How to Dress for Survival to Improve Your Chances of Living

Knowing how to dress in a survival situation can mean the difference between life and death.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as survival clothing.

If you want to remain fully prepared for survival at all times, then you need to be wise about how you dress. Dressing in layers and wearing the best fabric for every layer is a good place to start.

But what are the best fabric options for survival?

This depends on a variety of factors such as temperature, humidity, sun exposure, etc. 

If you want to learn more about how to dress for survival then continue reading below.

How to Choose the Best Survival Clothing

Humans are meant to live in a warm and tropical environment. The second you leave this environment, you have to dress appropriately to keep yourself warm.

Remember, clothing doesn’t create heat, it only traps the heat from your body. 

Depending on where you’re located, you either want to trap as much of this heat as possible, or you want to allow some of this heat to escape. 

There is a common saying “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” and it’s sort of true. Of course, there is such a thing as bad weather, but as long as you dress appropriately, you should have no problem withstanding the weather.

Let’s discuss how to survive in each type of weather. 

How to Dress for Cold Weather

two men and a women hiking in cold weather

The secret to staying alive in cold weather is to dress in layers.

You want to start with a thin base layer that will trap heat against your body and wick away most of the moisture from your sweat. Merino wool would be optimal, but synthetics could work as well. Just make sure to avoid cotton.

The next layer of clothing is the mid-layer. The sole purpose of this layer is to insulate you from the cold. You can wear either a down, synthetic, or fleece jacket to keep you warm. Just make sure to avoid wearing down if you plan on getting wet.

The final layer of clothing is the outer layer. This external layer of clothing needs to be windproof and waterproof to prevent anything from getting through to the underlying layers. If it’s not too cold outside then you can avoid wearing this layer.

Here are some more clothing accessories that you should consider wearing in cold weather: wool socks, waterproof boots, a beanie, a pair of gloves or mittens, and a neck gaiter, ski mask, or scarf. 

How to Dress for Extreme Cold Weather

man and women hiking on snow mountain and dressed for extreme cold

Knowing how to properly dress during extreme cold weather can mean the difference between life and death. But what exactly is the difference between dressing for cold weather and extreme cold weather? 

The biggest difference lies in what type of layers you choose to wear. When the weather is only slightly cold outside, you may get away with wearing 2-3 layers of cotton. However, if the temperature is freezing outside, or well below the normal temperature in your region, you will have to choose warmer layers to wear. 

Merino wool, down, and fleece are all great fabric options to choose from to retain warmth. Synthetic fibers typically work better at wicking away moisture or blocking moisture from coming in. 

Here are the best layers to wear during extremely cold weather. 

  • Base layer: Merino wool (the thicker the warmer) or polyester if sweat is an issue. 
  • Mid layer: Down is the best insulating layer if you don’t plan on getting wet. If sweat or moisture is a problem, then a puffy fleece jacket will be the better option. A good pair of fleece or insulated pants work great as well.
  • Outer layer: Any synthetic fabric that can prevent wind or moisture from seeping through will do. The thicker the insulation the better.

You will also need to pay close attention to your hands, feet, and face. These areas are especially prone to cold weather as they can get frostbitten. 

To avoid catching frostbite, I recommend you wear two pairs of Merino wool socks, a pair of mittens (and maybe a pair of tactical gloves inside the mittens for improved dexterity), and a beanie or trapper hat. You should also invest in a good pair of winter boots and some gaiters to keep the snow from getting inside your boots.

If it’s extra cold outside then I may wear a ski mask to keep my face extra warm and cozy. It also wouldn’t hurt to take along a hand warmer or two.

How to Dress for Hot and Humid Weather

As the temperature and humidity begin to rise, it’s important to wear the right clothing if you want to improve your chances of survival. Or if you just want to be more comfortable…

But how should you dress when the weather is hot and humid?

Let’s begin with choosing which fabric to wear. While cotton and linen are both highly breathable fabrics, they also hold onto sweat and moisture. This is not good in a survival situation. 

The better natural fabric to wear would be Merino wool, but you could also wear a synthetic fabric such as nylon or polyester. All three Fabrics have good moisture-wicking properties and will keep you dry in a survival situation.

Here are some more tips on how to dress in a hot and humid environment.

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing. This enables proper air circulation.
  • Wear light-colored clothing. Dark clothing will attract heat.
  • You may want to invest in UPF-rated clothing to provide you with some protection against the sun.
  • Wear clothing with built-in vents for extra air circulation
  • Dunk a bandana in water and wrap it around your head/neck to help you cool down.

Don’t forget to invest in a good pair of underwear for those hot summer days. You don’t want to be stuck with cotton underwear when you’ve been sweating all day!

How to Dress for the Desert

a man standing on a sand dune that's properly dress for the desert

Deciding what to wear for the desert can be tricky. While the desert can reach scorching high temperatures during the day, at night the temperature can drop dramatically. This is why I recommend you mimic the clothing style from the Middle East.

Knowing that people from the Middle East are living in a desert region, you would be wise to assume they know the best clothing to wear in a hot and arid environment. Here’s what I learned from studying their style of clothing.

For the desert environment, it’s best to wear natural breathable fabrics such as cotton or linen. Your clothing should also be light-colored and loose-fitting to avoid heat retention and needless sweating. It’s also important to cover as much of your skin as possible to avoid direct exposure to the sun. Wearing a shemagh and sunglasses can help to keep the sun and sand out of your face and eyes. 

Oh, and don’t forget to invest in a good pair of boots or tennis shoes to avoid walking directly on the hot sand. Otherwise, your feet will burn and blisters will form. A Camelbak would also be a wise investment to help you avoid dehydration. 

What’s the Best Fabric for Survival?

Not all clothing is made the same.

With so many different fabrics and custom variations of fabrics to choose from, it can be hard to know what’s best. At least what’s best for survival.

Let’s quickly break down the different fabrics and how each one can be worn for survival purposes.


a man wearing merino wool clothing

There are two different types of wool — regular wool and merino wool.

Regular wool is typically worn when the weather is cold outside, whereas merino wool can be worn during the hotter months of the year as well. This is because merino wool has a thinner fabric (24 microns vs 40 microns) than regular wool, which makes it lighter and more breathable, while still offering you the majority of the same benefits. 

The biggest advantage of wearing wool is that it will insulate you from the cold even when you’re wet. This is what makes merino wool such an effective base layer. 

Both wool and merino wool have a unique moisture-wicking ability that can wick moisture off of your body and hold onto that moisture until it evaporates. This is what helps you to feel warm even when it’s wet and raining outside. 

Here are some of the main advantages of wearing wool.

  • Flame retardant
  • Moisture wicking
  • Great thermal insulator
  • Antibacterial and odor resistant
  • Holds moisture off of your body

Being flame retardant and odor resistant are both highly useful in survival situations. You never know when you’ll be close to a fire or stuck wearing the same clothes for days or weeks at a time. 

Wool isn’t perfect though. 

The material has low abrasion resistance and doesn’t hold up well when used roughly. Especially when used roughly over a long duration of time. 


hikers wearing nylon jackets

Nylon is a synthetic fabric that is lightweight, fast-drying, and abrasion resistant. Perfect for survival, right?


Like every other fabric, there are a few downsides to wearing nylon clothing.

For starters, nylon isn’t the most breathable material. And unlike polyester which is hydrophobic, nylon is hydrophilic and can absorb up to 8-10% of its weight in water. 

The worst downside to wearing nylon is that it melts when it comes into contact with flame. So if you plan on wearing nylon in a survival situation, you may want to avoid getting too close to the campfire. 

Not all nylon fabric is made the same though. Some nylon fabrics are made to be less absorptive than others and some are covered with a special coating to make them waterproof. This is why nylon is commonly used to make windbreakers and raincoats. Nylon is also commonly used in outdoor and military clothing because of its abrasion resistance. 


two women and a man wearing cotton clothing for survival

You may have heard the saying “cotton kills” before, but is it true?

If you live in a cold environment then it very well could be. The problem with wearing cotton in cold weather is that it can absorb up to 27x its weight in water. And when wet, cotton offers little-to-no insulation. 

Because cotton soaks up water like a sponge, it’s poor at regulating temperature, takes a long time to dry, and is extremely heavy when wet. 

However, there are a few benefits to wearing cotton as well. If you live in a hot or tropical environment, then it can be nice to have a wet t-shirt to cool you down. Especially if it’s a windy day and there is a nice breeze now and again. 


Polyester is a great fabric for survival clothing as it’s lightweight, breathable, and hydrophobic (doesn’t absorb any water). Because polyester is hydrophobic, it will wick away moisture (such as sweat) from your body instead of absorbing it like cotton.

Another advantage of wearing polyester is that it’s highly durable and should last a long time compared to other fabrics. Polyester offers some UV protection as well, which gives it an added benefit during prolonged sun exposure. 

Unfortunately, polyester has the downside of being oleophilic. Which means that polyester is prone to absorbing oils. 

Why is this a downside? 

Let’s just say your favorite polyester t-shirt isn’t going to smell too pleasant after a few weeks of being worn in the wilderness. 

You’ll also have to be careful wearing polyester around the campfire as it’s a synthetic fabric. Fortunately, most clothing isn’t made out of 100% polyester as it’s often blended with other fabric materials. 


a man wearing a fleece jacket for survival

Fleece is a soft and insulating fabric that you would typically wear as a mid-layer during the colder months of the year.

This is because fleece is quick-drying, moisture-wicking, and highly breathable. You can also wear fleece as an outer layer if the weather is dry and you don’t expect to get wet.

While most fleece is made from a type of polyester known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), it can also be made from other variations of fibers, both natural and synthetic. 

The look and feel of fleece can vary a lot as well. 

Fleece can be a high loft, tightly woven, or anything in-between.

The high loft is the warmest version of fleece as it traps tiny pockets of air inside of the fabric that can retain your body heat. The heavier and fluffier the fleece the warmer it will be to wear.

Tightly woven fleece may not insulate heat as well as high loft fleece, but its smooth and compact design makes it far more breathable. This is great if you want a more compressed layer for a hiking, camping, or backpacking trip. 

Then you have a wide variety of variations of fleece in-between high loft and tightly woven. This is why fleece varies more than any other fabric available. 

And that’s only the beginning.

Fleece can also vary by the weight of the fabric. Fleece is weighed in grams per meter squared (g/m2) or ounces per yard squared (o/y2) if you’re from the United States.

You’ll typically find that fleece comes in three weight categories: 100 g/m2, 200 g/m2, and 300 g/m2. This is often referred to as lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight, although it does vary from brand to brand. 


a man wearing down clothing for survival

Down provides the best warmth-to-weight ratio out of any fabric you can choose from. This is why most people choose to wear a down jacket when it’s cold outside. However, if you think you could get wet, then a synthetic jacket will be the better option. 

So what is down exactly?

Down is the fluffy layer of fine feathers located under the exterior layer of feathers on a duck or goose. These fine feathers provide a lot of loft and are often used as insulation in items such as a jacket, pillows, or comforters. As long as the down remains dry, it will provide a better warmth-to-weight ratio than any other insulation. 

The two factors you need to be aware of when buying a down jacket are the down fill power and the amount of down in the jacket. 

The down fill power is the rating that determines how much loft the down provides. Or in other words, the amount of warmth the down provides. Most down jackets contain somewhere between 500-900 fill power. 

However, a jacket with a higher fill power doesn’t necessarily provide more warmth than a jacket with a lower fill power. If the jacket with the lower fill power contains a larger amount of down than the jacket with the higher fill power, then it could technically provide more warmth. This is why the weight of the down in the jacket is so important. 

Let’s say you have a down jacket with 800-fill power, but yet it only contains 100 grams of down. If you had a down jacket with 600-fill power and 300 grams of down, it’s going to provide more warmth than the higher-fill power jacket. However, it’s also going to weigh more and be bulkier as well. 

It’s up to you to find the perfect combination of fill power and weight. 


a man wearing a Gore-Tex jacket for survival

Gore-Tex is far from your normal fabric. This waterproof fabric is commonly used in outdoor clothing for its ability to keep moisture out without trapping moisture (or sweat) inside. 

I’m not going to explain the science behind how Gore-Tex works, but I will say that it’s probably the best survival clothing you can wear. Besides being waterproof, Gore-Tex is also lightweight, windproof, and highly durable.

Gore-Tex is even used to create those white puffy astronaut suits that we always see on TV. So I guess you can say it would work well in your typical survival setting. 

To ensure the quality of their products, anything made out of Gore-Tex is highly tested to make sure it functions as it should. This is how they ensure that no wind or water is going to seep through your fancy Gore-Tex jacket.