Tagged "Shelter"

Baby It's Cold Outside: Making the Most of Your Insulation Opportunities

Posted by Leighton Taylor on

Food, water, and shelter-- the three life-sustaining essentials that survivalists preach over and over (and over) again. Not all survival situations are created equal, however, so these three gods of survival don’t always rank in the same order of importance. For example, in a cold weather survival situation, you could be well-stocked with a satchel full of expertly trapped small game, but having a full-belly with preparations for the next few days of food survival won’t do you an ounce of good if you’ve frozen to death your first night in the wilderness.

In a cold weather survival situation, shelter and warmth are king and queen in the survival hierarchy. Whether you’re semi-prepared with a tent and sleeping bag, or completely unprepared, there are lots of little tips that just might save you from frostbite, hypothermia, or even a slow, cold, miserable death. So what should you do to insulate yourself from the cold? As Ben Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” Keep reading to learn some tips that can help you keep warm and dry even when it’s extremely cold outside. Let the investing begin!

How to Keep Warm:

Insulating yourself

The most important part of keeping warm is making sure that your body is properly insulated. This means that it not just about having enough clothes. What is even more important is that you know how to maximize the warmth that your clothes provide you.

Tip #1: Cover your most vulnerable areas.

Now, before you go and layer on all the clothes you have with you to ward off the chill, you need to remember that there are certain parts of your body that are more vulnerable to losing body heat-- namely your head, neck, wrist, hands, feet, and ankles. In fact, an uncovered head can cause you to lose 40-45% of your body heat. ACK! So it’s extremely important that these areas are adequately covered.

Tip#2: Keep your clothes clean and dry.

Soiled or dirty clothes lose much of their insulation value – they won’t keep you as warm as clean clothes can. “Dirty clothes?” you ask. Yep. This is because dirt and sweat reduce air pockets in your clothes which ends up causing heat to escape more quickly from your body. Dry clothing is important to keeping warm. Wear clothes that are water repellant or at least not made of absorbent cotton so it won't get damp or wet that easily. If your clothes do get wet, make sure to change into dry ones immediately.

Tip#3: Avoid overheating.

Though it may not seem possible, you can actually cause your body to overheat in cold weather. When this happens, you will start to sweat - your body's way of cooling off, and when you cool off, you lose body heat that's essential to keeping warm. Bad news.  To top it all, your clothes become damp which reduces their ability to keep you insulated. So, if you feel like your body is starting to overheat, adjust the amount of clothing you are wearing. Uncover your head or use lighter headgear. You can also uncover your hands or partially open your jacket to help dissipate your extra body heat.

Tip#4: Wear loose, layered clothing.

If you want to keep yourself warm, it is important that you wear clothing that won't restrict your blood flow. Blood circulation helps keep you warm. In addition, layering your clothing traps air between your body and the environment which helps insulate your body. To increase insulation, let your inner homeless man out (don’t be ashamed...we all have one) and put fibrous materials such as grass or dried leaves between your layers of clothing. This is a great way, again, to increase the amount of trapped air.

Tip #5: Start a fire.

Not only will a fire will keep you warm, but it can also be used to cook food or heat water. Consuming food and water can also help keep you warm. Fire is also particularly useful for drying out any damp or wet clothes you have. (Imagine that!)

Photo by ilkerender. Used under Creative Commons license.

Tip #6: Stay active.

Staying active can help keep you warm because it helps increase blood circulation. I’m not advocating an hour of intense working out because this would make you sweat (which we’ve already said makes you LOSE heat). A great "passive" exercise you can do to increase circulation without breaking out in a sweat is to tense and relax your muscles for a few minutes.

Tip #7: Think about your internal body temperature.

Your body works really hard to keep its internal temperature at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Sure, snow might seem like a good source for water, but the very fact that it’s cold means that your body has to put out more energy to melt it and bring it to normal body temperature. So, when you are considering food/drink, go the extra mile and heat it up over the fire. If you find yourself lying in your nicely insulated sleeping bag and realize that you really “have to go,” don’t wait. “Holding it” just wastes energy by giving your body extra fluid to keep warm.  

Insulating your shelter

Tip #1: Make your shelter just large enough to accommodate you.

Keeping the space inside your shelter small will ensure that you only have a small amount of air to keep warm thereby conserving your body heat. In addition, a smaller space will take less time to heat so you’ll be warm in no time.

Tip #2: Use fibrous materials to insulate your shelter.

Whether you are lucky enough to have a tent or if you’re building a makeshift shelter using your trusty survival knife, you’ll need to add layers to it in order to keep it warm and cozy. Using materials like dead leaves, moss, pine needles, and grass to layer the inside and the outside of your shelter will create additional air pockets that will help keep the heat inside. You’ll also want to use these same materials on the floor of your shelter to prevent the cold ground from zapping your body heat. Do this even if you have a heavy duty sleeping bag to make sure that your sleeping bag will remain dry.

Photo by peupleloup. Used under Creative Commons license. 

Tip #3: Insulate your bed.

Place a hot water bottle inside your sleeping bag. You can also opt to stuff your sleeping bag with your loose gear or fibrous materials to lessen the amount of air and space that you poor body is working so hard to keep warm.

Tip #4: Block the entrance of your shelter to keep the heat in and the wind out.

Tip #5: Avoid building shelter on low ground such as narrow valleys or ravines.

Cold air is heavier than warm air, so these areas will be colder (especially at night) than the high ground surrounding them.

What? No Shelter?

Now, if by any chance you aren’t able to build your own shelter or you don’t have a tent, there are some natural wilderness shelters that will go a long way in helping you to stay warm. Natural formations like caves, trees, and rocky crevices can provide you a much needed cover from the wind. Fallen trees and logs can also act as useful windbreakers. If you can, try digging out a small pit beside the log or tree using your survival knife or a sharp rock to give you more cover. Once you find your temporary shelter, you can start insulating it by creating a fire and layering the ground with fibrous materials. If you happen to be in the desert, make sure to use sun heated rocks to keep yourself warm at night. Those sun-heated rocks, incidentally, work as great heat reflectors and wind blockers to keep behind you as you sleep near your fire.

In a cold weather survival situation, keeping yourself warm is the most important thing you'll need to do to be able to make it through the night. Cold weather can make you feel uncomfortable (yes, even more so that you already do given that you are in a survival situation) and can even result in frostbite, hypothermia, or both. Even worse, feeling cold and extremely uncomfortable can make you lose your will to live. So be prepared. Remember these tips. Store them in your mental reserves to be pulled out and used if you ever find yourself in an unfortunately cold survival situation.

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How to find shelter in a cold weather survival situation

Posted by Leighton Taylor on

Just because you didn’t plan to be in a freezing cold situation without a tent definitely doesn’t mean you should be resigned to spending the night slowly turning into a frozen mass of shivering goosebumps. Your surrounding environment is full of answers and provisions to keep you from this ill fate, so look around and see what you can use to build yourself a shelter. If you are in luck, your cold survival situation has landed you in the woods where pine needles, leaves, and branches abound, but even if you didn’t end up in this insulating paradise, a little bit of extra information, and of course, hard work, can land you a perfectly cozy shelter for the night.

3 Types of Cold Weather Survival Shelters:

In extremely cold weather, there’s one cold, white, fluffy material that you seem to see everywhere--SNOW! So, what do we do with such abundance? We use it for insulation. There are several different types of shelters you can build from snow, the three most popular being:

  • a snow cave
  • a snow trench
  • or a debris shelter

Be forewarned: building any of these is going to take a lot of energy, so expect to sweat and to get damp from handling the snow and prepare accordingly. It’s also important to note that if you are using snow and especially ice, you’re going to need equipment like an ice saw, ax, and shovel.

Snow Cave

Of the three snow shelters listed above, the most effective kind of shelter you can build is the snow cave because snow is such a great insulator.

  1. To start, you'll need to find a snow drift that's around 3 meters deep. If you can't find one, you’re doomed to freeze to death. NO! None of that now, make like a snow plow and build a snow drift that is around 3 meters deep.
  2. You'll need to keep in mind while digging that the door of your cave should be lower than your sleeping platform because cold air goes down while heat rises. So, if your sleeping platform is higher than the door, the heat that you generate in your shelter will stay trapped with you. Ahhh, warm and toasty!
  3. Also, you’ll want to make sure that the roof is arched and smooth. This way you won’t hit your head every time you sit up, and any snow that melts will slide down the walls rather than providing you with an icy drip to keep you company throughout the night.  
  4. The most important feature of your snow cave is the ventilation holes (in your ceiling and door) to ensure that you have enough breathing air inside.

To see how a simple snow cave is built, check out the video below.

Snow Trench

If you don't have any equipment or are running out of time, a snow trench will do the trick.

  1. Dig a trench that's deep enough to provide you with more than adequate protection from the wind.
  2. Use the snow you're digging out to pack the windy side of your trench higher for additional protection.
  3. Once you're done digging, look around for dry materials such as pine boughs, grass, and moss to line the floor of your trench and give you insulation from the snow itself.

Debris Shelter

If your cold survival situation is lacking in that white stuff we call snow, a debris shelter is your shelter of choice. It may seem a little complicated, since it’s not so much digging and packing, so, if you begin to feel overwhelmed, put on your basket weaving helmet and repeat this mantra while rocking back and forth “Become a basket-weaver. Become a basket weaver. I am a basket weaver!”

  1. First, you'll need to find a thick pole that's at least as tall as you to be used as a ridgepole.
  2. Place one end resting on a tree, a stump, or a large boulder. (Remember back in geometry class when they said that it would be useful in real life? The ground and the tree, stump, or boulder are sides A and B of your triangle. The ridgepole is your hypotenuse.)
  3. Place two thick branches diagonally at the front end of the ridgepole (the one resting on the tree/boulder) and tie them all together where they touch with a rope or vine. (We’ve created another triangle again! Thanks geometry!)
  4. Basket-weaver mode begin: create a ribbed frame along the length of the ridgepole using thick branches. These branches will be placed more perpendicular to the ridgepole than parallel. Ensure that the space inside your shelter is wide enough for you to fit into and that you have an opening big enough to allow you to get in and out of your shelter.

Steps 1-4 give you the basic framework. There are huge gaps between your branches though, so we’re going to get into master basket-weaving mode now.

  1. Using smaller, thinner sticks, weave them across the ribbed frame in order to create a “net” that will prevent the debris from falling into your shelter.
  2. Once your net (or dare I say “weave”) is thick enough, you’ll want to work on insulating. Collect light, dry materials such as leaves, pine needles, grass, and twigs and pile them onto your frame.
  3. Make sure that your pile is at least 2 feet thick to increase the insulation value of your shelter, then, put some more branches on top of your debris pile because, really, wouldn’t it be sad if all of your insulation was slowly blown away during the night?

Shelter is finished! Now for a bed and a door:

  1. Using the same light, dry materials, create a bed for you to sleep in and prevent the cold from seeping through.
  2. Finally, collect one last pile of leaves and branches and place them at the entrance of your debris shelter, to be used as a "door" that blocks the cold from coming in and the heat from going out.

Tips for building a shelter:

  • Never use metal for shelter if you're in an extremely cold environment. The metal will function as a conductor, transferring heat away instead of helping trap it within.
  • Ventilation is crucial in an enclosed shelter, particularly if you're planning on making a fire inside it.
  • To keep the heat in, you'll need to block the entrance of your shelter. A "door' will also ensure that the wind stays out.
  • Make sure that the size of the shelter is only as large as you need it to be. Small shelters take less time to heat while large ones steals from your body heat.
  • Don't sleep directly on the ground so the cold won't seep through. Instead, create a "bed" made from grass, pine needles, moss, and other materials that provide insulation.
  • Hillsides are ideal spots for building a shelter as they protect you from the wind.
  • Avoid clearings in the mountains as they are vulnerable to avalanches.
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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!

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