Les Stroud: How to Dress for Survival

Les Stroud: How to Dress for Survival

Before you have time to build that first shelter, before you have the time to make a fire, and even before you have the time to figure out what you're going to do next, your clothing is already working for you. Your clothing is your first shelter and therefore your primary defense against the elements. Yet despite its importance, most travelers don't give clothing the attention it deserves. Remember that people have died simply because they wore the wrong clothing. Never underestimate the value of the right clothes.

In choosing clothing for your expedition or adventure, you need to ask yourself this question: "What does my clothing have to do?" It must protect you from wind and rain, from the dry, from the cold and the heat, from poisonous plants and creepy crawlies. It has to get you through the various stages of the day and the night and to be of a construction and weight that allows you to travel without it becoming a hassle.

Researching and planning what clothing you're going to take with you on an adventure is as vital as any other preparation for your journey, including planning your route and the food required. What could be more important than the clothes on your back?

To figure out the most appropriate clothing to take, spend time talking with the people you know and try to get as much information as you can from people who have firsthand experience with the area you'll be visiting or the activities you'll be doing.


What you wear really depends on where you are going, the activity, and the season. But with few exceptions, layering is the best bet. With layering, which means three to five layers of clothing from your skin to your outer shell, you can strip down or dress back up again, depending on the weather and how you are feeling.


Layering is a hassle because it takes time to put on or take off several pieces of clothing to get warmer or cooler, but it could save your life. Perhaps the best thing layering does for you is to help prevent sweating, a factor critical to survival. Peeling off layers allows you to cool yourself down gradually as you work or travel, while still keeping as warm as you need to be.

In my adventuring, the question often is whether I should wear high-tech or more traditional gear. High-tech clothing is usually light and warm, brightly colored, and easily packed and transported. However, should the worst happen and you find yourself in a survival situation, such clothing rarely stands up to a few days spent in a bush shelter or sleeping beside a fire.

Take Gore-Tex as a perfect example of the conflict between rugged and high-tech. Gore-Tex is a fantastic material. It will keep you fairly dry in damp conditions because it sheds the rain and still breathes. But try sleeping beside a fire in it: one spark, one touch of an ember, and Gore-Tex melts. So high-tech clothing may be great for outdoor adventuring, but it's less than ideal in survival situations.

Not so with wool, cotton, or canvas-like materials, which are tough and can handle the rigors when you're pushing through dense forest to get firewood or food. With these materials, an ember will burn a hole only in the spot where it lands and often not before you can flick it off. On the other hand, cotton is horrible if it gets wet because it takes so long to dry.


Wool is very heavy, especially when it gets wet, yet it retains 80 percent of its insulating value. In the end, the best option in a survival situation is to have a combination of lightweight, high-tech clothing for your under layers and some rugged traditional clothing for your outer layers. But this usually applies only for survival courses or hunting and fishing trips, not sea kayaking, mountain climbing, hiking, or other similar adventures. For anything that requires a high level of physical activity, high-tech gear wins out.

This is an excerpt from the book Survive! by survival expert Les Stroud, best known for his hit show Survivorman on the Discovery Channel.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Is That a Grizzly Bear?

Is That a Grizzly Bear?

Kevin Steele and Jason Morton are above the Arctic Circle pursuing grizzly bears in Alaska and put a stalk on what they believe is a good one.

B&C Typical Mule Deer

B&C Typical Mule Deer

Doug Burris Jr's typical mule deer taken in 1969, could just be one record that will never be broken.

Camp Chef at SHOT Show: Elk Venison Slider Burgers Recipe

Camp Chef at SHOT Show: Elk Venison Slider Burgers Recipe

Have a freezer full of ground elk venison from your fall hunting trips? Never fear, the folks at Camp Chef have a great SHOT Show recipe that is lean and mean, easy to prepare, and a crowd-pleasing favorite!

Cheeseburger Poppers

Cheeseburger Poppers

David Draper shares his recipe for making delicious cheeseburger poppers with wild game in this edition of "Fare Game."

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Learn how to grill the perfect medium-rare venison steak with these tips and tricks. Recipes

Venison Grilling Tips

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Learn how to grill the perfect medium-rare venison steak with these tips and tricks.

Mossberg's accurate Patriot Predator is the most affordable way to harness the power of the 6.5 PRC. Guns

Mossberg Patriot Predator 6.5 PRC: Rifle Review

Brad Fitzpatrick - June 26, 2020

Mossberg's accurate Patriot Predator is the most affordable way to harness the power of the...

Perfection takes practice, a little skill and the understanding that not all steaks are created equal. Recipes

How to Properly Grill Venison Steak

Hank Shaw

Perfection takes practice, a little skill and the understanding that not all steaks are...

Technology is taking deer hunters, and their gear, into the future. Accessories

The Best New Deer Hunting Technology

Jeff Johnston - May 15, 2020

Technology is taking deer hunters, and their gear, into the future.

See More Trending Articles

More Survival

The first decision you'll make with regard to a shelter -- no matter how long you think you'll need Survival

Lost in the Wild: How to Select a Site for Your Shelter

Les Stroud - July 02, 2012

The first decision you'll make with regard to a shelter -- no matter how long you think you'll...

Nearly every hunter can tell at least one story about stalking prey for miles, only to cover more Survival

The Best Hunting Boots This Season

PH Online Editors - October 15, 2013

Nearly every hunter can tell at least one story about stalking prey for miles, only to cover...



As those of us who have suffered through a bout of poison ivy can attest, coming into contact Survival

Stroud on Survival: How to Avoid Poisonous Plants in the Wild

Les Stroud - July 18, 2012

As those of us who have suffered through a bout of poison ivy can attest, coming into contact

Every sportsman knows that danger can appear at any given time without notice, whether its a bear Survival

Best New Camping & Survival Gear for 2015

PH Online Editors - April 10, 2015

Every sportsman knows that danger can appear at any given time without notice, whether its a...

See More Survival

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Hunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now