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Building A Winter Survival Kit

Old man winter has finally arrived and with it the need for an adequate winter survival kit. The snow is falling, the temperatures are dropping and the great outdoors is beckoning. The surreal beauty of the winter landscape is luring many to enjoy its pleasures.

However, many make the mistake of going into this extreme environment without adequate preparation. Whether you’re skiing, sledding or just driving to some appointment, during the winter a simple activity can quickly turn into a winter survival situation.

Make no mistake about it; winter can be both a deceptive and deadly time when it comes to survival. Getting caught in a winter survival situation without proper gear or clothing can do more than ruin your fun – it could take your life!

While no one plans to get into a crisis or emergency during the winter, everyone should have a plan as to what they would do if it ever happens. Having the proper knowledge and well-practiced skills is of utmost importance.

Equally important is having a relatively lightweight winter survival kit put together and carried with you at all times. Following is how to assemble a basic kit winter survival kit and is based upon the type of kit the author has used and recommends. 


When building a winter survival kit, you must have some sort of a bag or backpack in which to carry it. For this kit we chose the MOLLE shoulder sling bagWe also attached both the Molle standard canteen pouch and the Molle round canteen pouch for additional storage.

For added support we used the Last Chance Belt to the Tan Molle Shoulder bag, which then became the waist belt for the winter survival kit. For carrying convenience you can use the single shoulder strap that comes with the Tan Molle Shoulder Bag or you can purchase an inexpensive double shoulder H-harness and attach it to the kit.


Any winter survival kit requires a solid knife that can stand up to the rigors of a harsh environment. For this winter survival kit we included the Bushcraft Mora knife from Mora Knives with fire steel and diamond sharpener.

This knife and fire steel combo work exceptionally well. Coupled with the mini inferno fire starters and some fatwood, it is the perfect way to get a fire going even in a winter survival situation.

Tip: For added cordage we braided a length of paracord and added a lanyard to the fire steel then wound it around the sheath.One can never have too much cordage in a winter survival situation! 


A folding saw is necessary item for any winter survival kit. A saw allows you to buck wood to proper lengths for splitting so that you can get to the interior which on downed wood should be dry. And dry firewood is what you need for firestarting. You can’t go wrong with the Bahco Laplander. While there may be several options out there, this saw is tough and will see you through the situation. Most saws are made of thin and inferior steel and plastic and will bend and break. I highly recommend the Bahco Laplander as your go-to saw in a winter survival scenario.


Yes, you can use the very tough Bushcraft Mora knife to baton wood. However, there is no substitute for a good hatchet. Gone are the days when you could go to the local hardware store and buy a good hatchet. All that you can find nowadays are cheaply made of inferior materials and they will not hold up when you need them the most. Gransfors Bruks or Wetterling are excellent choices for the winter survival kit. Don’t skimp on the price for a good hatchet. Buy it and it will be a lifetime investment that may just help to save your life.

Tip: Bring a sharpening stone. I like the Lansky puck for my hatchet. Keep it sharp.


For the winter survival kit, you need to choose something that is lightweight and multi-purpose. I personally like the poncho/tarp by Terra Nova. Strung up between two trees in multiple combinations or worn over your head/shoulders and kit to keep you dry, this is a durable and necessary item for you to have.

Tip: Be wary of sparks, as they will put holes in the nylon of your shelter. Use duck tape or Seam Seal to repair any unwanted holes or tears.


I highly recommend the Pathfinder Canteen Cooking Set. It is a durable, no-nonsense and practical way to keep yourself hydrated. Made of stainless steel, you can simply fill up the canteen, remove the cap and place it in the coals of your fire to boil water for drinking etc. The added stove and canteen cup are great for cooking and eating. And, it all nests together for one great package which fits in a standard USGI Molle canteen pouch.

Tip: Don’t forget to take a spoon. You already have a knife and any old pointed stick will work for a fork, but a spoon is a really indispensible part of the winter survival kit. It should be stainless steel or titanium, as a plastic spoon will melt in a hot canteen cup, food canister or when stirring your meal over coals.


The 16 oz. stainless steel food canister is the perfect way to take and store food for a winter survival situation. As an added feature, when you add the bottle/bail handle sold at Self Reliance Outfitters, you can even cook in it!  I found that the Pathfinder Wilderness Rations Stew three pack fits perfectly in this container. With this option you have three meals ready to go in your winter survival kit. The Wilderness Rations Stew is freeze dried and comes with a twenty-five year shelf life you can’t go wrong with this choice. And, guess what!  It actually tastes good!


Having your hands free to build shelter or to cook food etc. is a great bonus in a winter survival situation. I recommend the Princeton Tec Eos Tactical headlamp. Compact and only using three triple A batteries with a 121 hour battery life on low, a red lens for preserving night vision, a blue lens for blood tracking and green for hunter safety, waterproof to one meter and shining it’s light for up to 175 feet it’s the perfect choice for the kit.

Tip:  I would recommend that you use lithium batteries in the headlamp. They are lighter, have a longer shelf life and can endure extreme temperatures much better than standard alkaline batteries.


Wool will keep in approximately 80% of your body heat even when wet, doesn’t burn well so you can get closer to your fire (Note that sparks will smolder and burn holes in your wool blanket) and when stretched over head can also be used as a temporary rain shelter.

Tip: Roll up your emergency tarp and plastic ground sheet in the wool blanket and tie the roll using paracord or bank line.


I use a military surplus closed cell foam mattress that I cut down to approximately 17 inches wide. They are very lightweight and tough. This is a very important item to have with you. A lot of your body heat will be lost to the cold ground if you don’t have this half-inch of insulation under you. It is also useful for sitting on when around the fire.


A sleeping bag keeps your body heat in and drafts out. It need not be a large sleeping bag. The super lightweight SOL Escape Bivvy is what I chose for my winter survival kit. It is breathable, fits in the palm of your hand, has it’s own stuff sack and coupled with the wool blanket will keep you fairly warm.


Sometimes you don’t have time to stop and make a fire in order to purify your water. The Aquamira Frontier Pro water filter will do the job. You can drink from an open water source or it will screw onto a standard spring water bottle. It can filter up to 50 gallons of water and deserves inclusion in the winter survival kit.


A minimum of fifty feet of paracord or bank line is necessary for lashing or repairing gear and for putting up your winter survival shelter. It is also useful for building snares etc. A hundred feet would be better. It’s almost impossible to have too much cordage in a survival situation.

Tip: Try to keep from cutting the cordage if at all possible. Small lengths are easily lost. Long lengths are much more useful for a variety of tasks. Between six and ten feet seem to be the proper lengths in my experience.


A first aid kit tailored to your medical needs and those who may be with you.

An extra pair of wool socks. These are useful for makeshift mittens or to put over your boots for added traction in icy conditions.

Duck tape and sail needle. Tip: Use the inner strands from the paracord or untwist the bank line for sewing and repairing your gear.

Contractor garbage bag or drum liner. Useful for gathering debris to further insulate your shelter or to store firewood in to keep it dry, makeshift poncho, additional shelter wind and water proofing etc. I usually pack two of them in my winter survival kit.

Emergency Tarp. The Original Space brand All Weather Blanket is my choice for a winter survival kit. Wrapped up in this blanket for added warmth at night or gathered around one’s shoulders in front of the fire to reflect heat. This is an extremely lightweight and necessary part of my winter survival kit.

Tip: This could be your ground sheet. If so I would pack two.

Ground sheet. The emergency tarp, a piece of Tyvek home wrap, a contractor garbage bag or a fifty five gallon drum liner split lengthwise is necessary to keep ground moisture from rising up and making you wet while you sleep. Pack it and take it and you will be glad you did.

The entire kit weighs less than twenty pounds and is versatile enough for many situations. These items have been used and tested and the author heartily recommends their purchase.

Winter is a wonderful time to get out into the great outdoors and enjoy the environment the Creator made for us. There are fewer people on the trails, the air smells crisp and adventure waits around every bend.

With a little forethought and planning a proper winter survival kit may be put together and enjoyed. (Yes, you should use every piece of gear that you pack so that you are familiar with it and have confidence in it.) Then, go out, roam the wilderness content in the knowledge that if the situation arises, you can rise to the occasion with your winter survival kit.

Written by James Bender

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