Cold Weather Clothing A Prepper’s Guide to Staying Warm in Harsh Conditions
Threats of the Cold:
Every year people die during the cold and storms of winter because of lack of preparation. Motorists get stuck in blizzards and succumb to the cold when their fuel runs out and old people freeze when their furnace stops working during a power outage. These kinds of deaths will be much more prevalent if war and/or an EMP strike brings down the national power grid for a time (a few months if we’re lucky, a year if the establishment doesn’t get their act together).
For survival situations, you have to consider if your main or backup heating systems are going to operate when the utilities are down. Stored fuels like oil, propane and coal are fine while they last, but these furnaces require some electricity to control and run the fan. Renewable resources like wood are limited as well for those who don’t live near a dense, wooded forest. Fortunately, most wood stoves don’t need any electricity. But ultimately, everyone ought to be prepared to survive without external heat.
A Better Way to Stay Warm:
To survive in the cold focus on keeping your body warm—not the space around you. Modern long underwear is thin and comfortable and will keep you warm down to 40 or 50 degrees depending on your activity and other outer layers. Even cotton works if kept dry, but when it gets wet it loses loft and keeps the water close to your skin drawing out heat and making you clammy and cold (this is why survivalists say “cotton kills”). Long wool underwear is still the best of nature’s fabric—especially if you’re moving a lot and perspiring. Wool retains some loft and the new Merino blends aren’t itchy and are machine washable as well. If the daytime temperatures in your house drop below 40 degrees, however, you’ll need a better heat retention system. Fortunately, there is a modern solution to keeping warm even at extreme temperatures.
The 3 keys to staying warm are: retain heat, evacuate moisture and stop wind chill. Jim Phillips, a scientist and experienced winter survivalist, is the originator of cold weather clothing made with open cell foam which does the first two. A suitable shell does the third. Foam retains heat in the air pockets throughout its structure and evacuates water by soaking excess moisture off your skin like a dry sponge.
Foam clothing does this best if worn close to your skin with a breathable (non-cotton) layer in-between like polyester or nylon. Open cell foam allows hot air near your body to slowly migrate through the breathable foam, absorbing and carrying moisture on its way out. Cold acts like a vacuum pulling some of the warmth (and the moisture in it) outward. The colder it is outside the better the moisture evacuation works. The density of the foam retains warmth even as the moisture is wicked away to the atmosphere.
Phillips wears a windproof outer shell to keep wind chill down and found that with 1” foam clothing he could stay comfortable for days on end in the Arctic. You can still order clothes from Jim’s site ($175 each for the coat and pants or $315 for both) or if you know how to sew, you can buy kit materials from them with instructions on how to do it yourself.
We have recently been able to test the latest improvements in severe weather clothing with a slightly better type of engineered polymer foam (EPF) from Fortress Clothing. Fortress has pioneered the latest advances in this technology and found an optimal foam for density (retaining heat) and breathe-ability (evacuating moisture) and the results are impressive. They sell a complete package of ½” foam clothes they stuff in a “bug out bag” and the total package weighs less than 5 lbs. They say the comfort zone for these clothes is a full 100 degrees of variation (-30 to 70 degrees F) with the caveat that this range depends on a person’s metabolism, exertion level, hydration and health.
Fortress Clothing puts a rip-stop, windbreak fabric outside the foam and a polyester mesh on the inside so the foam clothes are comfortable and durable but they still recommend wearing an outer shell. They have found the shell can be waterproof as long as it isn’t tight fitting—you want enough air to circulate that the foam can do its job at evacuating moisture. That’s all you need for -30 degree conditions you say—only two layers? -No down, fur, or Gore-Tex? I was skeptical too.
We have tried these clothes out in the Rocky Mountains during a snowstorm. Andrew also ran two miles uphill in freezing temperatures until he had built up a sweat. Then he stopped and waited to get chilled. It never happened. He even lay down in the snow for 15 minutes but was still comfortable. He then tried them indoors with the furnace off, sitting for long periods at his computer in 50 degree temps. These clothes tend to maintain an optimum temperature in a wide variety of activities.
Consider the worst winter survival scenario: You are cold and wet after getting soaked by rain, melting snow or (absolutely the worst case) falling into icy water in a lake or stream. In normal winter clothes, the sudden freezing temperatures can bring on hypothermia within minutes unless you get a fire started quickly and have access to dry clothes. But, not so with foam based insulation. As soon as you extract yourself from the water, the foam starts to drain and the air pockets start retaining warmth. Here’s a video of people who jumped into ice water with Fortress Clothing and documented how quickly they recovered. People reported feeling warm in less than a minute and actually dried out in about five hours—all without changing clothes or starting a fire, which normally spells death in any other clothing.
Other Fortress Improvements: Foam clothes are inherently bulky and tend to bunch up inside the elbows and under the knees, so Fortress designed some ergonomic advances into their outfits that increases comfort. They shape and sew the foam in these areas to be more comfortable. It still feels like a foam suit when you first put it on, but the foam is soft and pliable so it doesn’t restrict movement. You can even sleep in it comfortably.
Slits at the side keep the jacket from bunching up in your face when you sit down and the long tail keeps your back warm when bending over. The foam head covering is a balaclava—a hat and scarf in one. It’s not stylish, but you will love it when the wind is blowing. The wide, padded chin wrap does a good job of keeping your lower face warm too. A large Velcro attachment lets you adjust it over or under the chin at your preference (or wrap it behind the head, out of the way). But the feature we loved the most was the wide ring of double wind-stop material attached to the bottom of the head gear: it blocks all cold drafts and keeps snow from getting down the back of the neck—much better than any scarf.
The “hot socks” are great slippers around the house but you will want extra large boots to use them during work or outside play. I bought rubber boots three sizes larger than my feet in order to fit over the inserts. Even after walking a few miles my feet did not build up sweat thanks to the foam.
The mittens are simple but well made with full foam all around the hand and a generous cuff. Fortress cuts and sews the foam to match the curve of the hand so the mittens are useful instead of just filling your grip with foam. Hands seem to stay much warmer in these mittens even when you wear a less effective conventional coat. And, with the foam jacket on, you often don’t need gloves since your core is warm.
The Fortress outfit is all black, but that doesn’t matter because you cover it with an outer shell of your choice. We recommend that the uninsulated shell have a hood so it fits over the foam jacket and hat loosely. The pants shell should be loose fitting too. Ski pant shells are ideal, but so are coveralls or baggy workout clothes depending on the kind of activities you are engaged in.
You can also buy this clothing in the 1″ thick version that protects you down to a whopping -68 deg. F., but unless you are planning arctic expeditions or live/work where it frequently gets below -30 F., I doubt you will need the extra bulk. What we really like about this high performance half-inch clothing is that it provides warmth clear down to well below zero, but is light and flexible enough to be used for active outdoor work, hunting or recreation—horseback riding, skiing, snowmobiling, hiking and snowshoeing—without getting overheated. With no more bone chilling rides on the lift, you will never have a more enjoyable ski experience than with this Fortress gear.
Cost and Discount Offer:
At over $700 for the complete bundle, these severe weather clothes aren’t cheap, but we consider them the ultimate in quality. We have no financial interest in any of the reviews we perform, but Fortress has offered a big discount for subscribers to Joel’s World Affairs Brief—a geopolitical newsletter, which alerts readers to all the current threats we face. Subscribers get a generous 25% discount when they order by December 10. Put another way, the coupon will repay the cost for the year’s subscription and still save you over $125 when you buy a Fortress outfit in the neat, compact compression bag that is ready to store in the back of your car or replace all your other coats and winter fuel supplies. (Create a login, pay and then click on “Latest Brief” to read Joel’s analysis of the Paris attacks with this coupon code in the Prep Tip at the end).
The Fortress website is (www.fortressclothing.com or toll free 855-487-9276). If you can’t afford the whole outfit, start with the jacket, and then the hat and pants. Everything is handmade in the USA with specially designed, high quality foam (a big part of the cost).
Remember too that this is inner wear that will last for decades. The outer shells you wear over it will take most of the wear-and-tear. And while this lightweight clothing package is the easiest way to tackle winter cold, without gas, wood or batteries, it also serves all your outdoor work and recreation needs during the remaining good times. Highly recommended.