Friday, May 1, 2009

The Essential Systems: Personal Attire

Personal Attire is the second of the Fifteen Essential Systems for preparedness, travel, and outdoor activities.

The checklist -

For the E-kit:

1. Face mask, rated N95 or better.

2. Earplugs.

3. Goggles for eye protection.

4. Nitrile gloves.

5. Non-breathable plastic rain gear.

For cool to cold weather, non-cotton clothing as follows:

1. Underwear and socks, tights, or stockings, with 2 extra pairs of wool socks and liner socks.

2. A base layer of thermal underwear, top and pants.

3. Insulating layers that can be worn or removed as needed. This includes a top and bottom and, typically, a sweater. Aim for loose, thin layers that trap air rather than tight or thick layers.

4. A wind and water protective shell such as a jacket or coat that shields you from the environment to include rain gear such as a rain coat, rain suit, poncho, and umbrella.

5. Shoes or boots.

6. Knit scarf, winter hat or knit cap, or ski mask, and gloves or mittens.

7. Sunglasses, a retaining cord or strap, and sun screen.

For warm to hot weather, preferably cotton clothing except for socks:

1. Underwear and socks with 2 extra pairs of socks and liner socks.

2. A base layer consisting of nothing more than a cotton T-shirt.

3. Insulating layer(s) protecting from sun and heat consist of long-sleeved top and long pants or ankle-length skirt.

4. The protective shell for warm weather doesn't require much more than rain gear to protect you from the environment although some locales will require a windbreaker.

5. Flip-flops, sandals, shoes, or boots.

6. Wide-brimmed hat, cotton bandanna, sun screen, and sunglasses with a retaining cord or strap.

7. Insect repellent.

8. Bug head net and/or mosquito netting (optional).

9. Blaze orange safety vest (optional).

10. Traveler's vest (optional).


The E-kit (E = "Exposure") is to protect your airway, eyes, ears, and skin against dust, noise, and hazardous materials. Nitrile gloves are the order of the day to avoid allergic reactions to latex. Get the cheapest plastic rain wear you can find such as those that are sold in pouches small enough to carry in a pocket. You don't want nylon or Gore-Tex® because breathable fabrics are not suitable for this type of protection and since the hazard most frequently experienced by families is a house fire, you hopefully will never have to use it and needn't spend much money on the gear. Having said that, the kit should be with you at all times especially if you live in a location likely to have dust storms or earthquakes (lots of dust) or receive falling ash or poisonous gases from a volcanic eruption.

The E-kit could also be useful to protect yourself from exposure to nuclear, biological, or chemical hazards caused or transmitted by people, but that depends on your knowing when to use the contents. Since the NBC (or BCR for biological, chemical, and radioactive for you Brits) hazards aren't readily detectable by ordinary citizens, it's more likely that by the time you're alerted, it'll be too late for protection and you'll need to seek medical treatment for having been exposed. If you aren't in the affected area, please stay away unless you're First Response personnel or don protective gear as may be appropriate.

The important thing to remember about cool-weather clothing is that it's to protect you from hypothermia and the best materials for this type of insulation are wool, silk, and synthetics. Wool is the best natural fiber because it retains its insulating properties even when wet. Cotton is the worst fabric because when damp, it conducts heat away from the body faster than other fabrics. Only down is worse for insulation than cotton when wet. Whatever material you select, avoid getting it wet, which includes sweating, because moisture speeds loss of body heat.

Conversely, warm-weather clothing is to protect you from the sun and hyperthermia which means that cotton is the best fabric to help keep your body from over-heating. Synthetics are getting better in this regard, but cotton is still king. Wool socks are still good in warm weather because wool keeps germs at bay.

To aid your body's natural cooling system, wet your bandanna and place it under your hat to help the heat escape your scalp, or tie it around your neck. Other areas to wet down are your trunk, front and back, and groin area. Wetting the inside of your elbows and backs of your knees will also help you keep your cool. There are specialty neck bands, caps, and hats that have cooling beads inside that, when soaked in water for only 5 - 30 minutes, expand to help keep you cool without getting you wet for as long as 3 days. Look for brand names such as blüBandoo® and MiraCool™ or make your own using medium-sized polymer beads; you'll need only about 2 teaspoons of beads to make a cooling bandanna for your neck.

For those times when daytime temperatures require you to wear cotton to avoid hyperthermia but evening and overnight temperatures require insulative clothing to prevent hypothermia, you'll need both types of clothing on hand. Even though you may be out only for the day, being prepared means that you'll have a change of clothing that includes a thermal base layer and non-cotton top and bottoms to change into in case you get caught out overnight. Include a knit cap and gloves because, although only about 10% of your body heat is lost through your head instead of the 30% to 45% as previously thought, our heads and hands are much more sensitive to the cold and we need to keep our brains warm to avoid fuzzy thinking that may negatively impact life and limb.

Brightly colored clothing such as blaze orange will help you be spotted by rescuers and prevent you from being shot by hunters. If you're hiking or engaging in photography or bird-watching during hunting season, it's a good idea to cover your pack with a second blaze orange safety vest to avoid getting shot in the back. When I was in Idaho in the fall of 2006, everyone was gearing up with blaze orange because a teen boy had been shot during the previous season while in an open field after harvest. You'd think the clear visibility would have been enough to keep the boy safe, but, unfortunately, it wasn't. One woman said that she had her husband experiment with various bright clothing that he had been using. When he was only a few feet into the woods, even while wearing his favorite red shirt, he blended in so well that he was completely lost from sight.

In case of fire, travelers should dress in natural fibers for a flight or train trip and avoid synthetics because they melt into skin. Because I'm allergic to wool, please be considerate and don't wear it when you'll be sitting next to me or anyone else who might be allergic to it or the nasty chemicals that are used to process the majority of wool products.

Since most airline emergencies don't involve fire but do require evacuation, a traveler's vest is a good accessory to have. Not only do the many pockets minimize what you'll have to carry in your bag, briefcase, or purse, a traveler's vest carries more than the typical waist pack. Should you have to evacuate, which means you shouldn't be taking the time to get anything to take with you, will need both hands free, and shouldn't be hindering other passengers from exiting the plane by taking up space with your personal bag; your essential items will already be on you and ready to go. A journalist's or photographer's vest will also serve.

Gore-Tex® is the best fabric for rain gear if you can afford it because it breathes. If not, look for nylon. I love my Gore-Tex® boonie and wished I could find another that's more fashionable for when I dress up. (I bought another hat a little while ago, but haven't had the occasion to try it out.) I also like the Cascade II poncho that I got from Campmor so much that when it was in my pack that got stolen a couple of years ago, I bought another and immediately stitched on a couple of Velcro® dots to keep the sides from flapping in the wind. If you already have a poncho and dislike the hood, try wearing a baseball cap under it. Not only will the cap's visor help keep the rain off your face, it will help the hood behave better when you need to turn your head. Unfortunately, if it's anything like the hood of another poncho I have that keeps sliding back, I don't know of anything that will help.

Shoes that are quick-drying and anti-microbial are ideal. Hiking boots protect your feet and ankles and are water-resistant. Sandals and flip-flops, while cool and comfortable, don't provide much protection from dirt, insects, or snakes. However, they don't take much room and a pair should be included for a change of footwear and for shower shoes or to wear to the pool or beach.

A ski cap takes the place of a knit cap and scarf because it covers the face, ears, and neck as well as head. It may be rolled up if only a cap is needed. I got mine in blaze orange.

Convertible mittens are great because they give both the warmth of mittens and the dexterity of fingerless gloves. Concerned that I might forget and leave mine behind somewhere, I got them in blaze orange, too, then got another pair in black for dress occasions.

You need sun screen whenever you're outdoors for any length of time. Clouds don't block ultraviolet light or prevent sunburn as many tourists in Hawai`i discover to their dismay on overcast days. Even though you wear a hat, you still need to apply sun screen because snow, water, sand, and expanses of concrete reflect the sun's rays up under hat brims. Check the label to ensure that the product shields from both UV-A and UV-B rays.

If you don't want to give up your favorite baseball cap for a wide-brimmed hat, tuck an edge of the bandanna under your cap to make a skirt that covers your neck and ears.

Sunglasses are a must to protect our eyes from developing cataracts or other problems. Here in the U.S., all sunglasses are required to protect from UV rays. Ideally, we'd all wear wraparound styles to protect unshielded light from entering from the sides, but since the fashionistas reign...

In regards to insect repellent, you should be aware that the popular ingredient, DEET, will melt plastic and is reputed to lower the efficacy of sunscreen by as much as 33%. You'll need to apply sunscreen first, as usual - at least a half hour before going outdoors, and use a higher SPF rating, and wash your hands thoroughly after applying a DEET product to prevent melting your plastic storage containers, your compass, and even your clothing, if it's made of recycled plastic. Combo products containing both sunscreen and insect repellent need to be used judiciously since DEET shouldn't be reapplied every few hours like most sunscreens. The CDC recommends using separate products to be safe.

Ultrathon™ contains DEET, but since the 3M Company figured out how to make a single application last as long as 12 hours, Ultrathon™ contains a lower concentration of DEET than other products. Please use with caution, anyway, because I don't know if the concentration is low enough that it won't melt plastic or irritate some people's skin the way that other products containing DEET have done.

Alternatives to DEET are Picaridin and the plant-based oil of lemon eucalyptus that should not be used on children under 3 years of age. Permethrin is another effective product that's applied to clothing and gear instead of directly onto skin. Spray Permethrin onto clothing and other material and let dry before wearing or using; it will last through laundering for several weeks.

While long clothing may be preferred to using chemicals against the bugs, unless the clothing is loose and thick enough, mosquitoes will bite right through the fabric. Younger children, especially babies in their carriers or strollers, would be better protected by mosquito netting. A bug head net should be big enough to wear over your broad-brimmed hat with extra-fine netting to keep out no-see-ums, biting midges, and sand flies, etc., and may fold up small enough to stick in a pocket.

This system should be one of the easiest to assemble because you're likely to have nearly everything already, they're readily available, and several of them are low-cost. Just set some of your older clothing aside for your emergency pack and get whatever other items you need.

[The previous article in this series is "The Essential Systems: Navigation."

The first article in this series is "Preparedness: Introducing the Fifteen Essential Systems."]

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