Telling someone how to dress is like telling them how to eat; clothing is a very personal thing. Once you get past performance and serviceability, fashion always becomes an issue. If you’re looking to clothe yourself in garments that can withstand rough treatment and last a long time, like they might need to in a survival situation, fashion should not be at the top of your list. However, unless you’re going to pack away the clothes you plan to wear for when that bad day comes, you’ll need to be wearing them in normal times, too. You might as well look good and be prepared.

Fashion matters, but it should be considered a distant second to the ruggedness and protection clothing provides. The sources for clothing are endless, and the materials and construction methods used are just as never-ending and diverse. It’s very likely you have some favorites and preferences, but have you actually exposed your gear to long-term torture or the elements?

As an outdoorsman/hunter who has traveled the world, I’ve been exposed to almost every climatic situation you can imagine. Similarly, by working the land I live on, my clothing gets used hard and often. Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. Here are some considerations along with some suggestions that might save you some heartache when it comes to what you put on your body when it really matters.

Base Layer Essentials

Cotton underwear can be comfortable when lounging around, but during exertion it collects perspiration. You need the moisture wicked away from your body to prevent chafing during work and chilling when the work stops. Polyester/elastane fabrics that fit snug without compression are the way to go. They’ll wick away moisture and the best will prevent the accumulation of odor-causing microbes.

For heat-holding base layers, the same specifications apply. Look for polyester, nylon and elastane blends of between 4 and 10 ounces. The higher the activity level, the thinner base layer you need. Under Armour dominates this section of the market and offers an unending assortment to choose from. Regardless of the suspected weather or the geographic location I’m headed to, Under Armour base layer garments are in my bug-out bag.

Take Care of Your Feet!

When I was leaving home for basic training, I asked my father, a Korean War combat veteran, for advice. I expected to get some insight on how to deal with the stress and grouchy drill sergeants. Instead, Dad offered only one guiding recommendation: Take care of your feet. His advice was sound and it not only kept me in the game for the 14 weeks at Fort Knox, it has served me well ever since.

“… [these] are the type of clothes you’ll wear or trust on a day-to-day basis. Choose wisely, it might be a long time before you find a store to resupply.

Your feet can go rancid in a hurry without proper care, and while you may not be able to bathe on a regular basis, you can for sure change your socks at least daily, if not twice per day. I think I’ve tried every sock on the market and for long-term, feet-saving wear I’ve found nothing to beat a wool blend. The 1816 Socks from Remington’s 1816 brand are a perfect example. Based on the miles I’ve put on my feet, their 75-percent Merino wool, 24-percent nylon and 1-percent spandex blend is about the perfect combination.

Wool socks are not just for cold weather. Insulation is insulation; it can keep heat in and heat out. More importantly, unlike cotton socks, wool socks wick the moisture away from your body and provide a soft and comfortable foot bed. Wool might sound old fashioned, but millions and millions of sheep are sheared annually for a reason.

Trail-Ready Pants

If you intend to survive rough conditions and you intend to do it with clothes on, you’re going to need trousers that can stand up to ugliness. Jeans have become the sort of standard outdoor wear, and as you probably know, all jeans are not created equal. I like jeans and wear them often, but mostly in social settings. When I’m going to be in harsh conditions, my legs are covered in Mountain Khakis.

These 10.4-ounce, two-ply cotton canvas pants are about as rugged as you can get, especially when you add in reinforced knee and seat panels, a diamond-shaped gusset, a YKK zipper, reinforced heel cuffs, triple-stitched seams and six pockets. Mountain Khakis’ Alpine Utility Pant might be the most rugged longwearing pant I’ve put my legs in. But, if they seem a bit heavy for warm climates, the 8-ounce Cargo Pant might be a better option.

I have several pairs that are more than four years old, and I’ve yet to wear a hole in any of them. They are my chainsaw-running, garden-planting, ditch-digging, range and work pants. I treat them like Cinderella was treated by her stepmother, and they never complain.

All-Weather Shirts

While a button-up shirt might seem a bit dressy or unconventional for outdoor activities, they make sense because by undoing a few buttons your body can breathe. Short-sleeve button-ups make sense in tropical climates, but don’t underestimate the benefit of long sleeves for protection from the sun, poisonous plants and insects; you can always roll your sleeves up.

My favorite shirt to wear for just about any occasion is the Mountain Khakis Peaks Flannel Shirt. The 5.7-ounce, 88-percent polyester/10-percent wool/2-percent Lycra blend is comfortable and quick drying, and it also has a bit of stretch or give so that it does not interfere with your motion like many  all-cotton button-ups do. It will keep you warm in cool weather, and it breathes well in the heat. It’s a pretty attractive looking shirt, too.

Field-Tested Outerwear

Endless outerwear options abound, and layering is key for dealing with changing temperatures. When the mercury drops or a cold breeze comes in, the first thing I grab is my Mountain Khakis Rendezvous Quarter Zip pullover, which is crafted from high-quality, 8.8-ounce washable Merino wool jersey knit. It works great as an outer layer when it’s cool or as a mid layer when it’s cold, and the thumb loops on the cuffs will keep the sleeves in place when you pull on an outer layer. It has an athletic snug fit so you do not have to worry about binding when it’s worn as a mid-layer garment.

As for jackets, you’ll need a rugged work jacket, and the Mountain Khakis Stagecoach Jacket is just that. Built from a 10.4-ounce, two-ply cotton canvas with triple-stitched seams, it will survive encounters with barbwire and briars. It’s also loaded with pockets, including two hand-warmer pockets that are great for storing high-value items or even for hiding a small handgun. The only thing this jacket does not provide is everyday wet weather protection. For that I generally turn to Browning’s new Black Label Tracer Soft Shell Jacket. The Black Label Tracer Jacket is made of 100-percent polyester with a tight water-repellent weave on the outside and a soft pile weave on the inside. It will block mild winds and shed light rain, and it’s loaded with zippered pockets to store valuables.

All-Terrain Footwear

If you think folks get picky about their clothes, when it comes to shoes and boots the pickiness is magnified ten-fold. For long-term comfort and protection in rugged conditions you are going to need multiple types of footwear to see you through. And, the truth is, there are lots of good sources for insulated, waterproof, mud-stepping, mountain climbing shoes and boots. But, what some folks do when shopping for footwear is overlook exquisite items from companies that they do not realize are in the footwear business.

While I was thumbing through the 1816 Remington catalog to order my 1816 Socks and one of the company’s very fine fleece Suffield coats, I stumbled upon its Wolverine Birch Boots. These boots are crafted from full-grain leather with a quilted wool felt panel, and they have a Dri-Lex lining and a foot bed with a rib-knit, padded collar. The lugged rubber sole provides traction in all terrain, but most importantly these boots come out of the box broken-in and ready to wear. After a couple months, my feet tell me the Birch Boots make for a great all-around utility boot.

Weatherproof Protection

Two other things you will need for sure are gloves and an extreme outer protection layer. As with boots and shoes, gloves come in all shapes and sizes, but one glove that many overlook is a simple but thin leather glove. You can find them from a variety of retailers, but Remington’s 1816 line offers a thin Goatskin Shooting Glove that fits the bill. Most men will ignore scratches and scrapes on their hands, but when those scratches and scrapes turn septic or get infected, they can take you out of the game. A thin layer of leather protection can provide a much-needed barrier between your most important tool—your hands—and injury.

As for an extreme outer layer, yes, there are lots of options here, too. I rarely if ever offer up any product as the best, but after fighting the elements all over the world I can say without hesitation that if you are looking to stay warm and dry in cold and wet conditions, nothing beats Arc’teryx’s Alpha Jacket and Pants. I’ve worn them while lying in the snow for hours behind a sniper rifle, while trudging across a bog in Newfoundland in a torrential downpour and on the plains of Africa in a bone-chilling wind. They will not leak, and they are as tough as rhinoceros hide. When I’m at home they stay in my truck and when I’m in the field they are in my pack. My Arc’teryx Alpha gear is the first thing I pack, no matter my destination.

Why does this Arc’teryx Alpha gear work so well? It utilizes N40p-X Gore-Tex fabric, which is fully waterproof and windproof, highly breathable and engineered to maintain comfort during frequent work/rest cycles. The shoulders and elbows are articulated to provide a wide range of unrestricted motion and a storm hood blocks drafts, protects the neck and will even fit over a combat or climbing helmet. All zippers are watertight, and pit zippers allow for rapid heat venting during heavy exertion. To top off the features, two chest pockets are compatible with load carriage equipment and have media ports to allow for the internal routing of communications equipment.

Gear Up For Anything

When it comes to clothes, our tastes will vary, but when it comes to clothes you can trust to help you get through tough times, it can be wise to take the advice of someone who has been there and done that. Most of the gear listed here I came upon by listening to others who learned the hard way. Some of it I discovered on my own, the hard way.

Dress for success, but not success in the traditional office setting. You need clothes for building shelters, clothes for cutting firewood, hunting, fishing, gardening, digging ditches and even overland travel. Sure, the options listed here are not the only clothes you’ll need, but they are the type of clothes you’ll wear or trust on a day-to-day basis. Choose wisely, it might be a long time before you find a store to resupply.

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE TM Fall 2014 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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