Dress for Survival Success by George Haystack

”Wherever you go, there you are.” And hopefully so are your clothes. Therefore it is vital to think of your wardrobe as part of your survival gear on a daily basis. It’s not good enough to have a closet full of BDUs and a piles of high-tech gear if they aren’t near you when you need them. Most of the crises that people face do not rise to the level of TEOTWAWKI and these emergencies don’t come at convenient times. Events like building fires, car wrecks, or muggings come at you when your just out living your life. A firearms instructor once told me, “if I knew I was going to get into a gunfight if I went out, I wouldn’t bring more guns, I’d stay home.” The point is this: you don’t know when bad things will happen, and you can’t stay home all the time, so a well-planned wardrobe and pocket gear are essential at all times!

It is amazing to me that many people interested in survivalism will assemble BOBs, GOOD kits, and build retreats in the hinterlands, and yet give almost no consideration to the clothes on their backs. I have a friend who routinely runs errands in his pajamas and slippers with nothing but his car keys and wallet with him. I’ve seen men at the shooting range in beachwear! What will they do if life throws them a curve? They will suffer, that’s what. But why suffer if, by following a few simple guidelines, you can dress for survival success?

Choosing your clothing
Most people have different clothes for different events, but the rules for clothing selection are the same whether you’re at a formal wedding or at a summer barbecue. First, select clothing of high quality and good fit. Second, always choose comfort and utility over fashion. Finally, think of clothing in tactical terms. How would they aid or hinder you in a crisis?

You want to ask yourself, “would I wear this to the apocalypse?” If the answer is no, start over. On 9/11 thousands of New Yorkers were forced to walk miles, in dirt and filth, with only the clothes on their backs and the contents of their pockets and satchels. Think of them while you plan your wardrobe. When they went to work that morning they could never have imagined what they would face that day, and most were horribly prepared. Men and women alike were forced to walk barefoot because their dress shoes were not suitable for what amounted to a several mile forced march. Most had no food or water. Their clothing, particularly in the case of women, was more a hindrance than a help. Learn from their mistakes.

The single most important consideration is footwear. Always choose a sturdy shoe in which you could comfortably walk several miles over unpredictable terrain. An above ankle hiking-style boot with a waterproof liner would be preferred in most cases. Be sure to wear good socks made for hiking and suitable for the time of year. Carry and extra pair of liner socks in your satchel in case you must walk a distance on a cold day. Do not wear cotton socks! They hold moisture next to your skin which will diminish your comfort and can speed hypothermia if the temperature is low. If you are at an event that requires dress shoes or flip-flops or some other tactically undesirable footwear, be sure to bring good shoes and socks with you. Keep them in the car so that you will have them in case of emergency.

Your undergarments should comfortable and weather-appropriate. Again, this typically means no cotton! Wear silk or synthetics intended for athletic use. If you must wear a tie, wear a clip on so that it cannot be grabbed by an assailant and used to strangle you. For this same reason, avoid necklaces, earrings, and other jewelry. If it is attached to your body in such a way that having it yanked out would cause pain, then lose it!

Pants and shirts should be loose fitting for mobility, well made for durability, and have lots of pockets for gear. A number of companies make casual “tactical clothing” that is very suitable. Choose styles that mimic normal street clothes so as not to attract undue attention to yourself. Avoid bright colors and striking patterns. Earth tones and simple patterns may offer a degree of camouflage without screaming out, “look at me, I’m survivalist!” You don’t want to attract attention to yourself if you can help it. Wearing military styled clothing sends a loud signal to others so unless you want to be thought of as the local John Rambo, stick with civilian clothes. If you must wear camouflage and live in a rural area like I do, you can easily get away with the civilian hunting patterns like RealTree or Mossy Oak.

Always have seasonally appropriate outer wear with you or close at hand. You may not think it will get cold, but unless you can predict the weather infallibly, it is better to be prepared for the worst. Where I live in northern Minnesota, people die every year because they get caught outside at night without appropriate clothing. Hypothermia is a real threat in all seasons, not just winter! Have a hat, gloves, and jacket nearby at all times. Choose a hat with a brim to block the sun. This can be a boon in both summer and winter. Also make sure the jacket repels moisture. As always, avoid cotton in favor of wool or synthetics. Choose clothing made for outdoor activities such as hiking or hunting.

Choosing your gear
Gear falls into three categories: wallets, widgets and weapons. Each category should be covered whenever you leave your home. It is tempting to overdo it when trying to decide what to take with you when you head out of the house, but there is a limit to what one person can carry! You don’t need to carry your BOB with you wherever you go, just enough useful stuff to get you through in a pinch.

Your wallet should not be thought of as a single accessory to your wardrobe, but rather as a series of places to put important pieces of paper and plastic. You will want to keep these things in separate places, and you want to keep them to a minimum. There is no need to haul around a year’s worth of receipts, business cards, and shopping lists. Routinely clean out your pockets! Most people’s wallets contain far too much information about their owners. Neither criminals nor the government need this information.

Ditch it.
As to the necessities, I keep it simple: money, driver’s license, CCW permit, a few discount cards for places I frequently shop. You may need to carry a few more items depending on your lifestyle. Spread this stuff around, don’t keep it in all in one place on your body. I use a money clip for small amounts of cash and my discount cards. My driver’s license and CCW permit are clipped together in another pocket. As a side note, while driving it is advisable to have your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance in your breast pocket for quick access in case of a police stop. You don’t want to have to dig around for this stuff and possibly call attention to your “car gun” while doing so! Larger amounts of cash should be carried in a money belt or a hidden pocket. A money sash worn under your shirt can also be a great place for cash and important papers. Do not place your cash in anything that may be left “off body” like a purse or satchel!

The only actual wallet I carry is a decoy containing some of those phony credit cards that come in the mail along with a few bucks. This is what I would give to a mugger by tossing it to the ground in front of me. Most criminals are opportunists and will take a dummy wallet and leave you alone. If they don’t, you can always resort to what I refer to as “Plan G.” I think we all know what that is.

In addition to your important papers, you’ll want to be sure to carry a variety of useful and fun widgets. The following are indispensable: a multi-tool such as a Leatherman, a folding lock-back knife, a flashlight, and a lighter, and a bandanna. I also always carry a Swiss army knife on a chain with a Swiss army pocket watch, a pad of paper and a “write anywhere” pen like the Uniball Powertank, and a compass. It is amazing how many people think I’m nuts for carrying a compass everywhere I go, but after taking a short hike off-trail in an area I thought I knew well and becoming hopelessly lost for a couple hours, I think it is indispensable. Other things that I typically carry are small foam hearing protectors, a 3’ measuring tape, a bore light (you never know when you’re going to encounter someone selling a gun!), an athletic band to hold my glasses up, and a tiny back-up flashlight and a few feet of paracord. One final thing that most people must always carry is a set of keys. I like to carry my keys in a key silencer that hooks on to a clip that attaches to my belt. It is really amazing how loud a set of keys can be, and a key silencer of the sort used by police can quiet them right down. I sometimes carry a spare house and car key in one of my pockets. Keep the number of keys on your key ring to a minimum. Do you really need to carry the key to your dad’s garage when you only use it once a year? Leave it in your car!

There are many electronic devices that you may want to add to your supply of personal widgets. The only one that I consider indispensable is a cell phone. If you carry a cell phone you may find it useful to use its security feature to require a code before it can be used, but keep in mind that this means it can’t be used by someone else if you are incapacitated! Other items that may be carried include small digital cameras, GPS units, and PDAs. If you value security and privacy, you will want to remember that some cell phones and GPS units can be used to trace your location. Obviously individual criminals can’t use these features to track you to your retreat, but government criminals certainly could.

For longer trips away from home you may want to include a few other items. On the top of the “extended trip” list is a small pocket first aid kit. They are available in a small size that will tuck nicely into a cargo pocket. Consider including a few custom items that you may need but are not included in a basic kit. Keep in mind that pills or tablets tend to turn to dust when carried, so replace them frequently. Extended trips also call for spare batteries for flashlights and other electronic devices. It is very frustrating to suffer from dead batteries while away from home and have no replacements. Some flashlights use batteries that are not readily available at convenience stores. If you carry this type of light, spare batteries are a must. And don’t forget to get a spare bulb!

When selecting your widgets, always choose high quality gear. The last thing you want is a broken tool right when you need it. Buy the best, buy once. Well, in some cases you’ll want to buy twice or even three times since redundancy guarantees that you’ll have a functional specimen when you need it. I typically carry three knives, two flashlights, and two guns. “One is none, and two is one,” is a good principle to keep in mind. Select your gear carefully and don’t be distracted by the dizzying array of options we now have when it comes to pocket tools, flashlights, and electronics. Think though your personal needs carefully, and choose accordingly. For instance, many flashlights come with an aluminum case and a crenulated (ridged) bezel so that they can double as blunt striking weapons. Do you need this type of flashlight? Are you trained in this style of hand-to-hand combat? If not, perhaps a different style of light may suit you better. One thing the manufacturers won’t tell you is that these hardened aluminum bezels will saw through your pocket in a few days. If you select such a flashlight, put it in a nylon belt carrier!

As to weapons to be carried for self-defense, much has been written by those far more knowledgeable than I am. Read and study the experts and decide what is best for you. I have decided that my self defense needs are met by a Smith & Wesson stainless steel J-frame .357 magnum revolver carried strong side in a paddle holster paired with a lightweight J-frame .38 special rated for +P cartridges carried in my off-hand front pocket. That way I have a gun accessible to each hand. If you choose pocket carry, you should use a good quality pocket holster and you must not carry any other item in the pocket with the gun! I carry at least one, and sometimes two, speed loaders of good +P .38 ammo that can be used to reload either gun. If you carry speed loaders or spare magazines in a pocket, do not put anything else in that pocket. You don’t want to be digging around in a pocket full of junk when you need a quick reload. As a backup to my firearms I also always carry a Cold Steel folding knife in my strong side pocket. When I go to the “big city” I change up the .357 to a Glock .45 Model 30 with a couple of full-capacity 13 round backup magazines.

You may find that other weapons in the “use of force continuum” are more suitable to your needs. Defensive pepper sprays, Tasers, stun guns and kubotans form an important part of many self-defense kits. You may even consider a defensive cane or walking stick. Whatever your personal protection strategy may be, keep in mind that anyone who chooses to carry firearms, knives or other weapons for personal defense absolutely must know the legal implications of the use of deadly force, and they must observe all safety rules all the time. Do not become lazy and take shortcuts!

Satchels, packs and pouches

So how are you going to carry all the gear I’ve suggested? I find that I can carry all my gear in a good pair of cargo pants and one belt pouch that holds my flashlight and multi-tool. Most quality cargo pants have at least six big pockets and a smaller pocket for a cell phone or backup magazine for your semi-auto firearm. If I’m going on a trip and need some more extra gear, I throw on another belt pouch and that solves the problem.

It can take a little time to become accustomed to carrying all this stuff. I carry several pounds of stuff with me all the time, but since I’m used to it, I hardly notice the weight. You may want to build up to a full load one or two items at a time. Once you’re used to the extra weight, you won’t notice it either.
Why not use a satchel, pack purse of some kind? Simple: You will leave it behind. No matter how conscientious you are, it will happen eventually. Not only that, but such off-body carrying devices provide tempting targets for thieves. Why risk it? The only exception to this rule relates to food and drink. I always try to have a water bottle and an energy bar close at hand, either in a fanny pack or backpack. I don’t carry food and drink on me at all times, but I’ve never regretted having a little sustenance close by!

What about one of those snazzy “tactical vests” with about 100 pockets? These vests are admittedly very handy and cool looking. You can really load them up with gear. The problem is that when you wear one, you look like a body guard or a photographer who lost his camera. I prefer to keep a low profile, so even though I love my Sig-Tac tactical vest, I usually leave it in the closet.

I also find that getting dressed in a ritual fashion helps me to keep everything in order and keeps me from forgetting anything when I change pants. I empty pockets in order, one at a time. I place my gear into clean pants in the same order. Have a place for everything, and keep everything in its place. Once you develop a pattern, stick with it.

Maintaining a “survival wardrobe” is a lot of work, and it costs a lot of money. But it only makes sense that if we spend endless time and energy preparing for the big, epic crises we should also put some effort into preparing for the mundane emergencies that we are much more likely to face. Lots of little things can go wrong in life. When problems strike, having the right gear in your pocket can make a huge difference. Not only that, but I find that all my gear allows me to help those around me, and that brings a reward all its own. So fill your pockets with good gear, and dress for survival success!