Episode-1075- Jim Phillips on Cold Weather Survival — 40 Comments

  1. A comment/question. The commentater states that in wild no creatures layer for warmth. Wouldn’t you consider the double layer of some dogs like my Akita to be layering? The Akita and most nothern dogs have two layers that is used to help cope with the severe cold and when it gets warm they shed a significant portion of their undercoat. ???

    • I think the undercoat is more like the air layer that he talked about and the guard coat is the tight-woven fabric on the outside that he talked about.

      Frankly, I just want to be warm in my house. 🙂 The idea of being warmer outside than inside is intriguing to me.

    • I don’t know…it seems to me that for an animal’s natural layer of insulation to mean the same as a clothing layering system the animal would have to be able to remove part of it to regulate temperature. I grow more fat during cold weather too, but I don’t think it counts. 🙂

    • Animals like bears and canines do not perspire. If they did, natural selection may well have given them fur that allows moisture to be shed.

      The guest did not say that layers are bad, just that they have limits. If you are out XC skiing or shoeing there is no way on earth you will be duct taping couch cushions to your body before you go out 😉

      A thought that I had when looking at the suit is that it must be very heavy. (Every pound counts right?) A solid winter tent only weighs 6 pounds and I would think be a more comfortable place to hang out. I’m suggesting that for strenous activity lighter clothing and a tent might be more comfortable overall than PALS (for the same weight load). By comfort I mean wear during the day and relaxing after 8-10 miles on the trail at night.

      If you are creating a bug out bag, my thought has been that you want stuff that offers redundancy. It would seem that having layers of clothing and a shelter would be better if you live in a variable climate like the northeast. Obviously if you lived in a arctic climate your definition of clothing flexibility would be much different than mine….same with people living in a hotter climate.

      It sounds like the guest has a lot of performance data on various materials. It would be great if he could talk more about the suitability of materials for climates that are not so extreme.

  2. The Army has actually gone away from gore tex for every winter condition with the gen 3 ecwcs system. They now have a wind proof/water resistant outer layer for conditions below 14 degrees F iirc. The new gore tex layer is for freeze/thaw times of year now.

  3. This is very interesting stuff. I recently watched a PBS documentary on wolves and bison in Canada – one comment was that the bison are so well insulated that snow did not melt on them.

    • I have the same issue. I’m looking all around, and I’m seeing a lot of info about it, but I can’t figure out how to actually order it.

  4. I *think* I get what Jim Phillips was saying, though I gotta admit I’m not convinced by his argument. I can see what he means about understanding the principles behind how cold operates and why we may feel it more acutely at times, but I think I need to see the materials he discusses in action before I can fully buy into his premise that “less is more” when it comes to clothing.


  5. Maybe I missed it but what about our Texas winters? What is the best way to be warm with a mix of rain and sleet and its 35 out side?

  6. Does a single cold suit have a comfortable temperature range? I mean does he have like 3 different sets of cloths with say 1/4″ foam in one, 1/2″ in another and 1″ for extreme cold? Say 1/4″ inch suit might be fro 40f to 50f, 1/2″ for 20f to 40f, and 1″ for -20f to 20f?

    Also are these cloths he is talking about similar to what freezer plant workers wear? I go to them all the time to deliver frozen foods at -20. Its -20 on the docks and in the freezers. And what they wear sounds similar. I’ve never actually looked closely at their clothing. Note that their clothing is designed for a constant -20 degrees and works fine for that temp. I’m not sure how well it would do for warmer or colder temps near -20.

  7. Interesting episode, although unfortunately it seems as if there is not much one can to do implement this concept right now, short of trying to make one’s own clothing. I guess I could try to rig up some homemade clothing, but I don’t think it would be very durable.

    The parallel that came to mind when listening to Jim describe the “layer of air” concept is a dry-suit used for cold water scuba diving. I have done some scuba diving in cold water using a wet suit, but I hear dry suits are much better (they’re also much more expensive). I guess the concept there is similar — keeping a layer of warm air in between you and the elements.

  8. Back in ’89/’90 I bought a set of Arctic gear from a company called Northern Outfitters that is very close to what Jim described in this show, 1″ or so foam covered with nylon for the layer that goes right up against your skin.. Going on their site nowadays, it “appears that the main difference between them & Jim’s philosophy is the waterproof outer shell. If so, maybe one could just order the parka/bib liners and then cover them with a different non-waterproof shell?
    I have to say that Jim’s basic concept DOES work! This NO gear is EXTREMELY warm though I’ve never had the opportunity to try it down to the -40’s or for weeks at a time, but it does work all day at +10/-10 in a Northern Idaho winter. If Jim could comment that would be great.

    • Thanks for the link. Reading the description on their “technopogy” it sounds exactly it. Same deal where it goes directly against your skin – so your sweat can evaporate is my guess.

      • Hmm, maybe I should have researched more of Jack’s show note links before posting my responses?!? I see quite a few ref’s to NO towards the end of “The PALS History” video :-[

  9. Oh, although I used the “L” word (“layer” 🙂 ) I only refer to it that way as NO only recommended something like a setr of silk long underwear and then the liners on top of that. Then plus the shell which could be removed easily enough. So technically imo, that could be construed as “layering”, though not as presently used in the sense of the term fwiw.

      • @ MmmBBQ – It depends on “what” I’m doing. If I’m pulling snow off the roof w/ a rake, taking the dogs for a walk or something that’s causing me to be at a point where I can’t speak comfortably because I’m breathing too hard – yes. But then I’ll try to take a break if possible and reduce the heart rate. If I’m moving snow with the tractor, sitting in a deer stand etc – not really.

        The problem(s) I have with this gear is that it’s basically “too warm” for the majority of the conditions up here (+20’s). I can definitely see where 1/2″ foam vs 1″ would be a huge advantage for a lot of folks. The “Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man” effect :)would really be reduced. Also, if one is used to having your boots laced down snugly for ankle support/stability, the 1″ones will likely make you feel wobbly unless you cinch down the straps. But then you lose some of the insulation value. All in all though, it’s certainly nice to know this gear is here for the “oughts” plus 20-30 mph wind chill.

        One thing that I can really “second” on that Jim said, is the need to be cautious around heat. A couple of years ago, one of the “moon boots” got ruined 🙁 by stepping/standing on something too hot and the sole & part of the liner melted w/o me knowing it. Yikes!

  10. Prepare My Family is not operative any longer. Safe Harbor Alliance is. If you look at the Safe Harbor Alliance website home page and click on the Press tab, there is a dropdown menu which has Books and Magazines in the list. The Mother Earth News has archived the article on making simplified foam clothing online. All the books listed in Books under Press can be found for sale online although most are out of print and must be bought used. There are three of them that are available new on Amazon as I write this. I have had very good results using Amazon or AddAll Book Search for used books. I know these books are available because I bought them this year to see how the Phillip’s Artic Living System developed over time. Jim plans that the classes on making and using the PALS will be available on DVD through Safe Harbor Alliance.
    The foam thickness for Thermal Johns or self-made inner thermal liners is 1/2 inch, while the PALS clothing uses 1 inch foam. This is not eggcrate foam. To get the best quality of foam Safe Harbor Alliance orders it manufactured to specifications which requires a large enough order. It is possible to wear the 1/2 foam comfortably under normal synthetic clothing in summer temperatures. Sweat goes right through the foam so that there isn’t enough moisture for bacteria to grow and is not noticeably bulky. I once saw Jim dressed this way at one of his public classes. In rainy weather a poncho will keep you dry though not the inside of the poncho where moisture may condense. Jim has more than 40 years of experience with foam clothing.

  11. This is great information for climates that are always below freezing. I have been going winter camping in the Blue Ridge mountains for over 20 years and have spent weeks on end out there and, for that climate, a waterproof layer is imperative. It is important to be able to let the moisture out when the conditions warrant it, but keeping outside water out is critical as well. If I have to crawl under my truck in the winter, it is more likely that I will be laying in a puddle of slush than in 0 degree dry snow. In climates where it may rain during the day and snow at night, I’ll keep my Gore-Tex and manage moisture the best I can. This is good stuff, but please know that if there is chance that you will be in the rain or have to lay, kneel, or sit in water, it is critical that you have a waterproof layer. Take it off when you know there is no chance of getting wet, and replace it with a light weight, very breathable shell that cuts the wind. When backpacking, weight is a huge concern, and for climates where you are as likely to want to wear pants and a long sleeved shirt as slog through freezing rain that turns to snow, having a one purpose foam suit is probably not the best choice. Due to the climate I tend to go out in and my weight considerations, synthetic layers have been the best option for me. I’d love to hear other suggestions though. Another thing I didn’t hear but is worth mentioning is that most clothes lose a fair amount of their warmth when they are dirty. I try to keep my clothes clean and I carry a clean warm set of clothes for night time when I am in camp (my cozies). This gives me something to look forward to throughout the day. Changing clothes in the evening gives me a chance to dry out my day layers that have accumulated moisture, and with my cozies and day clothes combined I can deal with the coldest situations my climate can throw at me. Just food for thought, great show.

  12. I wondered why the PALS was never adopted by the military? Watching his videos it seemed PALS worked better then the ECWCS.

  13. During the interview he mentioned that he wears this system on a plane. I wasn’t sure if he was being literal or not. It doesn’t seem like an outfit that you’d be able to wear in any sort of climate-controlled area without being unbearably hot. What I want to hear more about is how you interact with this system while doing work that heats you up. Do you take it off? Do you just sweat a lot, but the water is able to escape?

    How much compression is there while sleeping on the ground? Does this cause cold spots or is the 1″ thickness of the foam able to mitigate that?

    I absolutely love the concept of this outfit. I’ve done some snow camping and backcountry skiing, and I go from comfortably warm to uncomfortably cold whenever I have to stop. Merely standing still on packed snow is enough to make my feet cold. It would be highly efficient to be able to wear this outfit all day and night, and not need fires or tents.

  14. Jim and his father flew to Alaska, stayed in the Arctic and flew back to Los Angeles wearing foam inside their exterior clothing. I have seen a photograph of that. I know he wore PALS clothing in the desert in summer at least once as well and he said there was discomfort but that kind of heat is very uncomfortable for me and intolerable for more than a couple minutes with my health. Not having tried either Arctic living nor desert exposure in foam garments I can’t comment from experience. I found 1/2″ foam liners very comfortable outside about 8 degrees F for 15 or 20 minutes snowblowing. The foam just isn’t that bulky compared to wearing long johns and a hooded coat in winter cold and it is a lighter and easier to move in in my limited experience. I haven’t made PALS yet; I am waiting for the DVD classes. If you are into preparing for natural or other emergencies I suggest buying the 4 DVD Sanitation Series Jim has done; I have learned enough material new to me I don’t believe there is anything comparable available in any format.

  15. @ James – 1st, I’d suggest that you watch the video about The PALS History. :), that’ll answer most of your ?’s.

    2nd – I can just give you the results I’ve had w/ the NO Expedition series Arctic set. If you’re wearing it “properly”, you can’t just take it off as you’re basically naked underneath. If you can do that in 10 deg temps + wind chill, you’re a lot tougher than me! (wink)
    I’ll “vent” somewhat by taking off my hood/hat first, the convectional heat loss there automatically causes the body to re-channel core heat/blood up there to the brain to compensate. And then by making a “v” at the neck of the jacket, by undoing the Velcro & snaps, and/or taking off the outer mitts but leaving the non-contact gloves on. But just taking a break lets the sweat absorb up into the nylon & foam; plus if I’m sweating that much, it’s likely time to rehydrate.

    Also fwiw – the care instructions on the NO stuff are – “Do Not Wash In Hot – Do Not Dry Clean -Machine Wash Warm Mild Detergent – Tumble Dry Blow Dry Medium
    Hope this helps! 🙂

  16. After posting this I did watch the video and it did answer my questions. From the interview I thought this outfit allowed you to just lie down anywhere outside and sleep. It looks like it works best with a PALS sleeping bag setup.

    I can’t see how you’d be able to wear this outfit on a heated plane, or in an aiport, even minus the gloves and hat.

  17. @ James – remember that the plane/airport is not going to be heated to above body temp, so the same basic physics still apply – heat going toward cooler air. Just not to the same extent as “minus” temps. It likely wouldn’t be as comfortable as being in a t-shirt with the a/c nozzle blowing on you, but I’ll bet it beat trying to pack all that foam into luggage! If anything though, with today’s narrower seats, the airline would probably try to charge Jim for 2 seats like a “physically enhanced” person. 🙁 as he doesn’t look like a small guy to start with!

    OTH – I’d like to see someone trying this nowadays in the current era of airport security?!? How’s that “pat down” thing working there for you, Mr TSA ? 🙂

    • I’m not sure he said he was wearing this gear on a plane, more like having it with him. I personally find this overkill anyway. Unless you are flying over the tundra or something. I guess overseas travel with the “great circle route” comes to mind but odds of being in an event like “Alive” are about a thousand times lower then just ending up dead if a plane goes down.

  18. Jim and his father did wear their arctic foam clothes on the plane flights to and from Alaska on the trip he was talking about. The clothing “wicks” sweat away so they stayed dry and insulation insulates from ambient temperatures high or low. The question is how effective for how long is does it. There are two clothing classes on DVD for sale at Safe Harbor Alliance website and at least the first one has some pictures of the trip. I have orderd them. I don’t know Jim well but I have met him and attended a few of his classes, many(most?) of which are not on clothing or winter. In my experience he experiments constantly with everything and always speaks from personal experience and maintains the equivalent of laboratory notebooks. He has been into what he calls Provident Living, defined as making provison for the future, for 40 years at least. The author of Nuclear War Survival Skills, Cresson H. Kearny, wrote “Jungle Snafus … and Remedies” which I found very enlightening on military procurement. Why does the military not use PALS in Jim Phillip’s case, or some of the equipment designs Cresson Kearney details? Not Invented Here and politics in many cases. Neither applys to my choices, or yours.

  19. Did anyone catch if you wear these suits next to the skin, or can you wear a thin layer of polyester long johns? I listened to this episode twice and I can’t seem to figure it out.

  20. You can wear single layer synthetic underwear next to your skin. Wearing anything that would retain moisture would be self-defeating. I bought some nylon t-shirts and jockey briefs to wear inside the Thermal Johns I have and would wear at least the briefs inside PALS clothing for sanitary reasons. Phillips Arctic Living System clothing functions by moving moisture away from the skin so anything that slows or prevents that is a bad idea. You will not need long johns but a single layer synthetic should be okay. I wouldn’t want waffle weave polyanything as I suspect it might retain moisture.

  21. I see that Safe Harbor no longer sells foam. Where would Jim recommend we get the high quality foam necessary?

    • That’s my question too. I tried emailing the addresses on the SafeHarbor Alliance site and my messages were bounced.

      The big question, is where does one get the proper foam to make the clothing?

  22. The CEO of Safe Harbor Alliance is Keats Horstmann.
    His email is
    Yesterday Jim Phillips was teaching a class in Salt lake City at Honeyville Farms. The class was CLOTHING 2101: Winter Safety and Cold Injury Issues. In the past Jim has ordered the foam by the truckload when there were enough orders/money for a large purchase as the foam he uses is made to his specifications. Safe Harbor is a very small company. The product they are selling on their websitess now is their sanitation DVD set. I don’t have any idea when the PALS clothing will have their attention. They are bringing two websites to operational status. If they haven’t got them there yet, I don’t know it.

    Keats emailed me that he had expected Safe Harbor to post in this comment thread last Wednesday or Thursday after I forwarded the email I got from Survival Podcast about Momto8kiddos’ post to him, but that hasn’t happened yet.