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What to Keep if You Are Going to Be Homeless

Updated on July 17, 2016
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Kylyssa Shay was homeless for over a year in her youth; it lead to her activism involving homelessness. She thinks, feels, and has opinions.

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What Material Possessions Should You Keep When You've Lost Your Home?

Sometimes losing your home is out of your control or at least being or not being homeless has gotten out of your control. This page is not intended to judge people. It is simply intended to give some advice on what to keep if one is going to become homeless that will, hopefully, help some people survive homelessness with less discomfort and to help them stand the best chance of escaping it.

I have no special degree in homelessness studies or in social work of any kind. All I have is experience with being homeless, both my own experiences and the experiences many people living on the street and formerly homeless people have shared with me during my volunteer work. I hope perhaps I can help someone else facing the sad and unpleasant task of winnowing down his or her belongings so they may be easily carried in an automobile or a backpack.

photo by Cylonka, freeimages.com
photo by Cylonka, freeimages.com

A Car or Other Automobile Can Serve as a Place to Sleep

If you have a car or other automobile, make it your highest priority to try to keep it if you are going to become homeless.

Owning a car will make job hunting and getting to work much easier. It is also safer by far to sleep inside a car than it is to sleep on the streets or in some shelters. Additionally, if you can't get into a shelter due to a lack of beds, they will sometimes allow you to park your car in their lot overnight. In fact, people unable or unwilling to help you in other ways may be willing to let you park your vehicle somewhere safe overnight for a few days at a time.

If you are certain you will become homeless put resources into your automobile to ensure it will be dependable once you are using it as both transportation and housing.

Which Vehicle Should I Keep?

If you have more than one automobile between you and your spouse or partner you'll need to make some further decisions such as, between a minivan and a compact car, which should you keep? It's complicated and it's something for you to consider carefully.

Your number one consideration should be dependability. Once you are homeless, chances are, you won't be able to afford any auto repairs.

Another consideration is fuel economy. While a compact car does not make the most comfortable place to sleep, it may be the vehicle you can hang onto and afford gas for the longest.

Cost of auto insurance is another factor to weigh when deciding which automobile to keep.

If you have children who will be with you, the convenience of a larger vehicle may outweigh the potential financial downsides of keeping it.

When you have sold off the car you are not going to keep, make any necessary repairs to the automobile you will be keeping to make it as dependable as possible.

Photo by Mihow, freeimages.com
Photo by Mihow, freeimages.com

A Cell Phone Can Serve as a Lifeline and Help You Escape Homelessness

A cell phone, preferably one with a pay-as-you-go option, can help to keep you safer while you are homeless by allowing you to call 911 if necessary. A cell phone also provides you with a stable phone number to use on job applications. Since even most basic cell phones have an alarm clock function, cell phones can help you to keep on time for job interviews, work, and other appointments. Cell phones also often have a date book function, allowing you to program in work schedules and other appointments with reminders.

While cell phones are incredibly useful tools for surviving and escaping homelessness, some homed people take great exception to homeless people owning cell phones. From what I've figured out, those people somehow think their tax money has paid for your cell phone while they feel they cannot afford as many nice things as they want and thus they get angry about it. In any case, your cell phone may make you a target for violence. To minimize this danger, try to use your cell phone where you will not be seen and keep it stashed away when it is not in use.

A Cell Phone Charger

If you have an automobile, the problem of how to charge your cell phone can be solved with a car charger. However, not everyone person has a car and those who do must often be cautious about conserving fuel and battery life so other options are needed.

If you have a job you may be able to discreetly plug in your cell phone at work. If your friends haven't completely abandoned you when you need them you may be able to charge your phone at a friend's home.

However, I think the best option is a combination solar and crank handle phone charger if you can find one. Most of them are compact and some of them are multi-purpose, with built-in flashlights or other such tools.

To minimize the danger of violence, try to keep cell phone use to a minimum and away from public view whenever possible.

Photo by Jakub Krechowicz, linked as requested
Photo by Jakub Krechowicz, linked as requested

A Laptop or Tablet Can be a Powerful Job Hunting and Money Earning Tool

If you have a laptop or tablet PC with wireless Internet capacity it can be one of the most important things to keep if you are going to become homeless. A laptop can be used to search through job listings, to apply to jobs, and to earn money online through sites such as Squidoo. Laptops can also be used to find inexpensive rooms for rent and odd jobs or gigs on Craigslist and on other online bulletin boards.

On a more comfort related note, laptops can help you stay in contact with your friends and family. Children can be kept entertained with computer games and sometimes even do homework on a laptop. You can also download books into them and save space in your kit for other items.

If you have access to a scanner, you can also be sure to hold onto cherished family photographs in your laptop. Be sure to back up anything with sentimental value onto a CD in case your laptop breaks down, gets destroyed, or gets stolen.

Laptops can often be plugged in at coffee shops and Internet cafes as long as you buy something to drink or eat there. Such businesses are also the best places to pass as not homeless when using your laptop. Laptops are another possession which can make a you a target for theft or violence. To minimize this threat, try to use your laptop in places where you are less visible or only when you are sure no one can tell you are homeless. When your laptop is not in use, keep it hidden away.

To avoid theft and violence only use your laptop only when you can not be seen or when you are certain you are passing as not homeless.

Charging Laptops and Cell Phones in Your Car

Photo by Andrzej Gdula, freeimages.com
Photo by Andrzej Gdula, freeimages.com

Comfortable Walking Shoes are a Necessity

Try to keep at least two pairs of comfortable walking shoes. If you have a car, keep more than two pairs of comfortable walking shoes because you have the space to store them. Changing your shoes can frequently can help prevent sore feet.

Homeless people, even if they have cars, find themselves doing a lot of walking. If a person does not have a car, he or she will often have to spend all day walking. A spare pair of comfortable shoes allows for one pair to air out while wearing the other and gives feet a rest from the pressure points of a specific pair of shoes. Foot injuries caused by inappropriate shoes are extremely common among homeless people.

If you are a woman, do not bother to keep any high heels or other uncomfortable dress shoes. Instead, choose to keep your comfortable walking shoes as well as a pair of comfortable dress flats.

Photo by Andrea Kratzenberg
Photo by Andrea Kratzenberg

Clothing to Keep

While it's obvious that people must try to keep some clothing when they become homeless, deciding which items to keep can be difficult.

Socks and Underwear

Keep as many pairs of comfortable socks, underwear, and bras (if you are a woman) as you can reasonably carry. Comfortable socks are especially important as foot health is extremely important to people who must often walk for hours and hours each day. You can use socks and underwear as cushioning for other, more delicate items in your backpack or in your vehicle.

T- Shirts

T- shirts help to keep your outer clothing clean but they can also be worn alone so in choosing which t- shirts to keep choose those that are made of sturdy fabric. Avoid t- shirts with bold patterns that will show through your clothing but try to keep only those t- shirts you can wear on their own so they can serve double duty. You can check to see which t- shirts are keepers by trying them on under the other shirts you plan to keep.

Shirts and Pants

Choose sturdy, wrinkle- resistant, stain- resistant items of clothing. Make sure at least some of your clothing is appropriate for job interviews. Even if you normally wouldn't wear button-down dress shirts every day, if you must pare down to just a few shirts choose as many sturdy dress shirts as possible. Keep as many sturdy dress pants as possible as well. Light, synthetic fabrics can be compressed into a small space and also can dry more quickly when washed.

Skirts

If you are a woman, you probably already know that skirts can often be rolled or folded until very compact and they can easily be layered over pants for greater warmth during bad weather or worn alone to keep cool in hot weather. Skirts can also be dressy enough to serve as clothing proper for interviews and office jobs.

Sport Coats

If you are a man, keep at least one sport coat, preferably in a neutral color such as black. You can use your sport coat for job interviews. You can also wear your sport coat to appear less homeless as many homed people don't consider that homeless people may keep a few nice things from their former lives.

Ties

If you own ties, they are easy to hang onto because they roll up very small and can be used to protect delicate items in your backpack or automobile. Changing your tie for a second or third interview can create the impression that you are wearing something different even if you only have one set of dress clothes. A tie, when worn with a button- down shirt and dress pants, can also help you to hide the fact that you are homeless, making it safer for you to go about your business.

Winter Clothing

If you live in an area where it gets cold, even just at night, be sure to hang onto cold weather clothing such as coats, hats, gloves, and thermal socks. Winter coats that run large and long are your best option because other clothing can be layered under them. If you are without a vehicle, a long, thick winter coat can be used to also serve as a blanket or bedroll, making for less for you to carry around.

Photo by Heltje, freeimages.com
Photo by Heltje, freeimages.com

A Towel Can Have Many Uses

Try to keep at least one towel per person. Big beach towels are best because homeless people often find themselves bathing in places like truck stop showers, beach facilities, and other public showers. A beach towel can also be used as a blanket or as a drop cloth to keep from getting dirty if one must sleep on the ground.

Photo by Neil Gould, freeimages.com
Photo by Neil Gould, freeimages.com

A Backpack Can Hold Belongings

A backpack is the easiest way to carry things around when you are homeless. Even if you have an automobile to store your belongings, it's a good idea to keep your most essential belongings in a backpack in case you are, at some point, forced to permanently or temporarily abandon your vehicle.

Backpacks can also help some to pass as tourists or students instead of as homeless people. While the best backpacks are those designed for sporting the backpack you already own is often the best one for you to have.

A PO Box Can Provide an Address

If you already have a Post Office box or rental mailbox, try to hang onto it. A PO box can provide you with an address to put on job applications. If you don't already have one, you may want to consider getting one while you still have an address to put on the form for getting one. Without an address it will be much harder to rent one. A friend or family member may be willing to let you use their address on your application for a P.O. box.

A Water Bottle or Canteen Provides Water Storage

If you own a canteen or water bottle that can be put on a string, lanyard, or strap keep it. It can be tricky finding water when you need and want it when you are homeless so canteens and water bottles are a good thing to have.

If you have an automobile to store such things in, also keep some larger water storage containers. You can use them to store not only drinking water but water for washing up as well.

Photo by Teresa Cassia Labate, freeimages.com
Photo by Teresa Cassia Labate, freeimages.com

Personal Hygiene Items

This one is kind of a no- brainer but people caught in a crisis such as impending homelessness often miss details they'd usually find obvious. Keep any hygiene items you feel you couldn't do without. Be sure to include toothbrush, comb, brush, razor, shampoo, soap, antiperspirant, and, if you are female, feminine hygiene products.

Keep Prescriptions In Their Original Bottles

Police will be unlikely to believe your prescriptions are not street drugs if they are not in properly labeled pharmacy bottles and you may go to jail for having medications you have every right to be carrying.

Photo by Foxumon, freeimages.com linked as requested in text
Photo by Foxumon, freeimages.com linked as requested in text

Medications

If you are taking any prescription medications, keep your full supply even if you have to condense it down into fewer bottles. I do not recommend condensing your medications into fewer bottles so do it only if you absolutely have no other options. The reason is that police will be unlikely to believe your prescriptions are not street drugs if they are not in properly labeled pharmacy bottles and you may go to jail for having medications you have every right to be carrying. If they find so much as a pill case of mixed pills during a stop and frisk you could be arrested or detained. They will also take your medications away and you could be without them until you can see a doctor again.

If you absolutely must condense your prescription medications into fewer bottles, carefully peel off and fold in half the labels to the bottles you won't be keeping and store them inside the bottles you will be keeping with the pills they are for. For your own safety, do not store similar looking pills in the same bottle.

All Forms of Identification

Keep all forms of identification you have on your person at all times. A secure, water-proof money belt worn under your clothing may be the best place to store your ID. Lost or stolen ID traps many people in homelessness and makes most assistance services impossible to use so make sure you keep your ID safe at all times.

Whatever Else That's Portable and Means Something to You

Since being homeless takes so very much away from a person, try to hang onto a few small, portable personal mementos. I've found that having such items as a photograph, a stuffed toy, a diary, or a family Bible can provide a lot of comfort. They help people remember that they haven't always been homeless.

Also, quite a few homeless people I've met have expressed regret about failing to keep some small thing that would have reminded them of home. While they often have to carry all of their belongings, some things are worth far more than what they weigh.

Any swearing, no matter how mild, will result in an unpublished comment.

© 2012 Kylyssa Shay

What Items Would You Keep If You Were Going to Become Homeless? - Family Friendly Guestbook

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    • profile image

      jeremiah1978 2 years ago

      I just wanted to say ive read a lot of your articles this evening. Ive spent a few years homeless and appreciate you going into detail about your experience. Ive personally never been good at talking about it or writing about it either. Your ability to put it into to words so clearly will help a lot more people than you probally know and for that im thankful to you. You are the defination of a true survivor and should be proud. I feel that the stigma on homlessness, mental illness and many other things leaves the ones who suffer from them feeling unable or unwilling to talk about it. You don't just speak for yourself but for millions that have lived their entire lives in quiet desperation. take care

    • profile image

      jeremiah1978 2 years ago

      i forgot to mention that if at all possible (vehicle or not) stock up on bug spray, in the summer when its hot you will literaly risk dying from heatstroke with windows up before letting them buggers eat at you, not only that it wears you down mentally and takes away from much needed rest to find a job or keep a job. Winter is not to be underestimated either.. use your clothes and blankets anything you can find and pile it on. Theres been several times i was worried i would fall to sleep and never wake up from freezing to death.

    • profile image

      jeremiah1978 2 years ago

      i would like to point out that if you have a vehicle use commuter parking lots, police will run you off from the rest stops so don't waste gas thinking rest stop means rest. i would also recommend a fishing pole to pass the time and sometimes for a meal. Keep your head up try to stay positive it's a hard road to go down so stay as mentally strong as possible. I can also say that i have never recovered from going through this, im not trying to say that to scare you, its just incase theres that one person thinking ahhhh no big deal i can survive this. just stay mentally strong and get yourself out of the situation as soon as possible to prevent lasting effects or even worse.

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      dlee0131 2 years ago

      Thank you for this article. I'm a 59 yr old single woman. I was laid off from my job and it's been impossible to me to find anyone who will hire someone my age. Due to health problems I can no longer stand or sit for any long periods of time. I've been working in customer service and call centers all my life. My savings and 401K are now completely gone. I can no longer afford my apartment and I will be leaving everything I own here when I move out to my car. I've made a list of everything you suggested. Thank you for the information.

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      berylbigbelly 2 years ago

      I spent 6 years on the streets up until 2 years ago when with the help of a friend who put a roof over my head. whilst living on the streets, campsites, woods and forests. The only items I had we're..Army kit bag, sleeping bag, poncho. Hygiene items. Toothbrush, paste, soap, face cloth, towel & toilet paper.Clothing. 3 t-shirts, 2 sets of pants 4 sets of socks 4 sets of boxers shorts, jacketwooly hat, truckers cap & my boots. Equipment. Pocket knife, metal match, spork, metal cup.Hardest 6 years of my life and I wouldn't want to see anyone in that position. But I can't change the world! Wish I could tho!!I'm often asked "Was it easier because your ex-army?" My answer, No!

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      lisacausey 2 years ago

      I have never been homeless, but there was a time in my life many years ago when I was afraid we were going to be homeless. I think that's why this article caught my eye. And in this day and age with the economy being what it is **We are still not out of the woods yet--the US dollar is on it's way out as the world's reserve currency!** , well, I think it's best to re-post this for all of us. Hopefully none of us will ever have to use this info, but it would be imperative to have if ever any of us need it. The thing I would add, is if a person has a chance to get or build a little trailer that the car could pull, that would be a good addition.

    • goldenecho profile image

      Gale 2 years ago from Texas

      Wow...it would be a hard decision. My car...but if I couldn't keep that, a tent (maybe the tent anyway in case I couldn't keep the car at some point). SA bag of legos for my kids (small and portable and long on play possibilities), cards (uno and regular cards), a few art supplies (I figure I could sell my artwork and crafts still someplace), sleeping bags, a book on edible wild plants I have, scissors and gardening gloves, my dad's pocket knife, a lighter, medicines, and a few small things with sentimental value, and our laptop, because my husband codes and could still make some money doing that. Phone would be traded for a cheaper one on a pay as you go plan.

    • profile image

      bugscuttle 2 years ago

      Don't forget your towel. And Don't panic!

    • Hairdresser007 profile image

      James Jordan 2 years ago from Burbank, CA

      Definitely my tablet and charger. Because I live in S. California a hat, sunscreen, a backpack, blanket, light jacket, tennis shoes, a knife, pepper spray, a bus pass if I didn't have a car, my dogs. It's horrible to think what you would do.

    • asereht1970 profile image

      asereht1970 2 years ago

      I'm not sure but maybe I won't let go of a blanket.

    • Flora Crew profile image

      Flora Crew 3 years ago from Evanston, Illinois

      A safety deposit box is a good thing to have if you can afford it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @Kylyssa: Here in NY, and knowing NY like I do, it seems everyone requires that a person be working in order to rent, even single rooms. I don't think there is anywhere you can rent a room cheaply and without working, even if you have some money to pay rent for awhile. I can't speak for everywhere, but in NY there definitely is no way to rent a place without references and without a job.As for relatives, I have a sister, but she won't take me in. She has been advising, but that's all. I have no friends and wouldn't know who to ask to clean anyone's place, even though I'm pretty good at cleaning and organizing. And there are no jobs to be had in this city.I understand what you mean about safety. Probably where I want to go is more busy overnight and not necessarily deserted. It would at least take care of the winter part. I look at it like this: a person could walk down the block one day and be killed right there and then. I don't think anywhere is absolutely guaranteed safe. But if one has no choice, one must try to do the best one can. It helps that I have some money, and that I can go to Florida at all. Many don't have even that much. All I wanted was to know where to go at night; the coffee places sound good, and I could always be near crowds of people if the nighttime is active. I find that a city like New York is far more dangerous than the Keys at nighttime. Much of this kind of city is very deserted come nightfall. It is important anywhere, and whether a person is homeless or not, to have some kind of weapon, such as pepper spray.I'm hoping to see this as trying to start my life over someplace else; I definitely cannot stay in NY because of the winters, unable to rent cheaply without working, or getting a job with little to no experience.The Key West has the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition for the HomelessIt's possible they could help me.I guess staying up overnight at the Key West International Airport is not allowed, is it?

    • Kylyssa profile image
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      Kylyssa Shay 4 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      @anonymous: I don't have any really good ideas in that regard. I wish I had really awesome advice for you but I'm just some middle-aged autistic woman who was homeless herself over twenty years ago in completely different parts of the country. I'm still researching that article and it is really hard to find people who know these things.I got really messed up during my period of homelessness, both physically and emotionally. I suffered multiple sexual assaults and multiple physical assaults. Outdoor sleeping was safer for me than using shelters but I'm still trying to figure out what factors made that so.You could probably hang out in all night coffee shops if you moved from one to another a couple times a night. I'd probably avoid clubs and bars because I don't think they'd be all that safe..One thing I'd suggest is that you absolutely exhaust every possible method of not being homeless. Ask every relative and friend for help. Maybe one of them will let you stay with them either from feelings of responsibility or in exchange for doing all their housework or giving them whatever money you can. Communicate with the Department of Human Services in your area to see if aid is available. Find a single bedroom to rent in somebody's house. Try everything. I'm not saying you shouldn't think about what you'd do if you have to become homeless because having contingency plans is always a good idea, but try your hardest not to need them. Homelessness hurt me in ways that will never go away and I don't want anyone to go through that. There is no safe way to be homeless.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      If I'm homeless, I would go to the Key West to stay warm, and sleep during the morning hours on the beach with the crowd. But if I stay up during the night, where can I go? What would be a suggestion where to hang around at night? In a crowded spot? I really would like to know.

    • profile image

      kimadagem 4 years ago

      When I was still living in Denver I had a homeless man approach me and ask for toilet paper. I was out for a walk and nowhere near my apartment so I couldn't help him and felt bad about that. But it got me thinking about how useful it might be to someone in that situation so I'd like to offer it here.

    • Normyo Yonormyo profile image

      Normyo Yonormyo 4 years ago

      I can only say, that this is a great lens and hope and wish that nobody will ever need this information. But as that wish is no more then wishful thinking, I say thank you for your hard work at putting this information together.

    • Millionairemomma profile image

      Millionairemomma 4 years ago

      Your lens was amazing,eye opening.....you are brave!

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 5 years ago

      I was looking for a good Lens to comment on for Squidoo "Make A Friend Day" and happened upon this one. I have often thought about this; my unemployment is starting to run out, I live in a rent controlled apartment that was my parents (and we've been living here since the 50's so I have a lot of stuff). I live in NYC and people are just mean spirited here, so the first thing I'd do is try to make my way out west and to a warmer climate. I look around my apartment and see so many things that I bought (that seemed like a good idea at the time) that are absolutely worthless and a waste of money. You find out real fast who your friends are when you have nothing left to offer them; it's amazing to me how very little we need, and all the things you just can't take with you when the maker calls you home. Thanks for all the good information.

    • profile image

      Prudent-Man 5 years ago

      This subject stirs my emotions in many ways, especially after recently becoming unemployed. But from a biblical perspective I am reminded that we are not guaranteed a roof over our head. Even Jesus like a true shepherd had no place to lay his head during his ministry. Likewise, even in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did not have a home. Yet, all their need was met. Christians have the same hope today, the promise that God will supply all our need. Christian fellowship is one thing that I would value most in such a situation. Because if one is truly covered by being a member of an outreach ministry, their need will be met. If you are blessed share it. Volunteer or give financial support to ministry outreaches in your area and fulfill God's Word. (Mt 25:35) "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in."

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      I found it profoundly moving, that there are so many people who will find themselves needing your sound advice. Thank you for tackling a difficult topic in such a practical way. Even if we never need to use this tips ourselves (hopefully!), it can't help but make us more mindful of the perilous situation that's so perilously close for so many.

    • profile image

      huvalbd 5 years ago

      Your lenses provide very well thought out, sensible, helpful material for people in a bad spot. Somehow I didn't see this one last time I looked at your lenses. Excellent work!

    • chromegrrrl profile image

      chromegrrrl 5 years ago

      I almost didn't want to click on the link to read your lens because I'm between homes right now, I'm glad I did. Thank you for such a well written and smart advice lens.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Some great tips, I hope I'm never homeless and have to use them.

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      Superb lens offering survival skills on a difficult topic. This is a true gift to someone who might not be able to think clearly when faced with homelessness. Thank you

    • profile image

      tebor79 5 years ago

      Maybe hop a train to a warm environment like Miami, Houston, or LA to avoid the cold.

    • SecondHandJoe LM profile image

      SecondHandJoe LM 5 years ago

      This is a subject I don't think about very often. That's sad to say. Thank you for sharing this, and reminding me.

    • GabStar profile image

      GabStar 5 years ago

      Everything you have on here is brilliant, straight forward advice. A very smart lens.

    • silloftheworld lm profile image

      silloftheworld lm 5 years ago

      I just read through several of your lenses on being homeless, and they were moving and eye-opening. I knew about some of the things, but definitely much less about others (like the conditions in too many shelters). Thank you for sharing everything - the advice, statistics, stories, everything. I wish you the best.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 5 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      Excellent advice, Kylyssa. Speaking of the winter clothing and knowing of at least several homeless people who've died from exposure in our area this winter (so far), I would like to reinforce that and to suggest that, if at all possible, people should try to have NON-cotton clothing. "Cotton kills" as they say, because it doesn't dry--or dries very slowly--when it gets wet. I know that good winter clothing can be expensive but it can save a life, so folks should try to be prepared with layers, including synthetic long underwear, a polyester fleece layer, a down jacket layer (synthetic down if possible), a waterproof/windproof outer layer, with wool mittens, hat and socks.

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