Surviving Outside in the Cold

Cold-Weather-Survival2Greetings. Well, winter is just around the corner once again. Back in my native Colorado, snow is starting to fall and the mornings are getting crisper. Before long, outside activity is going to be limited to ice skating and skiing, while everyone else hides inside, trying to stay warm.

In our collective past, wintertime was the greatest survival challenge. In an agricultural society people basically worked to make sure they would have enough to survive the winter. Our Thanksgiving celebration (which I call the Preppers Holiday) commemorates the harvest festival that the Pilgrims held, in recognition that their harvest was going to be enough to make it through their second winter here in the New World.

As anyone who lives in the far north understands, working outside in the wintertime is dangerous. The cold weather is a more dangerous enemy than anything else nature can throw at us. In the right conditions, hypothermia can set in within as little as 10 or 15 minutes, making one’s chances of survival bleak. Proper precautions need to be made to stay warm, but not too warm.

Hypothermia happens when the body starts losing heat faster than it can generate it. We bundle up in warm clothing in the winter to prevent that from happening. But what if we have to work outdoors? Physical work causes our bodies to generate more heat, so the warm clothes we put on before going outdoors might actually be too much.

All your survival tasks in cold weather have to be undertaken with the idea of keeping you warm while you work. Granted, some things will need to be done; but that doesn’t mean you should risk your life to do them. Proper planning and preparation will make it much safer to work out in the cold.

Always carry extra clothing with you, even if you are only going 100 yards from your shelter. One hundred yards is far enough that your body heat could drop to the point where you can no longer think clearly. If that were to happen, you might walk right past your shelter and off into the woods, never to be heard from again. Those extra clothes are a survival necessity, if the clothes you are wearing get wet.

One key to working outside in cold weather is to dress in layers, rather than in just one heavy layer. That one heavy layer is fine if you’re going to be sitting in a car or skiing down a slope, but if you have to do hard physical work, you need to be able to take off extra layers, so that you don’t sweat.

Sweat is one of your biggest enemies when it’s cold outside. When you stop working, that layer of sweat can freeze next to your skin. Even if it doesn’t freeze, it will draw a lot of heat out of your body; heat that you need. That alone can be enough to bring on hypothermia. Taking off layers while working and then putting them back on when you stop is necessary to regulate your body heat, while preventing that sweating.

Another key is to pace yourself while working. You don’t want to be working hard one minute and slowly the next. Varying your work pace makes it all but impossible to get your clothing layers right to keep you warm, but not too warm. Find a comfortable work pace and stick with it, even if that means you get less done than you would otherwise. Getting that work done has to take a second place to taking care of yourself so that you can survive.

Avoid getting wet at all costs. You don’t only face the risk of getting wet through sweating, but melting snow and ice can get you wet. It’s not uncommon for gloves or mittens to become soaked from the melting snow. When that happens, it starts drawing away body heat. If it happens too much, your body stops sending as much blood to your fingers, which can lead to frostbite.

Then there’s the risk of falling through ice into streams or ponds. In extremely cold weather, falling through the ice could render you incapable of coordinated movement in less than a minute. The cold water can then draw all the heat out of your body, leading to hypothermia.

It is possible to survive such an event, but only if you can manage to get out of the water and out of your wet clothes fast enough to prevent losing all your body heat. Being naked is actually better in that moment, than standing there in wet clothing. Start doing calisthenics to create body heat, while you are getting your dry clothes out of your pack to put on. It will be a race against time, but it is one that is possible to win.

At that point, fire is secondary to getting dry clothing on. You can’t build a fire fast enough to warm you up as much as the calisthenics and dry clothing can. But once you have those clothes on, your next step has to be to get a fire going, continuing with the calisthenics to generate body heat. Once the fire is warming your body, you can stop the calisthenics.

As long as you take the right precautions when going out in the cold, it won’t harm your chances of survival. Cold, like anything else, is something that mankind has been defeating for centuries. If our ancestors could do it, you and I can too. All we need to do is take the right precautions.

So, until we meet again, keep your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand; and don’t forget those dry clothes.

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