COLD Weather Survival: Clothing


One of the most difficult survival situations is a cold weather scenario. Every time you venture into the cold, you are pitting yourself against the elements. With a little bit of knowledge of the environment, proper plans, and appropriate equipment, you can overcome the elements.

The most important aspect to staying warm in cold weather is your clothing – which you might also say is your immediate body shelter.

Here are four principles to follow regarding the clothing you wear:

Cold is a far greater threat to survival than you may think. A cold body core temperature is an insidious enemy; as it numbs the mind and body, it even subdues the will to survive.

Here are four basic principles to follow.

Clean – Keep clothing clean.
Overheating – Avoid it.
Layers – Wear clothes in loose layers.
Dry – Keep clothing dry.


While clean clothing is always important for sanitation and comfort, clothes that are matted with dirt and grime may lose much of their insulation value. Heat can escape more easily from the body through the clothing’s crushed or dirt-filled air pockets within the fabric.

When you sweat, your clothing tends to absorb the moisture – and dampness decreases the insulation quality of clothing, and as sweat evaporates, your body cools. Adjust your clothing (layers) to avoid overheating and sweating. Do this by partially opening your parka or jacket, by removing an inner layer of clothing, by removing heavy outer mittens, or by throwing back your parka hood or changing to lighter headgear. The head and hands act as efficient heat dissipaters when overheated.

Wear your clothing loose and in layers. Wearing tight clothing (or footwear) restricts blood circulation and invites cold injury. It also decreases the volume of air trapped between the layers, reducing its insulating value. Several layers of lightweight clothing are better than one equally thick layer of clothing, because the layers have dead-air space between them. The dead-air space provides extra insulation. Also, layers of clothing allow you to take off or add clothing layers to prevent excessive sweating or to increase warmth.

In cold temperatures, the inner layers of clothing can become wet from sweat. The outer layer (if not water repellent) can become wet from snow and frost melted by body heat. The inner layer of clothing should be of fabric that wick away moisture from your skin (e.g polyester blends, polypropene). Outer layers should be water repellent. Despite the precautions you take, there will be times when you cannot keep from getting wet. At such times, and depending on your excursion, drying your clothing may become very important. Ideas include hanging your damp mittens and socks on your rucksack. Sometimes in freezing temperatures, the wind and sun will dry this clothing. You can also place damp socks or mittens, unfolded, near your body so that your body heat can dry them. In a campsite, hang damp clothing inside the shelter near the top, using drying lines or improvised racks. You may even be able to dry each item by holding it before an open fire. Dry leather items slowly. If no other means are available for drying your boots, put them between your sleeping bag shell and liner. Your body heat will help to dry the leather.

There is more to staying warm than just this (e.g. types of insulation), but I believe the principles above are basic common-sensible points to consider.

What are some of your ideas, or “do’s” or “don’ts”?


  1. Working above the arctic circle, I find that the extremities always seem to need the greatest attention. Fingers, nose, ears and toes are more difficult to keep warm, and can become distractingly uncomfortable to the point of requiring constant attention. Of course, there’s the threat of frostbite at very low temperatures, but even above freezing, a little wind can cool those digits down quick. Now that I’ve got osteo arthritis in my hands, they tend to quit working altogether when they get chilled.

    Unfortunately, you can’t layer up on feet, hands and face like you can your torso. This is why I keep a supply of hand and toe warmers in stock. It is easy enough to slip these into mittens, gloves, and shoes, and even to stick it to a scarf or shemaugh. I only like to use them on longer excursions, as once activated they use themselves up. But for a solid 8 hours of warmth or so, they really make a tremendous difference.

  2. Moved from a warm State to a far Northern one about 8 years ago. I’ve found that merino wool shocks keep my feet warm when coupled with a good pair of boots (400 grams Thinsulate).

    For my body, we just put on a “snowmobile” suit, from Cabela’s. Also a good insulated work jacket with a hood (400 grams Thinsulate), wool hat, surplus German Army cold weather mitts. Always wear mittens, if you can, gloves separate the fingers and you lose heat that way.

  3. Off topic (sort of) Many shooters don’t know that the colder temps effect a rifle in many ways. Besides the actual working of the device, because cold air is denser than warm, a rifle’s range is less, or so I’ve been told.

  4. I bought my winter boots a bit larger so I can layer my feet with warm socks. My feet got cold even with below-zero rated boots and wool socks alone. My feet can sweat and make boots colder since wool did not adsorb sweat away from my skin. So I experimented and came up with using cotton socks first as a wick to take moisture away from my feet, then put on a pair of thick wool socks or two more layers of thinner wool socks.

  5. Living up north all of my life staying warm is just habit. It is also funny how 30 degrees in October/November feels like you are going to freeze to death, however, after a couple weeks of temps in the -20 range when it finally makes it to 0 with a little sun how warm it feels.

    1. Northern Boy how true. until it hits 0 or colder I freeze but once it hits 20 below it seems I can endure the temp better. When breakup comes at 0 or 10 above it’s almost balmy.

  6. I went out today (mid November) for my daily walk around some of the property here (weather permitting).

    I dressed appropriately (so I thought), grabbed my 2-way radio (for comms with Mrs.J in case of emergency while “out in the sticks”), and headed out.

    Ambient temperature was upper 20’s. A few inches of snow on the ground. Occasional snow squalls. Windy. By the time I walked a few hundred yards up to one of the hill crests, the wind was really blowing steady there. Although I had on a good fleece hat, my face was f-f-freezing from the wind chill.

    Reminder to self: next time it’s cold and windy, cover the face better with a scarf, shemagh, or other such thing.

  7. a thin layer of petrolium jelly on the face helps a lot in minimizing wind chill. not thick….thin is enough.

  8. Cotton Kills….

    Always buy clothing that wicks the moisture away from your body.
    Polypropolene is a must combined with Polar Fleece.

  9. It was a balmy 21dgrs this morning. Everything was covered in ice. I work landscaping so I knew I was going to be in it all day. I was taught to layer, then remove as the day warms and today was no exception. They’ve came a long way since thermal. Military specs for cold weather are unbelievable. I have several ” outfits” depending on how cold and what I am doing. I keep old boots, jackets, sweaters and clothing otherwise discarded. I clean them and pack in a vacuum bag. They take up hardly any room and in a pinch could save a life. I personally carry at least one set of cold weather clothing in my truck and a queen size blanket. If I have to get out of wet cloths I want to be able to put on a dry warm replacement.

  10. I purchased a pair of black insulated snow pants. An insulated down or alternative parka with a detachable hood, insulated mittens and a good hat. Wool socks and boots with good treads. A couple of non cotton scarves such as fellas fleece. A wool duvet. Some fleece blankets. Enough cash on the person in case power is out and I need to take a taxi home when cash will be king.

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