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Best Clothing To Have On Hand For SHTF

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: September 9, 2020
Best Clothing To Have On Hand For SHTF

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While clothing may seem easy to get right now or you are thinking about how much you have that you don’t wear, you should be asking yourself if you have the right items in your and your families wardrobes to get you through a survival or bug out situation. In extreme circumstances having the right clothing can be the difference between life and death.

The type of clothing that you need to be comfortable is going to vary based on your climatic conditions. If your in the swamps of Louisiana or Florida, you might not want to have two parkas on hand. This list is to get you thinking about the clothing and footwear you have on hand and how prepared you are for a survival situation. You will probably have some things specific to your area that you will want to add.

In this article, we will go over some of the basic clothing needs and the pros and cons of cotton versus synthetics. At the end you will see a brief list of clothing that is in the realm of consideration for extreme climates.

General note on synthetic fabrics versus cotton and hypothermia

I want to be clear that this list is based on the fact that cotton does not keep you warm when it gets wet. Hypothermia can happen when you may never expect it. The Appalachian Mountains in my area jut up to over 6,000 ft at Mt. Mitchell. During the Spring or Summer months, getting completely drenched in the rain even when air temps are in the high 50s or low to mid 60s has led to hypothermia.

These conditions are particularly dangerous because someone suffering from it might not realize how serious it is in time. Everyone thinks that hypothermia only happens in severe cold but the actual definition means that it happens when your body temperature cannot be maintained. Your temp should be in the 98.6 degree range so if it is 60 degrees out then you have to have some way to make up that difference.

Cotton is fabulous for comfort and having cotton clothing as part of your stash is not something I am going to discourage at all but just be careful about when and where you wear it. Always have some synthetics for those times when you might be out in inclement conditions.

If you plan on bugging out, you may want to have only synthetics because of this and how lightweight they are. This includes socks.

1. Socks

You can never have too many packs of white cotton athletic socks, especially in hot climates. As a woman with large feet, I always buy the giant packs of mens socks that fit a shoe size 8-13. This is a good choice for putting back because a lot of older kids and adults can wear these just fine. Tube socks also work well for fitting a variety of shoe sizes.

Synthetic socks and those made of wool offer warmth even if feet get wet. During the winter if you plan on being out on the trail, synthetics are best. Cotton can get you into trouble if you fall in cold water or just get wet and then chilled.

It is hard not to stress the absolute importance of enough clean socks!

Changing socks daily is very important during humid and hot weather. Socks that breathe well are best for your feet during these conditions. Airing out your feet daily is also recommended. You do not want to get athletes foot or jungle rot. For those of you that don’t know what jungle rot is let me enlighten you.

During combat situations in hot and humid climates, having wet socks on for too long and not having access to clean ones can cause you to get a fungal condition and have skin issues on your feet that never go away.

This was common in Vietnam era veterans that were on the ground. You do not want a lifetime of cracked and dry skin and toenail issues. Perhaps treatments now exist but some of the drugs used to treat these type of conditions have some major side effects and not everyone with any pre existing conditions can take them.

2. Underwear

If you have a preference then put that back but I also don’t think it is a bad idea to have some packs of Fruit Of The Loom or Hanes put back that are stretchy and able to fit a wide range of sizes.

I mention these particular brands because they are easy to get at a cheap price and they can stretch enough that even a size 5 ladies would easily accommodate a much larger person. Men’s boxer shorts are versatile as well. Vanity sizing and sizing when something is made in a foreign country is pretty wacky really.

3. Stretchy and accommodating pants

Stretchy clothing is able to fit more people than fitted so if you are sharing resources or if you might have to clothe someone else. Emergencies don’t stop there from being babies made.

In fact sometimes emergencies lead to more being born. Stretchy or accommodating pants are fine for emergency paternity clothes and certainly better than nothing. There are also other medical concerns where some extra room may be nice to have.

4. Rain Gear

Keeping dry can save your life. There is also a decent chance that you are going to have to do more work out in the elements during a crisis so rain gear becomes something you are going to want to use more.

5. Synthetic and cotton fabric long underwear

Cotton is great for comfort but if it is cold out and you get wet wearing cotton it can be dangerous unless you change clothing fast.

Cotton also takes longer to dry out than a lot of synthetics so if you are doing your own laundry off grid it is something to consider. A lot of people choose to have both synthetic and cotton versions for use at various times.

6. T-Shirts

Another staple item of clothing that can be bought in big packs. In the spring and summer, I will order a 12 pack of plain white t-shirts for my husband although I do pilfer a few for my own needs.

When they are stained up from working and weed-eating and such around the farm we recycle them into rags for cleaning around the house and for when we need some cotton for gun rags.

There are plenty of cheap packs of t shirts out there that come in at a few bucks a shirt. No they are not going to be thick or even last a long time but they are good to have when roughing it and when you don’t want to mess up the better clothes you have.

I recommend getting a few packs in several sizes. A little too big is better than two small. An adults t shirt can be used as a night shirt for a child if needed so that is something to think about. Kids grow fast so having some clothing options that account for this is worth considering.

7. Extra boots and outdoor footwear

Good boots are pretty expensive but if you catch a deal you should pick up an extra pair. It is amazing how often this critical piece of gear gets looked over. Shoes have to be sized right to be useful.

In a survival situation or long emergency, it may be difficult or impossible to find replacement footwear that meets your needs. Sure you can make something that will offer some protection but there is nothing like a quality shoe that offers support and protection.

8. Insoles

Even boots that are supposed to be the right size for you and are of good quality can lose support over time. During a survival situation, you may be on your feet a lot more than you could ever imagine.

Around here even during good times we make a point to replace our Dr. Scholls Gel Work Insoles every time we wear out a pair of work boots. Sure this means a few bucks every time you switch out shoes but that is little to pay for how much it helps when doing a lot of manual labor, chores, or walking.

9. Shoelaces and bootlaces

This is one of those prepper items that you can put back a few of here and there. When I see outdoor grade Kiwi bootlaces on sale for cheap I usually throw a few in the cart.

When you work outside a lot, it is easy to go through a few pairs of laces before you wear out a pair of boots. They come in different lengths so be sure to make sure they are long enough for the style of boots you wear.

10. Hats

This is one where I recommend having a variety of hats to suit you throughout the year. Knit hats are inexpensive and keep you warm.

Wool is a good choice for very cold conditions. Ball hats or boonie style hats are nice for in the warmer times of the year. Hats that are adjustable in size are best for putting back.

11. Water Shoes Or Sandals

What happens if you have to wade a creek?

While you may live in a place where streams seem pristine, all it takes is a glass shard to cause you a lot of trouble. When wading into streams or fording rivers, bathing in streams and rivers, etc, you should at least have on a pair of rugged sandels. During floods and storms trash and sharp objects can find their way to a lot of places.

12. Bandannas

These are handy for all types of things. You can use them for clothes, to hold back long hair, protect your head from the sun, and for a light duty dust mask when needed.

There are all types of these out there in a lot of fun designs. Pick out a few fun ones for kids. Sometimes little things like that can be a brightness during a dark time.

13. Jeans Or Other Protective Pants

The type of pants you want is again based on climate. Jeans are made of cotton so they are no good if you get wet and it is cold out but for chores around your place or mild to moderate conditions they are the standard a lot of us like.

Thicker double front jeans like those made for loggers can provide more warmth and have a longer life than the jeans and pants that would be best for warmer climates or in the warmer months in temperate climates.

Putting Back Clothes For Growing Infants and Kids

Children and infants don’t have the body mass of an adult so they are going to get cold and lose body heat faster than an adult. They are also still growing and developing so energy reserves can become stretched. Since kids grow so fast it can be challenging to have clothing put back for them for harder times.

I think it is safe to say that a little larger is better than too small. With a small sewing kit, you can take in clothes temporarily if needed and let them out again by releasing stitches. This is not a new idea or trick. It is something that used to be done years ago in big families where clothes were passed on to younger members of the family that might not be quite big enough yet to wear them as is.

Thrift store clothes in good condition can make it more affordable have some clothing put back they can wear. If the time comes that it is no longer feasible for them to wear well you only spent a little bit and you can donate it back to a homeless shelter or other charity.

There is no perfect answer to the problem of clothes not fitting kids in no time at all. Some parents may have exchanges set up with others so you can get rid of outgrown clothes and maybe get some in the right size in return.

I would be interested to hear how readers are dealing with the issue of having good gear for growing kids without breaking the bank! Please comment below.

Extreme Climate Gear

Regardless of what extreme you are talking about you are obviously going to need some different clothing if you live in a climate where it can get extremely cold or extremely hot.

I am going to talk about some options to consider and to get you thinking about your own climatic situation.

Cold Climate Items To Consider

  • Heavy Parka
  • Survival Suit- There are different types of these and if you live in an area where you may be at risk of falling through ice or where you have to go out on the water sometimes, they are definitely worth considering. Those that work on the Bering Strait fishing have similar suits so they can survive if dumped into the frigid waters.
  • Heavily insulated boots
  • Extra heavy socks
  • Slip on treads for very icy and snowy conditions
  • Snow shoes

Cold Climate Boot Sizing Tip

Those of you that have a lot of experience in cold climates don’t need to be told this but sometimes people buy their boots for extremely cold conditions one size or a half size larger to accommodate thicker socks or wearing two pair at a time.

Hot Climates

  • Long sleeved light colored and breathable shirts somewhat like a Cubavara. We use these working out in the vineyard on very hot days and they are great for offering protection from the sun, insects, abrasions, and more. You can get them for $30 or less on sale and they last for a very long time so well worth the expense. A budget option is simply cotton or linen shirts from the thrift store.
  • Tropical climate boots
  • Even more socks and insoles to prevent moisture and fungal issues
  • Hat with mosquito netting or just mosquito netting you can adapt to use as needed

Saving Money Putting Back Clothes

  • Thrift & Second Hand Stores

I am no stranger to the thrift store when it comes to some types of clothing. Women’s jeans for example often get tossed in the charity box before they are worn out. I find that there are far less men’s jeans at Goodwill or similar Thrift Stores.

A lot of good stuff can be found at thrift stores. In college I bought an LL Bean long sleeve synthetic shirt for $3 at Goodwill and got 10 years out of it.

  • Shop The Clearance

Discount stores and shopping the clearance section of outfitters is also a great way to get good gear. Hey I don’t care if it is last year’s fashionable color, if it is a good deal. LL Bean is one of those retailers that you can buy clothes for cheaper than any mall or even Wal-Mart if you are careful and not picky about colors. I got a $150 insulated fleece for $30 just because it was gray and black and a remainder. I still have that coat and it has been years.

  • Buy Out Of Season

This is one of the easiest ways to save a ton on clothing. End of season sales or simply buying that coat in the absolute middle of summer can reap huge savings. The $150 coat for $30 I mentioned is a prime example of this type of shopping. You can dress your whole family in designer garb for very low prices.

  • Add A Piece At A Time

Trying to get everything at once is not always the best plan. It can seem overwhelming to look at the clothing list I have given but you can buy things a little at a time. A $10 pack of socks here and a bargain pair of pants there and before you know it you will have what you need.

The important thing is to evaluate what you have and be realistic about needs in a survival situation. I love fashion too but it goes out the door when it comes to survival.

  • Sometimes it is worth some extra emails in your inbox to sign up for store mailing lists

As much as I dislike having a cluttered inbox, I have found it is worth it to sign up for emails from favorite online retailers. Even if you just sign up for long enough to get your fist welcome discount, it is worth it to save 10-20%. for example has a special deal where you save 15% on your first three orders. If you plan it right you can make it count.

Do you have any clothes you would like to add to this list? We would love to hear from you and what works for your climate! I tried to include different suggestions for some climates but no one knows like those that live in a particular area.

Author Bio

Samantha Biggers lives on a mountain in North Carolina with her husband and pack of loyal hounds in a house her husband and she built themselves. When not writing she is working in their vineyard, raising Shetland sheep, or helping her husband with whatever the farm and vineyard can throw at them. 

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23 Responses to “Best Clothing To Have On Hand For SHTF”

  1. Recommendations:

    No underpants when moving – use tight bicycle pants to prevent bleeding between legs.
    No sole inserts: exacerbates foot damage and collects sweat.
    Use heavy wool socks – protects feet and when rotating (old pair inside your shirt and jacket against chest) drys out faster.
    Regarding cold climate carry heavy insulated overall bibs for stops, drying out jeans and keeping warm.
    Pertaining to rain gear use the old army baggy rain jacket and pants – allows for layered, underneath insulation.
    For severe foot fungus soak feet in listerine; will kill anything from all parts of the world.

    For extended periods of SHTF the insulated overall/coverall heavy bibs facilitates mobility in the house when heat is off for weeks.

    “Food for thought”


  2. What about gloves? Not only cold weather gloves–but heavy work gloves as we’ll all be gathering and chopping wood, carrying large buckets of water, building shelters, etc.

    • This goes to show that there is always something else to think of! I cannot believe I forgot to put gloves in this article! Of course I also forget to wear them half the time when I should and have the scars and calluses to prove it so I am not surprised I forgot to put them in here. Thanks so much for adding this in Susan. Gloves are definitely essential. I think those giant packs of work gloves that come in 12-24 packs would be good to put back for general use. It can be hard to find big packs of gloves in smaller sizes it seems so small hands often require individual pair purchases. Thanks for reading and contributing!

  3. Here in Northern MN, we get wool/cotton thermals for winter. The cotton next to the skin keeps it comfortable while the outside wool layer keeps you warmer and dryer. I haven’t tried the synthetics since I like these so well. Also, snow suits or snowpants provide more protection from the bitter cold and wind when outside. I didn’t have any one winter and took nearly an hour to warm up after having to work all afternoon outside in the cold .

  4. Excellent article. My husband is retired military and we have large totes of BDUs–shirts, pants, heavy jackets. The quality is unbeatable for day in and day out hard outside work.
    I only go to Walmart infrequently but always haunt the babies’ and children’s sections. Very, very often there are clearance sales on young children’s play clothes for giveaway prices. I stock up on $1 or $2 tops, shorts, or long pants for the grandkids. These are cute, attractive, cheerful clothes, nothing obscene for children like skulls or knives. Once, I came across early morning clearance packs of men’s colored boxers and tees priced at a couple of dollars each. I stocked up.
    Last, my helpful suggestion is “Learn to Sew.” The day might come when all we have is all we might ever have, to paraphrase Ol’ Remus at The Woodpile. Adult clothes might have to be used to cut and fabricate clothes for growing children. Sewing is fun and useful and it’s like playing the piano, in that, everybody wishes that they had learned to play, but few can. Good luck!

  5. Shoes & winter coats seem to be at the top of the list. Almost impossible to DIY to make at home. I would suggest using banana boxes for children’s clothing to grow into. Mark on the boxes girl or boy and what size. Purchase plain demin pants, socks, sweat shirts & pants and T-shirts in colors for boys or girls with no prints on the front.

  6. Have you thought about microfiber clothes, blankets, and throws?
    We found really fluffy throws at Sam’s Club, which are big enough (5×6 ft) to use as blankets. My husband and I each have our own, which we use on our bed. They warm us immediately (even our toes) and keep us cozy warm all night. We use them summer and winter (we like a cold bedroom). They can also be used as throws in our recliners to save on fuel. We can wrap ourselves up in them. They wash easily. We do not need sheets anymore. We won’t use anything else.

  7. when I was in the military I was stationed in a variety climates at all times of year…for the sock solution we used both cotton AND wool. cotton against the skin is soft and absorbs moisture from your feet and the wool over those adds the needed insulation to keep the evap from freezing. This was a great, effective,inexpensive and low tech solution to a serious problem.

  8. You didn’t mention gloves. Cold weather gloves, yes–but heavy work gloves are going to be in big demand, since we’ll be gathering/chopping wood, carrying large buckets of water, building shelters, etc.

    • There is a type of glove that served me well in,moderately cold temperatures. They’re made of a material called thinsulate. They would work well for hunting as you would not Have to remove them to fire your weapon.

  9. the best out door type clothing is made from wool. some time you can find surplus clothing on sale that is wool. you see this in surplus uniforms from western armies like Swiss and Norwegian

  10. This is s great topic that I don’t remember seeing on this site before. Clothing falls under the Shelter category. That highlights just how important clothing is for survival. I believe in wool. I have wool everything plus some cotton TShirts for summer. In a bug out situation in my home state I would force myself to keep covered in summer because of bugs and poisonous plants. Not to mention simple leg scratches or cuts can turn into something life threatening. So in summer sweaters and coats would come off but I would still wear long pants, wool socks, and boots. I would allow myself short sleeve TShirts in summer but that’s the only leniency.

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