For those who are outdoors a lot, winter survival may be an easy concept. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you need some basic winter survival skills, these are the five you should know.
During the winter months especially, you need to take specific actions if your life is jeopardy in order to make it home alive. Hikers, skiers, and other backcountry wilderness hobbyists should all know the basics of winter survival. Mother Nature is unforgiving and anything can happen…
- Build a Shelter – knowing you will need shelter is the first step, but knowing how to make one is essential also. You will need to get out of the cold and wind that can cause frostbite. Get below treeline if you can and know how to dig a snow cave, a snow pit, or a snow trench. Snow is a great insulator, but this will take effort, especially if you don’t have an avalanche shovel.
- Start a Fire – make sure you have adequate supplies to start a fire, and you know how to use those supplies. Vaseline coated cotton balls are popular and inexpensive choices. Keep the fire small to conserve wood. If you have to build a fire on snow, dig a pit into the snow about 2 feet deep and line the bottom with thick logs cut to the same length. These will provide a solid surface to build your fire on. You’ll need to collect tinder to start your fire, which can be broken off the lower trunks of living trees in an emergency. Focus on building a deep bed of hot coals before adding larger pieces of wood to the fire.
- Have a First Aid Kit & Know How to Use It – This is an invaluable skill all year round, however, during the winter months when the ground is slippery and the possibility for injury increases, knowing how to care for yourself or someone else could make a big difference. First aid kits are not that expensive, and everyone should have in all of their bags (vehicle survival bag, bug out bag, winter hiking bag, coaching bag, etc.).
- Procure Water – if you are near a stream or lake that isn’t frozen, a life straw will be mostly all you’ll need. However, if you are not, you’ll need to melt snow to make sure you stay hydrated. If you don’t have a stove or cook pot to melt snow with, you can try putting snow in a water bottle and placing it in your coat to melt it. Don’t do this however until you have a fire going and can stay warm!
- Make Your Location Known – if you are in a survival situation, you will want to ensure you are found as quickly as possible. Use green wood on your fire to create a large smoke plume that can alert others. In addition, you’ll want to use technology to your advantage. Invest in a piece of gear that you can use to alert Search and Rescue or others to your predicament. Handheld devices like the Garmin inReach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator with TOPO Maps and GPS Navigation are not cheap, but they are useful and suggested for everyone who is a backcountry hobbyist of any kind during the winter. A device such as this will help raise your chances of being found, and therefore, your chances of survival.
Winter is a fun time to be outside for many, but it’s also important to understand just how devastating the conditions can become. Prepare yourself with these 5 essential skills before trekking out this winter so you can make sure your excursions are both fun and will result in a safe return home.
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