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This post was originally written in December 2016 in preparation for the first Women's March which took place in winter. Since then, we as citizens of the United States have had several reasons to continue marching and protesting. I have since updated this post to be a valuable resource for anyone who is attending a protest march. f you have additional resources or tips on what to wear to a protest march, please share them in the comments so this can be a useful destination for all.
When I first wrote this article in December 2016, I focused on what to wear to a protest march in the winter. However, in the past couple of years especially, we have had reason to protest in all seasons, for many reasons. Inspired by protesting experts and my experience protesting, I share below what to wear to a protest march in summer, in winter, and suggestions on what to bring and not to bring to your next protest, march, or rally.
What to Wear to a Protest March in Winter
You’re going to be doing a lot of walking and a lot of standing. A waterproof hiking boot is a great choice as it will provide arch support, warmth, a high profile to protect from splashes or puddles, and a fabric that will keep you dry even if you’re in two inches of mud slush. For the Women's March, I wore my Merrell winter boots that have Vibram® Arctic Grip™ outsoles for traction on wet ice. They kept my feet warm, dry, and comfortable. Four years later, they're still keeping me comfortable, dry, and stable in icy conditions.
If you are wearing traditional boots or sneakers, I highly recommend adding a wool or shearling insole to add more comfort as well as warmth between you and the frozen sidewalks. I have shearling insoles and they are utterly awesome; these are a vegan alternative that also get great reviews. I've seen wool insoles on Etsy for just $10 that are great. Wool socks will not only keep your feet warm, but also wick away sweat to keep you comfortable and help prevent blisters.
Whatever shoes you wear, make sure they are well broken in before the event. You will be standing, walking, and may end up running. Be sure your shoes don't hold you back. It makes more sense to wear a pair of well-worn sneakers than brand new waterproof boots.
Have a Base Layer
I swear by Lands’ End’s Thermaskin collection. Their silk-like pieces are so thin they can slip under suiting pants and even leggings without feeling like the Michelin Man, yet keep you extremely warm. They also come in regular, petite, and plus sizes up to 3X. I recommend the pants and long-sleeved shirt for an event like this, though a tank or cami is great if you’ll be moving more and just need to focus on keeping your core warm.
Silk underwear accomplishes the same thing. Lands' End is again a place I recommend for silk interlock long underwear available up to size 3X.
The Coat Matters
Like your boots, I recommend something that is insulated, comfortable, and waterproof. While many have wool coats they love, for a protest march I recommend something that will repel water and has a hood. There may be snow, sleet, or other precipitation along with the low temps. It's also a good idea to wear your hood to blend into a croud and be less recognizable. A longer coat may protect more, but you want to be sure you have a coat that lets you move easily and quickly on short notice.
My Lands’ End Squall Parka is over a decade old, has been on many adventures and keeps on kicking. It’s waterproof, has plenty of pockets, a hood that can go up without covering my eyes or taking away my peripheral vision, a neck that zips up to protect my throat without choking me, and the hand pockets are fleece lined so they’re a nice place to keep your fingers between snaps on your phone.
The Lands' End Squall Parks comes in regular, petite, tall, plus, and petite plus up to 3X and has some lovely colors so you can stand out in a crowd while staying warm and dry. Their Squall Stadium Coat is a longer alternative with all the same great features. Be sure you can move easily in it before committing to wear it to a protest march.
Time to Accessorize
Accessories are key. They can be stuffed in a pocket or bag when not in use, but can keep you extra warm and toasty when standing and waiting or if the wind picks up.
For hands, I like the combo of thinner touchscreen-friendly gloves and waterproof mittens to go over. A reader made a great suggestion – connect your mittens with a long piece of elastic and thread through your sleeves. Remember doing this as a kid or for kids? Makes sense for adults too especially if you keep slipping them off to take pictures!
For the top half, I like using a mix of items instead of an all-in-one. A beanie (or knit one of these!), ear warmer/headband, scarf, and a pair of large lightweight sunglasses will give you options depending on the weather and whether you’re walking, chanting, or standing and huddling to stay warm.
For a scarf, I find a pashmina style to be the most versatile as it can wrap around the head, the throat, or be crossed across the body and tucked under the coat for extra core protection. Sunglasses will protect your eyes from the sun, wind, and anything else without restricting your vision.
What to Wear to a Protest March in Summer
It may be tempting to wear less to deal with the heat, but when considering the violence that has happened during previous peaceful protests, it is smart to dress to protect yourself and your identity.
Feet are Still First
I cannot stress this enough; you need shoes that you can move quickly in, wear for several hours, and not end up with blisters and hot spots. I also recommend wearing a closed-toe shoe to protect your feet in a crowd. A pair of well-broken in sneakers or hiking boots are your best choice, even if it is a very hot day.
For socks, bypass cotton for a synthetic or wool which will wick moisture, keeping you cooler and dry. A sock designed for running or hiking is a good choice for a long day of protesting and marching. I really like these hiking socks from Smartwool and these running socks from Bombas.
Keep Your Outfit Functional
Even if it is hot out, I recommend wearing pants long enough to cover your knees. Not only is this sun protection and chafe protection, it's also knee protection if you by chance fall or have to kneel. A cotton, twil, or denim garment will be less likely to cling in the heat and humidity than a knit fabric.
Feel free to wear a t-shirt, tank top, or whatever is comfortable on top, but consider packing a solid dark-colored lightweight long-sleeved layer. Sun protection, warm days that turn into breezy nights, but also a long-sleeved top will reduce ways to be identified if the event turns aggressive.
I also recommend packing a small poncho. At least in the Mid-Atlantic states, any day between Memorial Day and Labor Day can start sunny with a cloudless sky and end up with a 3 pm rainstorm.
Protect Yourself from the Sun
Don't rely on sunscreen you may have applied before heading out. Bring sunscreen to reapply during the day. A baseball cap will not only protect your face from the sun, it helps you blend into a crowd. Bring a bandana, fold on the diagonal and tie around your neck with the point in back covering your neck (you can also tuck the bandana into the back of your hat to protect your neck). Again, a lightweight layer, especially with UPF will protect your chest, shoulders, and arms when in direct sun for long periods of time.
Sunglasses are smart for many reasons. They can protect your eyes if any gas or spray is emitted, they hide your identity, and they reduce glare on bright days. Leave your favorite sunnies at home and consider a budget-friendly of lightweight polarized shades. I have friends who swear by the quality, functionality, and style of Shady Rays sunglasses. They are polarized and offer replacements and a lifetime warranty.
What to Bring to a Protest March
Should I Bring a Bag to a Protest March?
A fanny pack or belt bag is a great choice to hold your essentials while keeping your hands free. I have often used my belt bag from Girlfriend Collective for such events. It is water resistant, rip-stop material, and has a surprising amount of room for its manageable size. I can easily switch it from a crossbody to a belt bag too. A faraday belt bag is a smart choice as it will protect your devices and cards.
If you need to carry more than a belt bag can offer, I recommend a backpack. A streamlined style will keep your arms free and it's easy to wear for several hours on your feet and will be secure if you have to run to safety. When looking for a backpack, search for running backpacks, which are lightweight, streamlined, and designed to not bounce around when you're moving. I really like this commuter backpack from Sweaty Betty; this bag from Nike is subtle and streamlined.
D.C. Area Law Enforcement enacted the following policy for the Women’s March on Washington. I kept this list as it may be a similar list decided by law enforcement for future protest marches:
- Please note all bags may be subject to search.
- Backpacks are not permitted unless they are clear and no larger than 17″x12″x6″ (colored transparent bags are not permitted). Consider a ripstop fabric crossbody with a wide strap that won't dig into your shoulder.
- Bags should be no larger than 8”x6”x4”.
- Specifically for people who would like to bring meals, each marcher is permitted one additional 12”x12”x6” plastic or gallon bag. This crossbody clear bag is the type approved for stadiums that have this same policy. Many are taking gallon Ziploc bags and using duct tape to attach paracord or twine to make a tote.
- For marchers who have medical needs or for mothers who need baby bags or breast pumps, one clear bag or backpack no larger than 17″x12″x6″ will be permitted and subject to search (colored transparent bags are not permitted). This clear backpack is within the size limitations, but with padded straps and heavy-duty PVC it will better support breast pumps and supplies.
Once at the Women's March, I found no one checking bags. In fact, I have yet to be at a protest march or rally where bags have been checked. For the Women's March, I ended up carrying a black nylon crossbody that was within the size range. It has a wide strap that wouldn't be easy to break and remained comfortable all day. I've carried the same bag to rallies and protests since.
What Should I Pack for a Protest March?
Again I reiterate, bring as little as possible, but pack thinking you may be there longer than expected and with fewer facilities than expected. The basics:
- Water: Bring water as it may be hard to find. I really like those reusable water bags, as they don’t take up much space or weigh much once empty. You can also use a bladder for backpacks like Camelbaks without the actual backpack. Bring enough for 12 hours – better to have too much than too little.
- Snacks: Energy bars are the best as they don’t take up much space, can be broken and shared with others, and if it's cold, can be eaten without having to remove your gloves.
- Medications and Glasses: If you take medication, bring enough for a minimum of 12 hours even if you think you’ll be there for far less. Better safe than sorry. If you wear contacts, bring a backup pair of glasses and eye drops.
- Personal Care Products: I recommend bringing a travel-sized pack of wet wipes. They can be used for the porta-potties but also for other cleanups during the day. One of those purse packs of tissues is also awesome, especially in cold runny nose weather. If you’re having your period or want to be the BFF of someone who may have had theirs come earlier than expected, bring a couple of tampons or pads. Again plan for 12 hours even though your day will likely be shorter. If you have a nervous stomach, some Immodium AD may be your BFF. I recommend bringing at least one clean bandana. It’s not heavy, won’t take up much space, and can prove quite useful for a face cover, washcloth, pouch to hold small items, head covering, and more. Also, bring lip balm – it's something that will make you more comfortable and help if you have to go a while without refilling your water.
- Communication Essentials: If you don’t have a sturdy phone case, this is a good time to get one. Also, bring a battery pack to juice up your phone mid-day (or be the hero of a fellow protester). Some paper or a notepad is also good to bring. I recommend a Sharpie as it can write on most anything, even if it’s damp from rain or snow.
- Personal Identification and Money: Bring your ID, your insurance cards and medical information, one credit or debit card, and $25-$40 in cash. If you don’t have phone numbers memorized, consider a piece of paper or write on your arm the number of an emergency contact just in case your phone dies or gets lost. All money and IDs should be on your person. This is a time when that money belt your mom bought you before your first overseas trip will come in handy. Not only will this prevent pickpockets, it will keep your hands free and make it easy to move quickly.
- A Paper Map: Especially if you are not familiar with the city where you are protesting, bring a paper map with you. With so many people, you can't rely on cell service to get you around. Trying to get basics like a map on your phone will drain your battery quick; if you don't want to carry a paper map at least save some maps as photos on your phone so you can enlarge and get your way around town. For those who are locals, we have a duty to help fellow protesters who look lost or confused.
- If you have room, a bit of duct tape can prove quite useful for making signs on the spot, helping out a fellow protester with a broken bag, and other unexpected situations.
What Do I Need to Be Safe at a Protest?
It is important to be prepared to protect yourself and your loved ones while exercising your right to protest. Even when protesting peacefully here in the United States, many still experienced violence and attacks.
- Wear Unidentifyable Clothing to Cover Yourself. Your clothing can protect your skin from pepper spray, so choose long pants, long sleeves, and a jacket or shirt with a hood. Choose clothing that isn't memorable; dark solid colors, no logos, and clothing that can cover identifiable features such as tattoos.
- Pick Shoes You Can Run In. As I mention above, it makes more sense to wear well-worn sneakers than brand new boots. Yes you may need arch support or find protective toes or warmth important, but none of that will matter if you have blisters and foot pain.
- Emergency Contact Information. Let three individuals who are not joining you know where you are going, when you are going, and when you plan to be back. Ensure they will answer the phone if you need to call. Memorize their phone numbers or write them with a Sharpie onto your arm.
- Bring Eye Protection. Safety goggles aren't expensive, can be found at most home improvement stores, and will protect your eyes from pepper spray, tear gas, and debris. If you can afford it, bring extra pairs to pass out to other protestors. If possible, choose to not wear contacts and use your glasses.
- Bring a Mask. The pandemic is still happening, but you may also want to protect your identity as well as your face from tear gas and pepper spray. Along with a traditional mask, consider bringing at least one bandana which can be used as a bandage, moistened to clean skin, and much more. Please note, wetting a bandana or mask is not proven to help in situations of gas and spray; keep them dry unless you're using it for hygiene or cleaning an injury.
- Prepare Your Phone. If you are heading into a protest, turn off BlueTooth, go into Airplane Mode, and turn off your fingerprint or Face ID feature. This article from Wired delves into the reasons you need to secure your phone during a protest and why you may be better off leaving it at home. If you are using your phone to document the event, do not take any photos of protesters' faces to protect their identity.
- Have a Meet-Up Point. There is a good chance you will be separated from your group and any location within the area of the protest may be blocked off. Together choose a location far enough away from the protest area to meet up at the end of the night.
- If you Need a Bag, Make it a Backpack or Fanny Pack. You may have to run, crouch down, and hide in places. A bag that doesn't bang against your body or require your hands to manage it will make the most sense and likely be the most comfortable for a long day.
What Not to Bring to a Protest March
Do not bring anything that could be considered a weapon. That includes your tiny Swiss Army knife on your keychain. It also includes signage with handles like wooden sticks that police could claimare weapons. Along with this, a protest march is not a place for drugs or alcohol. Keep your jewelry and expensive items at home.
Should I Bring My Child to a Protest March?
As for children, you as the parent know best. There is a big difference between an organized rally and a last-minute protest. If it's one where there's a good chance for arrests and violence I'd keep them home. Small lungs are more impacted by tear gas and pepper spray and there is a great chance you will have to run to escape a dangerous situation. Many have written about this subject, here are some links that can prove helpful:
- Activist Mama’s Guide to Taking Kids to a March (Medium)
- How to Bring Kids to a Protest March (Golden Gate Mothers Group)
- How to Take Your Kid to a Protest Safely (Today's Parent)
I do not consider myself an expert on this topic; please do additional research before attending your next protest. Connect with like-minded individuals in your community for safety as well as camaraderie and share your ideas on what you plan to wear and pack. And please use the comments below for additional suggestions and to share your own advice.
Please note that the comments area has comments that go back to 2016; they are in chronological order with the newest on the top. Since this post has changed multiple times over the years with additional information on what to wear to a protest march and what to take, some of the comments may no longer be relevant to the content. However, I have chosen to keep them as in total, they are all informative and a good resource.