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Bushcraft Clothing

Bushcraft Clothing

Any readers of Gun Mart will already have a good idea of what makes good practical clothing for the outdoors, so here I am just going to outline what I personally find useful for wear in the woods, where the environment that clothing has to stand up to includes wind, rain, snow, brambles, thorns, sparks from fires and general rough terrain.

I should point out that I am a big fan of natural fibre clothing for ‘Bushcraft’, as I find it stands up well to hard wear, is more comfortable than synthetics (and less prone to getting smelly) and is less likely to get ruined by sparks flying from a fire. I am not a big fan of cammo clothing, but I have nothing against Army Surplus in plain colours – after all, it is relatively cheap and very hard-wearing – just what you need. As with many bushcrafters, I prefer colours that blend in with the woods and find bright (and especially Day-Glo) colours look somewhat wrong in the woods.

Comfort is king

Above all, I like clothing that is comfortable, practical, versatile and cost-effective; which often means that I make my own! I guess that my long years of using a sewing machine and knowing how to make a pattern help here, but these are skills anyone can pick up. I am able to head off into the woods dressed and equipped entirely with clothing and gear I have made myself – and the feeling of satisfaction I get from this is amazing. However, I also find a lot of commercially available kit is as good as, or (I hate to admit it) better than the kit I can make myself, and I am more than happy to use this in the woods.

Although I am keen on natural fibre clothing (including cotton, wool, linen, silk etc.), I realise the value of synthetics (nylon, polypropylene, polyester etc.), and blends of the two (such as wool/polyester and polyester/cotton) can offer excellent options with the benefits of both coming to the fore. Wool is a magnificent fibre for outdoor clothing – it is a renewable resource, has excellent UV protection, is flame-retardant, biodegradable, breathable, nonallergenic, durable, temperature – regulating, naturally insulating, water repellent, can absorb 30% its own weight in moisture without feeling damp, and looks good! Add a little synthetic fibre to the mix, for extra wear-resistance, and you have a material that makes great socks, underwear, mid-wear and outerwear for bushcraft use.

The Cotton club

Cotton is another excellent natural fabric for bushcraft clothing, as it can come as tough as heavy canvas, or soft and light for body contact clothing. A durable material, cotton gets stronger when wet, is very breathable and comfortable, which is why it is used a lot for underwear. Cotton makes tough shirts and trousers, but as it can absorb a lot of moisture, such items can be slow to dry. Most good towelling is made of cotton. Slow drying, wet cotton clothing is not a good insulator and will feel cold, so is best for layers that will (hopefully) stay dry.

One fabric woven from cotton that bucks this advice is ‘Ventile’, a 100% cotton fabric that makes great water-resistant outerwear. Originally developed for pilots’immersion suits in WWII, Ventile is so tightly woven that when wet, the fibres swell and close off the gaps in the weave, making it almost waterproof. Ventile is also windproof and, to be frank, I love it! Brushed cotton provides a warm layer, and in summer a lightweight cotton shirt, or T-shirt and cotton trousers are most folks’ favourite combination. Adding polyester or nylon to the mix gives a tough and quicker drying fabric.

100% synthetic materials can be woven/knitted to give excellent fabric and garments for bushcraft wear; items such as polypropylene thermals, fleece jackets and waterproof layers but they are more prone to damage from sparks etc., as they tend to have lower melting temperatures than natural fibres.

I will now give you an idea of what kind of clothing I would currently wear in the woods, or take to cope with changing conditions:

Footwear

I like military type boots or hiking boots, as they offer good support and protection. In Winter, I favour all-leather construction, sometimes with breathable waterproof linings. In summer, military type desert boots are my first choice.,

Socks

My prime choice for socks is Merino Wool with good loopstitch padding on soles, heels and toes. I have yet to find cotton or synthetic socks that equal Merino.

Underwear

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Most of the year I favour cotton or bamboo viscose briefs and T-shirt, but in cooler weather I like to wear woollen long johns and a long-sleeved top. Woolpowers’ wool/ synthetic loopstitch thermals are excellent, but Aldi Merino thermals are also very good.

Trousers

Cotton or PolyCotton trousers are my choice for most of the year, but in cold weather, wool is again my choice. As I like lots of pockets, ‘Cargo’ trousers, such as those from 5:11 Tactical or Army Surplus, are a favourite.

Shirts

Again, cotton or PolyCotton shirts, with lots of pocket space are my choice for most of the year, and companies such as 5:11 produce an excellent range. For Winter, wool rules and I have several that I have made myself, but companies such as ‘Swanndri’ make excellent wool shirts.

Mid-Wear

In Summer, I like to wear a lightweight ‘pocket vest’ (for the pocket space), but in Winter, a wool-lined gilet of my own design is my normal wear, or a woollen pullover or woollen version of a fleece jacket style. Sometimes I use a fleece jacket. In really cold conditions, I like a ‘bush shirt’ and use one I made myself from blankets. Insulated clothing, such as Snugpak Softie jackets and trousers, are very useful too.

Outer-Wear

My favourite outerwear has to be a Ventile smock! I also favour military (but not cammo) smocks with attached hoods and lots of pockets in cotton or PolyCotton, as wind and shower-proof outer layers. I also like a waxed cotton jacket.

Waterproof Layers

For 100% waterproof performance, synthetic rules and cannot be beaten. I find a lot of breathable waterproof fabrics will prove either more breathable and less waterproof or more waterproof and less breathable. I only use waterproof over trousers in the very worst conditions and if I am wearing a Ventile smock, carry a poncho (usually ex MOD) to deal with really heavy and persistent rain. I hate the noise of most synthetic waterproofs and would rather get a little damp if I know I can dry out or change later in the day. Condensation can be a real issue with waterproof layers and you can get pretty damp inside – but at least you are warm and wet!

Hats

I loathe baseball caps! In summer and warm weather, I either wear one of the Tilley cotton canvas broad brim hats, which are superb, hard-wearing and comfortable, or a kepi I made myself from cotton canvas. I also like a leather broad-brimmed hat and in winter a woollen reproduction M43 German kepi that folds down to protect the neck, or a homemade sheepskin hat. Sometimes I wear a woollen hood I made.

Gloves

I often carry and wear cutresistant work gloves for use when wood processing, cutting and preparing brambles etc. but for warmth, I rely on hand-knitted woollen gloves.

Buffs

I never go anywhere without a Buff – preferably a Merino wool one! These tubes of fabric are truly multi-functional and can be worn as a variety of styles of headwear, as a neck warmer, face mask etc. and make excellent pot grabs – invaluable bits of kit all round and I recommend them to everyone.

Dress for success

These are just my current thoughts and choices of bushcraft applicable clothing. As I review clothing and gear, I come across items that can change my selection all the time. If I were heading to really cold or extremely hot climes, then I may well adapt my kit even more, but most of my bushcraft is going to be experienced in the UK.

Stay warm and dry out there!

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