This fall we covered the important topic of surviving in your vehicle during a winter emergency, but what are you to do if there is no vehicle to be had for shelter? Cold weather excursions into the wilderness can offer a glimpses of winter beauty and a sense of calm not found in other seasons, but they can lead to dangerous situations if you’re not prepared. Whether you’re out on a hike, hunt or snowshoeing trip, a fall on the ice or a wrong turn could lead to one of the hardest nights you’ve ever experienced. Your survival could hinge on what you have in your pack and what you do in this tense situation. Here are several survival tips and gear suggestions to help you survive a winter emergency.
You have to strike a balance when you leave on any winter day trip. You can’t expect to cover a lot of ground with a ton of gear on your back, but simply heading out with a bottle of water in hand isn’t ideal either. You’ll want to start with a medium to large sized backpack / day pack and fill it with gear that will be invaluable should you get stranded overnight. A common list of items to consider includes:
The moment the realization hits that you might be lost or facing a night in the wilderness can be a hard one to swallow. It is common for most people to panic, but what you should be focusing on first is fire and shelter. There is some debate as to whether shelter or fire is the more pressing need, but when cold temperatures threaten, a fire can save your life and should be your first priority. That said, harsh weather like a blizzard can make it tougher to build a fire, and a shelter may become the more pressing need.
Ideally you’ll want to have both a fire and shelter setup before darkness sets in, and this means you may have to give up on making your way out until morning early just to set these measures up. Ultimately it will be your judgment call. If you think you can get out before it gets too dark or you have a good idea of where you’re going, then by all means you should push on. However if you’re completely turned around or injured, you may have no other choice but to start early on a fire and shelter.
As you look around to select a spot to sit out the night, try to find a location that will accommodate both a shelter and a fire. Select a location that is out of the wind and doesn’t have any potential hazards lurking overhead. Before you ever start a fire, make sure you have plenty of firewood and kindling on hand. There is nothing worse than starting a fire only to find you don’t have enough material on hand to keep it going. As for the shelter building, make sure you insulate yourself both above and below. The cold ground can suck a lot of warmth out of you overnight, and placing pine needles or other lofty vegetation underneath you can make a huge difference.
It is something you hear time and time again in winter clothing, you need to layer properly before you ever travel in winter conditions. This is even more important when you face a survival situation in cold weather. You have to carefully manage your temperature and prevent excessive sweating in any emergency situation. Working hard with every layer on could lead to sweat pooling in your clothes, and once the temperatures drop, hypothermia becomes a dangerous possibility. Never work too hard, even when the panic of survival sets in, and shed layers when you feel yourself getting sweaty or too hot.
The easiest way to think of layering involves:
After doing all you can to survive a cold night, you’ll want to make a fresh push to get out the next day, even if you’re injured. Search for areas with cell service, and call on your knowledge of the area to find roads or other reference points to lead you out. You probably didn’t sleep much if at all through the night, and as soon as the sun rises, it is your signal to get moving. Prepare for the worst and you’ll be able to make it through the night if you do get stuck in a winter survival situation.
Image one and thumb courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.