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Failing To Master Basic Winter Survival Can Get You Killed

climbers going down to a steep snowy abyss. Winter storm

As winter approaches, so do the challenges it brings, from plummeting temperatures to adverse weather conditions. Basic winter survival skills are essential to navigate through these harsh months, whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or just looking to stay prepared for unexpected situations. In this guide, we’ll delve into the fundamental principles of winter survival to help you thrive in the cold.

Understanding the Winter Environment

Before you embark on your winter survival journey, it’s crucial to understand the environment you’re dealing with. That means learning about common winter weather patterns in your region.

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There are also some cold weather basics that you need to wrap your head around. For example, winter storms, blizzards and snow squalls aren’t all the same thing. 

  • Winter Storm: This refers to any kind of heavy snow, blowing snow and dangerous wind chills. 
  • Blizzards: The main thing that makes a blizzard isn’t the amount of snow – it’s the visibility. Blizzards are especially dangerous because not only is it extremely cold, you can’t see where you’re going.
  • Snow Squalls: These are quick but very intense snowstorms that are common in the Great Lakes / Rust Belt region. 

Understanding The Science of Cold

There is a science to the cold and the impact of old on the human body. 

The human body only works properly within a narrow temperature range. When the temperature plummets, the body reacts. Blood vessels constrict to reduce heat loss, diverting warm blood away from the skin’s surface to preserve core temperature. This causes numbness in extremities, so you must keep your hands and toes warm if you want to keep them. Prolonged exposure to frigid conditions can cause hypothermia, a dangerous drop in the body’s core temperature. 

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Prior to hypothermia, there’s the danger of frostbite, which can cost you fingers, toes or even entire limbs. There are three levels of hypothermia: 

  • Frostnip: This is the initial stage of cold injury where the skin and underlying tissues freeze but are not yet permanently damaged. Signs include paleness, numbness, and tingling.
  • Superficial Frostbite: In the second stage, the skin and underlying tissues become injured. Signs include hardness, paleness, and blistering, as well as severe pain and numbness.
  • Deep Frostbite: Deep frostbite is far more severe, affecting deep tissues, including muscles, tendons, and even bones. Your skin will turn waxy, white, or bluish-gray, and it may appear hardened. You probably won’t be able to feel anything in the affected area. 

Essential Gear and Clothing For Winter Survival

Proper gear and clothing are your first line of defense against the winter elements.

Layers is absolutely essential for cold weather survival. You want to stay warm and dry at the same time. This means a base layer of moisture-wicking clothing like compression gear (or even pantyhose – yes, really), a midlayer of warm winter clothing (which will create most of your warmth) and an exterior layer of synthetic down, the best material for staying warm and dry at the same time 

Top it off with heavy gloves and a ski mask to help your body maintain its natural warmth whatever the temperature. Snow boots will not only keep your feet warm, they will also make it easier for you to walk in the snow. 

Understanding Winter Shelter

At some point you’re going to have to stop hiking. At that point you need to have a layer of protection between you and the elements. 

Emergency winter tents are a great piece of gear to have. Make sure that you have something designed specifically for winter and not just a general camping tent. 

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Constructing temporary shelters isn’t the hardest thing in the world to do, especially if you have a shovel in your bugout bag – which you should. The main winter shelters include:

  • Snow Caves: This is a simple and effective way to stay warm in the winter months with little more than deep snow. They’re basically a hollowed out area of a snowbank that you can use in the case of a dire emergency.
  • Quiznees: This is like a snowcave, but where a snowcave is a bit like a hole in the ground, a quiznee is more like an igloo. Rather than digging it into the snowbank, you make a snowpile and hollow it out.
  • Lean-Tos: These are basic makeshift tents that can be make out of tarps or similar. Their uses are not just for winter survival – they can be used year round. 

Understanding Fire

In addition to shelter, you’re going to need fire if you’re eout in the elements during the winter. Fire is your lifeline in the winter, providing warmth and a means to cook food, as well as boil water – all of which are essential.

While you might think you can start a fire with sticks, it’s probably best that you carry fire-starting tools in your bugout bag. Sure, matches and a lighter, but also firelighters, flint and other fire making tools. It’s going to make your life a lot easier and take off a lot of stress when it matters. 

Understanding How To Signal For Help In A Winter Storm

Your chances of survival are going to get a lot better if you have a way to signal for help. You should be carrying tools in your bugout bag to help you to make it easier for people to find you. 

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Some common signaling methods include mirrors, whistles and even the fire we discussed above. You can also get more effective lights, such as super bright beacons that can be seen from miles around.

There’s a degree of caution you have to exercise, because this isn’t the Batsignal: you’re going to be letting good guys, bad guys and everything in between know where you are. 

Winter survival is extremely difficult. However, it’s impossible if you haven’t prepared. 

Do you have a passion for winter survival? What are some of the most important things to remember when you’re going out in the winter months? Share your knowledge in the comments below. 

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Tags: , , , , , , , Last modified: October 30, 2023