The cold. It's an absolute nightmare if you're not prepared, but let's get real. I'm sure many of our readers will happily go camping as the weather warms up, but what about during winter? I'll never forget my first winter camping trip. I was horribly unprepared, and the little knowledge of the little gear I had meant I spent the better part of each night curled in a ball for warmth, while praying for the sun to rise. Needless to say it wasn't very fun. But it was important. See, I was training, and I learnt a lot that trip. A crisis will not wait for a more convenient time. An emergency could happen at any time, and whilst it's fun to imagine bugging out during the warm, balmy summer days, there's a good chance it'll happen while the weather is bad. To make it through, you'll need to follow these winter survival tips.
Layer all of your clothing
The more layers the better, as it will allow you to add (or remove) specific pieces of clothing as youj need. Sweat is going to be the biggest problem when you're in the cold, and if you're hiking or setting up a shelter, pay attention to your heart rate. Perspiration will dampen your clothes which massively increases the amount of heat you'll lose from your body. Your first layer should be a synthetic material designed to wick water away from your skin, and dry quickly. I've got a light thermal shirt and pants I always wear, along with a thick pair of woollen socks. Cover this with a layer of insulation. The goal is to trap your body heat inside, so you stay warmer. Fleece is one of the best materials for this, and you could even wear a second pair of socks to keep your feet warmer. The final layer is the most important, as it stops both the wind and the rain from penetrating your lower layers. Find something that's both breathable yet waterproof, Gore-Tex is one of the most popular.
Build a decent shelter
If you're in an area with a decent snowfall you can use a shovel to make a shelter from even the most severe storms. A snow cave shelter is exactly what it sounds like, a man-made tunnel that will protect you from the worst of the elements. Just be careful where you build it, and avoid any potential landslide areas. Oh, and make sure your entrance tunnel faces downwind, otherwise any falling snow will plug up your exit. It works best if you've got about 6 feet of snow to build with, but you could always pile up any snow if it's too shallow. Pack the snow down by stomping on it, so it compacts and is safer for your construction. I like to wait a couple of hours so the snow you've been working re-freezes, and then it's time to start digging. Keep your tunnel several feet wide, and dig it down at an angle so you've got an easy slope to exit. Hollow out your cave, but remember to keep the roof and walls about 1-2 feet thick, any thinner and you risk bringing your cave down on your, or having it collapse under the weight of the elements. It'll be a little dim in your cave during the day, but as I've always got one of our
strikelights with me that won't be a problem, as it's plenty bright enough to keep the cave illuminated throughout the night. Now just use a branch or a ski pole to poke a couple of air vents in your roof, and it's good to go. Just remember to bring your shovel inside before you sleep, and to prop your backpack up in the doorway. Never, ever, wall yourself in.
Construct an elevated bed
Inside your snow cave the cold air is going to pool around your feet. You can stay a few degrees warmer by building a raised platform to keep yourself off the ground as you sleep. Go collect a bunch of pine boughs for insulation, as many as you can reasonably find. The thicker you can make the insulation between yourself and the hard-packed snow, the easier it will be to stay warm within your sleeping bag.
Keep an eye out for firewood
Finding suitable tinder during winter can be impossible, so it's critical you've prepared your own. I have an altoids tin that's got a number of cotton-balls soaked in vaseline, which is my go-to when I want a fire quickly. You should also keep an eye out for any dry wood you see as you're hiking, as it's far easier to pick up a few branches and logs when you see them, instead of frantically searching for suitable firewood as the sun sets.
Don't forget about hydration
Remembering to drink can be a problem in winter, as the cold doesn't make you feel thirsty like the heat of summer does, but your body still needs water. In a pinch you can eat fresh snow, but this will drop your core body temperature, so only do this if you're currently active, like building out your snow cave. Otherwise look for a fresh water source like a river, and boil up everything you collect to kill any bacteria or parasites present.
Staying warm in the night
As you toss and turn trying to stay warm, there's actually a better solution. Force yourself out of bed and do some pushups or jumping jacks, to get your heart pumping and your metabolism working. Five minutes of vigorous exercise can do wonders in getting you warm again. I'd also ensure you're wrapping yourself up in the emergency survival blanket I know you have in your kit, to trap the heat your body generates. Knowing Murphy's Law, it makes sense that we take all adequate precautions when it comes to being prepared. When a crisis does hit, I for one am not going to be worried if it comes in the middle of winter, as I've already mastered these techniques, and I know my family will survive. How about yours?