Maybe you don't
need to learn about survival clothing.
Maybe you always hike with a spare
jacket. Perhaps you never go out into
the wilderness overnight, but just for
day hikes. Or you bring lots of warm
clothing when you do go backpacking.
Nonetheless, hundreds of people travel
or come close to dying every year from
exposure. They thought they were
prepared. They didn't expect their
clothes to get wet from falling in a
stream, they didn't think they'd be
out there for the night, or they get
lost for days.
Coming down from Mount Whitney I
met several young men in t-shirts on
their way up, determined to get to the
top. They had no gear, and not enough
time, but they probably made it there
by sunset anyhow. They also certainly
didn't make it the eleven miles back
to their car before dark. It was below
freezing that night, so I imagine they
were uncomfortable at best.
Quick Survival Clothing
What survival clothing could they
have made in that situation? One of
them did have a light jacket. He could
have used his t-shirt as a hat (a lot
of heat is lost through the head) and
filled his jacket with the fluff from
the cattail seedheads for insulation.
(Cattail down was once used to fill
those old orange life preservers.)
Insulation is the important
principle here. You can stuff a
jacket, shirt, sweater or pants with
dry leaves, milkweed down, bracken
ferns or almost anything that creates
a lot of "dead air space." It's better
if you have two layers to sandwich it
between, but being itchy is better
than being frozen in any case.
In a jam, you can also use the flat
leaves of cattail plants to weave a
vest that will block the wind and some
rain. Two bread bags full of milkweed
down or other silky plant fibers make
warm mittens (tie them at the wrists).
A plastic bag full of the same could
be tied onto your head as a hat.
Usually, you'll do better to look
first at what you have, before looking
to stop animals for their skins, or
weave grass skirts. If you have a
sleeping bag, it can double as a coat
- just wrap it around you. Socks can
be mittens, and garbage bags can be
made into snow pants.
A garbage bag can also be a
raincoat. Otherwise, tie bunches of
grass tightly together along a string
or strip of cloth, and then wrap it
around your shoulders. This will repel
a light rain. You can fashion a rain
hood of birchbark as well.
In the desert you can make a
sun-hat of large leaves, like those
from a fan palm. String some together
to wrap around your shoulders to
You'll probably never have to use
animal skins for survival clothing.
You might never lose your shoes and
need to glue tree bark to your feet
with pine sap, for hiking. Still,
knowing how to improvise a few basic
pieces of survival clothing can make
you more comfortable, and possibly
save your life.