The Best Survival Shirt Baselayer

by Tommy Grant

The shirt on your back in a survival situation can make a difference. It’s not the most important survival gear you can have on you, but a simple shirt is incredibly versatile. If you get the best survival shirt, it’ll keep you comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. It’ll also work to keep you dry and it will have enough durability to be up to any task.

This is where we come in. We’ve researched the best survival shirts, and tested them, and now the results are in: the overall best, a budget option, and an upgrade option. If you need to stay comfortable in a survival situation, one of our recommendations will cover your back.

Contents (Jump to a Section)

The Best Survival Shirt

Carhartt Midweight Crew

Mid-weight, Wicking, and Versatile

Stay dry and comfortable through a wide range of temperatures with this top pick with serious value.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

You’ve heard of Carhartt- it’s not some niche tactical brand. It’s a brand known for workhorse clothing, but with this shirt, they’ve really got something special. The waffle weave makes it versatile through a wide range of temperatures and contributes to moisture management. The shirt is midweight in a wide range of sizes with four colors (two colors for women’s sizes).

Here is how it measures up:

  • 100% polyester
  • 180 gsm fabric weight
  • rugged flex waffle knit for durability and temperature regulation
  • FastDry wicks moisture
  • tagless comfort
  • concealed thumb loops

With specs like these, it’s easy to see how the Carhartt Midweight Crew is the best shirt for the money.

Rothco Long Sleeve Shirt

Budget Survival Shirt

Rothco Long Sleeve

Mid-weight, Comfortable, and Inexpensive

A basic long tee with a few simple upgrades to provide a great budget survival option.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

A long-sleeve out of your shirt drawer will work just fine in a pinch, but if you are going to go out and get something new- why not get something halfway decent? This cotton/poly blend is an upgrade over lightweight shirts at the bottom range of mid-weight. Rothco is used to making clothes and gear for abuse, and this shirt keeps up too.

Here is how it stacks up:

  • 60% cotton, 40% polyester
  • 160 gsm fabric weight
  • tagless comfort
  • military profile stays tucked

If you need a shirt on a budget, grab yourself a Rothco Long Sleeve Shirt.

5.11 Tropos Baselayer

Upgrade Survival Shirt

5.11 Tropos Baselayer

Lightweight, Moisture Wicking, and Durable Quality

Effective from the peaks of mountains to your backyard, this shirt can’t be beaten.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

This premium mid-weight base layer from 5.11 is engineered to be the best. It’ll keep you warm and dry in cold weather, and comfortable and covered in warmer weather. They offer it in most men’s sizes in 3 color options, so you don’t have to stick with my favorite: black.

Here are the details:

  • 100% polyester
  • 180 gsm fabric weight
  • flat seams
  • tagless comfort
  • concealed thumb loops

If you are looking for the best of the best, pick up the 5.11 Tropos Baselayer Shirt.

Everything We Recommend

The Shirts We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to the several shirts that we compared: Rothco, Carhartt, 5.11, Thermowave, Smartwool, Vertx, Colombia, Patagonia, and more.

You can see our full list of review criteria below in the What to Look For section, with an explanation for each.

We focused on base-layer shirts that were long-sleeved for improved versatility. A survival shirt is not the same as a range shirt, hunting vest, or survival jacket- those all have their uses but we wanted to focus on survival necessities in our comparison and testing.

We’re always looking for new and better gear, so if you have a survival shirt that you swear by let us know in the comments. We review most of our tested equipment annually, so we can always get it in the next roundup round and see if it makes the cut and we can see if it will beat out our top picks.

What to Look For

The best survival shirts have several important features to look for:

  1. Value
  2. Material Durability
  3. Moisture Management
  4. Thermal Properties
  5. Quality

When you get the right blend of these, you can find a shirt that you can consistently rely on for everyday use or survival situations. Below, we break down what each of these features means for the survival shirts that truly set themselves apart.

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you spend on something like a shirt shouldn’t blow out your entire budget, we’re not talking fashion here. Don’t go overspending or overdo it. Budget according to what you can afford rather than just spending lavishly.

On the flip side, you don’t want to go too cheap or just plain get the wrong thing. There are all sorts of Chinese tactical shirts that impersonate 5.11, Proper, and other legit tactical brands. Don’t get that cheap ‘tacticool’ shirt on Amazon- it’s going to fall apart quickly.

You never want to spend too much money on clothes, especially something like a shirt. It’s better to diversify your preparedness gear to make sure you are covered for a wide range of scenarios.

Material Durability

The durability of a shirt is usually related to the type of material used, the weight of the material, and the shirt’s seam strength.

Natural and synthetic textiles have different strengths and weaknesses, but you’ll often see synthetic at lower costs and a blend at higher costs. Blends can highlight the strength of both material types, providing durability and flexibility of synthetics combined with the temperature and moisture management natural materials are known for.

Moisture Management

The type of fabric and weave pattern (and sometimes even fabric treatments) can all affect how your shirt can help with moisture management. You do not want your shirt to work like a sponge.

Polyester shirts have some drawbacks but they are great at wicking moisture. You can pair them with natural materials for even more wicking power, and to help the natural materials hold shape.

Thermal Properties

The type of fabric and weave pattern also have a large effect on how the shirt can help with heat retention and breathability. Knit or woven into patterns (like waffle) can affect a shirt’s thermal performance by adding extra loft without material between your skin and the shirt and between the shirt and additional layers.

Combine this with natural materials and you get the best of both worlds.


Shoddy quality is indicated by size variance from the factory (you want to be sure the shirt fits), and the details in the construction.

Seams are another easy place to check quality- stitched seams that pull easily aren’t going to be great for survival situations.

The type of fabric used can indicate quality too. Manufacturers typically don’t use high-quality fabrics just to skimp on actually putting the shirt together. To make a quality survival shirt, you need to start off with fabric that’ll keep up first.

Before SHTF, customer service departments are part of a brand’s quality- and the picks we’ve selected have good return policies and support for manufacturing defects. Plus, it always helps that it’s not common that you encounter defects to begin with, as reflected in their reviews.

Uses for a Shirt in a Survival Situation

A simple shirt is a versatile tool in a survival situation. Here are some of our favorite uses:

  1. Clothing: The most obvious use for a shirt is as clothing to keep you warm and protect your skin from the elements.
  2. Shelter: A shirt can be used to make a shelter or cover to protect you from the sun or rain.
  3. Signal for help: If you have a brightly colored shirt, you can use it as a signal for help by waving it in the air to catch the attention of rescue planes or boats.
  4. Filtering water: A shirt can be used as a filter to remove debris from unfiltered water before drinking it.
  5. Bandage: If you or someone in your group has a cut or wound, you can use a shirt as a bandage to stop the bleeding and protect the wound.
  6. Cordage: Cut the shirt into thin strips to make cordage for tying things together or creating traps.
  7. Carrying items: You can tie the shirt at the corners to make a makeshift bag to carry items like food or supplies.
  8. Improvised fishing net: Cut the shirt into thin strips and weave them together to make a fishing net.
  9. Sun protection: If you don’t have any sunscreen, you can use a shirt to cover your head and exposed skin to protect it from the sun.
  10. Padding: You can use a shirt as padding to cushion a backpack or makeshift bed.
  11. Face Mask: Cover your nose and mouth with the shirt as a dust mask or to obscure your identity.

Throwing a spare shirt in a survival kit (paired with socks and undies in a skivvy roll) is never a bad idea because of these uses.

Who Needs a Survival Shirt?

Everybody wears shirts (well, most people in society). Survival shirts are just shirts that can help you stay covered and protected through a wide range of situations. This makes them ideal for preppers, survivalists, homesteaders, bushcrafters, etc- but really anyone can benefit from having a quality shirt that can handle anything.

This is why we consider them essential for:

Spare clothes are also essential for mobile kits, so you’ll find them here too:

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We consult experts in the field for a better understanding of what makes the gear great. Hours on end are spent field testing gear in stressful conditions. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. After our review process, some of the items reviewed end up in our giveaways.

Sources and References

All of our experience and the testing we do to determine the best survival shirt is useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical military and prepping experience:

Holmes, D. (2000). Textiles for survival. Handbook of technical textiles. Chapter 17. Pages 461-464. (Source)

McQueen, R., et al. (2007). Odor Intensity in Apparel Fabrics and the Link with Bacterial Populations. Textile Research Journal. Volume 77. Issue 7. Pages 449-456. (Source)

Neelakantan, P., et al. (1981). Wear Life of Easy-Care Cotton Fabrics. Textile Research Journal. Volume 51. Issue 10. Pages 665-670. (Source)

The Final Word

A good, tough shirt is nice to have for your everyday adventures, but it really excels when it’s keeping you covered through a survival situation.

Here are a few other reads our subscribers have also found helpful:

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found the Carhartt Midweight Crew to be the best option given its value, capacity, filtering, energy needs, and quality.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.

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The Best Survival Shirt

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