DRESS FOR SUCCESS
THE OUTDOORSMAN’S FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE
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.
KEEP THEM LONG
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!
BANDANAS AND SCARVES
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
NO OTHER TYPE OF CLOTHING OFFERS MORE USES THAN SCARVES AND BANDANAS. THINK OF THEM AS MULTI-FUNCTIONAL TOOLS.
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.
… 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.