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Cold Weather Survival

Surviving cold weather conditions is the stuff of which whole books are written and movies are made. Even highly trained deep wilderness experts have been lost to the overwhelming and unrelenting power of sheer cold. As well, some of the most famous stories of our time feature the extreme measures to which stranded travelers will go to survive the cold. But with a little preparation and knowledge, you can learn techniques to survive well in cold conditions whether you are caught out unexpectedly or plan to be out and about when the temperatures drop.

How It Can Happen

Getting stranded out in cold weather can happen both in ways you can think up in advance and also in very unusual ways. Suffice it to say that you don’t want to set out in the cold assuming it will never happen to you – this is a recipe for unpreparedness that could lead to disaster.

Some of the most common ways you might get stranded in the cold include these:

You choose to go. Here, perhaps you are skiing, hunting, ice fishing or enjoying another cold weather hobby. Perhaps you have taken a romantic winter cabin up in the mountains or are en route to a cold weather sporting event. Many people venture into the cold for reasons of beauty, serenity or enjoyment – but there is still a risk that should not be forgotten.

You get lost. Even if you have an extremely strong  “inner compass,” the sometimes blindingly white conditions of winter weather can cause that inner compass to shut down. These conditions, sometimes called “whiteout,” can play havoc with even the most experienced guides and wilderness experts and they should not be taken lightly.

The unexpected occurs. Perhaps you have no real plans to venture past a certain set perimeter. But then a member of your party wanders off and you have to go search for them. Or a bear or other wild animal appears and surprises you, and before you realize it you are somewhere you don’t recognize. Planning for the unexpected is a critical part of cold weather safety.

How to Survive in Cold Weather

Surviving in cold weather is actually not a matter of being the fittest, the most athletic or even the most skilled. The number one thing you need to do is to REMAIN CALM. Take some deep breaths. Say encouraging things to yourself. Pause and take a thorough inventory of what you have and what you don\’t have.

Next, be aware of your most primitive daily needs: water, food, safe shelter. You will need these things each day until you find your way or are found by a search team, so make them your firm and unwavering priorities.  Even as you work, also remain aware at all times of approximately how long you have before it gets dark and realize that you will need to find shelter when night falls. Depending on what you have with you, you may need to start a fire for both warmth and safety, so don’t want to work on that task.

Also keep an eye out for wild animals. Most animals will not attack unless they are hungry or feel threatened. So your best course of action is to give them a wide berth.

How Not to Freeze to Death

This is a question you will absolutely want to answer before you ever set foot into a cold weather climate! According to Wilderness Survival, there are four basic principles that should govern your temperature regulation efforts if you get caught in cold weather conditions.

Three of these relate to clothing which underlies the importance of clothing in cold weather body temperature regulation.

  • Keep your clothing dry.
  • Keep your clothing clean.
  • Wear loose clothing in layers.
  • Avoid becoming overheated.  In this, you must keep your extremities (heads, hands, feet) warm and protected at all times since up to 50 percent of your body heat can be lost otherwise.

What Do You Need

A great deal of cold weather survival revolves around bringing the right gear with you – or knowing how to get your needs met if you don’t have what you need. For instance, do you know how to start a fire from kindling without matches? Can you purify water? Do you know which plants are edible? If you answered no, no and no, you have some preparation work to do before your next cold weather adventure!

Here are the basic supplies you should always keep with you, no matter how short your trip may be.

  • First aid kit.
  • Waterproof matches and a flint.
  • Water purifier tablets or drops.
  • Layered clothing (layers keep you warmer than one single thick item).
  • Waterproof quick drying hiking shoes.
  • Moisture-wicking socks (wool is best).
  • A warm hat, scarf and gloves.
  • Emergency rations (powdered or dried meals, energy bars).
  • A down sleeping bag.
  • A flashlight with extra batteries.
  • A compass and an “old school” map (don’t rely on GPS – what if you don\t have signal?
  • A watch.
  • A waterproof cover for the ground (you can sleep on this).
  • Binoculars.
  • Dark glasses as well as extra prescription glasses (if needed).
  • Flares and other signal-producing emergency items.
  • A small tent or mosquito netting.
  • A knife, cup and other gear as needed for gathering food and water.

Experts suggest doing a “test run” with your gear somewhere local – a campground or even in your backyard. This is a good way to identify items you may be forgetting.  After factoring in the variables of your particular cold weather situation, these tips should give you a firm enough foundation in survival strategies to get started. From here, you will need to use your own ingenuity to survive until you make it home or help arrives

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