Make Your Own Clothing And Gear by Gary Benton
There may come a time when you might be forced to make your own clothing or accessories you need in the field. When I attended survival school, we had to make packs, goggles, some small pouches, and other gear. Generally, it is not that difficult to do, but it does take some serious preplanning. For instance, what you may need is never a problem to identify, but how to make it may take some consideration as well as a great deal of time. Then, you must consider what to make it out of, using only what you have on hand.
Those of us in survival situations in the Air Force usually had access to parachutes from crashed planes. Perhaps we had bailed out and at least had one “chute” with us. A personnel parachute, when I was in the military, was twenty-eight feet in diameter. That, my friends, is enough to make your shelter and all the accessories you may ever need. What about you, the average civilian who does not have a parachute? What do you have to use for emergencies. Well, each survival situation is unique because your equipment and supplies may be limited in some cases. However, you will always have something available to use.
In my minimum survival kit I have a small sewing kit that I always have with me, the type hotels give away for free with a room. This kit aids in keeping my buttons on, rips repaired, or even for medical purposes if need be like removing splinters or opening blood pockets that hurt under a nail, etc. The kit is handy, but by using a sharp stick and some wire, cord, or grasses, you can do the same chore; it just takes more patience and skill. You may have to punch a hole with a sharp stick or knife blade, and weave the wire, cord, or grasses through the holes to hold the material together.
If your car breaks down, you have unlimited survival resources available to you. Everything from the battery to the car seat covers can be used toward your survival efforts. You have many miles of wires, for snares or use as line maybe, and insulation you can also use to your advantage. The key here, is to use your mind and consider unorthodox ways of using what you have available to stay alive or to signal rescuers with. I once read of a man and woman who survived subzero weather by using crumpled up newspapers to line their coats with. In another case, I read about a man who used his hubcaps to shine the sun on a rescue aircraft, he didn’t have a commercial signal mirror and hadn’t considered his car mirrors for some reason. Yet, another man used a side mirror from his car to signal an aircraft with. Additionally, car tires, motor oil, or rubber floor mats, will give off a dark smoke when burned, so consider those for signaling as well. Think and survive.
Let’s get back on track and consider what simple items you can make that can be worn in some useful fashion. Headgear, Arab style, can be made from a towel, t-shirt, or large piece of cloth. Just make sure there is a headband of some sort used with it, so it is held firmly in place. In addition, goggles can be made from cloth, wood, or plastics. Just cut two small slits where your eyes will be and have a hole on each end of the goggle. It can then be tied around the head so it is held firmly in place. Goggles are very important for eye protection in both desert and arctic environments to avoid injury to the eyes from sun glare.
In cold weather you can construct insulated socks by taking a pair of socks, placing dried grasses or paper in them, and then inserting a sock covered foot. If you only have one pair of socks, place the insulating material in the shoe. Make sure the dried grass or paper covers the foot 360 degrees. Then, the sock with insulation may be inserted in a boot, I suggest you always buy your boots just a tab larger than needed, or wear a handmade moccasin. The key to insulation against the cold is dead air spaces. These spaces heat up quickly and retain heat very well. Of course, once the grasses or paper become compressed or compact, they need to be changed. Check them at least twice a day and don’t expect them to be very comfortable, we’re talking survival here not comfort.
Moccasins can be made from a large triangular piece of cloth or leather. Keep one tip of the triangle the front of the foot and the other two tips outward on each side of the heel. Then, raise all three tips and secure in place with rope or string. While there are better and more durable moccasins that can be made, this type can work well in an emergency for short periods of time and they are easy to make even by a beginner. Remember, we want working clothes, not fashion.
Puttees or gaiters can be made from just about any cloth or leather. They are merely wrappings that go around the ankles and up the legs. In the military, during World War II, they were referred to as leggings. I suggest you cut your material in strips, about 2 or 3 inches wide, and wrap the legs, start at the bottom and go up. Gaiters can keep insects out of your pants and offer some protection from brush and briars as you travel. Keep in mind, green or uncured leather will shrink if it gets wet. So, if you use fresh uncured leather to wrap your legs with, try to keep your gaiters dry.
Another item that is easy to make is what my grandfather called a Mule Collar Pack, or some folks call it a Horseshoe Pack. Regardless of the name attached to it, it is a very simple pack to make and is very easy to wear. It resembles a rolled up blanket and you may have seen photos of Civil War soldiers wearing them. All you need is a blanket, large piece of cloth, or other material, and some cord, wire, or rope.
Spread the pack material out flat and place your equipment at the top. Leave a good twelve inches of material on both sides of your gear. Be sure and put your large and flat items down first, then the smaller items on top. I suggest once your gear is on the pack material, you fold part of the sides up, keeping the fold straight on both sides. Then, starting at the equipment end, slowly roll the material down. You should attempt to keep the roll as tight as you can.
Once the rolling is completed, tie the roll in at least three places. Tie one spot at each end, and one in the middle. Then, I usually use a larger piece of rope to tie the opposite ends of the roll together, forming a crude horseshoe or mule collar. To wear it, just slip the “hole” of the pack over your head and shoulders. When worn properly the pack should cross from a shoulder and go down to the opposite thigh, both front and back. This type of pack is easy to make and a breeze to carry. What I like about it is the fact if it becomes uncomfortable on one side, it can quickly be placed on the other shoulder.
Another item that is easy to make is a survival serape, or poncho. Just take a blanket, or large piece of material, and cut a hole in the center large enough for your head to fit through. Don the serape, and tie the loose material at your waist. If the material you constructed your serape is waterproof, plastic or nylon, you may have made a rain poncho. If the material you use is a wool blanket, you will have a very warm piece of clothing for cold weather use, even when your serape gets wet. Wet wool retains its insulating properties even when damp or wet.
In some situations, depending on where you are, you may be able to use reeds, grasses or other natural resources for clothing. You can weave grasses, or reeds, into cloth like material that can be fashioned into crude clothing. Additionally, make a few large sheets of woven material, there are many different ways to weave, and you can use them to reinforce your shelter, sides and top if need be. In addition, in some areas of the world, large leaves like the banana leaf can be used to make clothing. Furthermore, between the hard outer bark of many trees and the wood itself, is a thin layer of material, my grandpa called it inner bark, that can be removed and woven into clothing or mats as well. Of course you can use animal skins both cured and uncured. However, the drawback in skins is the simple fact that cured skins droop when wet and green skins will shrink. However, in an emergency almost anything around you can be used.
Let’s take a look at what we can do with a common trash bag. When I go into the field I always carry a few bags for emergency use and I usually take along the large orange bags because they are easier seen. I have found them to be useful in everything from covering my backpack to keep it dry, to making crude waders to ford streams with.
To use a trash bag as a wader, place your foot into the bag and make sure your toe is in a corner. Then, pull the excess bag up and either tie with rope, vines, wire or tape it in place. Once you have the bag in place, insert your foot into your boot. Keep in mind, your sweat cannot evaporate while in the bag, so don’t wear them for a long period of time or you will fill the bag with body moisture making you wet and increasing the danger of trench foot. However, they work fine for short-term use when you cross a shallow stream. Also, wear them inside of your boot and not on the outside, the bags are thin and will rip if worn on the outside very quickly by getting cut or snagged by sharp rocks. While the boot will be wet, the foot will remain dry.
Two bags can be used to make a crude poncho. Tear, do not cut, cut material will rip more, the bag in the middle of the solid end for a hole for your head and then tear two holes high on the sides for your arms. Place the bag up and over your head and then extend your arms out the sides. You can place another bag, with a hole torn in the side, on your head. While this trash bag poncho will keep you somewhat dry, it is no way near as good as a real poncho, but it is a good emergency idea to consider.
Another good use for a trash bag is to make a temporary tent. This is an emergency shelter and it will be a rough night if you have to sleep in it. You need two or more trash bags, I suggest at least three, some tape, a few feet of line or vines to tie between two trees and some rocks or heavy objects, perhaps your gear, to keep the bottom of the bags on the ground. It will work for a temporary shelter, but it’s never a good permanent shelter. I have used the design overnight and let me assure you, there is little moving room. This type of shelter is very weak and not suggested for use unless there is no other choice.
If you are forced to survive, look around you. What do you see? Reeds can become a new serape, grasses a new loincloth, or tree bark can make a pair of sandals. In addition, a floor mat from your car can become a sleeping mat to insulate you from the cold ground. An old blanket can become a pack, head covering, or a survival serape. A gallon of motor oil can be used as fuel or to signal with if need be. Moreover, a fishing kit can be used for other purposes besides fishing. The line can be used to make snares and a baited hook works well for catching birds. Keep your mind active, observe, evaluate, consider and survive!
Take care and I will see you on America’s Wilderness trails.