Whe elements in cold weather conditions are a deadly threat during survival and crisis situations. The ability to stay warm can mean the difference between life and death. This is normally only a problem when in the outdoors but this can also become a problem during longer blackouts or if the access to gas stops functioning. This can also be the effect from political action such as the Russian Gas embargo against the Ukraine in January of 2009. In this post I will list some of the measures that you can take in order to reduce your vulnerability to these kinds of threats plus the symptoms and treatment for hypothermia.
When being outdoors you need clothing that protects you from the elements and allows you stay warm. One of the most important aspects is principle of dressing in different layers. This allows you to adjust your clothing to different temperatures and conditions. The first layer of base layer should be made up of a material that transports sweat from your body, dries fast and gives a good insulation. There are many kinds of synthetic and natural materials that have this function; personally I prefer Merino wool as a base layer, for underwear and socks when I’m out on hunting, hiking or camping trips. Merino wool also has a good resistance against odors, but this doesn’t mean that the material won’t start to smell after extensive use under hard conditions. Another main advantage of merino wool is that it can be washed in 40 degrees in a normal washing machine, just avoid using softeners. No matter how well a material transports moisture you will get wet by sweat in hard conditions so always bring at least one extra base layer shirt, for summer conditions I recommend that you use a short sleeve t-shirt or tank top in some kind of breathable material. There are many companies that make base layers, Smartwool, Icebreaker, Aclima and Woolpower is some of my personal favorites.
For your middle layers there are many alternatives that should reflect what kind of climate you’re in. Fleace shirts are both light weight and have a very good insulation capacity, the main disadvantage is that fleece is a rather flammable material. For situations where fire may be a risk I recommend that you chose middle layers of merino wool. Another good alternatives for middle layers is sweaters filled with down or primaloft. These middle layers take up very little space when compressed and are extremely light. The main disadvantage is that down loses its insulation when wet and that these solutions often are expensive, Klättermusen, Montane and Patagonia makes some models.
Outer Layer – Shell Jackets
The outer shell jacket should be both wind and water proof. This is important; a combination of rain and wind can cause deadly hypothermia even in warm climates. There many materials and companies that make shell jackets and shell pants. I recommend shell jackets since these have the ability to “breath” and you will not become as sweaty in a shell jacket as a regular rain jacket. However in extreme conditions it can be good to have poncho or rain clothing that’s not breathing. It’s good if your jacket is not of short model so that it really overlaps over your pants, there are also high pants called salopettes that’s excellent for extreme weather and conditions. There are many companies making high quality shell jacket and pants like The North Face, Patagonia, 66 North, Fjällräven, Haglövs, Klättermusen, Houdini and Arcteryx only to name few. You can often find cheaper clothing on outlets, yard sales, E-bay and other sources. Military surplus can also be an alternative; the main disadvantage is that camouflage clothing can make you hard to find if you need help during an emergency situation.
Hat / Watch Cap
If you don’t protect your head with a scarf and hat much heat will be lost during cold weather. What kind of hat you should use depends on your climate, but for cold weather a model with wind stopper or Gore Tex can help to protect you from wind, rain and snow. A Buff is a multifunction product that can be used as a scarf, headband, balaclava and cap to name a few applications. There are many different kinds of Buffs, some for summer use with UV protection, other models have windstooper and fleece for winter use. Personally I like the model made from merino wool for winter use. A Shemag is another interesting piece of cloth that can used as scarf, towel or as an arm sling.
Shoes and Footwear
Your shoes are one of the most important clothing details in a survival situation. What kind of shoes you should chose depends on your climate and terrain, but for hiking, camping or hunting trips I recommend some kind of hiking boot. Hiking boots are expensive but a high quality pair will make your trips a much more comfortable and pleasant experience. Make sure to try your boots when they get wet, bring extra pair of socks so that you can change them regularly. Always start wearing your boots before your planning to use in order to break them in order to prevent blisters. However, if you’re wearing a heavy pack and have to walk long distances under though conditions you may get blisters anyway so always bring a blisters kit so that you can care for your feet.
Sleeping bag come in many variations and forms for different kinds of climates. What kind of sleeping bag you should choose depends on many factors. Most sleeping bags use either Synthetic materials or Down as an insulation material. Down is an excellent material as long as it stays dry, if it gets wet it loses it insulation so make sure that you keep it dry, a waterproof compression bag can help keeping it dry under wet conditions. Synthetic materials often have a better insulation while wet making them a better choice for rainy and wet conditions. Some sleeping bag systems use two sleeping bags, one thinner for summer and spring conditions and one thicker bag that intended for winter use. These bags can be combined to give an outstanding cold weather capacity. Some companies that manufactures high quality sleeping bags are The North Face, Klättermusen, Western Mountaineering, Snugpak and Carinthia.
It is very important that you insulate yourself from the ground in order to stay warm; otherwise much of your body heat will be transferred to the ground. Different kinds of sleeping pads are excellent for this purpose. There are low price variants from flat foam and more expensive inflatable models, some of them using either down or synthetic materials from companies such as Therm-A-Rest and Exped. In the northern parts of Sweden reindeer skins is a common alternative to use as insulation against the ground, the major disadvantage with these is that they are heavy and bulky, but they are excellent if you have the vehicles for transport.
In order to shield yourself from wind and rain while setting up camp you need some kind of shelter. Tents is one of the best options, a four season tent is ideal for the cold weather conditions and can be used no matter if it is a warm summer night or roaring snow storm during the winter. Bivi-Bags are small shelters that only cover you and your sleeping bag. This kind of shelter is light weight and can be easily used if there is a sudden change in the weather. The Bivanorak is a combination shelters designed for Swedish Air Force pilots as an emergency survival shelter combining the traits of a Bivi-Bag and a Poncho. The Fjellduk from Helsport and Bivi-Poncho from Exped are two similar products. Tarps is another items that can used in a number of way to create shelter in an emergency situation, personally I prefer Tents, but if you’re on a budget and in a climate where Tarps work it can be a good alternative. Practice how to set up your tent before you go out on a hike, it can be hard enough the first time. Trying this for the first time during a storm when you’re shaking from hypothermia can be disastrous. High quality light weight tarps can be bought from Hilleberg and Terra Nova.
Larger Army surplus tents can often accommodate between eight to twenty people and often comes with small wood stows making them excellent for cold weather conditions a large groups. The main disadvantage is that they are very heavy and must often be transported with vehicles, but they can often be found to relatively low price and provide a large shelter where clothing can be dried and food can be prepared in shelter. If you have the money new larger tents ban be bought from companies like Tentipi or Helsport that have room for 5 to 12 people and the options of using woods stow for heating and cooking.
Army wool blankets are a very good alternative that’s both cheap and effective. These kinds of blankets is much better than a small emergency blanket to help persons suffering from hypothermia regaining their body heat and can also be used to put out fires since wool is a very fire resistant material. The main disadvantage is that they are heavy and take up much room in your pack; however they are perfect for your home or camping trips when you have access to vehicles.
One items that easy to carry is the Emergency blanket, this is a small lightweight blanket made from materials that reflect body heat back towards the body and provides some protection against the wind and rain. The main advantage is that they have a low weight and take up very little space so they can easily be used as every day carry. However I wish to stress that I don’t recommend anyone trying to camping with just an emergency blanket as cover, this is only an emergency solution.
Heaters For Your Home
Woods stows are one of the best heaters you can find if you live in an area where wood is easily accessible. However wood must be cut and dried in order to give the maximum effect, this is hard work and requires both time and preparation. Other solutions can be systems like the Heat-Pal, Kerosene heaters or Gas Powered Heaters. The major danger from these heaters is that they can cause carbon-monoxide poisoning if not used in well ventilated areas and start fires if not carefully monitored. It can be hard to heat your entire home, if you’re moving all the people in household to the same room you can keep this room warmer than if you spread out. You can also improvise smaller shelter inside your home or even set up a smaller shelter like a tent to keep small areas warm. Thick carpets and blankets can be used to too create insulate from the cold floor indoors. If you live in a house make sure that you have a good insulation in your house, pay extra attention to the windows and doors. It can be a good idea share beds in order to share body heat during the night.
The Crisis Situation
You can sometimes find yourself in emergency with no or little warning, your car can break down, and the weather might change on hiking trip in the mountains or during longer power blackouts. If you carry a Pocket Survival Kit you will carry some items that can help you get a fire starting to provide both heat and light that can attract attention. A Survival Knife is valuable tool that can be used to improvise a shelter. Wash your cloth in order to maximize the insulation. Make sure to drink enough water, dehydration increases the risk of hypothermia, this is extra important since you may not feel thirsty in cold climates even if you are dehydrated.
The Importance Of Not Being Alone
It’s easy to ignore the symptoms of hypothermia and not take action before you are already in trouble. One of the best things you can do to increase your chances to survive is to always bring someone with you when you’re going on a camping, hiking or hunting trip that can help you look out for the signs of hypothermia. It’s always good to have an extra pair of hands when setting up a tent or shelter under hard conditions. If the worst would happen and you would get hurt in the wild an unable to call for help the company of friends can mean the difference between life and death.
During a crisis situation you might not have equipment to shield from the elements so you might have to improvise shelter from what you can find. Use all the clothing you can find and use as many layers as possible. Remember to cover your head since much heat will be lost if you don’t do this. Paper can be used to trap extra air create extra insulation between the layers of your clothing. In nature materials like white moss can be used for clothing and spruce twigs can be used to create insulation against the ground. Gras can be used to create extra insulation for shoes. Warm stones from your fire place can be placed inside clothing in your sleeping bag in order to provide extra heat. Different kind of heaters can be improvised like the Hobo stove. If you want to learn how to make a Hobo Stove I recommend the guide from Practicalsurvivor.
For more detailed instructions on how to makes different kinds of emergency shelters I recommend “The SAS Survival Handbook” by John Wiseman and “Tom Browns Field Guide: Wilderness Survival” by Tom Brown Jr. For suggestion on how to use a tarp I recommend the Tarp Guide on Equipped to Survive.
Hypothermia is when the body no longer can keep up with heat loss. This is not only a danger in cold climates but can also take place in rather warm climates if one is exposed to wind and rain. High altitude also makes a person more vulnerable to hypothermia. The fastest cause of hypothermia is if a person falls into freezing water during winter conditions, this can cause death in a matter of minutes. An inadequate intake from food and water increases the risk of hypothermia.
Fumbling, tripping and mumbling are early signs of hypothermia. This is symptoms may not be evident to you if your experiencing them yourself, it’s therefore very good if your traveling with someone how can take notice in this symptoms in a early stage. In order to keeps the body core warm the body concentrates the heat for the vital part causing skin to become pale and cold. When hypothermia becomes worse you will experience uncontrollable shivering. Even worse the hypothermia will decrease the ability to make rational decisions. Your heart rate and breathing will increases even further. When the hypothermia worseness even more the shivering will stop and the hearth rate and breathing may become so low that it’s hard to know if a person is dead or alive.
Remove and replace cold and wet clothing and make sure that the person is covered from both the wind and rain. Give the person warm drinks and food in order to help the person regain the energy. If a person no longer can move normally you must insulate them from the ground, remove wet clothing and use all items you can find like sleeping bags, sleeping pads, blankets, and clothing to shield them from the cold. Use a tarp or some other water and wind proof material as the outer shell.
It can be hard to know if a severely hypothermic person is still alive or not, therefore always assume that a person is still alive until professional help can determine if this is the case or not. A severely hypothermic person is extremely fragile and must be handled with care; hits against the body may cause the weak breathing or heartbeats to cease. If a severely hypothermic person is being warmed to fast like if brought inside a hot sauna the cold blood from the legs and arms can flow into the body core causing death.