What to Wear for Bushcraft: A Beginner’s Guide

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Bushcraft is an art form. Getting dressed appropriately for it takes just as much thought as gathering the tools you need to start your first fire at basecamp. While it’s not prom or an important business meeting, you still have to choose the right thing to wear. It might not be your favorite part, but we all have to do it. 

Those that choose to dress inappropriately for bushcraft are the ones that pay the price of that choice. They come home covered in cuts, bruises, frostbitten toes and fingers, you name it. The ones that put thought into it are the ones who come home in a better condition than they left home in. That’s why we’re here to go over what to wear for bushcraft, the basics, and more. 

Remember Your Layers

To start off talking about dressing the part for bushcraft we need to go over the most important system that there is for clothing in the outdoors. 

That system is layering. I cannot emphasize the importance of layering enough. It’s the system that will save you when the temperature shifts or you start to move and gain body heat. It’s what keeps you dry and lets you sleep at night. 

Layering is important for both the bottom and top half of your bushcraft wardrobe. Depending on the season, you may end up with a single layer or several that you lose track of. 

It’s an easy system too. When it gets too hot, take a layer off. When it gets too cold, put another on. Starts to rain? Rain jacket. The temperature drops fifteen degrees overnight? Two fleece jackets and a thick outer shell.

Layering for bushcraft or hiking is all the same. Check out how to layer clothing for hiking, and bring the tips into your bushcraft game.

What to Wear for Bushcraft?

Now that you’re ready to layer up, we need to know exactly what to wear as those layers. Here, I’m going to go through the basics that help to prepare you for a serious bushcraft expedition.

Protective Pants/ Shorts

what to wear for bushcraft

Material

To choose the best pants for bushcraft you need to look at synthetic materials that will dry quickly but keep you warm. A little bit of stretch in pants is also an important factor for me. I’ve had too many seams bust from high-stepping over logs or getting into awkward positions to blow on a dying flame. 

In the winter, fleece pants are an incredible addition to any layering system. They give a huge amount of warmth and keep you warm even when they get soaking wet. 

The only material I don’t wear out is cotton. One of the more common sayings you hear in bushcraft is “cotton kills”. Just don’t do it. 

What I wear and when

For the summer, I love Kuhl pants for their breathability and stretch. They dry quickly even after they’ve gotten completely drenched. When winter hits, I just add a pair of fleece pants underneath, on top of my long johns, that will give me the warmth I need when I’m not moving. 

If I know I won’t be hiking much and will be staying put, I throw on a pair of overalls that are great against snow and give me the insulation that I need. 

In the warmer seasons, you can definitely wear shorts but it means you’ll have to look out for more than just thorns and brambles. Good pants also give you a high UV rating that will help protect you from the sun. With shorts, you’ll have to remember sunscreen on your legs. Shorts or pants tend to be more of a personal choice, but I always wear long pants. 

Recommended Reading: Best Bushcraft Pants

T-shirt/ Shirt

Moving up top, a good t-shirt or long-sleeved shirt gives you the base protection from sun, bugs, the cold, and any stray branches or thorns. I tend to prefer long-sleeved shirts for the same reason I like long pants. There’s more protection for your forearms and sometimes your hands. 

Material

Just like with pants, you want a synthetic material that will dry quickly when it gets wet. This can be polyester, wool, spandex, nylon, or a blend of all of them. My personal go-to material for top layers is merino wool. It’s durable, warm but cool at the same time, dries quickly, and doesn’t smell nearly as bad as polyester. I wear it all seasons except summer. 

Icebreaker makes some really great wool shirts that last a long time and are top quality. Other brands to look out for with wool products are Ibex and Smartwool. I’ve had clothes from all three for years of heavy use, and couldn’t be happier. 

What I wear and when

I just don’t wear short-sleeved shirts. Too many bug bites and sunburns have pushed me towards long-sleeved protection. In the summer I actually go for something that has a hood to protect my neck and face from the sun. This Fjallraven polyester hoodie is a great option for sunny days that you still want to stay cool during. 

The winter will be a completely different ballgame because you’ll likely be wearing multiple shirts at a time. The recommended baselayer is a thick wool long-sleeve or even a wool onesie. On top of that, you’ll typically have the same shirt you wear in the summer or a thicker version. Then you get into outerwear.

Fleece

Fleece

Fleece is your best friend when it comes to cold days and even colder nights. It’s the perfect material for cold-weather bushcraft and I recommend having a top and bottom fleece layer in the winter. 

Fleece is an incredible insulator made from polyester, and one of my favorite things about it is the price tag. Fleece is so cheap, and you don’t need to buy an expensive brand with this one. You can get all of the performance from a cheap fleece hoodie that you would get from an expensive one. 

What I wear and when

When the temperatures start to drop I always reach for a fleece. I wear the same red fleece hoodie that I’ve owned for several years almost every day in the winter. It cost me nothing, and you can find great fleece hoodies or pants at your local thrift shop.

If you’re wanting to go with a bit “nicer” style fleece, find something that doesn’t use any cotton. A lot of fleece hoodies or pants will have a bit of cotton in their blend. This hoodie uses only polyester and a bit of spandex to give you a comfortable stretch.

Protective Hard-Wearing Jacket

A protective hard-wearing jacket can mean a lot of different things. It can be a rain shell, a wind shell, a thick insulated jacket, or just an outer hard shell that is for protection. For the sake of getting started off in bushcraft, I want to just recommend a typical hard shell that can serve almost all of these purposes. 

Material

I typically only wear a rain shell as my outer protective layer. A well-built Gore-Tex and ripstop nylon will protect you from rain, wind, and anything else trying to get at you. In the backcountry, you need a jacket that will serve multiple purposes, which means multiple different materials into one. 

Unless you’re trekking the rainforests of South America or those of Southeast Alaska, Gore-Tex is enough waterproofing for most environments. When you’re in a place that is relentless, rubber jackets are needed. For the sake of starting out, we’ll talk about a typical rain and climate. 

Nylon is a great material for an outer shell. The engineers of the outdoors have made ripstop nylon that pushes back when sharps try to tear it apart. You’ll be well-protected in the right jacket. 

What I wear and when

Now, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon this Arc’teryx jacket in a thrift store for super cheap. With the experiences I’ve had wearing it, I may actually consider spending the money and buying another if mine ever goes. I wear it in torrential rains, in the snow, and in high-speed winds. 

If you aren’t wanting to drop as much money, then Outdoor Research makes incredible products that do a great job of keeping you dry. Their fabrics tend to be a bit thinner until you move up in the pricing. Overall though, they’re a great middle-ground.

Recommended Reading:  Best Bushcraft Jackets

Gloves

what to wear for bushcraft

Your hands are your lifeline when you’re out in the bush. They start fires, they bring food to your mouth, they tie your shoes. Aron Ralston cut his own arm off in a canyoneering accident, made it to a 70-foot rappel, and somehow got out to safety after 127 hours. I attempted the same rappel with one-hand. It was horrible. 

Bushcraft gloves are a must when headed out on any length trip. They give you the protection to keep your hands in working order – so you’ll be doing rappels with both hands if you take care to wear the right gloves. 

Material

In the cold and wet conditions that the bush can offer, a material that keeps your hands warm and dry is important. Leather is one of the best materials to keep you dry while lasting a long, long time. With the right insulation, leather work gloves are the best pick for bushcraft gloves. 

Almost more important than the material is the type of glove. Five-fingered gloves will allow you to still work with some amount of dexterity, but mittens give you more warmth. For the cold months, I love to wear wool convertible mittens so I can keep my fingers warm, then use them if I need to. 

What I wear and when

Hestra makes some of the best gloves for anything outdoors. They use a protective leather material that keeps your hands dry, but they have also found a way to insulate and make the glove breathable. I love these for the winter months when I still want to use my hands without exposing my skin to the cold air. 

Even in the summer, you need to protect your hands. Striking fires or chopping wood can easily lead to cut hands that can then lead to infection and many more issues. For the warm months, I like to carry a simple pair of leather work gloves. They’re cheap, light, and give your hands a great level of protection.

Recommended Reading: Best Bushcraft Gloves

Beanie/ Toque

Material

Just like every other item of clothing on our list, a winter beanie, or Toque for the Canadians out there, should be synthetic. If it starts snowing, you’ll want a beanie on. That snow then turns into water and a cotton hat will soak it up and be rendered useless in minutes. Synthetics will still keep you warm when they end up wet in the rain or snow. 

What I wear and when

I keep a really simple wool beanie available in my pack any time that I think it’s possible for temperatures to drop. They pack up super small and don’t weigh a thing. It’s so much better to get my head warm when I want to than to save on a small amount of weight.

Cap

Underneath my beanie, I often wear a hat that helps me to keep the sun from my face and the rain out of my eyes when it comes down. This can really be just about any old ball cap you have, as long as it isn’t cotton. 

A solid cap is important for keeping your head protected, especially in areas that are prone to tick-borne illnesses. They’ll find their way into your hair and latch on. Protect your face and scalp with a good hat. 

What I wear and when

Kavu makes a great synthetic hat that’s comfortable and dries quickly when it rains. I wear it just about every day that I go out into the woods, and most days when I’m at home.

Sunglasses

Any time of the year, you’ll face the sun and the dangers it can pose to your vision. They’re important whether you’re in the summer sun, the winter sun reflecting off snow, or paddling on the water where waves bounce the light straight into your eyes. 

Material

The most important aspect of sunglasses for bushcraft is the protection from UV rays getting to your eyes. Polarized lenses give you the best vision and protection overall for any sunglasses. They don’t need to be super expensive, but you’ll have to take good care of them. 

What I wear and when

I fly through pairs of sunglasses about once every other month. I don’t spend much money on sunglasses because I know myself too well. Cheap pairs tend to last me until I break or lose them.

Recently, I have taken to wearing my sunglasses on croakies (sunglasses straps). This has made me feel much more comfortable buying more expensive glasses, like Oakleys. They don’t pop off my head and sink into the ocean on a long expedition. They stay on your neck. 

I always have sunglasses with me. It’s an important piece of gear that I feel is necessary for bushcraft because your vision is so important while you’re out there. Take care of your eyes so they can take care of you. 

Protective Footwear

Going into talk about boots is like opening a door to a whole other world. The best boots for bushcraft really depend on your use of them, as well as your own personal foot. Some boots fit certain people better than others.

My biggest recommendation when looking at boots is to go try them on before ever purchasing them online. 

Material

Leather and Gore-Tex are the two best materials for a solid boot that protects your foot. The best boot is preferably a combination of the two. 

One big thing to look out for is the number of seams in the boot. Seams are where leaks or rips will often start. This is best prevented by getting a boot with few seams and more continuous leather. 

When looking at the sole of a boot I prefer the Vibram soles over most other materials and treads. Salomon does a good job with Contagrip soles, but that’s the closest I’ve found to the quality of Vibram. 

What I wear and when

My perfect boot is full-grain leather with a Gore-Tex membrane and a Vibram sole. Asolo is an incredible company that makes boots to last a lifetime. I wear these year-round, even through the muskegs of Southeast Alaska that penetrate every other boot out there. 

For the winter, it’s a good time to look for an insulated boot to prevent frostbite. Danner makes some more stylish, but well-insulated boots that are perfect for winter.

Recommended Reading: Best Bushcraft Boots

Socks

what to wear for bushcraft

Is there anything better than putting on a fresh pair of comfortable socks? Socks are one of my favorite things to bring out in the field, spend too much money on, and ask for for Christmas. Ten-year-old me would be so disappointed. 

When thinking about what to wear for bushcraft, my mind immediately goes to socks. 

Material

Wool, wool, wool. Everything good is made out of wool. Wool socks wick the sweat away from your feet and keep them dry as well as keeping them warm. They can be a small investment at times, but it’s always worth it. 

Wool socks with a bit of nylon or spandex in them for stretch and durability make for the perfect long-distance hiking sock. The thicker they get, the better suited they are for winter.

A Couple of Considerations

Before we finish of out article, let’s first discuss a couple of considerations that should be made before you head on our into the wilderness. 

What Will the Weather Likely be Like?

Before you head out, pay close attention to the weather forecast. Studying the weather is an important piece of bushcraft that will help prepare you for each expedition. 

If it’s raining out, or even if it’s not raining, you want to bring extra layers, especially extra socks. Even if it looks like it’s going to be bright and sunny, you want to be prepared for the worst. The summer can bring huge storms out of nowhere in the mountains, leaving you dripping wet. 

Summer nights can also get surprisingly cold, depending on where you are. Be prepared for the temperature to drop with extra layers, like those fleeces we talked about earlier. 

How Long Will You Be Going For?

If you’re just going out for a day, you’re going to be alright with a simple setup of one pair of pants and one shirt. If this is a much longer expedition, you need to be prepared with multiple changes of clothing.

Wet clothes can lead to chafing, which is uncomfortable, to say the least. Having dry clothes on hand during long trips will save you a huge amount of pain. 

You also need to think about hygiene more on long trips. Having clean clothes, especially socks and underwear, will help you stay clean and healthy. I typically bring enough pairs of socks and underwear to change into clean ones every 3-4 days. 

Final Thoughts

What to wear for bushcraft? A simple answer is to just not wear cotton. A more detailed answer is to wear breathable, quick-drying, durable, and protective layers. 

Your clothing is what will be standing between you and the harsh elements that Mother Nature can throw your way at any moment. Being prepared means coming with the right clothes for every situation.

Follow this guide, pack up, and go get outside for a short or long, well-dressed expedition.

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