Cold weather survival basics

Posted by Leighton Taylor on

Surviving in the wild is hard enough. Surviving in the wild during freezing temperatures is even harder. You face the risk of getting hypothermia, frostbite, or both when you are exposed to cold weather for a long time, plus you’ll find it much harder to meet your basic needs such as food and shelter if you’re growing numb from the cold. This numbness will drain your focus and your will to survive.

Photo by randihausken. Used under Creative Commons license.

What kind of scenario would require you to fight for survival in cold weather?

Here are a few possibilities:

  • You go hiking and get caught in a snowstorm
  • Your car skids off an icy country road in the middle of nowhere, leaving you stranded
  • A plane you’re on crashes  into a mountain in the dead of winter
  • You might even find yourself in a cold-weather survival situation inside your own home – no electricity, no heat, and no help in sight with a blizzard showing no signs of easing any time soon.

    You never know when a situation like this might become reality. And in order to deal with that reality (should it come knocking on your door) and come out alive, you’ll need to know the basics of cold weather survival.

    Stay Warm

    In order to survive in cold weather, you’ll need to stay warm. There are numerous ways to ensure that your body never gets hypothermia or frostbite.

    Your first line of defense is your clothes. Obviously clothing can protect you from getting cold, but you may not be aware of how to optimally use clothing for maximum warmth. Certain areas of the body are more susceptible to losing body heat. These are your ankles, wrist, neck, and head. In fact, an uncovered head will cost you 40 to 45 percent of body heat. Whatever types of clothes you are wearing, be sure to always keep these vulnerable areas covered to ensure that you don’t lose valuable heat.


    In addition to staying properly covered, you’ll need to follow the C.O.L.D. principles in order to stay warm. C.O.L.D. stands for

    1. Stay Clean

    Clean clothes are signficantly better than dirty ones at keeping you warm. Dirt and grease can lessen the insulation value of your clothes because they mat down air pockets where air can be trapped and used as insulation. This causes heat to dissipate more easily from your body.

    2. Avoid Overheating

    When your body overheats, it will start sweating in order to cool you off. Sweating in cold weather may seem unlikely but it does happen.

    If you sweat, your body will cool down (that’s what sweat is for, after all), and the sweat will dampen your clothing which reduces its insulation value. If you feel your body overheating, remove your hat or use a lighter head covering. If that doesn’t stop you from overheating, you can partially open your jacket or take off your gloves/mittens. Both your head and hands are effective in dissipating heat from your body.

    3. Loose & Layered Clothing

    Loose clothing ensures that your blood circulation isn’t restricted. Blood flow is essential to keeping your body warm, particularly your extremities. Loose, layered clothing also ensures that there are air pockets to add insulation.

    4. Keep Dry

    Damp or wet clothes are your enemy when in cold weather. If you do get your clothes wet, make sure that you take the time to dry them out using the wind, sun, or fire. You can also use your body heat to dry out small items of clothing such as gloves/mittens and socks.

    This won’t always be possible if you’re caught in a survival situation, but if you can, have a separate set of clothing for sleeping. Chances are that the clothes you wore during the day got damp or dirty so sleeping in them won’t do you any good.

    Other tips for staying warm

    • Use natural dry material found in the woods like moss, leaves, or pine needles to insulate your sleeping area, bedding, and shelter.
    • Keep a fire crackling! Make sure you have a way to start a fire like matches or a fire starter. Fire keeps you warm, cooks your food, boils water, dries out your clothing, and gives you a morale boost.

    Stay Hydrated

    Staying hydrated is just as important for surviving cold weather as it is in hot weather. Our bodies lose water through urinating, sweating, and even breathing. In addition to these basic bodily functions, the cold weather causes our blood pressure to rise which leads to more urination, risking dehydration.

    Just like in other survival situations, the possession of certain survival gear and tools will help you stay alive until help comes or you find you way to civilization. These include a survival knife, waterproof matches, warm clothing, and food. Knowing the basics of surviving cold weather coupled with these items can help you ensure that you'll live to fight another day despite the extremely low temperatures.

    Sneak peek at next week’s survival article:

    Next week we’ll be talking about how to find shelter in a cold-weather survival situation. Until then, have a great week!

    Food & Water Shelter Survival skills

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    • The knife could use a leather sthaeh with the extra slots for a steel and pipe whistle. Any decent shoemaker in NYC is also a decent enough leather smith to cut, stain, and oil a decent leather sthaeh system for that piece of kit. The steel probably needs a bit more Cardin and I don’t care for a design that skeletonizes the blade. Handles are fine for a skeleton

      Coperfield on

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