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Clothes, The First Shelter

October 22, 2017

There is an old saying, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

Since the early days of humankind’s existence when we began to shed the thick, insulating fur covering from our bodies, we very quickly adopted another means of staying warm and somewhat protected in the outdoor environments – clothing.

Imagine those first moments of the hunter’s thoughts when he was shivering in the cold with a spear in hand waiting for game to throw it at. He was cold as he walked around yet here were all these animals around him that seemed barely affected by the temperature at all. ‘Must be its fur!’ The hunter must have thought. ‘I’m going to take it and wear it and I will stay warm!’ And there sprouted the beginnings of our first mobile shelter system.

It's funny when you think about it now how evolution took that nod toward irony. With the discovery of fire we shed our fur so we had to wear the skin of other beasts to compensate. Fortunately, technology has moved us forward and we have learned to weave other materials like cotton, wool, fleece, plants and even plastic. Shortly after, the purpose of clothing became esthetic over survival but for us bushcrafters, we need to remember what we wear is our personal shelter, the first layer of protection against harsh weather conditions. This is where the choice for clothes becomes more for necessity and less for fashion.

What we wear for outdoor occasions is just as important as how we wear it. Clothing is a shelter system, meaning it needs to be layered for maximum effectiveness. The inner layer is the wicking layer for pulling moisture away from the body. The next layer is for insulation to keep our core temperature constant and the final layer is the shell which serves as the immediate barrier against the weather.

 

WOOL

Personally, I love wool. I can’t say enough about wool, I think it’s the best bushcraft material on the planet. For moderate temperatures, I’m ok with cotton breeds of shirts and pants because I can stay comfortable but I have to pack at least two pairs of everything – one to wear and one to wash. I always keep wool on hand whenever I go out for a camp because I can layer up for warmth or layer down to cool off. Wool breathes and wicks moisture from the skin. So when I’m sweating from walking around or gathering firewood, my clothes are allowing air in to cool my core temperature. In other words, the process of perspiration is not hindered. On the down side of that, I find in warmer temperatures, I sweat more in wool and that means I need to drink more water to compensate and avoid dehydration.

In rain or winter, I have thicker layers of wool. I have been out in heavy rain with only three layers of wool on and stayed comfortably warm. Wool retains up to 80% of its insulative value when wet and it dries quicker because of how well it breathes. With the right type of weave, like those old army shirts and wool blankets, you can watch the rain run off. Winter is great because I can layer up just enough wool to stay warm without limiting my range of motion. Most of the time, we are busy doing chores in camp to maintain that comfortable existence anyway so there isn’t much time to slow down. That’s when I shed layers until I hit comfortably cool.

Wool also does not have to be washed constantly. Bacteria can’t survive in wool so it doesn’t mold or smell and when you do wash it, you do so in cold water then air dry. Perfect for the outdoors where there are no laundry services nearby. Rinse thoroughly in the stream and hang by the fire. Done.

 

FLEECE

Fleece is the next best alternative to wool. Especially for those who find wool itchy. It’s lighter in weight, dries faster, only retains about 1% of its weight in water and, like wool, keeps you warm when wet. I’ve tried fleece before but find I sweat in them because they really retain heat well but for me, they didn’t breathe as well as wool so all that moisture collected with no place to go. That makes me uncomfortable and I believe it’s because some types of fleece are made from recycled plastic bottles. Also, fleece does need to be washed more and it does stink after a short time of wearing. Given the different qualities of fleece, it is a functional clothing option for the outdoors but requires choosing the right type. When compared to my wool, however,  I’ll leave fleece at home.

 

GORE-TEX

I don’t have any practical experience with GORE-TEX but what I do is that it is a breathable, waterproof membrane consisting of a fabric lining with microscopic pores 20 000 times small than a water droplet yet allows for adequate wicking of moisture from the body. That makes for a really good outdoor material very comparable to wool – even in price!. There’s a whole bunch more information on GORE-TEX  on www.evo.com and an entire line of products from long underwear to one piece snowsuits. I’ll have to try some and let you know!

 

LEATHER & FUR

I haven’t seen to many bushcraft wearing old school hide leather and fur for bushcraft purposes but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its uses. Obviously, early frontiers folk wore this type of clothing because it was readily available while they were hunting and trapping for furs anyway. I always  got the impression it was very bulky and heavy which may be the reason this clothing choice is not common practice today with the more accessible textiles and materials we have today. It isn’t a common trade nor skill most people want to put the time into when it’s so easy to head over to the store and buy stuff off the shelf. Would be cool to see though!

Thanks for the read and we welcome any comments based on your own clothing experiences in the wilderness!

 

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