Cold Weather Survival Guide: Best Gear, Skills and Tips

Winter Cold Weather Survival Guide - How to Prep your Car and Your Home for Winter

If exposed to cold weather for a prolonged period, it can have detrimental consequences. The human body can only survive for 3 hours at below core body temperature.

Having the necessary skills to survive in the cold will save your life. This guide gives comprehensive information on how to survive in different cold weather situations.

Keeping  Your Core Temperature Regulated


Keeping your core temperature warm in cold weather is essential in winter survival. If you core body temperature drops it can lead to:

  • Hypothermia
  • Hypoglycaemia
  • Frostbite

In the cold you must try to keep as warm as possible, to take the stain off your bodily functions. The colder you get the harder your body has to work to keep you warm and the more calories it will consume in the process.

Wear Layers

The obvious way to keep your body temperature regulated is to wear layers. 

Wind and exposure to the cold means you will lose heat faster.

Strive to wear MULTIPLE layers rather than one. Multiple layers allow air to be kept in between, which your body will warm and act as an insulator. The ideal amount is 3-4.

Base Layer

The base layer should be sweat wicking to draw sweat. If it is ultra cold a second base layer would be worn.

Here are some best-selling base layers:

Mid Layers

Then next is 1 or 2 mid layers depending on how cold you are. A mid layer should be a light, looser layer like a fleece. On top of the fleece, you can layer a down jacket or a wool sweater for added warmth.

Top Layer

Lastly, a top layer is what will offer you protection against the harsh elements. It should be a shell jacket (e.g. GoreTex) that offers protection against the wind, rain and snow. A tip with shell layers is only wear this layer if it is necessary. If the weather is clear, refrain from wearing a shell layer as they are not ventilated or breathable and can make you sweat easily.

Having clothing that is loose is a must. Tight clothing can prevent blood circulation and in turn can make you colder. Layers of light clothing are better than one thick layer as the air space in between layers acts as insulation.

Clothing must be kept clean. Clean clothing will aid in keeping you warm as dirty clothing loses its insulation properties.

Lastly, avoid overheating. Sweat can dampen your clothing which decreases its insulation ability. The sweat on your skin evaporating can also make you colder. Watch for overheating and adjust clothing as necessary. Remove inner layers or open your jacket to ventilate. 

Stay Active


Try to keep active as this will raise your heart rate and continue the flow of blood. Keep moving at a moderate pace without overexertion. Avoid sweating as this water on your skin will ultimately make your skin colder.

Hydration

Hydration is just as important in the cold as it is in the heat! You may be used to drinking when hot, but you need to keep your water levels up in the cold. Being suitably hydrated ensures that your bodily functions are as normal and promotes good blood flow. Both of these contribute to keeping your boffy arm.

Fuel Your Body’s Stores


Eating is just as important. In the cold, your body is under stress to regulate its temperature, burning calories to do so. Eating will ensure the body’s metabolism is functioning which will heat up the body’s temperature.

Lighting a Fire


Finding alternative sources of heat is required, and the most obvious is starting a fire. However in the cold it can be difficult as the ground may be wet and the wind may blow it out.

Building the Fire’s Foundation

If there is snow on the ground, pack it tightly before lighting your fire. Otherwise the snow will melt and the fire will sink.

  • Gather Wood

Use wood to build your fire on. The fire must be started on a dry platform otherwise it won’t light. Hopefully, your survival kit has an axe for which you can use to cut wood. Alternatively, look for downed branches or twigs to use.

  • Tinder

Your kit should have tinder too. The tinder is the flammable material that will ignite the flame. If you don’t have fire starting tinder you can use a survivalist favorite - cotton wool balls dipped in vaseline. 

  • Kindling

The best option is to use wood you can find. Use a knife to take the bark off a branch and use up and down motions to scrape off shavings. These small pieces will be used for kindling for the fire.

  • Keep the Fire Going

Fueling the fire is important. The best fuel is dead limbs off standing trees.

Best Winter Fire Lays

For harsh winter conditions it is imperative to know different fire lays as the teepee lay isn’t desirable in windy conditions. 

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Winter Survival Gear Must - Haves


Having a good winter survival kit is a no-brainer if you live in a cold climate. The kit should be kept in your car in case you get stranded in a snowstorm and in your home.

Here are some of the pieces of winter gear that experienced survivalists, alpinists and backpackers swear by for emergency winter situations.

The three core items for a survival kit for winter are:

  • Firestarters
  • Emergency Blankets
  • Hand/Body Warmers

Once you have satisfied those three categories other items to include are:

  • Hatchet, survival axe
  • Cold weather sleeping bags
  • Four season tent
  • Shovel
  • Ice fishing gear
  • Insulated water bottle
  • Calorie dense foods
  • Small/collapsible shovel
  • Extra clothing layers
  • Crank radios

Tact Bivvy!

A great, inexpensive essential in our opinion. This small emergency sleeping bag is light weight and made of heat reflective material to keep you warm. It reflects up to 90% of your body’s heat back. It is packed in this small sack for easy packing. 

Emergency Communication Device


This device will send out distress signals along with your GPS coordinates. It is great because it will work regardless of where you are and if there is cell reception.

Winter Survival In Your Home


In the extreme cold, it is possible that the heating may fail. If this happens it can be a while before it comes back on.

Here are some important tips for keeping you warm in your home.

Small areas are better: the smaller rooms are where you want to stay. High ceiling, large rooms are difficult to heat. Smaller rooms in your home heat and hold heat better. Avoid going in and out of different rooms.

If the floors are cold, lay down blankets or rugs. If you have mylar blankets on hand these can be hung around to create heat reflecting barriers. Staying away from windows is also recommended.

Alternative Heating Methods


Portable Propane Heaters

These are great for back-up heating. Ensure that it is meant for INDOOR use as outdoor heaters should neer be used indoors.

The Mr Heater Portable Propane Heater is our favorite as it can be used both indoor and outdoor and has an emergency winter shut-off feature.

Winter Gear for Your Home

  • Emergency generator
  • 3 days of non-perishable foods
  • Five gallons of water for each member in the household
  • batteries
  • Extra fuel stored
  • Extra wood if you have a home fire
  • Good quality shovel
  • Flashlights, candles, lanterns 

MUST HAVE: Fire Extinguisher

The majority of indoor fires occur in winter from the amount of heaters and fires used. Purchase some fire extinguishers and familiarize yourself with how to use it.

How to Prepare Your Home for Winter


Install or check smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors work

In a winter storm, the fireplace, propane/kerosene heater or stove will be in use, so to keep you and your family safe ensure the batteries are replaced and test them monthly.

Install/check carbon monoxide detector. A carbon monoxide detector is DIFFERENT from a smoke detector. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that has no smell and can go undetected.

  • Trees

Get down any branches and trim tree limbs. These can be a hazard in a winter storm as they will fall.

Plug any gaps in windows or doors. These will let in drafts if not blocked. You can use blankets, magazines, newspapers, towels or other household objects to do this.

Insulate pipes! This can be as simple as using plastic wraps 

Keep faucets on a drip. This prevents pipes from freezing.

  • Pipe Freezing Tips

If pipes freeze the first step is to shut off water mains. Open any faucets that are connected to the pipe. If the pipe is exposed you can do a number of remedies to unthaw it.

This includes:

  • Using a hair dryer
  • Electronic heating pad wrapped around the pipes
  • Towel soaked in hot water wrapped around the pipes
  • Portable space heater

DO NOT USE: any open flames

Purchase bags of rock salt: this can be used to melt ice on walkways and sand can increase traction on driveways and walkways

Clean out your gutters so the snow can drain away - any built up debris can cause ice to build leading to damage

  • Have your chimney inspected every year

A regularly scheduled chimney inspection can prevent creosote building up.

Add weather stripping to doors and caulk windows: this will prevent drafts and warm air escaping

Get your heating system inspected! This is a relatively small cost which can make a world of difference. This last thing you want is your heating system to break as soon as the cold weather kicks in!

If you are looking to spend a little more installing double pane windows will work a trick to keep your house insulated.

Sheltering in Winter


Seeking shelter in the extreme cold is incredibly important. The body can only survive in 3 hours when exposed to harsh elements.

For sheltering in the extreme cold, a cold weather tent is ideal. Tents designed for 4 seasons are great too. These tents are constructed with less mesh material which allows it to hold heat inside. 

When setting up your tent in the cold, ensure it is assembled on a flat and firm base. Wind blowing straight in is bad, so ensure that the tent door is perpendicular to the direction the wind is blowing.

Natural Shelters

If you are stranded in the cold, you will have to utilize natural shelters.

USMC have said that the best places to shelter in the wilderness are:

Caves: use branches, logs and rocks to cover the openings

Hollow logs, downed trees: you may need to create some space by digging around. This is not a long term option but rather for quick sheltering

Be aware when sheltering in natural habitats of risks including, animals inside, lack of air and structural instability.

Using Tarp

Tarp shelters are straightforward to make and should be kept in a survival kit at all times with some military grade paracord. 

We could explain tarp shelter formations but this really helpful video shows you visual examples of using tarp in the wilderness!

Building a Snow Shelter

Snow is actually an insulator as it is made up of 90% air. Since the air is trapped in the snow, heat transfer is limited.

A shelter made of snow can actually be up to 15 degrees fahrenheit warmer when you are inside. Your body heat warms the inside and the insulating properties prevent the heat from dissipating. 

Snow Cave

The concept for making a snow shelter involves making a hole in a mound of snow. Puncture holes in the top to allow air inside and partially block the entrance to prevent cold coming in and heat flowing out. 

Ensure that your body avoids touching the snow. Use any resources you can find such as foliage to create a barrier between you and the ground. 

Snow Winter Tips for Your Vehicle

Prepping Your Car for Winter

  • Get your car serviced regularly! Especially in the lead-up to winter. The service will ensure that
  • the heater and defroster are all functioning
  • Check all the lights are working
  • Check air and fuel filters
  • Ensuring antifreeze fluid levels are high
  • Brake pads and fluid levels are in good shape
  • Tires have enough tread

In a storm, keep your car’s tank over half full! This stops ice forming in fuel lines.

It also gives you sufficient gas so you’re prepared as in a winter storm gas stations may not be open.

Car Winter Survival Kit

Having a gear kit in your car is important for when you are away from home. Terms  vehicle everyday carry and get home bags are used to describe the different kit bags you should keep in your car.

A winter vehicle everyday carry gear bag has all the gear for general winter car emergencies. Whilst a get home bag is the gear that you will need to get home should your car get stranded and you have to flee.

Winter Vehicle EDC Gear

  • Shovel: most important tool can be used to shovel snow and break ice
  • De icing Fluid: keeping extra is important as you will likely be using a lot!
  • Tow Strap
  • Snow Chains
  • Flares
  • Ice Scraper
  • Blankets, sleeping bags
  • Jump Cables: if you encounter a dead car battery
  • Battery Jump Starter: if you travel off the beaten track and won't be likely to encounter other people
  • Hand crank or battery powered radio
  • First aid kit
  • Map
  • A can and matches (Waterproof) can be used to get water from snow
  • Food - snack bars, MRE

Winter Get Home Bag Gear

  • Water filters and purifier
  • Survival emergency food kits
  • Fire Starting Tools
  • Extra warm layers including socks, winter hat, gloves
  • Winter boots
  • Mylar blanket or tact bivvy
  • Tactical knife, multi-tool
  • Headlight
  • Flares

How to Shelter in Your Car in a Winter Storm

Snowstorms can leave cars stranded on roads and it can often take hours before the road is cleared.Here is some important information you should know if you become stranded in your vehicle in a snowstorm.

If you have an adequately prepared vehicle everyday carry and get home bag in the trunk of your car you are prepared as far as gear is concerned.

Whilst being stranded in a storm in your car the best thing to do is to stay in it. It is a vital asset you have, so don’t abandon it unless you HAVE to.

To stay warm, use your mylar or wool blankets, and use anything you may have to insulate you against the car seats. If you are with others, stay close together and use body heat transfer.

Run the car engine for 2-3 minutes per hour. This will keep the engine going for when you can drive away and clears any snow from the tailpipe. It will also provide additional heat. Do not do this when your tired, as you NEVER want to fall asleep with the engine running. 

Get some fresh air. Open the window periodically to let some fresh air in.

Attract Help! If you have flares use this otherwise turn on your hazard lights. Making an aerial SOS sign is also smart.

First Aid in Cold Weather


Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a condition where the body’s core temperature drops below 96 fahrenheit. In a state of hypothermia the body is unable to regulate temperature itself, and prevents the organs like heart, brain, lungs and kidney from functioning.

Symptoms

  • Shivering
  • Coordination lost

How to Avoid Hypothermia

Remove wet clothes

Wet clothes are an accelerated path to hypothermia. The only thing worse than cold and wet and cold. Remove wet clothing immediately. If it is possible, get into dry clothing immediately or cover up with a blanket. Even being naked is better than being in wet clothing in zero degree temperature. 

Protect the person from wind and seek shelter. A fire or any sources of warmth should be used or if that fails use skin-to-skin contact to transfer heat. 

Drinking warm liquid can also help to raise the body;s temperature. The ideal liquid is hot fluids with sweeteners such as honey, sugar or hot cocoa.

Jumping jacks or movement can also help warm up. 

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is when the body’s blood sugars are low which can happen when you are very cold. In the cold, your body is using up its carbohydrate stores to keep it warm. 

To avoid this, eat simple sugars which can be in fruit, sweets, granola bars, nuts or chocolate.

Frostbite

Frostbite is a cold weather injury sustained as a result of body tissues becoming frozen. The body parts most susceptible to frostbite include hands, feet and facial areas. 

To prevent frostbite in the extreme cold do the following:

Keep your hands and feet/toes moving

Place your hands close in to your body to warm up

For your face and ears maintain the blood flow by moving facial muscles. Use your hands to move them.

Symptoms of frostbite include losing feeling in your hands and feet.

Other Tips to Stay Warm


Head

Most of the heat will be lost through your head so it is important to wear a good winter hat. The hat should cover your ears. A balaclava ski mask can also be considered. These masks only leave a small amount of your face exposed.

Eyewear

Sunglasses or eye goggles shelter and protect your eyes from the wind. Likewise snow reflecting off the sun can be quite blinding. The snow reflects 85% of the sun making it difficult to see. Get a good pair of sunglasses that are polarized and offer UV protection.

Feet Warmth!

Socks worn under the boots should be a thin sock with a wool pair over the top. A base layer is a must to avoid getting trench foot or blisters.

The thin base layer sock will wick sweat whilst the thicker wool sock will keep the heat in.

Ensuring your feet are warm is important to prevent frostbite.

 Having proper winter boots is essential. They will be necessary for walking in ice and snow and keeping your feet insulated. The winter boots should have a thick sole.

Choose the size of the boots with the idea of wearing two layers of socks.

Hands

Having two pairs of gloves: a pair of finger gloves and then a pair of mittens is a safe bet. That way you have options for being able to keep your hands warm whilst still being able to use them.