Survival Clothing – Beginners Guide To Choosing The Best

By Colleen •  Updated: 12/15/21 •  14 min read

Watching the news and looking back on history, it seems the importance of being prepared in the event of a disaster should be on everyone’s mind. Whether the disaster is environmental, political, or just plain anarchy, many don’t consider a vital survival factor: How would you dress for survival?

Why is survival clothing even necessary, you ask? Surprisingly, most people tend to neglect the importance of the right wardrobe choices during emergencies. Wearing suitable clothes is as essential for survival as wearing formal clothes to work or costumes on Halloween (more on that later!).

I have composed the ultimate beginner’s guide to survival clothing to ensure you don’t encounter an emergency without the proper garments. Read on to learn what options you have to order the perfect attire to deal with survival situations in urban settings, the wilderness, and cold weather or winter settings. Oh, and if you stick around till the end, you might even get your hands on my top tips on survival clothing.

Man and woman dressed in survival clothes

What is Survival Clothing?

Let’s start with the basics – what is survival clothing? All the garments that protect your body parts from the harsh weather and prevent them from being exposed to parasites are survival wear.

The primary purpose of survival wear is not just to protect your body from poor weather conditions, heat, and natural substances. They also aim to ensure that you remain fit and free to move and defend yourself. Moreover, owning suitable survival clothing makes it functional to engage in various physical labor required to build a safe shelter.

Your regular day-to-day clothing can only be considered survival clothing if it can withstand extensive use in the harsh wilderness.

What are the Elements of Survival Clothing?

Survival wear involves three crucial elements: wicking, insulating, and protection. The material of these layers may vary according to weather conditions where you live or your intended destination.

If you are often used to hiking and camping, you should keep the clothing as multi-functional and flexible as possible. The central idea for suitable functional survival clothing is:

– To keep a light, breathable fabric for the wicking layer
– A less porous material for the insulating layer
– And a waterproof shell as the protective layer

We promised you a detailed beginner’s guide to survival clothing, and we will keep our promise! Mentioned below are the details of each of these elements of survival clothing:

1 – The Wicking Layer…
The wicking layer is the innermost layer of your survival clothing and directly contacts your skin. This base layer absorbs sweat and moisture. But absorption is not all that is important! You also need a fabric that dries out quickly, or you will move around covered in a water bag.

Survival vest on a woman  outdoors in the wilderness.

A vest is the best example of a wicking layer. It wicks away sweat and moisture yet allows breathability, thus ensuring that your skin is nice and dry.

Best Moisture Wicking Fabrics:
The biggest mistake you can make while choosing a wicking layer is choosing a fabric that doesn’t even wick the moisture! Fabrics like cotton are the least favorable options in this regard; while they are breathable, their anti-moisture-wicking properties make them extremely difficult to carry in hot weather.

Your wicking layer should be made of either of the following fabrics to provide the ultimate survival performance:

2 – The Insulating Layer…
The next most crucial element of your survival clothing is the insulating layer. It is the actual garment you wear, like a T-shirt and jeans. The purpose of the insulating layer is, as the name suggests, to keep you warm during cold weather. Thus, the fabric that your insulating layer is constructed of should be less porous to prevent your body heat from escaping.

Whether or not you should have a middle layer in your survival wear varies with the current weather conditions or environment. If you wear an insulating layer in hot weather, you will turn into a live roast in a matter of minutes. Similarly, you can’t imagine going outside in cold or glacial conditions without an insulating layer of clothing. However, the fabric will vary depending on the severity of the cold weather conditions.

Best Insulating Fabrics:
You have various options for the middle layer of your survival clothing, and these range from synthetic to natural fabrics. Here are the materials that do an excellent job of meeting your warmth requirements:

In the summer – nylon, linen
In cooler temperatures – fleece
In glacial weather conditions – down and/or wool

3 – The Protective Layer
The outermost layer of your survival clothing is necessary to guard yourself against the harsh elements. The purpose of protective layering is to provide a shell that covers your body and protects it from the wind and rain. When choosing the shielding layer for your survival clothing, you should ensure it is breathable; otherwise, you will feel like a chicken in a casserole in an oven.

Examples of protective layers include windproof and waterproof jackets. If you have the space, we suggest that you carry both!

Best Harsh Weather Shielding Fabrics
The outermost layer of your survival wear should be made of a fabric that protects your body from both light showers and heavy pours. Here are some of the materials that do well as an outer shell:

Fabrics to Avoid in Survival Clothing…
When you head out to the market searching for appropriate survival wear, you will come across two broad fabric categories: synthetic and natural. Both have their pros and cons.

While garments manufactured from natural fibers like cotton are easy to repair, inexpensive, and breathable, they often lack the feature of wicking moisture. On the other hand, synthetic fabrics such as nylon and polyester are more durable than natural fabrics and ensure better impact resistance. However, these types of clothing fibers can be difficult to mend.

If only there were a way to blend the positive features of each type of fabric to achieve desirable results! Wait, there is! Mixed fabrics like nylon-cotton and polyester-wool mix are breathable and more durable than individual fibers. But again, they require special care as they usually indicate flammable properties (I say this from experience!).

That settles the fabrics you can choose from for your survival apparel choices. But with every ‘do,’ there are some ‘don’ts.’

Listed below are some fabrics that you should avoid in your survival clothing:

What Are the Essentials Of Wilderness Survival Clothing?

Man and women in cold wilderness survival clothing.

Following are some of the different garments you can go for when stocking up on wilderness survival clothing:

1 – Parka
Whether you are stranded in a mysterious forest or have gone camping with friends, a Parka is a must-have. It has an insulating fabric lining that acts as a blanket to keep you warm in the cold.

When choosing Parka, get a size that accommodates the additional layers of your survival clothing underneath. Get a Parka with polyester zipper teeth to ensure no cold seeps through a metal zipper.

2 – Rain Pants
Unless you want to hunt your dinner in wet trousers, add rain pants to your survival clothing list. They are usually made from waterproof, water-resistant fabric that protects the body from rain and excessive heat. You can pair it with a rain jacket and rain hat to form a functional rainsuit.

3 – Boots
When in the wilderness, you will need to go on long walks, not for pleasure but to search for food and other essentials. Thorns and hedges are not the best companions on these excursions. So, it would help to have a pair of long, durable boots to protect your feet.

You can invest in leather boots, but rubber boots are more durable. Ensure you break them in before wearing them; otherwise, you will walk around with blisters or aching feet.

4 – Gaiters
Do you know those long boot-type shoes that fishermen wear over their shoes? You will need a pair for your survival. Not only will it ensure the longevity of your pants and boots, but it will also add another layer of protection from insects.

5 – Socks, Gloves, and Mittens
Do you know what’s worse than icy cold hands? Icy cold hands in an abandoned forest! To ensure that your hands are fully functional, you should keep a pair of gloves and mittens in your survival backpack.
We suggest getting several pairs to layer them like your clothing with socks.

6 – Head Covering
Protecting your head from the elements is critical for survival. You will want a hat appropriate for your location: cold, rain, or excessive sun exposure. Protect yourself from heat strokes by covering your head with a wet cloth, hat, or bandanas. When it is cold, you will also want to protect and cover your ears.

Do Colors Matter When Choosing My Survival Clothing?
One of the most common concerns regarding selecting survival clothing is ‘what colors should we go for?’ And I always have one answer to this question – “anything that doesn’t draw attention to you.”

When in the wilderness, the last concern you should have is to look attractive because you would find yourself in big trouble if something else gets drawn towards you.

Ideally, you should dress in dark colors or shades close to natural themes. Here are some of the colors you can choose for your survival clothing:

How to Shop For And Choose The Right Survival Clothing
We have discussed the crucial elements of survival clothing and the fabrics that would work best to satisfy the purposes. Now is the time to discuss the factors that you should consider when shopping for the appropriate survival clothing for emergencies:

1 – Protecting Vital Body Areas
You can’t go shopping for essential survival clothing unless you know what you want to shop for. Before heading into the marketplace to buy, you should list the parts of your body that need protection from the environmental elements. Ideally, you aim to protect your hands, feet, legs, neck, and chest, and the garments you buy must protect these body parts in various weather conditions.

2 – Evaluate the Weather and Environmental Conditions
The next most essential thing to consider is the geographical environment. If you are particularly planning to go out for a hiking excursion or camping, you should prepare accordingly. However, if you are preparing an emergency survival bag in case of a political apocalypse, you should keep it multi-functional.

3 – Comfort
You should never disregard the factor of comfort in your survival clothing. Considering you would be out in the open without access to luxuries, such as a soft bed, fluffy pillows, or fully functional stoves, you should maximize all the chances of comfort you can get. Furthermore, it would be best to get garments that fit when considering the additional layering unless you want to be inconvenienced with tight or ill-fitting clothes interfering with your ability to move.

4 – Lightweight
If you are quickly forced onto the streets or the wilderness due to a disaster, would you prefer to travel light or heavy? I think I know your answer! Your survival clothing should not only be durable and functional but also lightweight.

5 – Cost
You should invest in durable survival clothing that doesn’t break your budget. Once in the wilderness, you wouldn’t get the chance to admire the elegance of your designer survival wear, so keep it as light on the pocket as possible! You can find some fantastic options at thrift stores. With that said, you mustn’t compromise on the quality of the garments.

Survival Clothing Buying Tips

Since you have come this far, you deserve a treat! Here are some of our top tips on survival clothing so that you can stay well-prepared for being stranded in a forest (did I make it sound awkward?).

When shopping for survival wear, look for clothes with additional stitching and reinforced seams to provide you with rugged durability.

Invest in survival clothing that lasts a couple of years rather than investing in the same item after a few months.

Buy one size bigger on all your clothes so they will fit when you pair them with the extra layers. You will want to be able to remove excess layers of clothing when doing physical work; otherwise, your body will heat up and exhaust much faster.

Try thrift stores instead of heading to brands for your survival clothing – you may get good-quality, second-hand branded clothes for half the price.

Ensure you have light colors to wear in sunny weather. Dark shades absorb heat much faster in the sun.

Also, have dark colors to wear at night to blend in with the natural environment.

To save on space and money, buy versatile, multi-functional clothing items.

No such thing as too many pockets exists. Survival clothes with pockets are handier; they hold your gear, giving those tired hands a break.

DIY Survival Clothing
One great thing about the wilderness is that it enables you to use your creativity. Let me explain: In the event of an emergency, you may not have the option of heading back home or to a store to pick up any missing stuff, so it teaches you to improvise by utilizing available resources.

Here are some of the DIY clothing and accessories that you can cobble together using nature’s resources:

1 – DIY Survival Shoes
If your shoe sole separates and you don’t have an extra pair in your emergency go-bag, you can DIY them in a matter of minutes if you don’t have strong tape in your kit. This quick fix would require socks, dry grass, leaves, or feathers.

Simply stuff a sock with dry grass and leaves. Put it on over another layer of socks, and voila! Your insulated DIY shoes are ready to wear! Put gaiters on over these improvised shoes, and you are prepared to go.

2 – DIY Survival Gaiters
What’s that? Your shoes are fine, but you forgot to bring your gaiters along? No worries! Wrap a piece of fabric from your foot to your leg – canvas, nylon, parachute, or whatever you have available will do!
After wrapping it tightly from your foot to the calves, secure it using twines or a hair tie.

3 – Additional Layers
Are your existing layers failing to provide the ultimate protection from cold winds? Add another insulating layer between the second and third layers using dry leaves, grass, moss, or lichen. Not only will it block the air from reaching your body, but it will also keep you warm and cozy.

4 – Keep Your Clothing Clean
Wash your dirty survival clothes wherever you find open water. You want to make use of every little resource when in the wilderness.

Some Final Thoughts On This How To Buy Survival Clothing For Beginners.
Imagine suddenly finding yourself in a situation of chaos, confusion, and urban violence. Maybe political upheaval or an EMP took out all electricity and mobile signals.

You need to find a safe place to go, and you will need clean water, fire, and shelter, regardless of whether you are in an urban, suburban, or rural setting.

Therefore, you need the right survival apparel for emergencies. Maximize your gear’s efficiency with your creativity. Use the guidelines in our beginner’s guide to survival clothing to utilize nature’s resources and improvise to fill the deficiency of the things you don’t have on hand.

Lastly, always keep a survival clothing backpack ready in your car’s trunk; even if it is not a disaster emergency, you never know when your car will run out of fuel near a forest!


Living in a world where uncertainties can arise, Colleen has taken it upon herself to master the art of survival in the face of natural or civil disasters. With a background in outdoor activities and a keen interest in learning essential survival skills, Colleen has dedicated time to acquiring knowledge in areas such as wilderness survival, first aid, and emergency response.

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