An escape to the wilderness during winter is a magical experience. The earth is quiet, the crowds have disappeared, and the landscape is breathtaking. But that beauty is unforgiving when one is faced with an emergency survival situation. Being prepared for the worst is the best thing one can do before engaging in any winter related activity. The following short list is by no means complete and does not the take the place of proper survival training but can be the information that keeps you alive in the unfortunate event you are faced with winter survival.
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Let Someone Know Where You Are Going
This requires no training nor technical skill but could absolutely save your life. Telling a family member, friend, or neighbor the area where you are going and when you expect to return is of vital importance. If you have a mapped out route and camping locations to share even better. In case you find yourself trapped you know someone back home can alert the authorities when you do not return. Which leads us to our next tip…
A Charged Cell Phone
A charged cell phone is an invaluable item. If service is sketchy many phones today have SOS only modes that allow the phone to make emergency calls when not connected to a network. Make sure to keep apps closed as they will drain your battery when not in use. Keep the phone in an interior jacket pocket to maintain its’ temperature. I like to use an extra glove to give my phone additional insulation.
Pack a Kit
Having a survival kit goes without question when venturing into the wilderness but even when traveling by vehicle through winter terrain a survival kit should always be kept. One of the first lessons I learned in survival training was to have a butane lighter (or two) in your kit. Simple BIC lighters are more than enough as they are cheap and will help light tinder to start a fire. Even if there is no fuel the sparks can help light tinder.
The fire you make will keep you warm, dry your clothes, treat your water, and give you motivation. But finding tinder in snowy environments to start that fire can be extremely difficult so I keep cotton balls that have been covered with vaseline as an emergency source. Duct tape is also flammable and serves as a great tinder. Duct tape can also prevent snow blindness by fashioning it into makeshift “sunglasses” (think thin slits over the eyes) to block UV rays reflecting off the snow.
I also keep a compass, a multi-tool, waterproof matches, a small rugged flashlight, and a space blanket to maintain body temperature if a shelter cannot be constructed before nightfall and the temperature dips further. I also keep some protein bars for nourishment and iodine tablets to treat water.
Do Not Eat the Snow
Many are surprised to learn that your chance of dehydration during the winter can be much higher than in warmer weather. This is due to exposure to the dry, cool air and your thirst response being diminished. In the cold our bodies conserve heat by sending blood to the core, at the expense of your extremities, which can lead to not feeling thirsty.
In a survival situation it may seem easy to simply eat snow (it’s just frozen water vapor after all, right?) to maintain hydration but this would be a deadly mistake. The snow to water ratio is 10:1 meaning it would take 10 gallons of snow to make one gallon of water. Eating that cold snow would cause our body temperature to drop into hypothermia. Melting the snow and treating it is best though melting ice is better as it yields more water with less heat.