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Cold Weather Survival

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 21 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Survival Cold Weather Food Shelter

Cold weather poses so many problems to survival. The freezing and sub zero temperatures are bad enough by themselves, but add in snow and ice and winter can be a very deadly season in the outdoors.

For anyone heading into the wilderness in cold weather, knowing what do is vital. You might want to challenge yourself, or it might be forced on you by necessity, but without proper knowledge you’ll be in real trouble.


For cold weather you need to dress in layers. This helps to trap air between the different clothes and will keep you warmer. Have good cold weather clothing, preferably with undergarments that wick moisture away from the body. Remember, it’s easier for the body to cool down than to heat up. Have a space blanket in your backpack; it will help insulate you and keep you warmer.

Do everything you can to keep your clothing dry, and keep your head covered to avoid losing heat that way. This is vital. You need to avoid the possibility of hypothermia, where the core temperature of the body drops. If it falls far enough it can eventually lead to death. Keeping the will to survive can be a huge boost to accomplishing it.


You will, of course, need shelter in order to remain alive. It’s possible to make a shelter out of snow, something akin to an igloo, although this depends on there being enough snow to build one. You might have better luck using a fallen tree and boughs to create a basic shelter. Put a trap or groundsheet over the top to protect from snow, and use more snow to insulate the edges.

Don’t sleep directly on the ground as this will merely transmit bone-chilling cold into your body. Raise yourself up slightly, even if it’s just sleeping on boughs and branches. It will make a huge difference.

Keep a fire going, both for warmth and light. You can use branches and also grasses for this, but be sure there’s a good way for the smoke to escape from your shelter.


Snow can be melted, either on a fire or from body heat, to give you drinking water. If possible, use ice for making water as the yield is higher. Be sure to remain properly hydrated.

Food can be a problem. You should always have enough with you to sustain you for a few days, which can be long enough to travel. Beyond that you’ll need to rely on the skills you’ve acquired for fishing and hunting, as well as gathering wild fruit and berries that might be left over from the autumn. Never eat a food when you don’t know what it is.


To reach civilisation you’re going to need to travel. If the snow is more than six inches deep, walking is going to be tiring and not very effective. You’ll need either snow shoes or skis to make any real progress. You can use cloth and strips of willow to make snow shoes.

Be careful when walking on ice. Not every part of it might be thick enough to hold your weight. Have a stick to test the ice before you move, and if you have doubts, spread your weight by lying down and crawling. Never try to travel during a blizzard or whiteout.

In winter, never go into the wilderness without telling people where you’ll be going and when you should be back. That way, if you don’t return, someone can raise the alarm and a search can begin. Have a fully-charged mobile phone with you.

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