Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
With the way things are going in the world, it doesnâ€™t take much imagination to think of several scenarios that could leave you stranded in the wilderness. And in the winter, these situations can become deadly in a hurry.
A closed road or car trouble in a remote area, or a wrong turn on a hike can go horribly wrong in a hurry as daylight wanes and temperatures plunge. Since frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly, you must find ways to stay warm, dry, and hydrated until help arrives or conditions allow you to find your way to safety.
This article will explore the survival basics you need to know if youâ€™re stranded in the winter wilderness.
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If you are on foot, your first priority for winter survival is to find or create shelter. Hopefully, you have some materials, such as a tarp or plastic bags in your backpack, which you can use to make a quick, sturdy shelter. You can supplement with things you find in Mother Nature.
Here are ideas for finding the right location:
Try draping your tarp over a low branch, a large bush, or a fallen tree. Secure the outside edges with heavy rocks. If you have rope or paracord with you, you can use it to create a taller shelter. String the rope tight in the tree and then drape the tarp over the rope. You can add more insulations with leaves and branches.
This video shows three different ways to make simple tarp shelters:
Evergreen trees can provide a sturdy canopy, and they have the added bonus of having a bed of needles underneath. If there are no evergreens where you are located, look for any kind of mature tree that has a broad canopy and a thick trunk. A large bush or fallen branches might also provide some shelter. Maximize the insulation from the wind and cold by piling up fallen limbs and snow on all sides of this shelter.
This video shows you the steps for making a small tree well temporary shelter. Since you canâ€™t build a fire inside this type of shelter, look for rocks that you can heat up in a fire and then bring inside to warm you.
You also can use a fallen tree as an emergency shelter. One advantage is that the log is off the ground and has some ready-made insulation. Tree trunks rot from the inside out, so you can dig and scoop out the wood and debris to make enough room to crawl inside. (Of course, a disadvantage of this kind of shelter is that you may find insects or other small creatures already hunkering down inside. Be careful.) Place branches in and around any openings in the log to keep the cold air out.
This video shows you how to create this type of emergency shelter:
Snow can be a useful and insulating material for building a shelter. Hereâ€™s how to build a snow trench shelter:
Hereâ€™s a video that shows how to make a snow trench shelter:
A snow cave is a way to protect yourself from the winter elements in an emergency. Youâ€™ll first need to find a large snowdrift or a steep but stable snow slope. Youâ€™ll want a shovel and, ideally, a saw to create the cave.
Here are the basic steps to follow next:
This video shows the process of building a snow cave:
If you are stranded in your vehicle in the winter, you may think itâ€™s best to remain in your car. In some situations, you may be right. By staying inside or near your vehicle, you have a much better chance of being rescued.
Here are some ideas for making the most of this situation:
Starting a fire in the winter can present more challenges than in warmer weather. For one thing, it is harder to find dry tinder and wood. And, for another, the ground may be frozen, making it difficult to dig a fire pit.
Here are some tips for starting a fire in the winter wilderness:
This video shows the steps to starting a fire on the snow-covered ground:
Once youâ€™ve gotten your shelter secured and a fire started, itâ€™s time to consider food and water. Dehydration is just as much a concern in cold weather as in a warm-weather survival situation.
However, since we donâ€™t feel as thirsty when we are cold as when we are hot, we often ignore the warning signs of dehydration.
If you can find fresh running water in a creek or stream, so much the better. But, if not, you can melt ice or snow for its moisture content. Be sure to boil the water first.
Avoid eating unmelted snow. It can lower your core temperature, increasing your susceptibility to hypothermia. Snow also can contain toxic contaminants.
You can collect condensation that happens inside your shelter by angling plastic sheeting or bags on the inside of your shelter roof and placing a clean bowl underneath.
This video shows you how to obtain water in a frozen landscape:
Finally, the best way to survive being stranded in any type of weather is to prepare before heading out on your journey.
If you are traveling by car, pack an emergency kit in your vehicle. If you are traveling on foot, pack the essentials in your backpack. This article gives an overview of what should be in a winter backpack.
If you are stranded in cold weather and are unsure when your situation will improve or when help will arrive, here are the steps you should take.
Another step is to remind yourself to think and stay calm. Panic can cause you to make bad and possibly dangerous decisions. You can use the mnemonic â€śSTOP,â€ť which stands for â€śStop, Think, Observe, and Plan,â€ť if you are faced with an emergency.
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