Fashion for Survival: Hazen Audel wings it in the wild

National Geographic Primal Survival Extreme African Safari

By Renate Engelbrecht

Tuesday, Nov 21

At the recent launch of National Geographic’s new season of Primal Survivor with Hazen Audel, there were many questions about many things. Some more serious than other, since the new season – hitting South African televisions on 22 November 2023 – is all about survival in Africa. That included questions around fashion for survival.

“Why the sarong?” one person asked.

“Have you ever worn a sarong?” Audel answered, almost surprised.

While one wouldn’t necessarily think that fashion has a place in the Chalbi Desert or amidst the master boatsmen at Lake Baringo, Primal Survivor: Extreme African Safari might just prove that there is a place for it after all. In fact, we need to keep in mind that together with food, water and shelter, clothes are a basic need. And, when your clothes can help you clean the water that you drink while out in the wild, or assist in fastening a couple of leaves and branches together for a bed way up in a tree, fashion for survival is key.

A style and fashion for survival

Hazen Audel certainly knows his style and preferred fashion for survival. The former biology teacher has been challenging himself with all kinds of uncomfortable situations and the last of his expeditions took him into wild, wild East Africa.

“The number one piece of clothing [to pack for a 4-month journey like the one I did on Primal Survivor: Extreme African Safari] would be tyre sandals,” says Audel. “Anywhere else in the world, where I go, I can get away with being barefoot, but Africa is very thorny so tyre sandals are the answer.”

Rubber shoes fashion for survival Hazen Audel National Geographic
Image: National Geographic

While Audel has never been known to be a slave to fashion, the African tribes have certainly taught him a thing or two about functional fashion and these sandals are it. In addition to the tyre sandals, he says he basically just wears a T-shirt which becomes dirty and grimy on day one. “To keep me on television, I have to wear a pair of shorts,” he adds. More importantly, Audel says that he wears clothes that do not alienate him from the locals. “I wear articles of clothing that resemble their attire to show respect. Preferably not cotton shorts, because in a hot climate you want to avoid ‘crutch rot.’” Ultimately, the solution to this problem is simple: Wear humble clothing like a sarong. “A sarong is freedom in a hot environment and you can turn a sarong into a bag to carry items,” he adds. Once again: Functional fashion.


Hazen Audel Primal Survivor Extreme African Safari Fashion for survival
Image: National Geographic

“I always pay attention to how the locals survive and take inspiration from what they incorporate into their daily routines, as that is where you see what is most needed in an area,” says Audel.

In addition to showing respect, wearing certain items has sparked interest and engagement with locals on numerous occasions too. Especially items like a sarong, lightweight cotton throw, or a scarf. Furthermore, these items also often has a cooling effect more than heating. “You see that especially when you go up into the Sahara, Algeria and Morocco where it’s incredibly hot. They are almost fully clothed with light fitting, airy clothing that gives them protection from the sun.”

No-name backpacks for miles and miles on foot

Audel says a backpack or some way of carrying things like survival tools is helpful, or even a wearable blanket or basket.

In the latest season of Primal Survivor, Audel carried a backpack that I am sure could now tell many stories. “I don’t generally use name brands’ backpacks as I wear and use things that are not flashy. I try to get a backpack that will hold up to the elements, especially this last journey that lasted a few 100 miles on foot. It makes more sense to go synthetic, but cotton and wool is more natural. I try to be more natural in the environment.”

Sarong and backpack fashion for survival Hazen Audel
Image: National Geographic

Fashion with function

It’s clear that even in the wild, fashion – however far from the Western world’s trends – has a function in the wilderness. When it comes to textiles, Audel says: “If you get a wool T-shirt, it has better cooling properties than a stinky, damp cotton shirt. It dries off easier and it doesn’t retain smells. We live in a world where everyone wears synthetic materials like spandex or the different nylons, but they retain horrible human smells which are sometimes impossible to wash out, whereas wool has this magical property of not attaining those smells.” He also adds that wool works as a cooling material, while also being essential in colder environments. “Wool can also be warm even when it’s wet,” he says.

In the Western world, we often see fashion as a way to stand out. In the wild, it’s often much more about blending in with the environment. “[The Hadza’s] clothing is quite scant, but their clothing is made out of tanned leather resembling the terrain. They are hunters and gatherers. They look like a part of the environment,” Audel says. “Pastoralists are not committed to hunting. They operate to avoid animals, so they wear bright colours as a warning sign to predators.” In the end, it’s all about what you are trying to achieve.

Other fashion items that might come in handy is a hat (which you can use to scoop water with), a buff (which can be used to clean water with) and a wristband made from knotted rope (which you can pull apart and use as rope). A knife and a flint will also come in handy and could certainly add to your list of fashion for survival. Even I got to start my own fire with a flint and now, it’s probably my new (and only) party trick.

Primal Survivor Natioinal Geographic
Image: National Geographic

Whether with a sarong or with shorts, Hazen Audel impressively trekked across the Great Rift Valley of East Africa (and that on foot) to finally reach the Serengeti for the great finale: The wildebeest migration. Did he make it to the Serengeti? Did he get to see the long-dreamed-of migration? See for yourself…

Primal Survivor: Extreme African Safari starts screening on National Geographic (DStv channel 181) on Wednesday, 22 November at 21:00 (CAT). The four previous seasons of Primal Survivor with Hazen Audel are also currently streaming on Disney+.


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