How to Prep for Cold Weather Survival

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Winter is almost here in much of the country, and that means that it’s time to start preparing for the cold months to come. One thing that no one wants to think about, but should always be prepared for, is the possibility of getting stranded out in the cold. Whether you’re camping and the temperature suddenly drops or you find your car stuck in a snow bank on the way to grandma’s house, being prepared to survive the cold could mean the difference between life and death.

Here are some ways to help you prep for the possibility of getting stranded out in the cold.

The Three Cold Weather Killers

There are three ways that the body is negatively affected by the cold — frostbite, hypothermia and hypoglycemia.

Frostbite is caused when the surface of the skin is burned by the cold. During short cold exposures, it can be uncomfortable, but in a survival situation, severe frostbite can require amputation of the affected limbs.

Hypothermia is the condition when the body’s core temperature drops to dangerously low levels. In severe cases, it can be fatal, as the cold causes the body’s organs to shut down.

One issue that many people don’t think about is hypoglycemia — a severe drop in blood pressure as your body burns every calorie it has stored in an effort to stay warm. Hypoglycemia can cause mental and physical problems, making it more difficult to survive in this kind of situation.

What can you do to mitigate these issues and survive being stranded in cold weather?

Be Prepared

When you’re heading out in the cold, whether you’re driving to the store or going on a camping trip or hike, it’s important to be prepared.

First, wear appropriate clothing. For cold weather, this step means dressing in layers. That way, if you’re being active and getting warm, you can shed a layer or two to be comfortable, then put those layers back on if the temperature drops. Stay as covered as possible, including gloves for your hands, hats for your head and masks for your face. The less skin you expose to the elements, the lower the chance of frostbite.

If you know you’re going to be out in the cold, consider investing in heated clothing. These items can be expensive, but the jackets, pants and gloves generate their own heat, keeping you warmer while you’re out in the cold.

Keep a survival kit in your car for when you’re traveling. This kit should include things like water to stay hydrated, high protein or high sugar food, extra clothes and blankets, a shovel for moving snow and signal flares or lights to bring attention to you.

Stranded in the Wilderness

If you’re stranded in the wilderness, you might not have everything you need to survive. Thankfully, most of what you’ll require is available in a wilderness setting. Keep in mind that you’ll need four things: food, water, shelter and warmth. If you’re traveling in the wilderness, you should have food and water with you. If you find yourself stranded in the wild, water is often readily available in the form of snow — just make sure you melt it first.

Focus on finding shelter. A cave might seem like a good option, but inspect it well to make sure it’s not already occupied or being used by wildlife — fresh tracks or droppings are a good indication that the cave is being used, and the animals will likely return to use it for shelter. You can build a small shelter with sticks and branches, or you can dig a hole in the snow and use that — while it’s cold, it will act as an insulator and helps keep your body heat in.

Build a fire for warmth, but don’t build it inside your shelter, especially if you’re sheltering in a cave or snow-hole. The smoke can create a dangerous environment inside your shelter.

Finally, focus on food. You’ll need plenty of food to stave off hypoglycemia. If you don’t have food with you, don’t try to hunt — without the proper training and tools, chances are, you’ll expend more energy than you can spare. Instead, look for foraging options that are still available during the winter. Cattails, which grow on water’s edges, can be eaten and taste like potatoes. Nuts are often found on the ground underneath nut-bearing trees — even acorns can be eaten, though they taste better roasted

You may even see some wild fruit frozen on tree branches depending on where you are. Even if everything looks dead and the world is frozen, you can find some options.

Stranded in the Car

If you took the time to create an emergency kit for your car, you should have everything you need to survive getting stranded in the wintertime. You can use your car’s heater to keep warm as long as the fuel holds out, but make sure you’re regularly checking the tailpipe to ensure that it isn’t obstructed by snow. If the carbon monoxide in your emissions can’t escape through the tailpipe, it can build up in your car, becoming dangerous or fatal.

Don’t leave the car running the whole time either. Warm up the interior, and shut off the car. Not only will this process make your gasoline last longer, but you’ll be surprised by how well your car retains heat.

Make sure you stay fed and hydrated while you’re stranded. Letting yourself get dehydrated or letting your blood sugar drop makes it harder to stay alive, even if you’re in the warm interior of a car.

Stay near your car too — it’s easy to get lost in a snow drift, even if you’re familiar with the area. Staying near your vehicle makes it more likely that someone will spot you and send help. Keep your cell phone charged. As long as you have signal, you have a way to call for help. Keep a car charger in your emergency kit so that you can keep your phone charged.

No one wants to think about getting stranded out in the snow, but it does happen, and being prepared for such a possibility can mean the difference between life and death. If you live in an area that receives a lot of snow or are traveling to such an area, take the time to prepare for any eventuality. Even if you don’t need your supplies, it’s always better to be prepared.

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David Hoes
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David Hoes

When I was a kid, particularly on a rainy day, we would sometimes build an indoor “fort.” By taking various pieces of furniture and covering them with blankets and sheets, we would make a little house within the house. We usually stopped playing because it eventually became too hot inside the “fort.” I’ve always thought this would be a good option in the event that you are inside a very cold house with no heat. Either set-up an actual self-supporting tent inside, or create one from blankets and sheets. The advantage over just lying curled-up in bed is that your… Read more »

Bobhoss
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Bobhoss

Very insightful. Never would have thought of that. You are right, the small area would be a bit warmer through body heat. Thanks.