“Cover up when the sun is out in force.” That’s what the old vaqueros say when referring to Southwest Summer days. The fact that so many people ignore that truism is perhaps one reason we’re seeing an increased number of skin cancers. You’ll see some men remove their shirts when working in the sun. Are they trying to get a tan? Or do they believe this will somehow keep them cool? The facts are that breathable clothes help insulate the body from the sun’s heat especially when perspiration wicks onto the cloth and then evaporates. The best cloth is cotton. The worst are synthetics like nylon and a few others. Avoid poly/cotton blends as well. Stick with 100 percent medium weight cotton. Likewise, avoid cotton shirts treated with chemicals that make them wrinkle-free. That’s almost as bad as a poly/cotton blend. Be sure your cotton shirts have long sleeves. Exposed arms will not only sunburn but will counter the insulating effects of soft cotton garments. Make sure the sleeves are long enough to protect your wrists and that the shirttails stay well tucked. Your shirt’s collar should be large enough to protect your neck. And it’s important your shirt has two button-down pockets to hold things like butane lighters, a small bottle of antibacterial disinfectant or your cell phone.
I also prefer 100 percent cotton, khaki pants. Blue jeans are usually tough but they obscure ticks and fleas that might be trying to climb up your pant legs. Khaki pants, on the other hand, make it easier to spot freeloading critters. Belt loops should be large enough to accommodate a 1 ½ inch belt in order to hold a knife or other attachments securely.
Always bring along two cotton bandanas. One goes around your neck to help protect that region from the sun. The other goes in your pocket and is used to wipe sweat from your face, or it can be used to wrap under your hat to act as a sweat barrier. Don’t forget to bring along leather gloves. The gloves can protect your hands from the sun but I seldom use them for that purpose. I usually rub a little sunblock on my hands before I set out. The gloves are used (or at least should be used) anytime you pick something up or handle a piece of wood. Scorpions like to hide under rocks and in pieces of mesquite and other deadwood. The gloves also protect you from the array of thorns found in desert climes.
I posted a short piece on the French Bush Hat not long ago and I still consider that hat a superior spring/summer brushlands or desert hat. Straw hats are just about useless if you’re a serious woodsman. They make noise; they are hot; they can cause skin reactions after prolonged use in sweltering weather; and they don’t do well when the breezes blow. Likewise, flimsy cloth hats made from shear material offer minimal protection and get blown off your head in sustained winds. Find a compromise between too heavy and too light. In addition, hats that have been treated with wax or some other chemical are miserable in scorching temperatures. Felt or leather hats should be likewise avoided. As with the shirt, the best brushland/desert hat needs to breathe and should be soft. As of late, I’ve seen hats with a screen mesh incorporated into the crown. I don’t like those hats because they allow sunlight to strike the scalp. A fellow I know who was balding received a nasty sunburn when he wore a screen-crowned hat.
Hat brim size should be between three and four inches. Micro brims on some of the newer style bucket hats are next to useless. And those baseball style gimmi hats are beyond pathetic. They have become part of the official uniform of the angler, “big-game hunter,” and all the other types who take pictures in outdoor magazines, but if you are a serious woodsman you do not use them. A proper desert/brushland hat shades the ears and the side of the face as well as the nose, eyes and mouth.
My next post will be about the best footwear and socks for brushlands and desert hiking.