With an abnormally cold fall and with winter around the corner I thought this would be the perfect time to discuss cold weather survival. Being cooped up all season is not feasible for many outdoor enthusiasts. The call of the wild is just too strong. We can’t help it, we just love to be outside no matter what the elements. But with cold climates, it can be dangerous and sometimes deadly. A couple of years back, such a tragedy hit too close to home.
[ In cold weather survival ], it is important to have a thorough understanding of “Heat Loss” if you expect to Survive the Cold. Heat loss occurs in several ways and minimizing it is essential to survival in cold conditions.
- Heat is lost through conduction – direct contact between the body and a cold surface. Wear insulating and waterproof clothing, and create barriers between you and the ground.
- Heat is lost through radiation – your radiant body heat is lost to the colder surrounding. Cover your head, wear layered clothing to trap heat, and build a fire when possible.
- Heat is lost through convection – the movement of air or water across
the body. Avoid getting wet, and take/build a shelter when possible. Getting wet is disastrous. Water sucks heat away from the body 25 times (25x) faster than air.
- Heat is lost through evaporation – moisture on the skin begins to evaporate or condensate. Avoid over-exerting, since heat is lost through sweating. Slow down your pace, and make decisive movements.
- Heat is lost through respiration – each inhaled breath contains cold air, which is warmed as it is exhaled. Reduce heat loss by covering your nose and mouth with a bandana, scarf, or shemagh. Breathe warm air from around a fire
Hydration, proper gear selection, physical ability and knowledge of the environment all play a part. There are many key aspects to preventing heat loss but here are a few things to remember:
- Preparation is the number 1 key to survival
- Remember the acronym C.O.L.D. – Stay Clean, Avoid Overheating, Wear Loose Layers, Stay Dry
- Research the signs of hypothermia before embarking into the cold (shivering, slurring your speech, drowsiness, etc.)
- Regularly check your extremities for frostnip/frostbite (face, nose, toes, hands, ears, etc.) – cover exposed skin
- Take shelter from the wind at every opportunity
- Get off the cold ground – sit on your pack or build a ground barrier with boughs or debris
- If your hands get cold, don’t warm them with your breath (moisture) – tuck them under armpits
- Always gather three (3x) times the amount of firewood you think you will need
- Eat hot foods and liquids whenever possible, particularly hot liquids before bedtime
- No amount of gear replaces adequate training. Attend our survival school and take a cold-weather survival course
by Justin Williams