Not being a survivalist, nor being flush with cash, I am constantly amazed at the number of times people are told to buy the newest and greatest items for their family’s welfare. Sure, if the money was available for the average person to buy the newest “gee whiz” items all of the time, we would never have to worry about TEOTWAWKI, because by the time we have finally gotten through all the fancy gear once, we would be dead of old age. In response to an outdoor sports catalog that I brought over, my mother said to me, “American’s will all starve to death, but they will look good while they do it.”
Of course, I was raised poor. I knew it, because there is plenty of people in this world who are more than happy to remind a guy of it. You did not ruin stuff; because if you did that, you then did without. Hopefully, your older cousin was changing out his wardrobe, so you had more than socks and underwear that were new. I remember having to do gym class in high school in boots, because my shoes were worn out. Yes, I eventually was kicked out of class for supposedly damaging the floor with my hard heel boots. I grew to have a very healthy respect for clothes that did not wear out.
Being Canadian, I also grew to have a healthy respect for what real warm clothes meant. If you have ever been so cold that your hands feel like they are made of broken chicken bones for hours after you are thawed out and the feeling returns, then you understand. Cheap work gloves and nylon snow suits that rip, exposing the lining in those large v-rips that never can be repaired, are things that I now refuse to even contemplate enduring.
That being said, at the risk of insulting readers, my favorite clothing materials are cotton, wool, and leather. I want clothes, not to survive the zombie apocalypse, but to survive the longest time available and to keep me in the most comfortable condition possible, without paying with my eye teeth. Think about it. There are no patents on cotton, wool, or leather. There are no material royalties that go on top of the production and sales cost. It’s like the wheel; it does not cost one cent more for a company to use this invention, because the intellectual property laws and the new science people are not trying to get more money for repackaging an old item, i.e. clothes.
Once upon a time I had the chance to wear Canadian-issue Arctic gear. The coldest it got that winter was -67 degrees Celsius with the windchill. I lived. I also learned a thing or two. The first thing I did was take my arctic mitts home and have my mother look them over and make my own copy of them. She went to a dollar store and bought an old wool overcoat, cut it up, and made both my brother and me a pair complete with the soft nose wiper on the back. She was also kind enough to knit us both toques of wool and regular wool gloves, and years later I convinced her to make me a 6-foot double knitted scarf. That is my accessories. I have all of them still, even though I changed up and bought an actual pair of Arctic mitts from Egli’s Sheep Farm in Ontario. This being the present day, I also bought a pair of shearling wool boot liners for winter boots and several full sheep hides from them to make more later. (I may have more money now, but I am still cheap.)
For my feet, I always wear wool work socks. It’s a habit broken into me that stuck. My foot wear are leather. I only have one pair of steel-toed boots. If you want to loose a toe or two, wear only steel toes in winter. Everything else in soft toed. I prefer Kamik’s boots; it is nice to be able to change out your liners every day, so that they can dry out over night proper. I work outside and hunt in them. I have walked all day in brush and swamp without twisting my ankle into a hospital visit. I get some stares in winter when I go into town, but I don’t care. I am warm, even when standing still or sitting in the cold, and they keep me going.
For my coat, I looked at buying a surplus coat, but the cost was too much. Years ago when I tried my hand at construction while freezing one day, I talked with one of the contractors and asked what he was wearing, as he never seemed to be too warm and was never cold, even as the wind ripped through the site. He was wearing Tough Duck work gear. It is a company that specializes in cotton canvas outer gear in Winnipeg. The parka I chose only cost me $100, and the lined overalls only $90. This was 18 years ago. That parka was a good civilian equivalent. I have worn that thing everywhere and done everything. It has kept me warm in -45 degree Celsius, while I sat for hours waiting for deer to say “hi”. It has kept me dry while I chained up my truck in the Rockies, and it has held every kind of tool in its pockets while fixing everything mechanical in my life. I love that coat, and its matching overalls. Everybody I know on the farm or in the workforce has one, or one like it. There is a reason. They last forever. You almost cannot destroy it. Cotton canvas, when walking through brush or over a barbed wire fence or working on machinery with sharp edges, does not tear itself to pieces. If by chance you do damage it, most likely you tore the edge where the sewing was. Even I have fixed cotton canvas by sewing my pockets back together. While cotton is flammable, it is usually treated, so you will not go up like a Roman candle, and as an added bonus, unlike synthetics, if it burns it will not bond with your skin. I had to replace my parka this winter, not because it no longer is useful, but because my wife, whom I love, is too embarrassed to be seen in public with me in it. So I went back and bought the exact same coat from the same company. Its price was $124. They do ship to the U.S. The quality is still there.
I grew up in t-shirts. Eventually, I decided that I needed something a little more. Usually that means I put on my surplus wool shirt, but sometimes I wanted something not so warm. What does a guy do? While at the farm I sucked it up and borrowed one of my dad’s shirts. You know the kind– heavy cotton in horrible plaid. That thing was comfortable. I never wanted to wear them. If my dad was wearing them, I thought they are not for me. I went and bought six more of them for myself and a couple for him to thank him. Sure enough, that summer I was sitting there sweating in a t-shirt and got to thinking about my dad’s shirts. In the summer he wears the light cotton t-shirts, in plaid of course. This time I did not even wait; I just went and bought four of them. Sure enough it was light and comfortable and inexpensive. After the clingy t-shirt, it was like I was wearing my own air conditioner. Who would’a thunk it? Our dads were onto something!
As for pants, well I only wear blue jeans. That’s simply because they are just so solid. The only concessions are cotton long johns underneath when it is too cold outside, or the canvas bib-overalls worn when it is really cold. Durability is the key. I never buy the “cool” jeans. Stone washed ones may be comfortable, but they are half worn out before you even buy them. Buying ripped jeans for style is a special kind of stupid in itself. That same pair of jeans has to do a roof, walk through thorns, and keep my legs covered. Extra pockets would be nice, but that’s why I have a jacket.
I may not be much to look at, but I am comfortable. I know that my clothes that I wear everyday are the same clothes that I will be wearing years from now. Sure it is nothing like fancy stuff out there, and when it comes down to how something will wick 2 ml of moisture at 10 degrees, the high end stuff has me beat everyday. I walked into a sports store before Christmas and everyone was wearing fancy clothes. The sales staff did not even want to talk to me. Maybe it was that nothing I wear has a logo. I don’t look like much, but I can buy double what they could, or buy the same amount and use the other half of my money on food. I think too many people are looking too far and too intensely at problems that are not really there.