Clothing Essentials for Cold-Weather Survival Scenarios

A critical part of surviving in the wilderness is being properly clothed. You could have the most well-stocked prepper’s pantry and be carrying a kit with all your basic essentials, but if you’re exposed to the elements for too long, it doesn’t take long for your health to deteriorate, derailing even your best intentions.

While there’s an entirely different uniform to pack for hot-weather situations, today we’re taking a look at what to pack to make sure that even when the temperatures dip below freezing, you and your family are capable of pressing onward and making your way through the wilderness successfully, staying warm and dry the entire way. You’ll also help prevent cold weather-related injuries, such as frostbite or hypothermia, that could significantly hinder your journey or stop it altogether.

The crux of this subject is layering. Wearing one sweater, even if it’s the warmest in your closet, won’t cut it. You’ll need several heat-containing and weather-resisting layers to ensure you stay comfortable throughout your trek. So to begin, let’s start at the base layer.


Base Layer

In essence, this is the layer of clothing that will touch your skin directly. As such, it will go on first. Remember, even in the coldest temperatures, you may begin sweating, especially if you’re exerting extreme effort. To that end, look for a base layer that has moisture-wicking properties.

These materials are typically polyester blends, as scientists have shown polyester only retains about 0.4% of moisture, sending it upward and into the holes in the weave and away from your body. Another great option is polypropylene, a synthetic fiber used in many wicking-type articles of clothing.

As you’ll be layering on top of this article, keep it snug and form-fitting, but not so tight that it restricts your blood circulation, which will be crucial to maintaining your internal temperature. Remember, you’ll likely need a base layer for both your top half and your bottom half, especially in super cold environments.


Insulation Layer

In the event of extreme cold, an insulating layer is your next step. This will fit directly over your base layer and will serve to keep as much warmth in as possible. As such, it’s ideal to find articles made with heat-trapping fibers, such as down, fleece or even wool. These are traditionally fairly bulky items, so be sure to account for that extra material when planning your survival uniform.

As an added bonus, materials such as wool will retain their heat even when they get wet and also dry quickly, which is not true of all fibers. Keep in mind that down feathers, while insulating and very warm, can become heavy and cold when wet. In addition, the down can lose its insulating features and simply weigh you down at that point. So don’t be afraid to think outside the “puffy vest” category when searching for items that will work for this layer.


External Layer

The outside, or external layer, will be the one directly exposed to the elements. As such, look for materials designed to hold up to extreme wind, snow, sleet, and rain. A waterproof jacket is a solid bet, as it will repel all of these and also help you hold in as much heat as possible. With a little research, you can even find waterproof jackets designed to also encourage moisture evaporation, much in the same way your base layer will. Traditionally made with a type of fabric known as Gore-Tex®, these jackets can be found at most outdoor and wilderness shops around the country.

You can opt for one-piece design (think snow bibs) or a uniform of separate jackets and pants to serve as your outer layer.



Even with the majority of your body properly layered and covered up, you’d be remiss to forget your face, hands, ankles, and ears. It’s equally important to keep these body parts warm, so be sure to pack plenty of cold-weather accessories so you’re always prepared.

Look for a thick and comfortable gaiter to cover your neck and face from strong winds and extreme cold. A thermal toboggan is a solid choice for headwear, though you may want to invest in a helmet liner mask that covers essentially everything except your eyes and extends down to your neck, keeping your face warm and protected.

In addition, pack plenty of thick, thermal waterproof socks, preferably featuring a merino wool cushion on the footbed and liner for maximum walkability. Layering socks is an ideal way to keep your feet warm in even the most frigid temperatures. Top them with waterproof boots designed to hold up to the elements. If you envision you’ll be looking for your meals among the wildlife, a solid pair of hunting boots are essential.

If temperatures dip below 10 degrees, you’ll need to make the switch from gloves to mittens to keep your fingers as warm as possible. Resist the urge to wear ones that are suction-tight to your appendages. Rather, opt for ones that fit a little looser to encourage proper circulation. Begin with a base layer consisting of a glove liner, then slip on the mittens. Look for ones with a microfiber lining, lock closure, and wrist snap to make sure you’re as insulated as possible.


Surviving and Staying Warm

As you seek shelter, hunt for game, or simply travel along in the woods to a safe spot, you’ll need to ensure that your family stays as warm as possible. With so much emphasis on preparing for such a journey, you can’t forget to dress the part.


About the Author

Courtney Myers is a North Carolina-based freelance writer and work-from-home mother of two. In her 10 years as a professional writer, she’s worked in proposal management, grant writing, and content creation. Personally, she’s passionate about teaching her family how to stay safe, secure and action-ready in the event of a disaster or emergency.


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