Cold Weather Survival Skills

Winter and extreme cold present different survival challenges and therefore techniques. Last year, two Canadian hikers were rescued by forest rangers after getting disoriented hiking through deep snow in the Adirondacks and Sgt. Mark Salesse was killed while ice climbing in Alberta after an avalanche swept him away.

Taking some time to learn things like how to properly layer to keep yourself warm, build a shelter, start a fire, and more will ket you possess valuable skills that can save your life. This article teaches you basic survival skills in cold situations.

Here are seven of the most important skills and tips.

Dress in Layers

This is the simplest and most obvious way of keeping your core temperature warm to survive the cold. Multiple layers are better than one thick layer because the air gets more trapped between them

Start with a light wicking layer to keep sweat away from your skin and build up from there. Remember that the outer layer should be wind and waterproof. Add or remove a layer depending on the temperature change. If you are traveling with children a good rule of thumb is to dress them in one more layer than you have on to keep them warm.

Build a Fire in Winter

Stay warm and dry by building a winter campfire with limited supplies. If there’s little snow in your area, shovel what you have aside so that you can start the fire on solid ground. If there’s a thick base or too much snow to push aside, pack it down so that you have a solid platform to put a base of logs to start your fire on.

Then, collect fallen timber which is unburnable and dry. If you have a fire starter, use it. If you don’t, fallen pine needles, pinecones, and bark can act as great sources of kindling. Once you have the fire, keep it going by surrounding it with any logs you haven’t used, so the heat of the fire can help dry them out and provide you with an extra stash to add to the fire as the evening moves on.

Consume Calories

To keep yourself warm, stay active to burn more energy. Then, consume more calories and drink extra liquids to keep your body going. Make sure you always have packed foods with you, or else you’ll have to hunt and forage. It can be as simple as nuts, granola bars, or power bars.

Try to pack Gatorade to keep you more hydrated than how water does. If you don’t have anything with you to drink, clean, melted snow is an obvious way to stay hydrated. If you have a way to boil it, do it to guarantee that it is purified.Β Β 

Find or Create Shelter

A shelter that will keep you out of the wind and snow is necessary to stay warm. You’re lucky if there are fallen trees and caves around, but if you don’t, you have to learn how to build a snow shelter.Β 

To build a snow cave, find a bank of snow that is at least six feet deep. Dig it up into a slope to make an entrance. Make it large enough for you to crawl through. Then, begin digging upward before continuing to dig toward the back of the cave. The main sleeping space should be on a bench at least half a foot higher than the top of the entrance tunnel. Having the entrance as the lowest part of the cave helps to keep warm air inside.

Make sure that the ceiling is at least a foot thick by probing it with twigs. Lastly, poke a small venting hole in the ceiling to ensure a fresh air supply.

Learn How to Treat Hypothermia and Frostbite

Hypothermia occurs when your body reaches below 95 F, causing your vital organs to shut down. Exposure to severe cold causes your body to use up stored energy so it can maintain the right internal temperature. It can occur even in the desert in the evening.Β 

Be delicate when hypothermia strikes since the organs are in a more fragile state. Warm the chest, neck, head, and groin with fire, warm water, and layers and keep the victim still until you arrive at the nearest hospital.Β 

On the other hand, frostbite is more of an external cold problem. It occurs when the skin or body tissue is damaged from freezing. Ice crystals form in and around cells, and if it gets bad enough, those parts of your body will die and might need to be amputated.Β 

To treat it, make sure to remove all wet clothing, elevate the injured area, and soak it in warm water until the skin gets soft. Cover it with a sterile medical cloth and try not to rub it.

Focus and Clear Your Mind

Boredom and despair can make an already terrifying situation unbearable, especially when you’re all alone. Fatigue can distort your thinking and prevent you from making good survival judgments. Try meditation or mindfulness techniques that may help you get through the night.Β 

Signal Distress

Smoke from your fire will provide a major clue to people that someone needs to be rescued. However, for better chances of survival, we recommend you learn how to whistle to signal distress. You can also try to create three piles of leaves or three piles of rocks that can be seen from the air.

Final Thoughts

Being in the cold is such a brutal survival situation. You can be cold at home, in the car, or worse, alone in the wilderness. But with some planning and the addition of carefully chosen survival gear, you can increase your chance of survival.

Practice how to administer first-aid to a frostbite victim, try making a shelter, and exercise how to start a fire so you will be more prepared when it happens. These will test your abilities and show you where you need to expand your knowledge, or if your gear is not good enough.

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