Tagged "Survival skills"

How to find food and water in a cold weather survival situation

Posted by Leighton Taylor on

Food and water are both necessary for survival whether you’re in the middle of Manhattan or stranded in the wilderness. The only difference is that it’s easier to “forage” for these basic necessities in a civilized setting than it is in a survival situation, especially in severe weather.

Since you never know when you may find yourself in a cold weather survival situation, it pays to have a little bit of knowledge just in case.

In this article, we’ll discuss some tips on how to find food and, more importantly, water when trapped in severely cold weather with no amenities or rescue in sight.


Despite what may seem intuitive, staying hydrated is just as important in a cold environment as it is in a warm or hot one. Though cold weather normally doesn’t make you sweat, you still lose water continuously.

There are several reasons for this. Your body loses precious fluid due to the cold, the stress you're under, and any physical exertion you do. In addition, you may also be contributing to fluid loss by drinking coffee to keep you warm which can cause you to urinate more frequently. In any case, it is extremely important to replace any of the lost fluid in order for you to be able to function effectively--something that is absolutely essential in a survival situation.

Ok, so you know water is important. Now comes the tough part--you’ll need to know where to get an adequate supply. And in an extremely cold environment, the only source of water you are most likely to find is snow and ice. So, how do you get water from snow and ice? Below are several tips to help you out.

Tips on Melting Ice and Snow for Water:

  • Use your body heat to melt snow by putting it in a container (i.e. water bag, can, flask) and then placing that container in between layers of your clothing.

  • Use fire to melt the snow. You can place a container filled with ice/snow near the fire or, if you don't have a container available, make a snow marshmallow (packed snow placed on top of a stick) and place it near the fire then use any available material you have to catch the drops of water.

  • Don’t try eating snow or melting ice in your mouth as it lowers your body’s core temperature, taking away your warmth and leaving you cold.

  • Ice is a better source of water than snow since it yields more water and takes less time to melt.

  • Melt snow or ice in small amounts, adding more and more as soon as the previous amount has melted.  

  • Make sure that your container is not filled completely. This prevents the water from freezing. You should also keep your water right next to you to keep it from freezing again.

For a more detailed look at how to melt snow for water, check out the video below:

Take note, if the area you are in happens to have sources of drinkable water such as flowing bodies of water (i.e. rivers, streams), then don’t bother wasting fuel or energy on melting ice or snow.  Just make sure to strain the water to get rid of any sediment and boil it for at least 10 minutes to purify it.


According to what the survival experts call “The Rule of Threes”, you can survive three weeks without food. This means that you don’t really have to worry much about starving to death in most survival situations though feeling hunger can make you feel worse off than you really are. In a cold weather survival situation, however, food is quite important to survival because the calories and fat you consume helps keep your body warm. So, how do you feed yourself when trapped in a cold environment? Check out our tips below.

Tips for Procuring Food:

  • Insects and worms can be found in almost any location; their nesting grounds are usually underground, within rotten wood, or beneath rocks. Be sure to boil them though before consuming and avoid eating any bugs that are brightly colored, pungent, or hairy.

  • Hunting or trapping animals is also a good way to gather some grub though it isn’t going to be easy. You should keep in mind that although a large animal would feed you for a long time, it's much harder to trap/hunt than a small one.

  • When hunting or trapping, look for clues that prove animals frequently pass by the area. Some examples to look out for include trails, tracks, droppings, water areas, and chewed vegetation.

  • Fish, clams, and snails are also a good source of food if you're lost in an area that has bodies of water. Avoid eating any mussels though during the summer months because they contain toxins that are only present during that time.

  • If you want to eat some vegetation, you should be careful to avoid the following: white and red berries, mushrooms (unless you can identify them), water hemlock, and any plants that look like melons, cucumbers, or beans because they are frequently found to be poisonous.

  • Reptiles are a good source of protein and none of them are inedible though the poisonous ones do present some danger when you’re trying to catch it.

  • Some wild plants that you can eat include acorns, chickweed, burdock (also known as wild rhubarb), cattails (the lower stalks and rhizomes), and watercress. Just keep in mind that when in doubt, it's best not to eat the plant.

If you want more information on how to hunt, fish, and trap your food, check out our post about using a survival knife to feed yourself in the wilderness here.

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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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    How to Sharpen Your Survival Knife in the Bush

    Posted by Leighton Taylor on

    We all know that a knife in hand is better than none when in a survival situation. But there’s one more thing you should know: a dull knife (even if it’s the best survival knife in the world) just won’t cut it… or slice, chop, or hack. If you find yourself in a life-or-death situation, you’ll need to be able to rely on this tool. And though you’re still better off with a dull knife than no knife at all, using it will mean loads of frustration – something that you may not be mentally equipped to handle given your circumstance. If you’re lucky, you might have thought to bring a sharpening tool with you before you found yourself lost in the wilderness. Unfortunately, we all can’t rely on luck (you were unlucky enough to find yourself in a survival situation, remember?).  So, how does one sharpen a survival knife in the bush? We’ve listed three ways you can do so with only the materials you have in hand.

    Sharpening a Knife in a Survival Situation:

    Create your own whetstone.

    Find small coarse stones that you'll find in rivers and crush them into a pulp using a big stone. Once the stones are like mush, get a piece of living wood (about as thick as the handle of a baseball bat) and strip off its bark. Wet the wood a bit and then rub the pulp around it using your hands. This "contraption" now serves as your DIY whetstone. Draw the knife's edge across the wood until you reach your desired sharpness. To ensure that you get the most out of your makeshift whetstone, be sure to hold the blade perpendicular to the wood the entire time you’re sharpening it. If you need to see how it’s done, you can check out a video of Bear Grylls making his own whetstone here.


    Use a flat, smooth rock.

    If used properly, a flat, smooth stone, preferably a sandstone or any other sedimentary rock, will easily sharpen your survival knife. The quality of the blade’s sharpness may not be as great as that provided by a real sharpening stone but since you’re in a survival situation, it is definitely more than adequate for your needs. You can easily find these stones in streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, and even under waterfalls. Sedimentary stones are preferable over other types of flat, smooth stones you’ll find because the small, abrasive grains that make up these rocks enable faster cutting action. To sharpen your knife, glide the stone along each side of the knife’s edge for an equal number of times until you the knife is as sharp as you want it to be.

    Strop your knife with your belt.

    Stropping is a technique used to sharpen a blade's edge by polishing it and smoothening out the microscopic burrs found along the edge. To use this method, you’ll need to use a leather belt or a piece of rubber. If a belt is no longer Hold the strop nice and taut. Drag the blade's edge back and forth on the strop while holding it at a very shallow angle. Be sure to draw the blade away from the cutting edge so that it won't cut/slice the strop or you while you perform this task. If you don't have a leather belt at the moment, you can use the edge of the rubber sole of a boot as an alternative. To see how it’s done, check out this video:

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    Top 3 Ways to Start a Fire in a Survival Situation

    Posted by Leighton Taylor on

    Fire is a vitally important tool in the wilderness, possibly second only to the survival knife. It provides you with a cooking flame, a way to keep warm at night, a means of purifying water, and more. Knowing how to start a fire is an essential survival skill every camper, hunter, and outdoorsman should have. Obviously, having a lighter or matches means you probably won’t have any difficulty with this particular task. But what if you didn’t have any in your survival gear? How would you start a matchless fire, especially in a life-or-death situation? Well, there are actually a lot of ways but knowing just a handful of the easiest should do the trick.

    Before you make the fire though, you’ll need to do some campfire preparation. First, you’ll need to find a good location for a campfire. This is a site where you’re close to firewood and a water source. It should also be protected from the wind. Lastly, the ground should be dry and flat. Once you’ve chosen the site, you should create your fire pit – 4 to 6 inches deep with a 3-foot radius. Place rocks around the pit to help contain the fire. For firewood, you’ll need to gather three types: tinder, kindling, and fuel. Tinder can be anything that’s absolutely dry and can catch fire easily such as fallen leaves, bird feathers, and dried moss. Kindling, small twigs and sticks around 2-8 inches in length, should also be dry. Fuel, which gets your fire hot, can be logs and large branches around 8-24 inches in length. Once you’ve got your fire pit and firewood, you’re ready to take that step and start making fire.   

    3 Ways to Start a Matchless Fire:


    Using a lens to start a fire is easy and something most people are knowledgeable about. After all, who hasn’t seen this on TV or in the movies? Even kids know about this matchless method. To start your fire, all you need to do is to get some sort of lens (eyeglasses, a dismantled binocular lens, or a camera lens), angle it toward the sun, and make sure the beam hits your tinder. Adding a bit of water on the lens will intensify the beam.

    Photo by spacepleb. Used under Creative Commons license.

    Fire Plow

    You’ve probably seen Bear Grylls do this a time or two on his show but seeing is different from knowing the actual steps and doing. So, here goes. You’ll need a fireboard with a length of around 18 inches and a width of about 2 inches. Carve a groove in the middle of the board (6-8 inches long, 1 inch wide) using a knife or sharp rock. Use a stick (around 12 inches long) as your spindle. Make sure that one tip is pointed/sharp. Place your tinder at one end of your fireboard where it will catch any embers you’ll be making. Then, rub your spindle up and down the groove using the sharp tip. Once an ember catches on the tinder, blow gently on it to get that fire started.

    Here's a video of the fire plow method in practice:

    Flint and Steel

    This is a tried-and-true, primitive method of starting a matchless fire. Striking a flint against steel creates a spark that will get your fire going. For this method, you’ll need the flint, the steel, and a char cloth (any 100% cotton cloth that has been turned into charcoal). To start creating fire, hold the cloth and the flint between your thumb and forefinger. With the steel in your other hand, strike the flint several times until sparks catch on the char cloth which will cause it to glow. Once it does, fold the cloth into the tinder nest and blow gently on the ember until the flame erupts. If you don’t want to carry a flint and steel set in your pack, you can buy a survival knife with a fire starter – two birds, one stone. Though it might not be claimed as the best survival knife in the market, you’ll never have to worry about matches, lighters, or fire plows when it comes to making a fire in the wild.

    It always helps to have a visual demonstration, so here's a video that does a great job of teaching this method:

    Hopefully, you’ll never have to find yourself needing to use any of these methods. But if you happen to fall right into a survival situation, you’ll at least have three options that will keep you warm, fed, and alive while you fight your way back to civilization.

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