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You already know that severe cold temperatures can kill. That’s why shelter is so high on the list of human’s basic survival needs. We’ve all heard the stories over the years or even had a brush with the cold ourselves.
The danger from the cold starts with frostbite and hypothermia, with frostbite over taking your extremities and even striking any exposed face and ears (in below zero temperatures common across much of the Mid West and Alaska and parts of Canada in the winter months) where either you end up in an emergency room or you simply fall asleep from the cold and die.
Bonus: Winter Survival Strategies with Snow Shoes and Skis (see end of article)
Being Equipped For The Cold
Being equipped for the deep cold doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Under Armor makes compression ColdGear, a thermal underwear top and bottom for physical exertion in cold winter temperatures. Though it seems to be a thin, light weight material, it’s strong. It’s thin size makes it a great addition to any survival kit or pre-packed survival backpack (like a get home bag or bug out bag). You can pack a top and bottom into a small container or even a zippered pocket.
In a survival emergency, in deep cold temperatures, you may be faced with a long hike through either snow or simply along a lonely road. Throw on your coldgear (or already have it on if you predict a day of physical exertion) and you are ready to take on the cold (obviously this is just a base layer, you should still be wearing additional layers on top).
2) When worn under your clothing, the non-cotton material in most thermal compression gear (including Under Armour’s ColdGear and other similar products) should wick away sweat from your body caused by exertion (motion and or exercise). This is important because one of the major causes of hypothermia is when sweat freezes underneath our layers of clothing. Material that absorbs up any sweat that you may have will stop the perspiration from freezing, making this kind of material a proven and reliable method for avoiding hypothermia.
Final note: ColdGear can set you back $100 or more, but one outfit (can be easily washed by hand by the way, and without soap, just water) can be worn repeatedly as they are well constructed and very long-lasting.
For any readers without the budget, Wal-Mart (at least a few Wal-Marts in regions known for cold temperatures) sells much cheaper polypropylene long underwear and a long sleeved top that may do a good job also, though I can’t vouch for how much life you might get out that Wal-Mart pair.
(Compare online reviews if you have any concerns.)
Polyester And Wool Long Underwear
Two important things to note about polyester long underwear or wool long underwear:
1) It will give you a huge boost in insulating power when you wear either one in your sleeping bag, giving you a comfortable night’s rest when surviving in the wilderness (or just when you’re camping) in winter months.
2) If you happen to have too many layers on and are a bit too warm in your sleeping bag, the non-cotton material in either polyester or wool will wick away sweat from your body, making it a proven and reliable method for avoiding hypothermia that can quickly be caused by sweating while wearing cotton clothing in the cold (see comments regarding Under Armour ColdGear above). However, the appropriate step to take is to simply shed 1 or 2 layers if you notice you are too warm and starting to sweat or simply notice that you’re warmer than is comfortable. In extremely cold situations, sweat could kill you – particularly when you’re sleeping, so it’s important to avoid sweating unnecessarily whenever you can.
Choosing Your Tent
Better think again before reaching for your summer or light-weight tent and expecting it to hold up in winter weather. Heavy winds and rain can either knock your tent over, rip off your rain fly, or saturate the floor and seams, leaving you cold, wet, and miserable – and on the brink of hypothermia.
A 3 season tent like this Coleman Hooligan storm tent can go a long way to help you stay dry should a spring or fall storm roll in. I specifically bought this tent because it’s cheap and I wanted something to keep me dry in the rain and the wind. It has a unique construction, providing ventilation around the base of the tent, as well as has a decent size vestibule (area outside of your main living area that is completely covered), allowing you a place to store your survival gear out of the rain. It is easy to set up with one large, thick pole that runs through the center.
Also, it’s a good idea to always have some paracord with you in case you need to secure your tent more by tying it down. This may be needed in conditions of heavy wind, rain, or snow (or a combination of these).
Paracord is the same stuff that they use in parachute cords – it’s essentially extremely tough and durable string (if you don’t already have access to paracord, we recommend you pick up a paracord survival bracelet – it’s the most convenient way to make sure you always have some cord with you for emergencies).
Coleman Hooligan 2-Person Tent With Modifications
I made a couple modifications to my Coleman Hooligan, spending less than $50 on these mods, easily converting this 3 season tent into a winter 4 season tent.
Canvas Tarp – A Proven Winter Insulator
So, what were my modifications? I bought two cheap canvas tarps (keyword is “canvas”; these are not the more commonly sold light weight polypropylene tarps) and – with my Coleman tent’s outer rain fly removed – layered these canvas tarps over each other, reaching almost completely around my Coleman’s inner mesh layer. The rain fly then went over the top, and from the outside, it’s not evident that I have this canvas middle layer.
Canvas traps in heat and it also serves as a thick wall to reduce any penetrating wind chill.
Canvas can be purchased that is waterproof / water resistant, but at the size I needed that was more money than I wanted to spend. So, I bought a can of Scotch Guard and proceeded to spray the first of the canvas tarps I purchased (earlier in the day and away from the tent) with Scotch Guard, before getting my canvas tarps in place for the first cold night ahead.
Canvas is a proven winter insulator and used by many Alaskan hunters and others who venture outdoors in places like Montana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin where winter temperatures can be -40 degrees (that’s negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit) and even colder with wind chill. In Alaska (and sometimes the Great Plains in harsh winters) you can also see -60 degree temperatures with wind chill. Without shelter or extreme cold weather clothing, you are dead at that temperature within a short period of time.
These men (and more than a few women) keep themselves warm and toasty in their canvas tents, which are commonly outfitted with small, wood stoves and pipe ventilation (canvas can burn and so most of these people are keen to fire safety and install these stoves with a few safeguards like a protective heat shield around the base of the stove and or nearby wall.)
I’m not about to throw a wood stove in my 2 person tent. That’s too much heat for my tent and would take up too much space. A wood stove is not an option here.
Instead, I looked for a propane based tent heater and compared the Mr. Heater Little Buddy (retails approximately $70) to the Coleman SportCat tent heater. Reviews and product description gave Coleman ($157 retail currently) a much longer use per one 16 ounce can of propane than Mr. Heater Little Buddy, which will burn up a can of propane in 4-5 hours.
I have made one 16 ounce can of propane last 3 – 4 days at 3 – 4 hours use per day, approximately, with the Coleman SportCat (rated to burn through one can of propane in 14 – 15 hours).
So, though the Coleman is nearly $100 more, considering that a single can of propane will last nearly 3 times as long compared to Mr. Heater Little Buddy’s use of propane, the Coleman is a smarter buy because you can haul a lot less propane if going out for multiple days than you would need for Mr. Heater Little Buddy.
A Note On Tent Heater Safety
What’s unique about both of these heaters is that there’s no risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, due to the way these heaters burn on the inside of the unit. But … to safely use either one a small amount of ventilation is needed in your tent as both of these heaters will burn up oxygen and you can be poisoned by too much carbon dioxide left in the air once that oxygen is gone.
The Importance Of Ventilation
Ventilation is a good thing to have in a winter tent shelter (which is as simple as leaving a small opening where ever you can create it to allow fresh air into your tent).
You see, without ventilation, your breath (which is trapped in an enclosed tent) will turn into condensation on the walls and roof, and that in turn will turn to ice (and then snow as it falls from the walls and roof) – and now you are wet and cold and so is your gear.
With or without a tent heater, ventilation is a key element of a winter shelter. So, when either of these tent heaters calls for ventilation, it is not a bad thing.
Trust me, you will get plenty of heat (too much heat, if might seem at times, if you’re using canvas tarps – described above — as an insulating layer in your shelter), and that will help keep you warm (sometimes extremely warm) in cold winter temperatures.
A Few Tips:
1. Make Your Propane Last
Make your propane last by only running your tent heater when you are awake in the evening and then being careful to turn it off just before you go to bed.
2. Purchase A Cold Weather Sleeping Bag “System”
If you’re properly prepared for the cold, you should have a cold weather sleeping bag system (which includes a bivy sack, which will help protect your inner sleeping bag layers from any outside biting chill or accident with rain or water that can happen).
One popular and proven cold weather sleeping bag system is a military patrol bag now being sold as military surplus gear.
These bags are made from synthetic materials – not made with a goose down filler, which can lose all insulating properties if your bag gets wet – and thus the patrol bag above is a smarter choice when faced with potentially wet and cold winter conditions. A mummy style shape, these conform better to your body than a rectangular shaped sleeping bag.
More importantly, two layers of this system are equipped with drawstring cords that will pull the head of each bag around your head like a hood, leaving only your face exposed, to prevent enclosing your head within the bag while you sleep (which is bad in cold conditions – your breath will condense inside the bag and sleeping bag get wet, thus the reason for the opening left by the drawstring hood).
A look at brand name down sleeping bags can come with a price of nearly $400 for a bag that’s only rated to 20 degrees. The patrol bag, on the other hand, when both inner bags are snapped together and have the outer bivy in place, are rated from -10 to -30 degrees. If a wind chill brings you to below that (let’s say -40 to -50 degrees), your thermal compression underwear (mentioned at the top of this article), wool socks, and a wool stocking cap or fleece balaclava will work as an additional layer to defend against the cold.
3. Protect Electronics And Water Bottles
… and liquid based hygiene items by sleeping with them next to your body. In temperatures well below freezing you can wake up with a frozen water bottle and now you’re not going to have anything liquid to drink. Sensitive electronics (if you have any) can be damaged by the cold (read product specs for anything you might be carrying). The solution for both is to wrap these sensitive items in a stocking cap (or wool sock) and simply place inside your sleeping bag, where your body heat will keep these items warm through the night and protect from freezing.)
4. If There’s A Chance Of Snow, Create Your Ventilation Near The Top Or Mid-Section Of Your Tent
Ventilation along the bottom of your tent can be blocked by snow – and now you’re in a sealed tent. If using a tent heater like either mentioned above, you are now in danger of oxygen depletion. During severe snowfall you may want to bring a section of curved pvc pipe and suspend it through the tent window (just about all tents have zippered windows), with the angle of the pipe pointing down so that snow cannot fall inside and potentially block the opening) and then position the pipe in place using 24 gauge wire (or 20 gauge wire) or “military spec” military spec paracord.
In most outdoors situations, you’ll want to have a really great survival multi-tool with you in order to cut, twist, and saw materials. This kind of tool is perfect for cutting paracord and for manipulating pvc piping in the manner recommended above.
5. Large Pee Bottle
One thing that you will not want to do is leave the confines of your tent in the middle of a freezing night to urinate, should nature call. That’s a fast way to lose body heat, and it’s a hassle. Keep a large bottle (you want a bottle big enough should you need it more than once that night) inside your tent that you can relieve yourself in easily. Women have a challenge as urinating in a bottle is not as easy for women as it is for men. Luckily, there’s a solution – for serious outdoorswomen, a company called Go Girl sells female urination devices designed for this purpose..
6. Warning About Bottled Water
Make sure that any bottled water (or pee bottle) has a screw-top cap. In the dark of the night, after your lanterns and flashlights are off, you can knock over bottles if having to fumble around in the dark for any reason. If you spill any liquids in your tent – because of weak bottle caps that can easily pop off – that can spell disaster during the winter months. You must take excessive caution to keep your sleeping bag and evening clothing dry. Wet gear can mean a fast ticket to hypothermia – not unless you have propane and a tent heater on hand to keep you warm through the night until your gear is dry (see above).
7. Packing The Weight Of Extra Gear
A tent heater and propane, as well as two canvas tarps (rolled up for transport) will mean a few more pounds than a typical backpacker is accustomed to. If there’s more than one of you, have one person carry your tent and a few cans of propane, and then the other can carry your tent heater, a few more cans of propane, and those rolled up canvas tarps.
Worth mentioning here: Regarding that tent, pack along a few extra tent stakes (large nails that are sold as tent stakes can work a lot better and last a lot longer than the out of the box stakes that might come with whatever tent you buy – even the Coleman Hooligan 2 person tent mentioned above). I pack heavy duty metal stakes and an actual hammer – the claw end of a hammer can be used to break up hard soil and dig fire pits, as well as shallow impressions in the ground and even a small trench around your tent, should a torrential rain fall. However, you could also choose to pack a survival hatchet instead.
Most hatchets have a second end that is designed for hammering (and specifically for hammering tent stakes into the earth). The best survival hatchets can also be useful for digging. A shallow trench dug around the base of your tent, and a straight trench (just a couple inches wide) leading away from it on the downside, can help keep water from pooling – and help ensure your campsite stays dry.
8. Use A Heavy Duty Space Blanket As Your Tent Floor
Purchase a strong, heavy duty space blanket that is durable and good for repeat, long term use. Use this heat reflective tarp on the floor of your tent, reflective side up. A lot of heat is lost within a tent, robbed by the cold ground underneath, and this is a reliable way to help conserve heat within your tent – whether that’s body heat or, in colder temperatures, heat from a propane tent heater.
9. Concerned About Extreme Cold? Going Above And Beyond With Tent Insulation
More than a few hunters and outdoorsmen might think that some of my tips take the “survival” out of surviving. But I would prefer to sleep comfortably in the deep cold and take a couple extra steps than spend a night cold and miserable because 50 mile per hour winds suddenly hit as a record breaking winter storm front sweeps through the area. Record breaking storms do hit and there’s nothing wrong with being a bit more prepared for the worst. Real survivalists know that the goal is survival, not to ‘look cool’. If push comes to shove, you make it work with whatever gear you have, but if you have the opportunity to carry gear with you, why wouldn’t you?
Additional modifications can be made to your tent shelter than just the canvas tarps and space blanket tarps described above. A roll or 2 of Reflectix Insulation (and foil tape or just duct tape to tape 2-3 sections together in rows to go on the inside of your canvas) can be cut down to size and walls built that are the size of your tent shelter. It’s a proven insulator, if used right, and may have even better properties (due to it’s thickness and use ratings) than that space blanket above.
What you choose to go with is up to you – having both on hand means you’re prepared to insulate more than one shelter or you simply have a back up should you find that one works better than the other, or both work better when used in conjunction. Be creative – you might surprise yourself by what you can come up with to enhance your shelter’s ability to retain heat through the night.
Be sure to remember the importance of adequate ventilation for both a tent heater and to help prevent any condensation build up created by your breath while you sleep.
10. Protect Your Hands
Wool gloves can be worn inside your tent when waking up to a cold morning (keep them next to you inside your sleeping bag while you sleep), and you will of course want these outside your tent.
Choose a pair that conforms to each finger and is the right thickness that you still have use of your hands, should you have to work with any tools, cooking gear, tent zippers, paracord, etc.
An otherwise oversize glove can make using your hands for complicated tasks difficult, thus the recommendation for a good wool glove liner that conforms to your fingers, and that you can wear as a stand alone glove for a short while (a secondary outer glove should be worn when in the cold for an extended period of time, or simply a glove “system” with it’s own liner). Search for mountaineering gloves or work gloves for sub zero temperatures. Expect to pay $100 – $200 but if you think you or someone you love could possibly be in the deep cold for any length of time, the investment – like a few of the items above – can each be life savers and tools for living comfortably in the deep cold of a harsh winter that might otherwise take your life. Remember, without heat and electricity, a lot of people have died from the cold over the years, and not just the elderly.
Protecting your hands in the cold is an essential to cold weather survival. Just about every task relies on the effective use of your hands. From pulling up zippers on your sleeping bag(s), to lighting your cooking tools and heating tools, or even building a fire if you have adequate materials to burn, if your hands experience frost bite or a deep chill makes using your fingers nearly impossible, follow emergency steps for getting heat and blood flowing back to your fingers before frost bite sets in.
A Few Tricks To Mention
Hand Warmers – If you lose your gloves or for any reason they’re suddenly wet and no use, put two emergency hand warmers into two wool socks, and then place a sock over each hand to prevent frostbite and keep them warm for up to several hours. These are common items with skiers, snowboarders, hunters, fishermen, campers, and more than a few military personnel.
Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads – Alpine backpackers and mountaineers know that a good bed pad is essential for insulating their sleeping bag from the cold snow underneath their tent. Used with a heavy duty space blanket or roll of Reflectix insulation (or even just the heat reflector used in cars in hot climates) and your tent will retain even more inside heat.
Egg Crate Bed Padding – At Wal-Mart you can get a twin size egg crate bed pad for $20 approximately. It may not be good for backpacking as it’s just a bit to bulky, but with paracord it can be trimmed down to size. If you’re car camping – either sleeping in your vehicle or simply pitching your tent near your vehicle – an egg crate bed pad works as a great insulator from the cold ground – use it with your self-inflating bed pad for a layered effect.
Snow Shovel – An essential for off road driving in snowy conditions or if you have a car easily trapped by a few inches of snow. Throw this in the back of your car so you can quickly dig yourself out. Car wheels spinning? Carry 4 heavy duty floor mats commonly seen in full size trucks and throw each floor mat in front of each wheel, after you’ve dug yourself out with that snow shovel. If you place a floor mat directly in front of each tire your tire will have something to grip, and you can quickly drive yourself out of a bad situation. When back on firm ground, park your car and walk back for your floor mats, so you have them for a future emergency (this also can work in mud and sand – if you’re stuck down on a beach for example.)
See More of Our Articles on Survival Gear and Supplies
Here at Secrets of Survival we’ve got a number of gear guides, recommendations for survival gear and supplies. If you need more inspiration when it comes to survival themed gifts, check out some of our other articles about the best survival gear you can get your hands on:
The winter gear explorers wear into the Arctic Circle and down in Antarctica are proof that with a little money investment a person can comfortably outfit themselves for the deep cold. I have a lot of respect for the men working on oil rigs and Bering Sea fishing boats in the winter months. Freezing rain, sub zero temperatures, bitter wind chill and yet a lot of these guys are in the weather getting their work done, for hours at a time.
Know that fleece, wool, polyester, acrylic, polypropylene, nylon, the Under Armour ColdGear line and “Arctic” products made by Carhartt are all made from proven fibers and synthetics that work great in cold weather.
Think about your feet, legs, arms, torso, face, eyes (tinted ski goggles help prevent snow blindness and block bitter wind chill at the same time) and finally, your hands, possibly the most important body part to protect — if you lose function in your hands, good luck lighting that match that you’re going to need to ignite that propane in your tent heater or even just the fuel your carrying for melting water once it has froze.
If you’re not familiar with Jack London’s short story, To Build a Fire, you should read this one. Jack London spent a lot of time in Alaska and up around the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush and passes on a great illustration of how the winter wilderness can take your life if you’re not careful, and you’re not properly prepared. If you’re interested in bushcraft survival more generally or in particular looking to know more about wilderness survival, make sure you check out some of the other articles on this site.
Bonus: Use Snow Shoes and Skis to Escape the Worst in Winter
Germany seizes power in Austria in the early 1930s, leading to some of the first Jews and non-Germans of what would later become WWII, sent to prison camps, many for later execution by the Nazis.
A number of Austrians soon became aware that Jews were being killed. These were their neighbors and periodically even close friends. It was only a matter of time before they might be next. Many took flight. If it was winter, they took flight in winter. Having endured many harsh winters over the years, they understood how to survive cold winters, and instinctively knew what they had to do if they wanted to survive.
That knowledge, coupled with prior experience, saved many lives. Today, on SecretsofSurvival.com, we hope to pass that knowledge onto you.
James Bond showed us in a number of his movies just how effective skis can be in spy craft and actual combat in the snow. But this isn’t Hollywood fiction. Fast-forward to the modern day…
Snow shoes and cross country skis are life saving survival tools for safely navigating a snowy environment, from Alaska, to the Yukon, to Siberia, the Himalayas and the Andes Mountains, and even science and military operations in places like Antarctica or even Greenland (which isn’t green, it’s covered in snow and glacial ice).As mentioned above, many Europeans were able to escape from the Nazis on skis and snow shoes. If you didn’t have a way to escape during winter, most likely you were trapped in your home by snow, and now a Nazi prisoner of war. That’s why prepping with the right cold weather survival gear is so important.
Winter Prepping With Specific Winter Survival Gear
Snow shoes, cross country skis, and a bit of practice with both open up an entire new world of opportunities for hobbyists, homesteaders, survivalists and preppers alike.
The Swiss Alps … Safety In World War 2 From Germans
Back to Europe, World War 2 … residents who had skis and or snow shoes were periodically able to escape Nazi forces by doing something they’d been doing all their life… taking off into the snow for days or weeks at a time. Many then escaped to other countries, such as Switzerland, that the Nazis had decided would be to hard to invade due to those rugged mountains, the Alps, and due to the fact the Swiss army was trained for alpine warfare and had fortifications in place in mountain passes adjacent to Germany. Because of those mountains, Switzerland escaped Nazi aggression.
Note to self: Mountains can stop a pursuing army in it’s tracks. If you can survive in the mountains, even the most well armed and well trained forces will find it difficult to get to you.
Mountains Can Be A Safe Haven From … Foreign Military, Hostile Forces, Rampant Crime
Having essential emergency tools and supplies and a bit of know-how can make mountains your safe haven from trouble that may be unfolding down in the low lands.If your life is on the line in the early days of a post-collapse, isn’t it worth the extra effort now to be prepared? If you follow the advice we give today, and you invest in some basic tools for winter survival, you will be light years ahead of most preppers. If an SHTF hits in winter, those in the Mid-West and across most of the northern states typically covered in snow may find themselves up s***’s creek if they don’t have snow shoes (the right ones) or cross country skis that they know how to use to get around.
Don’t Get KO’d By ‘Old Man Winter
Survival isn’t something to take lightly. Army Green Berets, Navy SEALS, and British SAS all make use of the top survival tools, which are different depending on specific situations. Specific types of survival gear are proven tools that you can turn to in a time of need. After all, your life is on the line. Without the right gear – survival backpack, gloves, parka, boots, sleeping bag, etc., you may not make it very far.
First Time On Snow Shoes Or Cross Country Skis?
Navigating Snowy Terrain In The Toughest Conditions
Winter can be brutal. Even in some seemingly warmer regions of the world snow, ice, and freezing rain can wreak havoc across the region. Getting to the store, to a friend’s house, or even simply surviving these conditions can overwhelm the most hardened souls.
Endless Stories Of Failed Winter Trips
While the popular news media may not cover these stories often, they happen time and time again every single year. Even the most rugged and experienced outdoorsmen comes face-to-face with their fate, with conditions beyond their control. Mostly it happens during the heart of winter where snow is measured in feet rather than inches.
Lack Of Experience Is Dangerous And Foolhardy
Traversing a short distance of freshly fallen snow can be exhausting for the inexperienced. It can be treacherous. The snow can hide stable ground from shear ledges. Staying on top of the snow or cutting through it is a skill people often overlook, but one that has been instrumental in the survival of many men and women, even children through the ages.
Start Building Your Experience And Fitness On Show Shoes First
The next time the snow comes down, get out and start hiking around your yard and neighborhood. Find a gentle hill, covered by snow, and get a feel for hiking uphill and downhill both on snow shoes. As your fitness improves, in the coming days get yourself a plastic sled, and throw 20 pounds of gear on it, and start practicing towing it behind you. You will quickly build your fitness level and your coordination on snow shoes will improve, and absolutely your confidence level.If it’s still winter and you live near a ski resort or trail system, now get out and start taking to the trails. Get the kids involved and make it a family snow day. Just like that you are putting yourself and family through a winter survival course, no instructor needed.
Snowshoeing First, Then Cross Country Skiing
Many parts of the world view snowshoeing and cross country skiing as leisure activities, but they can be invaluable survival skills in the art of survival. One quick glance at either of these activities causes many to assume it’s easy to learn and manage, but that first step (snow shoes) or glide (skis) in either gear highlights just how difficult it actually is for a newbie.There’s an art and skill to efficiency of motion through or on top of the snow. Like pushing through flowing rivers waste deep or traversing an unfriendly, remote part of the world where paths have not yet been forged, it requires a plan, determination, and experience to succeed. Practice, practice, practice. You are now on your way to becoming an expert, and completely comfortable on snow shoes and cross country skis both.
Common Regions For Snowshoeing And Cross Country Skiing
Wherever there’s snow, cross country skiing is possible. That’s not necessarily the case for snowshoeing, as you need a little more than just a few inches of snow to make this activity enjoyable.Around the world there are numerous locations ripe for some incredible cross country and snowshoeing experiences. Keeping in mind that wherever you can go hiking during the summer, you can probably go snowshoeing in the winter, but you need to be aware of the terrain, dangers, and other factors in order to be safe.
Some of the most scenic places for these activities are:
• Monashee Mountains in British Columbia, Canada
• West Glacier, Montana, USA
• Igloo Village, Krvavec, Slovenia
• Patagonia, Argentina
Wherever you have flat or hilly terrain, as long as you get a decent amount of snow, you can enjoy cross country skiing or snowshoeing. Some of the best mountain ranges are:
• The Sierra Nevada Mountains,
• The Rockies, especially Teton Range,
• The Appalachian Mountains in New York,
• The Japanese Alps,
• The Andes Mountains in Chile and Argentina,
• The Chugach Mountains in Alaska, USA,
• The Southern Alps in New Zealand,
• Coast Range in British Columbia, Canada,
• North Cascades in Washington State, USA,
• The Alps in Europe,
• The Himalayas in Asia.
How Prepared Are You For Snow?
One thing survivalists and preppers alike often discuss is the importance of being prepared. You can’t possibly expect to suddenly face a dire situation and be able to get through it without much trouble if you have no direct experience with it. So what makes some people assume they could simply strap on a pair of cross country skis or snowshoes and just cut right through the tough conditions?
Assuming The Worst – Major City Obliterated
Let’s assume for a moment that San Francisco or Los Angeles are obliterated one day by a terrorist nuke. Now millions of Californians are going to hit the roads in the largest evacuation in history, heading east toward the Sierra Nevada mountain range (site of the infamous Donner Party disaster) and also north toward the Siskyous, passing Mount Shasta and heading into Southern Oregon toward Grant’s Pass.
If this evacuation happens deep in winter, potentially at the same time as one of many periodic winter storms, millions of people are going to be stopped in their tracks, not able to cross over the mountains, even as potentially deadly winds carrying radioactive fallout head in their direction.
Only those prepared to abandon their vehicles and head out on skis and or snow shoes will be able to continue. Others may try on foot, but freeze to death in just the first few hours, having exhausted themselves and simply given up, a trek on foot just too difficult in the snow.
Do You Live Near The Rockies, Cascade Mountains, Or Appalachians? This Could Also Happen To You
There may be times when driving is simply not possible. There may be times when access to fuel runs dry. Cars, trucks, quads, and snowmobiles won’t do much good if there’s not enough fuel on hand. In some situations it may not be safe to get in or on a vehicle and head out to whatever destination you have in mind.That’s why it’s a good idea for survivalists and preppers to become familiar with snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Being able to get through these tough conditions one day could be a matter of survival and it’s often unpredictable. Many of us alive today wouldn’t be here if our ancestors hadn’t escaped the Nazis as they came to power.
Stored In Your Vehicle, Ready At A Moment’s Notice
Those snow shoes and cross country skis can be stored in your vehicle along with the bug out kit in your car or your get home bag. Then you’ll be ready for a major bug out even when other traffic is stopped in it’s tracks by mountain snow. No big deal for you. Strap on your gear and go.
Alaskan Survival Story
A family was vacationing in Alaska one early spring month. They anticipated the possibility of snow and cold temperatures and they packed up plenty of coats, hats, and gloves. They paid attention to the weather forecasts, and took a tour of the mountains by car. Suddenly a strong wind blew in a gale and snow began to fly. Whiteout conditions quickly enveloped them and they were overcome. Unprepared for this, their car finally couldn’t cut through the piling snow, nor could they see where the road ended and the wilderness began. They hunkered down, huddled together, and waited.
By the time the storm ended, they were buried under three to four feet of snow. They had no idea how long it could be before a snow plow or any vehicle found them; they were not on any major roads.
The father decided to hike back down the road to get help. Before he had gone a mile, he was exhausted. Pushing through the snow was tougher than he could have imagined. It was heavy! He kept pressing forth because he wanted to protect his family.
By the next day the mother and two kids were rescued. The father’s body was recovered two weeks later; he had wandered off the road and gave up and froze to death.
This family hadn’t expected these conditions, but at the same time they didn’t prepare for their possibility. What could have happened if they had snowshoes? The walk would have been far easier as he would have stayed above the snowpack, instead of forcing his way through.
Snowshoes And Cross Country Skis Are Survival Tools
Being prepared for winter means understanding the most important aspects of the tools you’ll need to do it. Having cross country skis, snowshoes, the right winter coats, hats, gloves, and other garments are all critical to successfully getting through even the toughest winter conditions.Men and women survive the brutal cold of Antarctica every year. They rely on the best of everything we just mentioned. If you want to keep abreast of the best ways to survive those long, drawn out and viciously cold temperatures, endless snow and ice, or other wintry conditions, take stock of what you have now and what you should consider having.
More Winter Survival Gear for Extremely Cold Weather
Without a solid, warm winter coat, it won’t take long before sub-freezing temperatures begin to lower your core body temperature. When that begins to happen, your extremities will get colder (as body heat is conserved for vital organs) and you’ll begin losing energy. Prepping for winter survival isn’t cheap — you need expedition rated gear, which is a major step up from most of what you may have currently in your closet. Arc-teryx Camosun Parka, North Face McMurdo II Parka, and Canada Goose Expedition Parka are all great winter coats for outdoor trekkers.
You may get away with a highly rated parka coat from Caterpillar, which is easily two to four hundred less than the parkas previously mentioned. What you spend is up to your budget of course, but when it comes to winter survival preps, top quality is the safest way to go.
Sometimes you can find some of this gear second hand, so consider that path also if you don’t have much to spend. You may get lucky and find a top notch parka for several hundred less than if it was purchased new. Maybe one of your relatives even has a hand-me down. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
If you’re not needing to traverse some serious snowy conditions, but maybe already flattened paths, a good pair of boots is essential. You might consider Hunter Cruise Short Rain Boots, Sorel Men’s Caribou Boots, or the Vasque Snowburban UltraDry.
Your hands are essential to survival. Consider Outdoor Research Lucent Heated Gloves, Gordini Gauntlet Gore-Tex Gloves, Eddie Bauer Guide Trigger Mitts, Mavic Cosmic Pro Wind Glove, or Black Diamond Enforcer Gloves.
What About Those Snowshoes And Cross Country Skis?
When choosing snowshoes such as these Chinook Trekkers, there are some factors to keep in mind. Some are specifically designed for women or children, so you want to pay attention to those details when shopping. Considering that you’re likely to be carrying a somewhat heavy backpack at times, it’s better to choose a size of snowshoe rated for at least 50 pounds or more than what you weigh, which can be used even when you’re snowshoeing without any gear on your back.Larger snowshoes are easily more cumbersome to learn on, but if you practice on a larger size long enough, especially with a backpack on, they will seem a lot more normal to you and able to carry you a far distance in an emergency.
How much you weigh will be a factor. The more you weigh, the more important it is to have larger frames to keep you on top of the snow pack.
Your shoes make a difference
The type of winter shoes you’ll wear is important because this could affect the size of the bindings. Not all of your winter footwear will work with the snowshoes you choose, so make sure to wear the boots you’ll use when trying on the right size snowshoe.
No, this is not a play on words. Crampons are for traction. They dig into hard packed snow, and even ice, like little spikes. The icier or tougher the terrain, the deeper the crampons should be.
Terrain Will Be Important
Depending on where you’ll be snowshoeing, you may need different snowshoes. If you’re going for simple flat paths, gentle terrain snowshoes would be fine. If you’re planning on something a bit more ‘rugged,’ you’ll need something more capable of steep terrain, snowshoes. You could also consider more versatile snowshoes for varying degrees of difficulty. Your skill level will also matter, so take that into account when choosing the right snowshoes for you.
About Those Cross Country Skis
Width, length, and other factors matter for an avid cross country ski enthusiast. For the best glide on groomed terrain, choose a narrower, longer ski. For fresh pack snow, you’ll want to think about a wider ski. Also, consider weight of the ski. The heavier the cross country skis, the more quickly you’ll tire out.
Staying Safe For Winter Excursions
Whether you call them excursions, adventures, or simple hikes, during winter (or any time of the year, really), conditions can change quickly. During winter, there are far more risk factors to consider than during summer. Avoid regions where avalanches are not just possible, but probable. If the area experienced heavy snow recently and now it’s warming up (even though the air temperature may be below freezing, the sun can still warm the top layer of snow), avalanche risks increase. Avoid hiking or skiing in areas where the risk of avalanche is considered high.
Avoid dangerous terrain. Unless you’re an avid and experienced winter outdoorsman, don’t bother navigating along the edge of a cliff, for example. What may appear to be safe could be nothing more than a snow ledge and will collapse under your weight, sending you plummeting to your end.
Another big factor to take into account is the importance of shelter and fire in cold, winter conditions. The colder it is, the more important these survival basic needs are – which means that you’ll need the right tools to be able to cut and chop wood and create wood shavings (for fires and shelter-building). That means having a survival hatchet (and ideally a survival multi-tool as well). You’ll also need tarp and a paracord survival bracelet for the ‘walls’ of your shelter, and to secure your shelter properly. You’ll also need some way to spark a fire – either a survival lighter or a ferrocerium rod. We prefer ferrocerium for cold, winter-y conditions because they can spark even in wet and windy conditions. Check out our post about the best ferro rods if you want to learn more.
Bring Along Safety Supplies For Winter Survival
As in the story we saw earlier, things can change quickly. Bring along a single-person waterproof bivvy sack (or two person) winter-rated tent in case you need to ride out a blizzard, squall or end up staying out later than expected. A cold weather sleeping bag like this military modular sleeping bag system is also a good idea.
MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), freeze dried calorie-rich backpacker meals or other items from this list of the best survival foods, several survival lighters (stored close to your body so they are not rendered useless by bitter cold temperatures), headlamp, and survival two way radio or GPS beacon (if it’s still working) are other key items that you should have with you. In the event you get lost or have to travel overland for several days, you should be aiming to set up camp in a new place every day before night fall as you move along your route. Slow and steady wins the race here – exerting yourself too much in extreme winter conditions could very well kill you.
Realize: This isn’t advice only for preppers concerned about a collapse. Never underestimate just how quickly a fun day out hiking can turn deadly at higher elevations when you encounter snow, or how a drive in a winter storm can send you off the road and down a ravine, where you are stuck in the freezing snow for several hours and no one looking for you.
You may not need any of those extra provisions and could certainly assume it’ll be easier hiking (or driving) without them, but as we mentioned earlier, there are hundreds of cases every year of people getting stuck, lost, or otherwise stranded during winter who are completely unprepared for it. Several people die in winter conditions every year — even at home during an extended loss of electricity.
Be prepared for the worst and don’t become a statistic.
Pulling A Sled Behind Your Skis Or Snowshoes
If you have a lot of gear, a sled could be an option for you. Check the terrain first, though. If you’re going through steep slopes, rocky terrain, or extremely narrow trails, this might not be feasible. You may be better off sticking to just a survival backpack. Attach the sled to your backpack’s hipbelt. This is the most convenient method that alleviates stress and pressure from your back.
If you’re opting to the sled instead of a backpack, then get yourself a chest harness. Ropes or rigid poles? How you attach the sled to your backpack or chest harness is up to you. Rigid poles will make it easier for you to maintain control, especially as you go downhill. Rope absorbs shock well and are affordable, but they do nothing to keep that sled from running you over.
Stow the heaviest items in the center of the sled. Put the lightest items near the front.
When Will You Get Started?
Snowshoeing, cross country skiing, or hiking in the winter can be a great deal of fun. More importantly, it can help prepare you for some treacherous conditions that winter can throw at us almost any time. If you’re a survivalist, if you truly want to be able to survive winter, even if it’s rarely ever snowing or cold where you live, this is how you can stay prepared and ready for whatever the weather or mountains throw your way.