Saturday, January 16, 2010

Winter survival tips

Camp Connell, CA - Lots of people enjoy being outside in the winter, and very few ever need to know what to do if they get in trouble.
But it happens, and as a result I worked up a short version of a Winter Preparedness and Survival sheet for the docents at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. When the weather is good I occasionally lead snowshoe tours in the park, and usually try to impart some of these common sense tips to people.

I suspect it is ironic that shortly after doing this the snow melted, and I had surgery which precludes me from doing much outdoors activity in the cold for a few weeks. No matter: more snow is on the way and I am healing fast.

So, here is some information you may be able to use if you want to enjoy the outdoors year round:

Being properly prepared to enjoy the outdoors in winter requires no technical skills, but a lot of common sense and some preparation.

Be Prepared

The odds are great that you will never be lost or in a survival situation.
The best way to survive is to not get lost or hurt. Most people do that every day by exercising reasonable care.

Be aware that being properly prepared means for a worst case situation, not an average day’s walk in the park on a well-defined trail.

Conditions can change rapidly in winter. A short sunny stroll can end up in a freezing whiteout. Extra preparation helps make for a pleasant visit.

So, check the weather forecast , and dress appropriately.

The most critical item to help a person survive in winter is adequate clothing. You cannot overemphasize the role clothing -- and a good attitude -- play in enhancing the chances for survival if something goes wrong.

TIP # 1: Remember ABC = “Anything But Cotton.” We all love blue jeans and fashionable shirts, but when cotton gets wet -- either from melting snow or sweat -- it loses the ability to provide warmth and actually drains heat from wet bodies.

Wool and synthetics, worn in layers, wick away dampness and provide warmth when you are active. An outer layer(jacket and pants) should be water proof or resistant .
Extremities get cold faster than the core body, so boots, gloves and a warm hat are essential ingredients to avoid hypothermia and even frostbite.

If you can convince yourself to think of tennis shoes, cotton socks, long-sleeved cotton T-shirts and denim blue jeans as dangerous in a winter wilderness, you will be better prepared for anything.

TIP # 2: Carry essential items with you to make sure you can survive,--even on a brief day hike-- if something happens and you get stuck hiking or skiing in the snow.

The minimal list should include an extra layer of clothing for warmth when not moving, drinking water, an energy bar, and ways to stay dry and warm. (A complete checklist is included below.)

Survival Tips

Survival in winter requires staying warm, staying put in a safe location(except in extraordinary circumstances) and making sure someone can find you by enhancing visibility.

So, let someone know where you are going and when to expect your return.

And, before you go into a winter wilderness, prepare properly.

Remember ABC means “Anything But Cotton” and “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.”

Here is a longer memory jogger that outlines the essentials you should carry with you to assure winter survival:
Remember, For Wilderness Survival, Keeping My Cool Will Continue My Life

Remember ............Rope (long enough to rig a shelter, or make a snare)
For............................Food (granola or high calorie bars provide energy)
Wilderness..............Water ( absolutely essential)
Survival....................Shelter (large garbage bag, thermal blankets or a fly)
Keeping...................Knife (strong enough to cut branches or rope)*
My............................Map (a basic tool to locate yourself)
Cool.........................Compass (another basic tool; GPS will work)
Will...........................Whistle (one way to signal for help)
Continue..................Clothing (enough to keep you warm if sitting still)
My............................Matches (waterproof, or flint and steel and starter)**
Life...........................Light (small flashlight helps someone find you)
*Adding a wire saw would is worth the extra weight for back country trips.
** You may want a small amount of fire starter, or dryer lint. Also, if you carry a propane lighter, carry more than one. They fail often.

If you get lost or injured...

Remember to “STOP”:

S = Stop where you are. Don’t wander, calm down for a minute. Search and Rescue teams suggest we hug a tree to help calm down.

T = Think about where you are, what resources you have and what you need to do.

O = Observe your surroundings. Take note of the terrain, snow depths and conditions, weather, time of day, tracks and trails and anything else that might help you with the final step.

P = Plan what to do. Decide what is best to assure your survival based upon you condition, location, equipment and knowledge.

Your priorities should be:
Shelter -- Use clothing, a garbage bag, branches from trees, a snow cave or trench, or anything else that will protect you from wind and wet and cold. Separate your body from snow with something: a closed-cell foam pad is good, and lightweight.

Fire -- Low branches broken from a tree, or the inside of downed wood, will burn even if the exterior is damp. Split the wood. Start small. Add more wood slowly. Keep it going.

Signal -- Use your whistle, smoke, a mirror, bright colored jacket, or SOS stomped in the snow to increase your visibility. Try sending on your cell phone even if it says no service.

Water -- You must drink water to avoid dehydration. East snow sparingly. Melted is better.

Maintain a positive attitude. A strong will to survive, coupled with positive efforts to keep warm and healthy while awaiting rescue, has been the basis of many wonderful survival stories.

Some additional reading: (flash cards for children)

Compiled for CBTA


Bonebrake said...

All well and good, Sanders, but none of that (except maybe the knife) will do you much good when that big, hungry couger puts you on its menu.

My survival gear would always include at least two handguns: a .22 LR revolver for bunny dinner (beats a snare hands down) and a large-bore, heavy-caliber revolver for defense against big cats and pot-farming creeps.

Why revolvers? They function more reliably in severe cold.

Michael J. Fitzgerald said...

OK... my survival tip for snow country? Don't go! Jaysus! Stay in Mexico until the passes are clear and the daffodils are high. But that's just me. If you have to do go to the snow, well, people should take your advice...