In a wild country one soon learns that the difference between comfort and misery, if not health and illness, may depend upon whether he is properly clad. Proper, in this case, does not mean modish, but suitable, serviceable, proven by the touchstone of experience to be best for the work or play that is in hand. When you seek a guide in the mountains he looks first in your eyes and then at your shoes. If both are right, you are right.
The chief uses of clothing are to help the body maintain its normal temperature, and to protect it from sun, frost, wind, rain and injuries. To help, mind you — the body must be allowed to do its share.
Perspiration is the heat-regulating mechanism of the body. Clothing should hinder its passage from the skin as little as possible. For this reason one's garments should be permeable to air. The body is cooled by rapid evaporation, on the familiar principle of a tropical water-bag that is porous enough to let some of the water exude. So the best summer clothing is that which permits free evaporation — and this means all over, from head to heel. In winter, just the same, there should be free passage for bodily moisture through the underclothes; but extra layers or thicknesses of outer clothing are needed to hold in the bodily heat and to protect one against wind; even so, all the garments should be permeable to air. If a man would freeze most horribly, let him, on a winter's night, crawl into a bag of India rubber and tie the opening tight about his neck.
Cloth can be processed in such a way as to be rainproof and still self-ventilating (this will be considered later), but rubber garments and oilskins cannot safely be worn the day long, unless they are very roomy, and the wearer exercises but little. Rubber overshoes, boots, waders, are endurable only in cool weather or cold water, and then only if very thick oversocks are worn to hold air and absorb moisture.
All clothing worn by an outdoorman should be of such texture and fit as will allow free play to his muscles, so he may be active and agile, and should bind as little as possible, especially over vital organs. Garments that are too thick and stiff, or too loose at points of friction, will chafe the wearer.
These are general principles; now for particulars.
In discussing " togs " we usually begin on the wrong side — the outside. Now the outer garments will vary a great deal, according to climate, season, the terrain or waters, and according to the sport or work that one is to do; but the integument that comes next to one's skin should vary little for an outdoorman except in weight.
The material and quality of one's underwear are of more consequence than the shell he puts over it, for his comfort and health depend more on them. Whenever a man exercises heartily he is sure to perspire freely, no matter how cold the air may be. Arctic explorers all agree that their chief misery was from confined moisture freezing on them. How it is in the dog-days everybody knows — a glowing sun, humidity in the air, and sweat trickling from every pore because the atmosphere is not dry enough to take it up.
Permeability of cloth to air and moisture is largely a matter of texture. Consider the starched linen collar and the soft collar of an outing shirt; consider a leather sweat-band in the hat and a flannel one, or no sweat-band at all.
Underclothing, for any season, should be loosely woven, so as to hold air and take up moisture from the body. The air confined in the interspaces is a non-conductor, and so helps to prevent sudden chilling on the one hand and over-heating on the other. A loose texture absorbs sweat but does not hold it — the moisture is free to pass on to and through the outer garments. In town we may endure close-woven underwear in summer, if thin enough, because we exercise little and can bathe and change frequently. In the woods we would have to change four times a day to keep near as dry.
Permeability also depends upon material. Ordinary cotton and linen goods do not permit rapid evaporation. They absorb moisture from the skin, but hold it up to the limit of saturation. Then, when they can hold nc more, they are clammy, and the sweat can only escape by running down one's skin.
After hard exertion in such garments, if you sit down to rest, or meet a sudden keen wind, as in topping a ridge, you are likely to get a chill — and the next thing is a " bad cold," or lumbago, rheumatism, or something worse.
Wool, on the contrary, is permeable. That is why (if of suitable weight and loose weave) it is both cooler in summer and warmer in winter than cloth made from vegetable fibre. " One wraps himself in a woolen blanket to keep warm — to keep the heat in. He wraps ice in a blanket to keep it from melting — to keep the heat out." In other words, wool is the best material to maintain an equable, normal temperature.
However, the broad statement that one should wear nothing but wool at all seasons requires modification. It depends upon quality and weave. Some flannels are less absorptive and less permeable (especially after a few washings by the scrub-and-wring-out process) than open-texture cottons and linens.
And, speaking of washing, here comes another practical consideration. If woolen garments are washed like cotton ones — soap rubbed in, scrubbed on a washboard or the like, and wrung out — they will invariably shrink. The only way to prevent shrinkage is to soak them in lukewarm suds (preferably of fels-naphtha or a similar soap), then merely squeeze out the water by pulling through the hand, rinse, squeeze out again, stretch, and hang up to dry. This is easy, but it requires a large vessel, and such a vessel few campers have. The alternative is to buy your undershirts and overshirts a size too large, allowing for shrinkage. Drawers must not be oversize, or they will chafe. But one's legs perspire much less than his body, and need less protection; so, up to the time of frost, let the drawers be of ribbed cotton, which is permeable and dries out quickly. Cotton drawers have the further advantage that they do not shrink from the frequent wettings and constant rubbings that one's legs get in wilderness travel. Wool, however, is best for wading trout streams. For riding, the best drawers are of silk.