Your first line of defense against hypothermia is your clothing. Make the right choices to survive.
Outdoor Survival-Chapter 7-Clothing from Colorado Parks & Wildlife on Vimeo.
In this video, produced by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, survival expert Peter Kummerfeldt explains proper survival clothing:
Dressing to survive starts with knowing what fabrics to wear, no matter what the conditions might be. Different fabrics have radically different properties. Choosing the wrong type, or mixing clothing of different materials, can be disastrous!
You may not be able to tell what a garment is made of by looking. A nice, fuzzy, thick 100-percent cotton flannel shirt will be warm and cozy until it gets wet. Then that wet shirt may suck the heat out of your torso and cause hypothermia!
On the other side of the equation is wool. My hands-down favorite in the winter, wool, is generally not the best choice for a desert hike in August.
So, the buyer needs to beware.
Before buying any clothing item, read the labels and find out what the material is. Ignore fashion or what’s trendy (I know that’s hard – I have a wife and a 21-year-old daughter!), and make your purchase based on the activity and the clothing protection that will be needed.
Here are some common fabric choices:
* Cotton: Depending on where you live, cotton clothing can kill you. Cotton is hydrophilic, meaning it is no good at wicking wetness away from the skin, and can become damp just by being exposed to humidity.
Once wet, cotton feels cold and can lose up to 90 percent of its insulating properties. Wet cotton can wick heat from your body 25 times faster than when it’s dry.
Since I’ve spent a lot of time in the Deep South, my favorite hot weather shirt is a medium-weight, white, 100 percent cotton Navy surplus shirt. The shirt has a collar that can be pulled up to shade my neck, and pockets with flaps and buttons. Cotton also has a reasonable amount of UV protection.
On really hot days in a canoe, a cotton shirt can be soaked with water, and worn to cool you down. On a desert hike, help prevent heat stroke by using a few ounces of water to wet the shirt down. (The water can come from anywhere, including that algae-edged stock tank. The evaporation is what cools you!)
Typical urban casual garb is probably all cotton: sweatsocks, Hanes or Fruit of the Loom underwear, jeans, tee shirt, flannel shirt and sweatshirt. This outfit may keep you warm in town, but don’t wear it into the backcountry! Once the cotton gets wet, you could end up in trouble.
Don’t be mislead by the looks and camouflage patterns of 100 percent cotton hunting clothes. These garments may be just what you need for a hot, September dove hunt in Mississippi, but they become cold and clammy when damp or wet, just like anything else made of cotton.
* Polypropylene: This material doesn’t absorb water, so it is a hydrophobic. This makes it a great base layer, since it wicks moisture away from your body. The bad news is that polypropylene melts, so a spark from the campfire may melt holes in your clothing.
* Wool: Where I live in Central Oregon, wool is the standard for six months of the year. Wool absorbs moisture, but stays warmer than many other fabrics. Wool is also inherently flame retardant.
* Polyester: This is essentially fabric made from plastic, and it’s good stuff. The material has good insulative and windstopping value, and can be made into many different thicknesses.
* Nylon: The fabric is pretty tough and can be used on your outer layer. It doesn’t absorb much moisture, and what does evaporates quickly. It is best used as some sort of windbreaker, to keep your clothing from being compromised by the wind.
* Down: This material is not a fabric, but rather, fluffy feathers stuffed inside a garment or sleeping bag. When dry, down is one of my favorite insulative materials.
In addition, a down sleeping bag or garment is virtually impossible to dry out in the backcountry, even with a roaring campfire.