Clothing for Hard Times
Copyright © July 1, 2011 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
The clothes that people voluntarily choose to wear during normal times are usually not the same types of clothes that they choose to wear during hard times. During normal times people are more concerned about their appearance in public and in the way they appear to their friends and family. During hard times these "appearance" issues become less important and the functionality of a person's clothes become much more important.
This article will review some of the apparel choices that would be appropriate during a long-term hard times event.
Hats, Caps, and Ski Masks
If you have ever seen a photograph taken of a group of people who were outdoors during the late 1800s then you may have noticed that almost everyone in the picture was wearing some type of hat. These individuals were not wearing a hat simply because it was fashionable at that time. They were wearing hats because a hat was considered a necessary article of clothing.
Before there were heated and air conditioned buildings and heated and air conditioned vehicles to rapidly transport people between those buildings, people in the 1800s spent a higher percentage of their time outdoors. The purpose of the hat or bonnet was to help keep their heads warm and to protect their face, ears, and the backs of their necks from sunburn (even on a winter day). If you have ever had a serious sunburn on your nose, or the back of your neck, or the top of your ears then you know from personal experience how truly painful this can be. Therefore to protect themselves from this type of injury people in the 1800s used simple common sense (sometimes called horse sense) and they wore a hat or a bonnet.
Today there are all types of head coverings available. Let's look at three of those options: a baseball cap, a hat with a full brim, and a ski mask.
Baseball Cap: One of the most popular head coverings in the United States is the baseball cap. I do not wish to offend anyone who dearly loves these types of hats but a baseball cap only protects the top of your head and your eyes from the sun and in most cases it will not protect your nose or the tops of your ears or the back of your neck. If you are bald, or if you have very little hair remaining on top of your head, then a baseball cap will help to protect your head from sunburn and hide the fact that you don't have very much hair on your head. But a baseball cap is not the best choice for a long-term hard times tragedy event.
However, a baseball style cap with insulation on the inside of the cap, and ear muff protection on the sides of the cap, and an extended piece in the rear of the cap is a very good choice for cold weather. The ear muffs on the side can be tied under your chin during cold windy weather, and they can be tied above your head during cool weather when there is no wind blowing. Instead of strings hanging down below the ear muffs some of these caps have a snap closure that serves the same function.
Hat with a Full Brim: A hat with a full brim (picture at top of page) is a good choice for a long-term hard times event for the following reasons:
Therefore when selecting a hat you should look for a hat that is made from some type of waterproof material and it should have a medium or wide brim that extends all the way around the hat. When you put the hat on your head and you look in the mirror you will probably see that the front brim is higher than the rear brim and therefore it will help to direct rainwater off the back of the hat.
- It will help to protect a bald head or a head with very little hair from sunburn.
- It will help to keep your head warm.
- The full brim goes all the way around the hat. Therefore the brim will protect your nose, your ears, and the back of your neck from sunburn, even on a bright sunny freezing cold winter day.
- If it starts to rain the full brim will catch the rain and direct it away from your head so the rain falls off the rear brim of your hat behind you onto the ground.
The hat should feel comfortable on your head and it should not feel too tight or too loose. If it is too tight then you will be able to feel it pressing against your forehead. If it is too loose then it will fall off your head when you bow at the waist. The hat should be a little loose on your head but not so loose that it will be constantly falling off.
Ski Mask: A full face ski mask is also a very useful item to have in cold weather. It will help to keep your entire head warm, including your ears, nose, chin, and part of your neck. On a cold windy day there is nothing that can compare to the comfort of a ski mask to keep your nose and ears from becoming frost bitten.
Depending on the thickness of your ski mask it might be possible to wear your ski mask under your full brim hat if your hat was purchased to be comfortable and your hat does not fit too tightly on your head.
If the wind is not blowing then the bottom half of a ski mask can be lifted up above your eyes and be used to only cover the top half of your head. This will provide a double layer of warmth for your forehead and ears.
If you are trying to remain undetected in a rural or wilderness environment then a hat or ski mask will help to cover your head and make it more difficult to see your human facial features at a distance.
If it is extremely cold at night then you may wish to wear a ski mask to bed and sleep with it covering your head, ears, nose, chin, and neck to keep your head and face warm so you can get a decent night's rest. Your eyes, mouth, and nostrils would be uncovered so you could breathe and so you could see when you woke up. In the 1800s many people wore a head covering at night and it was called a "night cap." A night cap had material on each side of the cap that was used to tie the cap under your chin to keep it from working its way off your head during the night. A ski mask does not require these side ties because a ski mask covers your entire head, including your chin, and therefore it will not gradually slip off your head when you turn from side to side during the night, unless you are an extremely restless sleeper.
Therefore it would probably be a good idea to have two ski masks: one to wear during the freezing cold winter days and a clean one to wear to bed at night.
Another option for staying warm at night would be to sleep inside a hooded sweatshirt. Place the hood over your head and pull the drawstrings so it fits loosely against your head. If it is really cold where you are sleeping then wear a ski mask under your hooded sweatshirt.
Mosquito Head Net: During hard times the insect population multiplies. All types of flying insects will fly around your head and they will annoy you and distract you and seriously reduce your productivity and your effectiveness in whatever you are trying to accomplish. The simple solution to the flying insect problem is to purchase a mosquito head net for each member of your family. The head net can be worn under a hat or over a hat or with no hat at all. These head nets sell for less than two dollars in the camping section of many stores. The net will keep the tiny insects out of your ears, eyes, nose, and mouth and you will not experience the unpleasant gagging reflex caused by inhaling a gnat.
Gloves and Mittens
The choice between gloves or mittens is not a simple choice. There are a variety of factors that should be considered before you make a decision on whether you will wear gloves or mittens. One of the most important issues is quality. In most situations high quality mittens are better than cheap gloves, and high quality gloves are better than cheap mittens. The choice between gloves or mittens should be based on the reason you will be wearing them.
Mittens: Mittens have an opening for the thumb and another opening for all four fingers. During cold weather this allows your fingers to share their warmth inside the large finger compartment of the mittens. If you are buying mittens for warmth then the mittens should be thick, or insulated, in order to protect your hands during extremely cold weather. However, since all four fingers are together inside the mittens then it can be more difficult to pick up an object while wearing mittens. It can also be more difficult to do some types of work while wearing mittens because you cannot hold things in your hands as easily with mittens as with gloves. Therefore if you purchase mittens then make sure that the mittens you are purchasing will serve the purpose for which they are being bought.
Gloves: There are a wide variety of different types of gloves that are designed for a multitude of different purposes. However, for the purpose of this article the only types of gloves that will be discussed will be for work, or for warmth, or for both.
The life expectancies of the above gloves are as follows:
- Leather Work Gloves: If you will be using your hands to do hard physical labor then you will probably discover that a good pair of comfortable flexible leather work gloves will protect your hands from a variety of injuries and from becoming calloused and blistered. This is of critical importance during a long-term hard times event because if you can't use your hands then your chances of survival significantly decrease.
- Warm Gloves: During a cold weather hard times event you will probably discover that you will need to wear warm gloves both indoors and outdoors to keep your hands warm. If the temperature drops really low at night then you will probably discover that you will want to sleep with your warm gloves on your hands. Therefore a comfortable pair of flexible warm gloves is a basic necessity that everyone in your family will need. Wool gloves are usually preferred but wool gloves are normally more difficult to find and they are more expensive than cotton gloves or gloves made from synthetic fibers. (Note: My personal experience has been that a good pair of leather driving gloves perform exceptionally well for keeping my hands warm when I am just sitting around the house and while sleeping during really cold weather.)
- Campfire Cooking Gloves with Wide Wrists: If you are cooking over a wood burning fire (fireplace or campfire) then a pair of loose fitting leather gloves with long wrists will be extremely useful when you move pots and pans to and from the fire area, and when you stir the food inside the pots near the fire. Campfire cooking gloves should be thick enough to protect your hands from the heat of the handles of the skillets and cook pots that you will be using. Campfire cooking gloves should be a little loose so you can quickly shake them off your hands if they accidentally become too hot. Your cooking gloves should only be used for cooking and they should not be used for anything else in order to keep them as sanitary as possible and to help avoid transferring something unpleasant into your food.
Finally, I suggest that you try the gloves on before you purchase them. The gloves should feel very comfortable on your hands and they should not be too tight or too loose. During a long-term hard times tragedy event you will be using your gloves a lot and comfort is a very important issue in this type of situation.
- Leather Work Gloves: Gloves that are used for hard physical labor several days each week will usually only last three or four months before you wear holes in them or they start to fall apart. Therefore if you anticipate having to do hard physical labor (gardening or cutting firewood) during a long-term hard times event then you should have several pairs of good leather work gloves for each "worker" in your household.
- Warm Gloves: Gloves that are only worn for warmth will easily last at least five years or a lot longer if they are good quality gloves.
- Campfire Cooking Gloves with Wide Wrists: Gloves that are only used when cooking over the coals of a wood burning fire will normally last at least three years. However, do not lay your cooking gloves down too close to the fire when you are not using them or the heat will significantly shorten their useful life.
During a long-term hard times tragedy event the one clothing item that will almost always wear out the fastest and which is also the most important to your long-term survival will be your socks. Walking may become critical to your survival during a long-term hard times event and without a good pair of socks between your feet and your boots then walking will become either extremely uncomfortable or impossible.
Most people think socks last a long time because they don't have to replace their socks very often. But these people usually buy their socks in packages of between three to ten pair of socks per package. And most people usually have between six to twelve pair of socks in their sock drawer. Therefore each pair of socks is usually only worn one day each week. And if you only buy new socks once every six months then you think that all socks will last about six months. This is true during normal times but each pair of socks was only used one day each week during those six months so each pair of socks has a life expectancy of about 20 to 30 days of continuous wear. And the reason one pair of socks will last about 25 days is because we don't walk very much during normal times.
However, during a hard times event it would not be unusual for a person to walk two or three times further every day than during normal times. This means a good pair of socks would only last between 10 to 15 days under heavy use, if you were to use the same pair of socks every day. No one would do this if they could put on clean socks each day. But the life expectancy of each pair of socks would still be significantly less than anything a person was accustomed to during normal times.
Therefore when you think about the shortened life expectancy of a good pair of socks and how important socks are to your long term survival then you will probably realize that your current emergency inventory of socks is totally inadequate.
During really cold winter weather you may need to wear two or three pair of socks to keep your feet warm.
The easiest way to extend the useful life of your socks is to keep your toenails trimmed short. During hard times you should seriously consider trimming your toenails once every week. Each time you trim your toenails you should take the time to file each toenail very smooth so it does not have any rough places that can catch and tear a hole in your socks.
You should also learn the proper way to repair your socks. The proper way is called "darning." Instructions for darning socks can be downloaded from the following websites:
Cold Weather Clothing
Lightweight Jacket: A waterproof jacket is necessary for the cool weather months and for cool nights during the warm weather months. The jacket should have an attached hood that will cover your head when it rains or when the wind is blowing. The jacket should have a special pocket or flap below the collar of the jacket to store the hood when it is not needed. Finally, the jacket should be long enough to completely cover your upper body including your groin area.
Winter Coat: Your cold weather coat should be waterproof. If possible it should have a zippered removable lining that will allow you to add more warmth to the coat during the coldest months of winter. The coat should extend down to your knees.
Long Underwear (Thermal Underwear): During cold weather each member of your family should wear long underwear, or thermal underwear, under their regular clothing. This includes wearing a long sleeve upper garment and a long leg lower garment below your normal clothing. The extra layer of clothing will help you to stay warmer and you will lose less of your normal body heat to the surrounding cold air.
There are a lot of different types of long underwear available. You should purchase the best quality you can afford. However, even an inexpensive pair of long underwear is better than no long underwear.
If you can't find any long underwear then you should consider wearing a pair of ladies pantyhose under your jeans, even if you are a male. They make ladies pantyhose in Queen sizes and in Plus sizes that will usually fit an adult male. If you buy black pantyhose then it will not look like you are wearing pantyhose if a temporary small space briefly appears between your jeans and your socks. Read the back of the package to determine the recommended waist, weight, and length of the pantyhose before you make your investment.
If you can't find any long underwear you should also consider wearing a long sleeve undershirt below your normal shirt. If you can't find a long sleeve undershirt then try wearing two t-shirts with short sleeves under your normal shirt. Your primary objective is to keep your chest and abdominal area warm because that is where the majority of your vital organs are located and performing their normal functions.
Layers of Clothing: You will stay warmer wearing several thin layers of clothing instead of wearing one or two thick layers of clothing. If you are wearing several thin layers of clothing and it gradually gets colder then you can add another layer of clothing to get warmer. If you gradually get too warm then you can remove a layer of clothing to cool off. But if you are only wearing one or two really heavy layers of clothing then you can't easily add or subtract layers without getting much too warm or much too cool. Therefore several thin layers of clothing are better than one or two thick layers of clothing. You should keep this in mind when you are purchasing your clothing. There is nothing wrong with having a good thick pair of pants and a good thick shirt but you should also have some thinner items that you can wear below those thick items to better control your body temperature and keep yourself more comfortable.
Warm Weather Clothing
During warm weather it is nice to have some type of "safe" insect repellant that you can spray or rub on your skin (or clothes) to keep the insects away. But during a serious long-term hard times tragedy event most of us will quickly run out of insect repellant and we will need an alternate solution to the insect problem.
If you are going to remain indoors most of the time during the really warm summer weather then short sleeve shirts and short pants are a good choice. But if you will need to be outdoors for a reasonable portion of the day and there are flying insects, gnats, and mosquitoes that are looking for someone to feed on then you would be providing an easy meal for these insects if a lot of your skin is exposed. However, if you were wearing a very lightweight thin loose fitting long sleeve summer shirt, and lightweight thin loose fitting long summer pants, then you would have less skin area exposed and this could significantly reduce the number of insect bites you receive. If the garments are loose fitting then they will be sliding around a little bit on your body and this will make it more challenging for an insect to bite through the garment and get to you. If you also wear a mosquito head net then your head will also be protected from insects. Finally, a thin long sleeve shirt will help to protect your upper body and your arms from sunburn, and it will help you to stay cool during hot weather if you start to sweat because it will become saturated with sweat and the shirt will keep the moisture close to your body and this will help you stay cool. You can wash your shirt at the end of the workday.
If you are trying to remain undetected in a rural or wilderness environment during the warm summer weather then wearing a thin long sleeve shirt and a thin pair of long pants will help to better conceal your human features and skin.
When I lived in Florida I noticed that the Sporting Goods Stores sold a special type of clothing for hunters that was designed for their hot, humid environment. The clothing had an outer layer of close weave mesh that you could see through and an inner layer of thick weave mesh. The inner mesh pattern was about 1/4 inch square but the mesh material was about 1/8 inch thick. This allowed your skin to breathe and it kept the outer close weave mesh far enough off your skin that a mosquito could not feed on you. I tried to find this type of clothing in the Sporting Goods Stores in Georgia and in Alabama but none of them had any idea of what I was talking about. Therefore you may or may not be able to find a store in your area that sells this type of special summer clothing. However, this type of clothing is available from the company that makes it by clicking on the following link. I do not earn a commission or fee of any kind if you click on the link or if you purchase something from the company. The link is being provided solely for your convenience.
Choice of Materials
Cotton: Cotton will not cause your skin to itch unless you are allergic to cotton clothing. Cotton feels soft against your skin. Cotton will allow your skin to breathe and therefore cotton clothing will allow your body to lose heat. Cotton will quickly absorb moisture (sweat) and it will feel cool or cold against your body. This is an advantage during a hot summer day but it is a disadvantage during cold weather if your body begins to sweat.
Wool: Wool may cause your skin to itch. Wool helps to retain your body heat. Wool will wick moisture away from your body. However, when a wool garment gets wet it begins to loose some of its original strength and when that happens it can be stretched out of its original shape. Wool garments should be hand washed and air dried to help extend their useful lives.
Synthetic: Some synthetic garments have superior moisture wicking properties when compared to wool. However, there are a lot of different types of synthetic fibers and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. Polyester and Gore-Tex are both good choices because they are durable and warm.
Choice of Colors
During a long-term hard times tragedy event your best chance for survival is to blend in and not attract any unnecessary attention.
If you are planning to live in the wilderness and never enter a small rural town then camouflage clothing may be a reasonable option for you. The problem with camouflage clothing is that very, very few people inside a rural town wear that type of clothing on a regular basis so you will stand out from everyone else and you will be noticed by anyone who sees you.
On the other hand, if you are wearing solid color dark faded clothing then you will blend it. During a long-term hard times tragedy event there will probably not be too many people wearing new clothes so your best chance of blending in would be to wear something without any type of distinctive pattern or any type of bright color.
In order to strategically choose the best colors for your particular situation you should first very carefully look at your environment and determine which colors are predominate during the different seasons of the year.
I suggest that all your clothing be purchased in dark colors, including your underwear and t-shirts. The quickest and easiest way to attract attention almost anywhere, including a rural town and the wilderness, is to have a temporary small space appear between your shirt and your jeans and a flash of "white" or some other bright color become visible.
- White: If your area is covered in snow for several months each year then you will need some white clothing to blend in during your normal winter weather. But if your area only has snow on the ground for a few days each year then white clothing would probably be a very poor choice. If your area has snow on the ground for several days each month during the winter and you need to blend into a wilderness area, then you should consider purchasing a white rain poncho with a white hood that you can wear over your normal dark color clothing.
- Brown: If your area is surrounded by trees and those trees lose their leaves every fall then brown would be a good choice because the ground probably contains a thick layer of decaying leaves that are different shades of brown. Brown also does not "catch the eye" inside a populated area.
- Black: In my opinion black clothing, black socks, and black footwear would be a good choice for a long-term hard times tragedy event if you do not know exactly where you might eventually be spending most of your time. Each time you wash the black clothing the black color will fade a little bit but it will still be black. At night you will be almost invisible inside a rural town or in the middle of the wilderness. You will also not stand out or attract any attention during the daytime in either one of these two environments. As the black color gradually fades it looks almost like dark navy blue which is a common color inside a populated area. In a wilderness area there are lots and lots of shadows from the trees during the daytime and therefore one more dark object will not attract any special attention.
- Dark Navy Blue: Dark navy blue is a good compromise color if you anticipate spending about half of your time in a populated area and about half your time in a wilderness area. People will generally not notice you if you are wearing navy blue. The dark navy blue color is very close to black so you will disappear at night and blend in reasonably well in the wilderness. On the other hand, medium blue does not blend in well except inside a populated area as blue jeans. The major problem with blue jeans is that they are very noticeable in the wilderness from a long distance away.
- Gray: Medium gray or dark charcoal gray is also a good choice because it does not "catch the eye" like bright colors. Your objective should be to blend in and not be noticed and this is easier to do inside a town or in the wilderness if you are wearing medium gray or dark gray clothing. The trunks of many trees are different shades of gray so you would blend in "naturally" if you were in an area with trees. On the other hand, light gray coloring does not blend in well and therefore light gray should probably be avoided.
You will need to make your own decision about what colors you think would be best suited for whatever situation you think you will encounter during a long-term tragedy event.
Ordinary laundry detergent contains "brighteners" which enhance the colors in your clothing. These brighteners add a chemical to your clothing that actually shines when your clothing is viewed through ultraviolet lenses. During a hard times tragedy event you probably will not want clothing that looks great and which can be easily seen at night using night vision equipment.
There are two solutions to this brightness problem. The first solution is to wash your clothes in ordinary Ivory brand bar soap. Ivory bar soap does not contain any brighteners. The second solution is to wash your clothes using a special laundry detergent that was designed for sportsmen and hunters and it does not contain any brighteners. One brand is called "Sport-Wash" and it can usually be found in the Sporting and Hunting section of a store that sells sporting and hunting equipment, including many Walmart stores.
Your clothes will eventually need some type of repair. Therefore you should have some hand sewing needles and some thread in a variety of colors. These items may be purchased at a very reasonable price at most Walmarts.
You will also need to know how to make clothes. If you know how to make new clothes then you will be better qualified to repair your old clothes. I therefore suggest the purchase of the following sewing book: Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, 1976 or 2002 Edition.
I do not recommend growing your own cotton. I also do not recommend keeping a small herd of sheep so you can get their wool. Neither of these activities is practical for the realistic self-sufficient individual. In other words, don't invest in a spinning wheel or a weaving loom. I worked six years in the apparel and textile industries and I have first-hand knowledge and experience making thread and yarn from cotton, wool, and manmade fibers, and then making fabric and socks from those yarns. In my opinion this is not an activity the average self-sufficient individual should be pursuing.
I strongly suggest that you buy a few extra pair of socks and underwear for each member of your family and don't use those items until they are needed during a serious hard times tragedy event.
I also recommend that you invest right now in a small inventory of good quality thread, an assortment of bulk buttons, some bulk elastic, and some good quality denim cloth, some flannel cloth, and some shirt and dress cloth. Then store those items until you need to make your own clothes. When your clothes wear out you can take them apart very carefully and use each piece as a pattern piece to cut your new cloth to the right size and shape. Then sew your new cloth together to make the same item you just wore out.
If the hard times continue for a lot longer than you originally planned then your clothes will wear out and your shoes will wear out. At that time the most practical solution to the clothing and shoe issue would be to make your own from deerskins. Detailed instructions on how to make buckskin clothing and moccasins are in my book How to Tan Animal Hides and How to Make High Quality Buckskin Clothing.
To make buckskin clothing, or moccasins, you will need some large "craft" sewing needles with big eyes. These craft sewing needles can be found in the sewing section of most Walmarts. Buy hand sewing needles and not machine sewing needles. A hand sewing needle has the eye at one end of the needle and the point at the other end of the needle. A machine sewing needle has the eye and the point at the same end of the needle.
(Note: Man's first clothes were animal skins and they were made by God. God showed Adam and Eve how to make clothes from animal skins:
Genesis 3:20-21 -- "And Adam called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.")
Always wear some type of safety eyeglasses everywhere.
Wear safety eyeglasses even when you are just relaxing and doing nothing. Your eyes deserve to be protected all the time. Losing one eye during a hard times event will seriously impair your productivity and your chances for long-term survival. Losing both eyes would mean that you would become a permanent burden on the rest of your family.
Therefore please visit a hardware store or a Walmart and buy two or three pair of good quality clear safety eyeglasses. Safety eyeglasses are usually available in the Sporting Goods Section and in the Hardware Section of the store. Of you could purchase industrial quality safety eyeglasses. If you wear prescription eyeglasses then consider investing in a pair of safety eyeglasses made from your current prescription.
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