Cold Weather Clothing A Prepper’s Guide to Staying Warm in Harsh Conditions

by Andrew Skousen and Joel Skousen, authors, Strategic Relocation and The Secure Home

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.

Fortress Clothing:

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 ( 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. [END]


  1. Diana Smith says:

    Nice to talk about these fancy winter clothes, but what about when you don’t have them? Having wintered here in Wyoming in a simple tent one year, I can tell you it’s possible to do.
    Some of this I learned growing up, because my DD worked outside all the time and was a child of the Depression. It’s a matter of dressing in layers, and the first one needs to either be wool, or thermal underwear (even the cotton type). Over this, I placed a simple T-shirt. It mostly covered my core, but helped trap the warmth against my body. Leggings did the same thing for my legs–not the kind that are more like pantyhose, but those that are more like modern yoga pants or close-fitting pants. Some of the new style long underwear in the men’s section of WalMart are like this, and I like them better.
    Over this I placed flannel pajama bottoms. They were thin enough not to bunch up under my jeans, but added warmth. The jean material acted as a windbreak.
    On top, I wore a flannel shirt, the kind of plaid button up ones you used to find everywhere, and now I can only find em in the men’s section. Over this went a sweatshirt. It can be a bit of a struggle to get all of these to work together, but once their in place…
    On my feet went wool socks, then standard cotton ones because the cotton will absorb the moisture from the woolies and help keep your feet dry. If I had to, a third, thinner sock went over those, but I seldom needed more. The best way to join the socks and the pants was to pull the woolies up over the longjohns, pull the cotton up over the bottom of the jammies and make sure your jeans are pulled down over all that. I called it “slip fashion” because one slipped inside another. You can do this at the waist, too, but it makes it a little harder to get out of when you have to use the bathroom fast.
    Over all that, if I was outside, went a jacket with a hood, which was pulled up over a stocking cap. A scarf to cover my mouth (didn’t have a good face mask back then), and my coat. I was warm and toasty inside.
    For sleep, I took the coats off, but by placed them over my bedding. my bed was a regular sleeping bag tucked into a king-sized one. Two wool blankets lined the inner bag and I slept between those. On really cold nights, a comforter went over all. I pulled the bedding up over my head, left a breathing hole and went to sleep.
    Couple of notes: DO” NOT leave your glasses out in the colder air overnight. Find a way to take them to bed with you, or the first thing you get is really cold glasses on your face and an instant fog-over.
    Do not sleep in your boots, or your feet will sweat and may get too cold. Don’t keep your boots out in the cold, either, or you will be fighting that cold as well as the normal cold when you get up in the morning. I placed my boots in the bottom of my sleeping bag. My body heat kept them a little warmer, then, and they were usable.
    Maintain a decent calorie intake. Your body keeps you warm by burning calories, and if you don’t eat enough, it can’t keep you warm. Then you start to shiver to stay warm, and that’s a downhill slope.
    I will say this. I discovered that at about 4:30 in the morning, the Wyoming wind stops (unless its storming), and it gets all quiet and beautiful outside. I was building a cabin during all this, and its when I got some of my best work done. With the moon out I could see well enough, and I could work until the wind picked up again at about 1030 in the morning. It was glorious, especially when the stars were out!

  2. mom of three says:

    I LOVE wool, last year I bought my son three pair’s of wool socks, hopefully they are being used this winter and that maybe it he is still growing. I have found some wonderful wool socks, at my local thrift stores for .99cents a pair what a score. Of course hubby, has wool socks because of being in the construction trade. We both have heated jackets, but yes if you have no power then the jackets are usless as in no extra heat. Good sweaters, nice gloves, and hat’s, I always look for good winter hat’s every time I thrift shop, I make my kids wear sweaters, or sweatshirts, in the house because it’s to easy to just turn up the heat. Thanks for the phone number, I’ll have to check this company out.

  3. Great article on the recent advances in cold weather clothing.

    We live in cold county and always carry a sleeping bag in our vehicles. I have seen people get stuck on some of the remote roads out here during storms and simply freeze to death after using all the gas in their vehicle to stay warm. Several have tried to walk out and they die not far from their vehicle. One teen age girl tried to walk out in a blizzard and made it about 300 yards. When the blizzard cleared, a helicopter was launched and found the vehicle with the girl’s mother inside alive and well. Leaving the shelter of your vehicle to try and walk out is a common cause of death in these cases.

    Carrying a warm sleeping bag in your vehicle at all times can be a matter of life and death. We carry the Military Sleep System which consists of a summer bag, winter bag and Gortex bivy bag. They can be combined into one one bag so you can stay warm well below zero. The sleep systems are about $150.00 on Ebay.

    • I got lucky and scored the summer bag and the Gortex bivy bag at a local non-profit for $5.00!!! It is in my car along with one of those reflective blankets for just in case. They sell donated stuff to profit our local Boys and Girls club.

  4. We had been at various times without electricity or natural gas in our old house because of freezing temerature’s (yes, the water in a gas line can freeze and block the pipe). Clothing is very important at times like those. I like wool and synthetics like poly pro, acrylic. Acrylic sweater’s, or fleece pullover’s and vest’s really enable one to layer. Synthetics wick better than wool, is not as warm as wool when wet,but unlike wool, will dry out with just body heat once the source of moisture is stopped (may require wringing, imersion or perspiration).

    Besides weather/temp related power outages I have also experienced natural gas lines freezing from having a water blockage freeze. The water when liguid will allow the gas to pass, add freezing temps and that water may become an ice plug.

    If electric or natural gas is your only source of heat, I would suggest another method be on hand. That could be wood, pellet,kerosene, or propane, but an alternative should be available. There are other heating method’s as well from clay flower pot’s inverted on a camp stove/hung over a lantern (to increase thermal mass) to just candles.

    Part of my winter travel gear is recycled tuna can’s. They make a good multi wicked candle for light and a bit of heat. Plastic pet food lids seal the tin when not in use. A couple of tea light’s in an altoid style tin works also (fill in the voids with melted paraffin, trim candles of needed). The lid is a ‘good enough’ reflector.

  5. Occasionally, I have to resort to my cold weather gear,which is a shirt with sleeves, socks and shoes, and shorts that go all the way down to my ankles. I call them long shorts. I hate the cold!

  6. My Grandson’s we helping us last Saturday morning before their Dad was taking them to the local collage football game. It was 17 degrees. They were wearing sweats and ball caps, only one brought gloves. Now I buy gloves, boots, knit hats, etc. on close out at the end of the “winter sales season”. So we had knit caps and gloves to loan them. But the sweats don’t help in 17 degree weather when the wind blows!

    • Continued…

      At 15 I was responsible for what I wore. I walked to school and in Oregon you figured that it was going to rain today, between Sep and May. I got a minor case of frostbite the 1st big snow I remember because I didn’t dress right and was too busy “playing” to understand the consequences.

      In the service, during the winter you didn’t travel without cold weather gear. You made sure that you had you and your peoples bases covered. We usually didn’t even have a radio to call for help.

      Mostly we “live and learn”, but we need to teach it to our youth. They are “house bound” and dependent on others to do their thinking for them; independent thought is not encouraged by our education system.

      Hopefully the mistakes we make will be minor and the discomfort of living through them will make us stronger and wiser. Articles like this one help a lot!

  7. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    Don’t forget a winter hat or at least one of those tube scarfs that cover your head then wrap around your neck. A lot of heat loss through the head.

  8. A great article. I have various articles of clothing to layer and keep me warm in various types of cold and wet weather situations. The warmest jacket I own is a US Army extreme cold weather parka, with the hood and fur brim. The coat covers your bum, is wide enough to create a dead air space, and I can literally lay still in a snow bank for extended periods and not get cold. I keep this in my car kit in the winter.this, however brings me to my earlier point: as warm as this coat is and it would be golden if stuck in your car or had to walk, this jacket is bulky and would be of little use in an extended period in a cold freezing rain situation. Youeventually get wet and it gets extremely heavy. So in dry weather it is invaluable, one needs to ensure they have appropriate clothing and layers that will not only keep you warm, but also dry in a winter weather situation. So be vigilant in ensuring any ’emergency’ clothes in your vehicle, or at home, will keep you both dry and warm, and choose accordingly. Nothing new here but just a reminder to many who have told me they keep a windbreaker in their car in case of emergency. Good luck with that. Be well everyone.

  9. Thomas The Tinker says:

    Thanks MD…. This one is like you wapping me on the back of the head saying… “Yo BooBoo…. its winter…. your in Ohio… put the sleeping bag back in the trunk and break out the war surplus for the next 5 months..”

    Ok! Bed rolls are in the vehicles… wool is airing out on the basement line… snow blowers are prepped and in the garage… We’re down to about 100lbs of salt so off to HomeDepot this week end… wood is stacked… two extra layers are folded on the back seats of Momma’s and Mine… among other such preps…..

    Crappolla…. its winter in Ohio… on Lake Erie…

    • Oh, yeah, I remember those days quite well. Walk a mile in two feet of snow just to get to the bus to go to school. At least it wasn’t uphill both ways as in the even older days.

  10. I like the fleece lined denims from EddieBauer or LL Beam. My pair has kept me warm at many a livestock show, where the barns are usually open sided.

    I don’t live in a very cold area but I do travel north and have to go over a mountain pass, so keep several things for winter travel in my SUV. got some good ideas though. Love the comment section. Always learn something new:)

  11. When I have to work outside I usually put a long sleeve Henley shirt on first, then a wool flannel shirt, a fleece vest and then a light jacket, waterproof if is going to rain or be wet. This way if I get heated I just have to take a layer off when needed. I wear a synthetic boxer brief and then some kind of fleece leggings (and yes usually women’s because they are cheap) and then jeans . For my feet I really like merino wool sock liners, they are really thin and soft, over them then regular wool , plus if you walk a lot two layers prevent blisters and then waterproof , gortex boots. Plus gloves , hat and maybe scarf depending how cold. With this I can be comfortable down to the low teens and single digits if the wind is not blowing hard.

  12. Mountain Trekker says:

    Question? Anyone have any experience with these fans that sit on you woodstove and operate just from the heat and circulate the air. No electricity needed. Trekker Out.

    • Trekker:

      My experience is 40+ years old, but they work great! If we had a metal topped wood stove I would have one or two (two if it is in a corner). No electronics, so one spare should last a life time.

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