Winter weather and extreme cold is a quick killer. Learn what you MUST do to stay alive in one of the toughest challenges an outdoorsman might face.
The rewards of the outdoors comes with a few dangers.
There are so many things that can go wrong during a hunting or camping trip (car failure, getting lost, injury, avalanche, etc.) that I won’t have enough space in a single article to cover them all.
Going out alone in cold temperatures is one of the most dangerous risks an outdoorsman can take. When something goes wrong and you’re stuck in a freezing cold environment, the most important thing is surviving the freezing temperature.
And for that, we need a few good cold weather survival tips.
With this list stored in your noggin, you can have a better chance of surviving subzero temperatures when the situation arises. Here are the few most important survival strategies to keep in mind.
Wear Warm Clothes And Pack Extra
Sound simple, right? The human body can withstand extreme temperatures, but without thick clothes (plus headwear) that will protect you from harsh wind, rain, and the bite of cold, your body can deteriorate much faster.
Thus, when venturing into the wild in cold weather, always make sure to wear thick, windproof clothes and take the trouble to pack an extra coat. You never know when you might get stuck out there longer than planned.
Do not, I repeat, do not underestimate the harshness of winter.
Wear Appropriate Boots
Cold feet is one of the most miserable things you can experience. Thus, a good pair of boots is required.
There are many types of boots for the winter, particularly heavily-insulated varieties that can help you keep your feet warm during cold days. When going out hunting in the cold, ensure that you have chosen a pair of cold weather hunting boots with an amount of insulation that can get you through the subzero temperatures.
When the wind picks up and becomes too heavy, and you can feel your face numbing and your fingers freezing, you need to find shelter as quickly as possible.
When the cells in your body get cold and freeze, they die at a fast rate. This is called frostbite, characteristically known for the bluish-blackish color that blooms on a frozen skin. Your fingers and toes are the first to get frostbitten since they are farthest from the heart, which pumps blood throughout your system.
To prevent permanent damage to your extremities, find shelter when you encounter harsh winds (since higher speeds of winds can cause frostbite much faster). Possibly a fallen tree, a cave, behind a large boulder—anything that can shelter you from the wind.
Keep Yourself Dry, Including Sweating
Getting wet in cold temperature will catalyze the development of hypothermia; a term that refers to the shutdown of major bodily organs due to extremely cold temperature.
During “wet cold” seasons, when some of the snow or ice still thaws, always make sure that you don’t get wet or damp during an emergency situation wherein you get lost or get injured.
If you do, change into a dry set of clothes if you can, and wrap yourself in a blanket to keep yourself as dry as possible while waiting for rescue.
Don’t overexert yourself either, as even the light moisture of sweat can be awful in cold weather.
Create A Source Of Heat
As soon as you recognize your in a situation wherein you are not going to find shelter or rescue soon, start making a fire right away. This heat source will be your lifeline.
Not only does it provide you with essential warmth, it also gives you a light source.
It is important not to panic when you realize that you are lost; instead, busy yourself with making a camp. Build a campfire so you can keep warm while thinking of your next move. Moreover, the smoke can attract the attention of other hunters or hikers that can help you.
Stay Fed And Well Hydrated
Starvation and dehydration can worsen your situation in a subzero weather. When your body is trying to cope with the stress that the cold temperature brings, it uses more energy to produce heat.
Consequently, you need to replenish that energy with food, so make sure that you ration your packed foods as well as drink enough water to keep yourself hydrated. Eating will also warm you up as your body begins to digest the food.
It’s probably also wiser to not waste time or energy finding a non-frozen stream to get water from. If you have a campfire, you can use it to melt snow or ice into liquid water that you can drink. Another reason why you need a source of heat as much as possible!
Drinking freezing cold water or trying to eat unmelted snow will only drop your body temperature more. Heat it first.
Make Sure Your Heart Rate Doesn’t Drop Too Low
When your body gets cold, your heart rate tends to slow down. This means bad news because slowing down of the heart rate means that there is less blood pumping through your veins, and less heat traveling throughout your body.
One way to counteract this body’s reaction to the cold is to do a simple exercise to boost your heart rate when you feel it slowing down. Try a few jumping jacks or jog in place so that your body can generate more heat, or stand up and swing your arms around at least.
However, exercising to keep warm should not get to the point of sweating. When you sweat, it means that your body is getting rid of heat, and we don’t want that to happen in a cold environment. Thus, be careful when you exercise in this situation: be sure not to overdo it or you’ll get colder than warmer!
Make Sure You’re Prepared
You can never be too sure about the safety of your trip. And as I’ve said before, there are so many things that can go wrong, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Before going out in subzero temperatures, always make sure to pack emergency gear. Extra food, warm clothes, a lot of matches, extra fuel, enough water, extra blankets, and other things you think you may need if you ever get stuck in a freezing situation.
Here’s a list of essentials to bring in your backpack alongside your other equipment:
- Warm clothes and extra socks
- Extra jacket
- Blanket and bedroll
- Headwear and gloves
- First aid kit
- Rations and water
- Matches, fuel, lighter
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Flare (if possible)
- GPS or map of the area
- Tent or tarp
- Chapstick (multiple uses)
If you get lost, injured, or separated from your group, it is important not to waste precious energy on panicking. When you get in this situation, your first thoughts need to be on survival and adapting to your environment, instead of stressing yourself out.
If you’ve read this list, you have a better chance of getting through it. So don’t worry too much, or you may end up being less prepared for your ordeal.
If you’re going to go hunting or camping in cold weather, you need to understand the risks of undertaking that challenging task.
It is possible that you could get lost, injured, separated from your group, or get caught in a sudden snowstorm. When an emergency situation arises, it is important to apply your cold weather survival skills in order to get through it safe and sound.
So, to summarize:
- Prepare a good pack
- Wear warm enough clothes, headgear, and footwear
- Pack extra clothes for layering
- Keep yourself dry at all times
- Maintain a regular heart rate
- Create campfire if possible
- Find shelter away from winds
- Keep your extremities warm
- Replenish your energy and fluids with food and water
- Avoid panicking; remain relaxed and focused
- Find or signal for help as soon as you can
Remembering these key points might keep you alive in the freezing cold. In addition to these tips, Dale from Nature Alive also brings some additional (and entertaining) info.
Of course, it is much better to avoid any circumstances that can lead you to this emergency situation, but being prepared for the worst is better, as I’ve found out myself.
Like this article, if you’ve found it helpful, and don’t forget to share it with your fellow outdoorsmen. Stay safe and stay warm. Thanks for reading!