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Winter Survival Tips – Part Three

Posted by Self Reliance Outfitters on April 08, 2014  

This is part 3 of a 4 part Winter Survival series. If you haven’t had a chance, check out Winter Survival - Part 1and Winter Survival - Part 2.

When in a winter survival situation, you might soon realize that you’re not going to get out of the situation you’re in before nightfall. This means you will have to spend the night outside and will need a warm and dry place to sleep.

Whether or not you are an experienced outdoorsman, there is one need that everyone has and that is the need to be sheltered from the weather. Which brings us to another core principle of winter survival.

3. IF YOU ARE TO MAINTAIN YOUR CORE TEMPERATURE AND STAY DRY, YOU MUST KNOW HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THE ELEMENTS. 

This principal comes from the rule of threes used by many outdoor enthusiasts.

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As you can see, next to oxygen, shelter is the second highest on the list of priorities. Regardless of why you find yourself in a winter survival situation, you must find a way to provide adequate shelter for yourself and for those who may be with you.

Obviously, the best winter survival shelter is one you don’t have to exert unnecessary energy to build. Such as a cave, a rock shelter, a cabin or trail shelter, even an outhouse built by the forest service are all options that should be considered before expending precious calories to make something in which to shelter.

An ideal winter survival shelter should provide three basic needs:

A. IT MUST SHELTER YOU FROM THE WIND.

B. IT SHOULD SHELTER YOU FROM PRECIPITATION.

C. IT MUST PROVIDE SOME INSULATION FROM THE COLD.

So, with these in mind, the next main principle of winter survival is this:

4. IT’S EASIER TO TAKE SHELTER THAN TO MAKE SHELTER, OR IT’S EASIER TO TAKE SOME FORM OF A SHELTER THAN TO MAKE A WHOLE SHELTER.

If you cannot find a natural or man-made shelter in which to spend the night in or wait out a coming storm, you must make one. If you are new to self-reliance you may think that a tent is an ideal way to take shelter with you, but very few people are going to bring a tent along with them everywhere they go. And even if you have a tent, it only provides two of the three basic needs. It will shelter you from wind and precipitation but provides little if any insulation from the cold and you cannot have a fire close enough to feel the heat without endangering the fabric of the tent.

Normally, a tent is used in conjunction with a sleeping bag of the proper temperature rating for the environment it is to be used in. The sleeping bag is what provides insulation from the cold. But, if you have a tent and a winter rated sleeping bag, it’s not winter survival — you’re just camping! The real question is what do you do when you find yourself needing warmth and shelter that is not readily available?

The best shelter to take and make is the composite lean-to shelter. It consists of very small, lightweight, and portable components carried in a small winter survival kit that can be placed in a pocket or pack when needed.

When in a winter survival situation, you can build the composite shelter one of two ways, either in a lean-to or an A-frame style shelter. The typical lean-to shelter is not an adequate winter survival shelter because it is open to the elements of wind and rain on three sides and is not insulated. The typical A-frame/tent style shelter does a better job at shedding water and shielding from the wind but is still open on the two ends and doesn’t allow as much exposure to your fire and is not well insulated. The composite lean-to shelter uses the same configuration as a standard lean-to with an insulated top and sides and partially blocked front. To build an insulated lean-to shelter you will need the following items.

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If using a mylar survival blanket it can be unfolded and used as is. When using a drum liner/garbage bags they must be slit with a knife along the two long sides and duck taped together lengthwise. The advantage of mylar for winter survival is that it reflects heat back to your body from your body and from the fire.

The advantage of the garbage bag is that it can be used as a poncho, to gather debris for insulation, a makeshift hobo pack sack or stuffed with leaves as a ground mat. A heavy-duty garbage bag is truly a multi-purpose survival item. The best idea is to have two garbage bags and one mylar survival blanket as well, but this is winter survival and you have to choose what to bring, as you can’t carry everything.

BUILDING AN INSULATED LEAN-TO SHELTER

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INSULATING YOUR SHELTER

To insulate your shelter, pile leaves and debris on top of the sheeting (being sure not to puncture it) to a depth of six to eight inches. To keep the debris from blowing away, pile several branches on top of the debris. Next, cut small poles of the proper length to match the grade on the sides of the lean-to. Sharpen the bottom of the poles and drive them into the ground on the sides of your shelter approximately six to eight inches apart.

Then, do the same to the front of the shelter from one end to approximately two thirds of the way across. Weave small flexible limbs in and out of the poles on both the sides and the front of the shelter making a loose mat. If you can find them, pine branches work best for weaving. Pile debris against the sides and lay sticks on it to keep the debris from blowing away.

The front should not have debris piled against it as this is toward your fire and you don’t want to create a dangerous situation for yourself by piling a giant tinder bundle in front of your shelter. Try to make the front weave as tight as you can, using green pine branches if possible. On the inside of your shelter, pile leaves and debris or small pine branches several inches thick to lie on. Now after your fire is built you can crawl in and enjoy!

CONSTRUCTING AN A-FRAME SHELTER

The A-frame composite shelter is built much the same way except that it doesn’t need two trees to start with. To build an A-frame shelter you will need two heavy sticks approximately four feet tall lashed together at the top and spread apart to form an “X” and one long ridgepole approximately eight to ten feet long set in the top of the “X” and placed at an angle to the ground and lashed to the two front poles. Then, more poles are laid along the ridge vertically from top to bottom on both sides.

Lay the mylar/plastic sheeting across the top of the ridge, wrap a smooth stone (Or a bobber) in each corner, tie around it with cord and stretch it to the ground and tie it to a wooden peg. The bobbers are uniform and smooth keep the plastic/mylar corners from ripping. (You can use smooth pebbles or stones instead of bobbers but they never seem to be around when you need them.)

Then begin to pile debris to a depth of six or eight inches starting at the bottom and going the top again taking care not to puncture the sheeting. Lay branches on the top to keep the debris from shifting or blowing away. Pile debris on the floor to the proper thickness for a sleeping mat and slide in feet first and get comfortable.

IMPORTANT SHELTER TIPS

Note: In either shelter you should add to the debris on the floor every day or replace it as it will definitely crush down from laying on it and will begin to lose some of its insulating properties. Make sure that your shelter is not in an area that could flood (look for flood litter height in the bushes and trees around you), make sure it’s not underneath any large, dead branches that could fall on you; called “widowmakers,” and ideally it should be about halfway up a slope as the top of a ridge is windy and the bottom of a gully is where cold air condenses and settles. Dig a shallow trench around your shelter to divert water and place your fire a safe but “feelable” distance from the front of it. Make sure to stop and make camp at least two hours before dusk, as you should be able to make the composite shelter in this amount of time.

You may never find yourself in a winter survival situation, but if you do, it’s good to take the basic materials to make a proper shelter. Sure, many people can make shelter without a knife, cord or sheeting, but the author believes that a little preparation goes a long way!  After all, when you get a shelter built and a warm mat to sleep on with a blazing fire out front, it’s not winter survival any more. Now, you’re camping! – by James Bender

Click here to read Winter Survival - Part 1 and Part 2.

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