How to Survive in Cold Weather in the Wilderness (Without Dying!)

how to survive in cold weather in the wilderness

Since the beginning of humanity, warding and surviving from cold weather has been a large part of the struggle against nature. Nowadays things are different, we have stable shelters, insulation and heating. We no longer have the true fear of the cold or winter. However, even in our modern age, accidents do still occur. Cars break down, people get stranded. When does a bad day become worse? When it's in the bone-chilling winter or the sweltering summer. While no one can know what life has to throw at us, you can be at the very least, prepared when nature gives you the cold shoulder.

cold weather survival shelter

Most dangerous hazards to look out for in cold weather

One of the most dangerous effects cold can have on your body is frostbite, which is the freezing of skin tissue and loss of circulation of blood vessels. This usually affects the extremities of the body, such as hands, feet, nose, and ears. If left untreated and without the adequate protection, amputation might be the only option.

Frostbite symptoms include:

  • Pins and needles in your fingers, toes, ears, and nose
  • Discoloration of skin to white
  • Hardening of the skin
  • Very cold to the touch
  • Skin can become blue or purple
  • Loss of limbs
  • Loss of feeling
  • Constant pain
  • Loss of movement in extremity.

Hypothermia symptoms include:

  • Shivering, which may stop as hypothermia progresses (shivering is actually a good sign that a person's heat regulation systems are still active. )
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Drowsiness or exhaustion
  • Slurred or mumbled speech
  • Loss of coordination, fumbling hands, stumbling steps
  • A slow, weak pulse
  • In severe hypothermia, a person may be unconscious without obvious signs of breathing or a pulse

How to keep warm in the wilderness

If you ever get stranded in the wilderness, you still have a chance of making it out alive. Having layered clothing, gloves, and good shoes will immensely help your situation. But if not, your goal will be to create a fire, second, a shelter.

A fire will be your priority, this will provide you with warmth, a way of melting snow for water, and act as a beacon during the night. Tinder will be available in the forest, either by dead branches or by dead vegetation.

Depending on where you set up your fire, there is a certain measure to take into account. Such as when setting up under a large tree, shake the branches above to let the extra snow fall. Or in the middle of a field, be sure to clear out the ground in and around your fire, as to not start a brush fire after your fire is set up.

Be sure to also set up a fire pit, which consists of your tinder and logs, surrounded by small to medium sized rocks. Starting a fire will be difficult, but not impossible in a snowy or cold location. However, you must create a tinder nest or a collection of your tinder bunched up. By virtue of being in the cold, you will have to create more heat in order to reach a point in which fire will commence.

Shelter is also very important, creating a simple lean-to will be incredibly important to keep you warm in the night. Clearing out the ground of snow will be the first step, the second step will depend on your supplies. However, in almost all situations, a lean-to will be your best shelter choice. A lean-to is a shelter created by using branches bounded together with plant matter on top, creating a sort of ramp that acts as a buffer against the wind. The design also acts as a heat capture, meaning that a fire started in front of the lean-to will provide significant heat.

Methods to start a fire

Starting a fire in below zero temperatures, out in the wilderness is not ideal, but still possible. Keep in mind that you'll be trying to generate more heat to compensate the cold temperatures. As such there are three different ways to create fire, friction-based, lens-based, and unconventional-based.

Friction-based fire starting is the idea of rubbing two different types of wood at the same time without stopping in order to create a spark from the resulting friction. The most commonly used fire starting tool is the hand drill. This consists of a long stick, held between your hands focused on a point of a longer board or branch to create an ember. This ember will be used to ignite the tinder nest, which will in turn be used to ignite the larger logs as long term fuel.

Lens-based fire starting is the practice of using lens or refractory surfaces to focus sunlight to create a spark. Using a magnifying glass is the most common practice, due to how easy it is to focus the intensity of a beam on a tinder nest causing a small spark to form with enough time. Using water filled balloons, water bottles, condoms or even common eye glasses can be viable as well. Keep in mind the amount of time to start a spark will depend on the sun's intensity, so an overcast day may make it impossible for this to be viable.

Unconventional fire starting is the method of using specific items that might be on hand, that could be used to create fire. An example can be seen in the method of using a chocolate bar and a coke can to create a parabolic mirror. This is done by rubbing the bottom of a coke can with the chocolate, causing the bottom to become very polished, then pointing the bottom of the can to the sun, and the reflection to the tinder in close proximity. Also, you can use a battery and a gum wrapper that can act as a match, creating a quick flame. This is done by wrapping the metallic back of the wrapper on the top and bottom of the battery causing the current to ignite the paper of the wrapper.

In conclusion

In the end, being stranded in the wilderness is never a good situation to be in, however it does not mean the end of your world. With a little ingenuity and a little luck, you'll be able to make it out a little worse for wear, but alive.

Since the beginning of humanity, warding and surviving from cold weather has been a large part of the struggle against nature. Nowadays things are different, we have stable shelters, insulation, and heating. We no longer have the true fear of the cold or winter. However, even in our modern age, accidents do still occur. Cars break down, people get stranded. When does a bad day become worse? When it’s in the bone-chilling winter or the sweltering summer. So while you are trying to survive the cold weather in the forest, you might just make it out with little to no issue. No one can know what life has to throw at us, but you can be at the very least, be prepared when nature gives you the cold shoulder.

Most dangerous hazards to look out for in cold weather

Image result for cartoon graphics of frostbite

One of the most dangerous effects cold can have on your body is frostbite, which is the freezing of skin tissue and loss of circulation of blood vessels. This usually affects the extremities of the body, such as hands, feet, nose, and ears. If left untreated and without the adequate protection, amputation might be the only option.

Frostbite symptoms include:

  • Pins and needles in your fingers, toes, ears, and nose
  • Discoloration of skin to white
  • Hardening of the skin
  • Very cold to the touch
  • Skin can become blue or purple
  • Loss of limbs
  • Loss of feeling
  • Constant pain
  • Loss of movement in extremity.

Image result for pictures of hypothermiaAnother danger to look out for is hypothermia. Hypothermia is the physical effects of your core body temperature going lower than 98.6 Fahrenheit or 37 Celsius, and dropping as low as 82 Fahrenheit or 27 Celsius. It may seem unimpressive, but the drop to that low level of temperature is detrimental to your organs and long term health. Prolonged exposure of 15 minutes to extreme cold will cause hypothermia symptoms to set in.

Hypothermia symptoms  include:

  • Shivering, which may stop as hypothermia progresses (shivering is actually a good sign that a person’s heat regulation systems are still active. )
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Drowsiness or exhaustion
  • Slurred or mumbled speech
  • Loss of coordination, fumbling hands, stumbling steps
  • A slow, weak pulse
  • In severe hypothermia, a person may be unconscious without obvious signs of breathing or a pulse

How to keep warm in the wilderness

If you ever get stranded in the wilderness, you still have a chance of making it out alive. Having layered clothing, gloves, and good shoes will immensely help your situation. But if not, your goal will be to create a fire, second, a shelter.

A fire will be your priority, this will provide you with warmth, a way of melting snow for water, and act as a beacon during the night. Tinder will be available in the forest, either by dead branches or by dead vegetation.

Depending on where you set up your fire, there is a certain measure to take into account. Such as when setting up under a large tree, shake the branches above to let the extra snow fall. Or in the middle of a field, be sure to clear out the ground in and around your fire, as to not start a brush fire after your fire is set up.

Be sure to also set up a fire pit, which consists of your tinder and logs, surrounded by small to medium sized rocks. Starting a fire will be difficult, but not impossible in a snowy or cold location. However, you must create a tinder nest or a collection of your tinder bunched up. By virtue of being in the cold, you will have to create more heat in order to reach a point in which fire will commence.

A shelter is also very important, creating a simple lean-to will be incredibly important to keep you warm in the night. Clearing out the ground of snow will be the first step, the second step will depend on your supplies. However, in almost all situations, a lean-to will be your best shelter choice. A lean-to is a shelter created by using branches bounded together with plant matter on top, creating a sort of ramp that acts as a buffer against the wind. The design also acts as a heat capture, meaning that a fire started in front of the lean-to will provide significant heat.

Methods to start a fire 

Starting a fire in below zero temperatures, out in the wilderness is not ideal, but still possible. Keep in mind that you’ll be trying to generate more heat to compensate the cold temperatures. As such there are three different ways to create fire, friction-based, lens-based, and unconventional-based.

Friction-based fire starting is the idea of rubbing two different types of wood at the same time without stopping in order to create a spark from the resulting friction. The most commonly used fire starting tool is the hand drill. This consists of a long stick, held between your hands focused on a point of a longer board or branch to create an ember. This ember will be used to ignite the tinder nest, which will, in turn, be used to ignite the larger logs as long term fuel.

Lens-based fire starting is the practice of using a lens or refractory surfaces to focus sunlight to create a spark. Using a magnifying glass is the most common practice, due to how easy it is to focus the intensity of a beam on a tinder nest causing a small spark to form with enough time. Using water filled balloons, water bottles, condoms or even common eye glasses can be viable as well. Keep in mind the amount of time to start a spark will depend on the sun’s intensity, so an overcast day may make it impossible for this to be viable.

Unconventional fire starting is the method of using specific items that might be on hand, that could be used to create fire. An example can be seen in the method of using a chocolate bar and a coke can to create a parabolic mirror. This is done by rubbing the bottom of a coke can with the chocolate, causing the bottom to become very polished, then pointing the bottom of the can to the sun, and the reflection to the tinder in close proximity. Also, you can use a battery and a gum wrapper that can act as a match, creating a quick flame. This is done by wrapping the metallic back of the wrapper on the top and bottom of the battery causing the current to ignite the paper of the wrapper.

Final Words

In the end surviving in cold weather in the wilderness or emergency situation is not going to be fun. However, it does not mean the end of your world. With a little ingenuity and a little luck, you’ll be able to make it out a little worse for wear, but alive.