The Best Emergency Fabrics to Keep You Warm and Dry

When you think of emergency preparedness, food, water and cash are probably the first things you think of. However, having the right clothing and tools is equally important in order to keep you and your supplies safe from the elements.

Most of us have a wardrobe full of cotton, which is not the best fabric for staying dry and warm, so be sure to stock up on the following fabrics in order to be fully prepared should a disaster strike.

man in outdoors equipment

Paracord

Technically, paracord is a type of cord, but it is an extremely useful emergency tool that is commonly used by the military, so it’s included in this article. This hefty cord can hold up to 550 pounds and can be adapted for many purposes, such as making a tourniquet or a fishing line, sewing, rappelling, building a shelter or even creating an animal snare.

Paracord also works well as highly durable belts and shoelaces as it is quick drying and resistant to rotting. You may consider taking some paracord with you on your next camping trip, so you can get some experience using it in a non-emergency setting.

Mylar

Mylar is also a highly versatile emergency preparedness fabric. Mylar is frequently used to form
food storage bags that have mylar as the top layer, aluminum foil in the middle, and a plastic film on the inside that acts as a sealant.

This combination makes the bag highly resistant to the passage of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water vapor, which makes it a good option for preserving food. Keep in mind that mylar is easily punctured, so be sure to keep the bags in a hard container where insects and sharp objects can’t puncture them.

Space blankets, also known as mylar blankets, are used to maintain your body temperature during cold weather. They work by reflecting your body heat back to you. Be aware that these blankets do not work like blankets you would have on your bed.

Space blankets don’t provide any insulation, and quickly become the same temperature as it is outside. Thus, it’s important to have an insulating layer between you and the blanket in order for it to be effective.

Fleece

Speaking of insulation, fleece fabric is an excellent insulator should you find yourself stuck in cold weather. Fleece is also somewhat water resistant compared to cotton, but be sure to have layers of clothing in order to stay warm and dry.

In extremely cold weather, start with a thermal underwear close to the skin. Next, add some insulation such as wool or fleece and a jacket made from synthetic fiber. Finally, add a windproof and waterproof layer, such as a jacket made from Gore Tex which allows sweat to escape but keeps rain out. Of course, be sure to have a good hat, socks, shoes and gloves to complete the ensemble.

Silk

Silk is a tremendous fabric in many regards, but it is not very popular at least in the West, partly due to its cost, and lack of availability.

Silk is extremely lightweight, very soft, fast drying, has excellent moisture wicking properties, yet it doesn’t make you feel cold when it is wet; the moisture gets locked away in the middle of the fibers away from your skin.

It also has the added benefit of being naturally bacteria and odor resistant. Silk is also far tougher than you might be thinking when manufactured into a garment correctly. In many ways, silk is the ultimate performance fabric and an excellent choice for preppers who can afford it.

Wool

Wool is an ancient fiber, one that still has considerable popularity and enjoys widespread use today. It has some excellent characteristics as a survival-ready fabric because it is naturally odor resistant, resists bacteria, and offers nearly peerless temperature control characteristics, keeping you pleasantly warm (at right around your normal body temperature).

It will help you stay cool when it is hot, and it will help you warm up when it is cold. Contrary to popular belief, wool does not absorb a considerable amount of water, typically only gaining about a third again its weight when it is soaked, but it is very slow to dry, the modern wool blends are improved over traditional wool in this regard.

The only other major disadvantage of wool is that it is expensive compared to modern synthetics and synthetic blends, and you must buy a very fine (and expensive!) wool for it to feel soft and cozy; lesser grades of wool are fairly notorious for making people feel itchy and scratchy even though the fabric itself is non-allergenic.

Cotton

Cotton is a common fabric and affordable, though for serious survival purposes it lacks in several categories.

First, cotton does not wick away moisture very well, and this is further compounded by its extremely thirsty nature, as it can typically absorb well over 2,000% (!) of its own weight in moisture, contributing to making you feel even heavier and also stripping heat out of your body faster. Also cotton is typically very slow to dry, though not quite as bad as wool.

On the plus side, cotton is highly breathable, and feels extremely pleasant against the skin, making it a good choice for easy days in hot weather. It is commonly used in polyester and other synthetic blends to produce compound fabrics which can offer a “best of both worlds”.

If you are going to go with garments made of cotton, make sure they are not your base layer that is immediately against your skin and you should be alright. If you can take the time to wring them out when wet or rotate into dry clothes you should be in good shape.

Polyester 

Polyester is one of the most common fabrics in the world today, and found increasingly in all kinds of performance clothing, including outdoor clothing that might typically be worn by preppers for extended forays, and in emergency situations.

Polyester is a study in contrasts, typically either excelling or doing very poorly in any given performance category with no in between. First on the positive side, it is extremely lightweight, feels very soft and absorbs hardly any moisture at all, even drying very quickly.

Polyester is also extremely affordable, and high-performance garments made from it can be had for shockingly good prices. 

The list of negatives includes very poor temperature control performance, only fair durability, and a propensity to become positively nasty with bacteria and odor, making it a nightmare when considering sanitation on long outings.

Wet polyester will also chill you very quickly when it is against your skin, and some people have a pronounced polyester allergy. Considering it is so common and used in so many blends of various fabrics this can present a problem for those so afflicted.

Final Word

Remember, we never know when a natural disaster will strike or a personal emergency, such as a heater breaking, or a car breaking down, so be sure to be prepared for all weather conditions in order to keep you and your family safe.

latest update: nov 12th 2020

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7 thoughts on “The Best Emergency Fabrics to Keep You Warm and Dry”

  1. I recently picked up a pair of 5.11 tactical pants. Rugged reinforced construction, comfortable, water repelling and surprisingly warm on a cold day…

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  2. With the bitter cold weather we’re having this winter, the first few fabrics that come to mind for me are Gortex and Thinsulate. Gortex material replaced wool and cotton duck as the military’s Extreme Cold Weather package in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. This material is wind and water resistant, but “breathes”. There are tiny holes in the fabric that are too small for a droplet of water to enter, but much larger than a molecule of water vapor. This allows for perspiration to escape. I purchased several pair of Herman Survivor boots in the mid to late 1980’s. They were all leather, waterproof and warm. However, they did NOT breathe, so if you wore the footwear indoors before going outside, your feet would sweat. I cannot speak with authority about Thinsulate. I will say that I read the labels on gloves and boots and opt for the lager content. Many gloves on the market advertise 40 grams of Thinsulate. I just bought a pair at Tractor Supply that has 100 grams. I had frostbite on both feet and frostnip on both hands on my first tour of the Army. I am very fortunate that I did NOT lose fingers or toes from this misfortune. My tolerance to cold was degraded by these conditions, though. Consequently, I take extra precaution in choosing outdoor attire during the winter.

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  3. Rourke, you must live in a cold climate! Although cotton is not the best for winter, it is great for summer, precisely because it will soak up your sweat and create evap cooling right next to your body. People in warmer regions SHOULD have loose woven cotton and linen clothing, and don’t forget silk, in light colors, to help them survive heat with no air conditioning.

    Fleece is great for cold weather, but it’s not wind-proof, so an outer layer may be needed. Wool is not only fire resistant, it’s self-extinguishing. Synthetics will melt, if they do not burn, and that is why babies and children should NEVER sleep under a synthetic blanket. AND wool breathes; most synthetics do not.

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  4. Maybe not a fabric, per se, but it is handy to keep a can of water-retardant-spray on hand. I like the 3M brand. Good for shoes, ponchos, coats, hats, and tents.

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  5. If you have a warehouse nearby that imports foodstuffs from overseas using those large conex shipping containers, you can often get large amounts of the insulating mylar/bubble wrap style material used to insulate the shipment during transit. I’ve found nearly entire rolls of this stuff being thrown away at several industrial warehouses. You can often just ask them to save or give you some for a small fee. It may be just large scraps in odd sizes, but most are large enough for countless insulation projects around the BOL. The size is usually 5 wide and various lengths that can be quite long! If your lucky you can get almost entire rolls of this material as the overseas shippers often just tuck the remaining roll inside the conex containers instead of cutting off the material! And these warehouses just throw it in the dumpster! I’ve used it for everything from insulating deerstands, sleeping pads, to insulating my shop.
    Look for the smaller warehouses that import non refrigerated foodstuffs for redistribution.

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