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Fall 2011

Survive the Cold

Photo by Horia Varlan (above)

Desperately alone. Facing nature’s eradication of the weak with the need to survive winter’s bleak white wilderness. Whether you get lost skiing, hiking, or taking a wrong turn to grandmother’s house, these basic tips can help you survive.

1. Keep calm 

The worst thing you can do is panic. Keep yourself busy, optimistic, and composed.

2. Build a shelter 

Because of the danger of avalanches or snow drifts, avoid building near the base of inclines. Structural designs vary, but make it small; the smaller the shelter, the warmer it will be. (See “How to Build a Snow Trench.”)

3. Build a fire 

Elevate the fire from the ground or else it will melt through the snow. Use any dry surface you can find (such as rocks or the inside of a hot chocolate can) to build a dry foundation so your kindling stays dry. If you have a trail or camp stove, use it as a beacon for search parties (stoves take less wood than normal fires do). If you move the stove inside your shelter, make air holes to avoid asphyxiation. 

4. Stay dry 

Perspiration will dampen your clothing and reduce its efficiency to incubate heat. If an item of clothing does become wet, remove it and place it next to you or near a fire to dry. Body heat is lost most easily from the head, neck, wrists, and ankles; keep them covered.

5. Drink water, not snow 

Eating snow takes energy and heat from your body. Put the snow into a container near—but not touching—your body, and your body heat should melt it.

6. Make snowshoes 

Trudging through snow consumes energy and time. Cut two 3-foot branches with plenty of leaves on them. Tie your shoelaces around each one to secure them to your feet. 

Most search-and-rescue teams arrive within 72 hours of a reported missing person. Remain positive; the human will to survive is one of the most powerful things aiding you. Being prepared is your best defense. Remember these tools—but hopefully you will never need them.

For more winter survival tips:

Survive a night in the Alaskan wilderness

—Caroline Kowallis

Concerned about surviving a winter road-trip? Check out our article on 10 Winter Driving Tips.

Looking to warm up after a cold night? Check out these fantastic hot chocolate recipes.