What your clothing is made from is very important. Wools and synthetics should be your first choice in a cold wet environment. Wool retains approx 70% of its insulative value when it is wet, is moderately fire retardant and smells less making it your first choice, particularly for a base layer.
Synthetic/polyester materials are light and dry very quickly so if conditions are wet this is important. Your clothing can also become wet through sweating which is something you need to avoid in cooler environments or if the temperature suddenly drops in a warm one Eg. the desert.
Generally speaking you want to avoid wearing cotton near your skin in cold environments as cotton stays wet and is hard to dry, causing you to loose heat through conduction to the damp clothing.
A useful acronym is COLD
Clean – keep you clothing clean. If it becomes dirty it stops breathing and doing its job.
Overheating – avoid overheating. If you sweat in a cold environment you can die if you can’t get your clothing dry. Avoid cottons.
Loose and in Layers – it’s the air trapped between the different layers that keep you warm, if your clothing is too tight those air pockets will be compressed and you will be colder.
Dry – keep your clothing dry.
Layering for colder climates
- Base layer of wool
- Warm intermediate layer (wool or synthetic)
- Optional thicker warm middle layer (wool or synthetic)
- Waterproof and wind proof outer layer that is breathable.
- Don’t forget to include a warm head covering and wool socks.
In warm to hot climates the focus is keeping yourself cool. Loose fitting cotton material is ideal for this. Take a look at what people in Arab nations wear to keep themselves cool. During the day in very hot climates you want your clothing to retain moisture (sweat) to keep you cool so in this case cotton is good. Synthetic moisture wicking garments are not good in hot climates as they wick the moisture away from you when you need it to keep you cool, making you feel hotter.
However when the temperature drops at night as it does in the desert you don’t want to be wet from sweat so you need to make sure you are dry before that happens and have a warm layer at hand.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gordon Dedman is the founder of Bushcraft Survival Australia (BSA), an outdoor bushcraft survival school dedicated to teaching genuine and authentic modern and traditional outdoor living skills through carefully designed educational courses.
Gordon is a former member of the Australian Army 1st Commando Regiment and is presently a survival instructor in NORFORCE, an Australian Army Reserve Regional Force Surveillance Unit (RFSU). NORFORCE conducts patrols in the remote areas of Northern Australia, working closely with Aboriginal communities.
Gordon has trained at and completed numerous Survival and Bushcraft courses and certifications worldwide at schools run by Paul Kirtley, Ray Mears, Dave Canterbury, Lofty Wiseman and Bob Cooper. Gordon also works seasonally as an outdoor guide in the NT, taking clients on camping expeditions into Kakadu and Arnhemland.