I live in Maine and heat is a concern even in the best of circumstances. When the SHTF, though, how are you going to keep warm in the colder months? I’m sure you already know how to build all kinds of fancy fires and own the latest in winter survival camo. But fires are kind of useless when you have to roam away from camp to find food, and high-tech clothing materials tend to be thin and wear out quickly. So, what’s a frozen survivalist to do? Here are a few low-tech ideas.
Stock Up on Silk and Wool
Silk and wool are your two best options for making warm clothing. 100% silk makes a great bottom layer because it’s thin, it breathes and wicks perspiration away from your body. Silk also has the unique ability to keep you cool in the summer for the same reasons. My grandmother was wearing silk long johns a good 75 years before Under Armor(tm) ever came up with the idea of uber-expensive base layers. And you can still find these great leggings and shirts online. Silk is a tough fabric, but you should know some basic sewing skills to keep these important garments in good repair.
Wool works best as a middle or top layer. Most people can’t stand it next to their skin because it’s itchy. Plus, it’s hard to find wool fabric thin enough to work as an under layer. There are so many ways to prepare and use wool for keeping warm. You can spin the raw fleece into yarn for knitting. You can felt the raw fleece into useful items, or just felt large pieces of fabric for sewing. And, of course, you can sew woven wool fabric into just about any cold-weather clothing you need.
Use Other Forms of Natural Insulation
So, what if you don’t plan to keep sheep around and silk worms are right out? Well, the obvious answer is to use wool pelts from the animals you may be hunting for food. Tanning is a nasty, time-consuming process though. Your best bet may be to find one person who is good at it and barter some of your raw skins for their tanning services.
If you keep chickens, ducks or geese, save any feathers they leave behind in their nests. Down is a great natural insulator. But even warmer than that is milkweed fluff! Make a plan to collect all the pods you can when the milkweed first opens in the fall. You can use it to stuff blankets or quilt it into warm jackets and pants. During the early 20th century milkweed was also used for life jackets because it has good flotation properties.
Learn How to Knit
One good long-term strategy is to learn to spin your own yarn and take up knitting. When you know how to knit, you can create all sorts of cold-weather items like hats, mittens, socks and sweaters. Knitting does take time, though. You’ll finish your garments faster if you use fat yarn and large diameter needles. It’s a great way to pass time by the campfire at the end of a long day. Experienced knitters can stay productive even in total darkness because they don’t need to look at their stitches; it’s all done by feel.
Learn How to Felt
Felt has been used by many cultures to stay warm in the frigid winter months, including nomads roaming the Mongolian steppes thousands of years ago. They used it for overcoats, hats and blankets, but also made their homes out of the stuff (look up “yurts” or “Gir” for information on these amazing transportable shelters.)
Felt is just wool fleece that’s been compressed into a solid fabric by heat and friction. It’s a quick, easy process even children can do successfully. Modern felt-makers use boiling water and soap to create the fabric, but the Mongols just put the fleece under their saddles. The heat from the horse and friction from the saddle made wonderful felt fabric. (Please be aware, they cleaned the fleece extremely well! A few stray pieces of grass or sticks could rub a horse raw and cause infection.)
Learn How to Sew
Whether you’re using silk, wool or felt for warmth, you really need to know how to sew. You can use an old-fashioned needle and thread, or a fancy commercial sewing machine, but stitching pieces of fabric together to make basic garments and repair worn ones is a survival necessity.
You don’t need to go to a home-ec class and learn how to read fancy patterns. The best garments are created out of basic shapes. Just take the fabric you have and start experimenting with how you can cover yourself with it.
The easiest way to experiment is with a sewing mannequin or dress form. I recommend an adjustable version so you can sew for lots of people. Just drape your fabric over the dummy in different ways, using pins to hold the pieces in place. Once you find a configuration you like, make it permanent by cutting and stitching.
Barter Your Skills
Not only are these skills going to keep you warm, but you can also create warm clothing and blankets for bartering. People will gladly trade food items, water, guns and ammo for warmth in the depths of winter. Take the time to learn knitting, sewing and felting now and you’ll be a hot ticket when the SHTF.