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Winter Survival Tips – Part One

Posted by Self Reliance Outfitters on March 13, 2014  

Winter Survival! The very words conjure up images of snow-laden trees, frozen streams and smoke curling gently upward from a warm fire. The fresh, crisp air coupled with the bare, black branches of leafless trees evoke memories of days long gone, an era long past, when longhunters in their buckskins roamed the vast tracks of wilderness in search of deer, bear and whatever other game was about. It was a time of freedom, of danger and seemingly endless opportunity when a young man with his rifle could make a lasting mark on his world using just his wits and his skills. It was also a time when at any moment the day’s hunt could turn into unexpected winter survival.

We too, in the modern era, with all the gear and tools that we have at our disposal can easily find ourselves suddenly thrust into a winter survival situation. It may be a car sliding off the road in the snow or ice, a hunting trip gone awry or simply a day hike that takes a wrong turn. Whatever the cause, we can easily find ourselves needing to drop into winter survival mode.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR WINTER SURVIVAL

As in any area of life, preparation is the key to success. Never is this more true than in the area of winter survival. While the exact circumstances that lead to the need for winter survival may vary greatly, there are some universal concepts that apply to every situation.

1.  Dress to survive, don’t just dress to arrive.

During cold weather months, many of us leave our warm houses, get into a warm car from a warm garage and drive to a warm destination. This has become so normal for many people that they never entertain the possibility of failing to arrive at that destination because they got stuck somewhere in the middle, unable to continue, forward or backward.

At a bare minimum, one should always plan for the need to walk somewhere in the snow, ice or cold. Good, broken-in, waterproof boots at least six inches high with a fully gusseted tongue, hat and gloves and a windproof, waterproof coat should always either be on you or in the car, not necessarily in the trunk.

It can be a real problem to have to get out and trudge through snow in dress shoes or high heels to get to your gear. By the time you access what you need your feet may be wet and the wind and cold will have gotten you deeply chilled. It may seem inconvenient and unnecessary to keep these items with you all winter and it is true that most of the time you will never need to use them for an emergency, however, remember there’s always that one time and that’s all it takes to put you into an extreme situation where the proper clothing can save your life or the lives of those you love.

Even when hunting or hiking in the winter, when most people are usually geared up for the outdoors, there are a few things that we must pay attention to when getting dressed. First, never wear cotton, especially close to the skin. There’s a reason it has gained the nickname “Death Cloth”. (Note: There are some cotton polyester blends that wick moisture away and dry more quickly, but as a general rule avoid cotton!) Cotton holds moisture, dries slowly, will chill you below a safe core temperature and could ultimately freeze on you if it’s cold enough. Wear synthetics if at all possible, even if it’s a little more expensive than the traditional long johns. A good suggestion is to wear the military grade polypropylene ECWS (Extreme Cold Weather System) or similar products. You can usually find them online, at a surplus store or even at your local retailer. Just be aware that not all clothes are made equal and some can make winter survival difficult or even impossible.

2. Layer your clothing

One thick layer of clothing is never as efficient as several lighter layers. The amount of air trapped between multiple layers of clothing makes for excellent insulation against the cold and also allows you the option of shedding one or more layers as you get hot from walking, climbing or other physical exertion. You should also make sure that the last, outer layer is windproof and waterproof. While there are many manufacturers out there, it’s hard to beat Gore-Tex. (Note: a long strip of quality duct tape taped to the inside of a sleeve or pant leg is a great temporary repair item for waterproof outerwear. Just put a small piece on the inside and outside of the tear or rip and keep on going! You’ll never know it’s there and it will be handy when you need it.)

Speaking of layers, the author knows one person who went on a winter survival camping trip wearing a total of seven layers of clothing without a sleeping bag or a tent — he survived and had a great time as well!

3. Avoid perspiring

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is very important to avoid sweating. In a winter survival situation, moisture is the enemy. Slow your activity down. It is easy when things go wrong to start to panic and begin to rush and hurriedly do tasks that can just as easily be accomplished at a slower pace. When you feel yourself beginning to perspire, take a break, shed a layer or two and calm your spirit. It is good when you find yourself at the beginning of the situation to remember STOP. Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan. Plan your work and then work your plan and go at a sustainable pace that will keep you warm and dry.

Winter Survival Means STOP. Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan

You may not be a longhunter and this may be the 21st century but we can still dress to survive and arrive alive. So, enjoy the winter, knowing that if you need to survive, you can. - by James Bender

Click here to read Winter Survival - Part 2.

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