Top 10 Tips for Surviving in the Cold

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How often do we hear stories of people who find themselves unprepared for cold weather elements in various survival challenges? A small hiking party plans a short-day hike or an overnight hike, and because of a storm or unexpected car problem, people become stranded for much longer than they planned to be in the elements. It’s much better to be prepared for these situations than to be caught without knowing what to do.

The best advice for survival in the cold is to be educated about the area you plan to be in, and know what to do to survive for the colder season in that area. Cold weather can look different depending on where you are. In some places colder weather means cold rain while in others, cold weather means ice, snow and sub-zero temperatures.

There are several things that can impact a hiking trip or back packing journey. Even something as simple as crossing the mountains in the snow. When driving in cold weather areas, make sure to heed signs on the highways as you enter mountainous areas. Do not take short cuts. Remember the Donner Party? Seriously, taking back roads when a severe snow storm hits and your car becomes buried can cost you and the occupants of your car your lives.

You should always have the following in your car when you are driving any distance in cold temps:

  • Extra 24 pack of bottled water
  • Blankets
  • Plenty of snacks
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Extra power pack to charge cell phones
  • Battery charger
  • Spare tire
  • Other items for quick repairs if needed
  • Snow shovel and scraper

Before you venture on a road trip where there are cold weather elements, make sure your car is dependable. If you have any question about your car’s reliability, rent a vehicle rather than use a car that might break down or cause an accident. Good tires, for example, are extremely important when making a decision about using your own car.

Here are the top 10 tips for surviving in the cold. Whether you are out camping, hiking, or in your vehicle, it’s all about survival in tough elements.

1. Prepare

The first order of business is to prepare for the elements. After reading several books about climbing Mt. Everest, there are many people who hire guides and Sherpas who to assist them up the mountain. They often make it and survive. But if anything comes up that is the least bit unexpected, they are not prepared and end up in dangerous situations. Then there are others who hire guides, but by the same token, they prepare for every single element and anticipate worst-case scenarios. Those individuals are ready and prepared. Of course, Mount Everest is an extreme cold survival situation, but the point is to be prepared for the unexpected where ever you are traveling, hiking, or camping.

2. Hypothermia

Know that hypothermia and frostbite are real dangers. Here’s the tricky fact. Even at 50 degrees F, you can risk losing too much core and limb heat if you are not dressed properly and are exposed to the elements. You may be in a sudden downpour and are soaked. Perhaps you did not bring a change of clothes. This goes back to being prepared. It does not have to be below 0 or below freezing to develop hypothermia. Memorize this fact.

3. Body heat

Protect body heat when in the cold and if you are going to be in the elements for an extended time. Keep your head covered. Layer up. Your body heat is precious.

4. Shelter

Build a shelter if you don’t have a tent. If you are in your car, stay in your car. You can build a shelter out of sticks or even make a shelter out of snow. If your car gets covered in snow, make sure the tail pipe is free if you run the car to keep the heat on for any length of time. If you have a shovel in your car, shovel around your car, but leave the snow on your car overnight. Snow is an insulator.

5. Avoid sweating if possible

Sweating is your body’s way of cooling down. Eventually you will get colder.

6. Snow

Melt snow before you drink it. Eating snow will cool your body. You don’t want to cool your body and counteract hydrating yourself.

7. Do not drink alcohol

Alcohol actually lowers body temperature. This is counterproductive. You might feel warm and tingly, but don’t drink it. It can cost you.

8. Stay put

Traveling is dangerous. You have a better chance of living if you are able to survive in place in a shelter.

9. Try to stay hydrated

Snow is your best bet unless you have water or a water filtration device and a water source nearby.

10. Layers

Dress in layers before traveling, hiking or backpacking in winter. Air actually gets trapped between the layers and acts as an insulator. The layers also can be added and taken away depending on how cold or warm it is. You will have more control over regulating your own body heat.

Many of the above tips are common sense suggestions for cold weather. Probably the most surprising of all is the temperature at which a person can suffer from hypothermia. Hypothermia can actually happen at 50 degrees F, which might be just a cool fall day. One doesn’t usually expect hypothermia on 50 degree days, but exposure to the elements for a length of time and not having extremities properly covered in certain wind and rainy conditions can prove to be as dangerous as a snow storm.

What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is when the vital organs of your body actually begin to shut down. Often people who are in the early stages of hypothermia do not realize it, because it happens so gradually. The first signs of hypothermia are shivering and lack of coordination.

Moderate signs of hypothermia are slurred speech, unexplained heat, very low energy, weak pulse, and the shivering stops. If you are wet and you have any signs of hypothermia, you must get your clothes off. Get naked if that is your only option but get the wet clothes off. With wet clothes on, you will get hypothermia and your chances of living may be slim if you are in the elements. Wrap up in a blanket or change clothes. Anything is better than wet clothes. Make a fire if you can. Heat snow and drink it. Do running in place, jumping jacks, or other exercise to make your heart pump blood to your organs.

Be prepared

Being prepared for your journey cannot be overstated. Many cold weather tragedies could have been avoided if people would have just prepared and planned ahead for possible weather situations. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s easy to get caught up in going on an adventure, that people say things like, “I can do this 20-mile hike. I’m not in the best of shape, but I really want to do this hike up Long’s Peak in Colorado with my friends.’

This person might be from Abilene, Kansas where the altitude is almost at sea level. And the hike up Long’s Peak is 16 miles and takes a very long day starting at 3 am. Long’s Peak is a very challenging hike up to over 14,000 feet high. This is a climb of over 5,000 feet in altitude from the trailhead in Estes Park.

You cannot over prepare or plan when you decide to venture out in colder weather. It’s far better to know what you are doing and survive the harsh elements then to go out into the cold and find yourself in a panic over what to do. When a person begins to panic in the cold, the body reacts in a negative manner. The more information you have about survival in the cold, the more you will be able to stay calm and in control of the situation.

Hiking, traveling, and camping in areas that have cold weather are fun activities no matter what the season. That is why people are often caught and surprised by the elements. The more you know, the more prepared you will be for your journey. Knowledge is power. Survival is about being prepared and knowing what to do. Enjoy fun activities that take you into colder areas, but also know what to do when the unexpected situation arises. Your chances of survival in the cold improve greatly with prior knowledge and preparedness.



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