camp.

Left: For or­ga­niz­ing a camp­fire or pro­cess­ing wood, leather gloves should be in ev­ery sur­vivor’s bag of tricks.

Right: This hiker is wear­ing heavy wool for the sub­freez­ing con­di­tions of the North­east.

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