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Thread: What's warmer, wet cotton clothing or no clothing?

  1. #1
    Member Buck Nelson's Avatar
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    Default What's warmer, wet cotton clothing or no clothing?

    This incident was brought up in another thread. A lady had become lost and spent 11 days alone and naked in summertime Alaska. She explains:

    Ditching my clothes was next to impossible. It was raining, and I saw the steam escaping and knew I had to do something. But with how cold I was, it was hard to do. As I felt my muscles start to contract, which can be the beginning of hypothermia, I knew they had to go.

    I thought it was interesting in that people seemed to think it was a great idea to throw away your wet cotton clothing and go naked.

    Still, it's almost ingrained NOT to do it. It seems counter intuitive. Yet, it was probably the best thing you could have done under the circumstances. For not having any experience or training, you sure made some smart decisions.

    That seems like a terrible idea for many different reasons.

    1. When this lady initially threw away her clothing, it was raining. When it's raining you're going to be wet either way, with your body losing more heat due to evaporation. I can't see how the wet clothing wouldn't at least slow down the process.

    2. She crossed icy streams many times. Each time she would have lost way less heat had she been wearing clothing.

    3. In June and July in Alaska, the mosquitoes could out-right kill you eventually if you're unprotected in some way.

    4. Sunburn.

    5. Wind chill.

    6. It will eventually stop raining.

    7. If you have a tarp, like she did, you can get out of the rain and your cotton clothes will dry with your body heat.

    Cotton is terrible when wet compared to the many superior materials (wool, synthetic fleece, polypro) but in my opinion, with few exceptions (like a wet t-shirt on a hot sunny day) wet cotton clothing will be a heck of a lot warmer than going naked.

    Am I wrong?

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    Member EagleRiverDee's Avatar
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    I would say you are wrong. One, wet cotton clothing would take days to dry with body heat alone. Even the proximity of a camp fire doesn't dry cotton quickly. Wet cotton clothing simply sucks the body heat out of you. If you can get out the clothing and into a sheltered area, your skin will dry out and you'll actually lose LESS body heat with dry skin in a sheltered area than in wet cotton clothes in a sheltered area. Is it ideal? Absolutely not. I'd be looking for ANYTHING else to put on, even a trash bag or two for a shirt and a skirt. Mosquitos would be an issue. If the sun was out, I would definitely take advantage of that and try to find a good southern rock exposure to get up near and lay my clothes out to get them as dry as possible. The only time I've ever had hypothermia I was wearing cotton. I simply don't wear cotton in the back country at all now. I wear either synthetics or wool, period, because synthetics dry quickly and wool will retain heat when wet. Cotton sucks at both.
    "If snowmachiners would adopt the habits of riding one at a time and not parking at the base of avalanche prone slopes, the number of fatalities would likely be whittled by at least a third, if not by half." ~ Jill Fredston, in the book Snowstruck, In The Grip Of Avalanches.

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    Here is an old outdoors adage easily remembered and taught to me when I was young: COTTON KILLS!!!!
    Agreed. Cotton is a terrible choice. We have to wear cotton uniforms here at work, due to National Fire Protection Agency guidelines. When it gets wet it is a miserable time to be in them. They even take a long time to dry when you sweat in them.
    Hate America??....then get the Hell Out!!!

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    Member Buck Nelson's Avatar
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    The issue isn't whether cotton is ideal, it's whether throwing your cotton clothes away and going naked is going to be warmer. That's what the person did. She wasn't in a cabin. She didn't have the choice of synthetics once she was out there and lost.

    Back in the day the most common clothes for outdoorsmen was cotton. When they were outside they didn't strip naked to warm up when they got wet. At least no one that I knew. People who get rid of their wet clothing are often found dead.

    So if you guys had wet cotton clothes and a tarp, and knew you were going to be out there for days, would you actually throw your clothes away? I'd set up my tarp, wring the wet clothes out, and my body heat would dry them out. Even cotton. (If I was getting too cold I might use the tarp as a blanket initially.) Back in the day I dried out cotton clothes on my body, hundreds of times. I am absolutely confident that I would lose far less body heat in the long run that way. If cotton kills, nudity is even deadlier.

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    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Once dry, even cotton clothing offers protection in many ways worth having. I have never read or heard authoratative advice that naked offers any advantage when you're cold and wet.

    Getting warm might mean removing wet clothes to get dry first but I would not ditch my clothes. I'd get warm, then dry my clothes.
    Conventional methods, fire, and increasing physical activity usually work.

    Years ago, I took a land survival course in Spokane where fire and "wearing your clothes dry" was recommended. Removing clothes to augment the drying process was recommended - wringing excess water, etc, but no one advised ditching clothes or implied that naked was better in any way. Bear Grylls, whose televised survival techniques seem authentic to me, removes wet clothing when cold, wrings excess water, starts a fire when there's time, but puts clothing back on to wear them dry. He doesn't mention any advantage to being naked specifically. What Buck says makes sense to me.

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    Well not sure if the lady even knew she could keep her clothes, but it seems she did lack some formal training or at least some knowledge about what to do in such types of situations. This is Alaska man. Its not a place to really mess around or one could get into serious trouble. A little knowledge can go a long ways. Don't have to be a Jeremiah Johnson, but at least have some basic skills and know how. IMHO she got very lucky to be found alive.
    Hate America??....then get the Hell Out!!!

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    Member Erik in AK's Avatar
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    Theoretically speaking, wearing nothing is generally warmer than wearing wet cotton HOWEVER, context is important here. As Shoedawg said "This is Alaska man." It is not a classroom or lab where we can examine data and explore theories. The bush is the real world where your decisions bear consequences. Whether or not those decisions are informed is up to the individual.

    As for me, being naked in the Alaskan bush? Sure, I would do it if I felt it warranted, but I would never abandon my clothing, cotton or not. Abandoning your clothes in this country is asking to die that much faster.

    We lack thick fur, claws and fangs so God saw fit to give us opposable thumbs and big brains so we could make tools to compensate for being small, pink and weak. My point being...there are other things we can do to mitigate a bad or deteriorating situation like take or make some sort of shelter--crawling under a spruce and burrowing into the needle duff underneath, or adding some extra bows for relief from the rain.

    This lady's case underscores the importance of maintaining a strong mental picture. Training and knowledge help that commitment.
    If cave men had been trophy hunters the Wooly Mammoth would be alive today

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    Member EagleRiverDee's Avatar
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    I guess I misunderstood. I thought she got out of her clothes to warm up. Not that she threw them away and continued the rest of her trip completely naked. I haven't read the original thread that this is about. The OP mentions sun and mosquitoes, so it was also in my mind that she could warm up in the sun (he mentioned the potential for sunburn) and that it couldn't be that windy if there were mosquitoes around. And yes, being naked in the sun with no wind is going to be warmer than wearing wet cotton clothes in the sun with no wind. If the lady actually discarded her clothing entirely and made no attempt to dry them out, that does seem very odd but I guess I'd have to read her thread. Can someone post a link? I looked here yesterday but could not find it.
    "If snowmachiners would adopt the habits of riding one at a time and not parking at the base of avalanche prone slopes, the number of fatalities would likely be whittled by at least a third, if not by half." ~ Jill Fredston, in the book Snowstruck, In The Grip Of Avalanches.

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    I am Sourdough on The Wilderness Survival Forum, I helped look for her. She did NOT have a blue tarp with her. She was found under a blue tarp. One interesting fact is that another lady did nearly the same thing just a few years later same location. Also never reported, was a young lady we fished alive out of very "Icy" Six Mile Creek in January, she lived. There is much information that is not released about these events.

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