Cold Weather Survival:
Imaging a scenario where you are forced to walk 100 miles in -65 (below zero) weather, through waist deep snow, the wind is howling at 25 miles an
hour, you cannot see more than fifty feet around you, and the air that you breath is filled with ice crystal. You only have five to six hours of
daylight each day, and on top of that; you have 75 pounds of gear to hump.
This would be a typical survival situation in Northern Alaska.
Surviving in extreme cold requires additional gear. A simple Bug Out Bag (BOB) will not suffice to save your life from the elements. Even the weight
of the BOB will work against you. Saying that’s its almost impossible to carry all your gear on your back, would be an understatement.
The sheer fact that you are walking through deep snow, even while wearing snowshoes, will zap your strength in no time at all. Add to the misery, foul
weather, the overall tactical position, and your physical conditioning ; you will soon come to view winter survival trekking as a lost cause.
Using cross country skis is wonderful exercise, and for some people it’s a form of enjoyment. But the sad reality is that cross-country skiing has
its inherent drawbacks. The first and foremost is the simple fact that the skis aren’t designed for use in dense forested areas. Secondly; using
skis limits the survivalist in how much weight can be carried. Skis have a weight / load rating, much like a boat. Exceeding the limits results in
futile efforts, and wasted energy, in terms of Btu’s per hour, and overall heat retention. Basically, you will work harder, sweat more, and
consequently suffer for it.
A dog-sled (mushing) team is great for trips around the retreat area, foraging for food and fuel; but in reality, the average survivalist will not
have access to a sled and dog team. It’s a serious responsibility, and takes a certain skill set and knowledge. Tactically speaking, using dogs
isn’t very safe. Dogs bark all the time, they require carrying additional food, and that translates to extra weight. On the up side; you will always
have fresh meat in dire circumstances.
Snowmobiles are definitely the best when crossing frozen tundra, but they become almost useless in heavily forested areas of Alaska. You cannot take
a snow-machine through heavy undergrowth with any measure of success. There are many obstacles, such as buried boulders, tree stumps, rocks. Lots of
things that will rip a ski off the carriage, and damage the tracks. Snowmobiles also leave tracks that are easy to follow. Even from the air, a snow
mobile track stands out from miles away. Noise is another factor to consider when using a snow mobile. Even the quiet ones make a lot of noise.
If using a snow machine to get to the retreat; then having extra sparkplugs, drive belt, fuses, spare oil, and a basic automotive tools set, is
critical. This is doubly true when all your survival gear is strapped to the machine, or a pull-0behind sled. The last thing that you need, or want,
is to have a mechanical breakdown, and no way to fix the problem. Snowmobilers generally should learn basic equipment maintenance skills, as well as
how to repair minor breakdowns that occur all the time.
The snowmobile must have enough horse power to accommodate the size load you will be pulling in a sled. Under powered machines will quickly heat up,
like a truck with a heavy load. Having the wrong size tracks, or not enough studs/paddles on the track itself, will result in loss of power and
forward momentum. This results in a loss in horsepower, and consequently the machine’s performance will be reduced. All of this affects not only the
fuel consumption, and the overall mechanical condition, but your own personal survivability itself.
The end result is that the most efficient way to travel across snow covered terrain, is on foot, and pulling a sled. There are several different sled
configurations available. Even the most basic, which is nothing more than a plastic tub with a metal handle, will haul 300Lbs of gear, and will
Generally there are three types of sleds:
A North Pole Sled, A South Pole Sled, and a Toboggan. The NP sled is narrow and longer, while the SP sled is a little wider, and shorter. The
Toboggan fills the void in-between, and is more for generalized use in non-arctic environments.
No ,matter which sled you decide to use, care must be taken to keep an eye on the plastic runners. Even a small nick or tear will amount in increased
friction against the snow. Small tears in the plastic will eventually accumulate enough snow to make you feel like your pulling extra weight. A handy
repair kit will take care of that problem.
Plastic bungee cords have a tendency to become brittle and snap when the temperature drops (below ) -20 degrees. Having a stash of nylon or hemp rope
will aid in field expedient repairs.
The sled, no matter which type you choose, should have a stable platform for cargo, and several lash-down points. Sometimes, it’s will be necessary
to drill extra holes along the top edges, and reinforce the holes with metal grommets or other suitable material. You’ll want a lot of lash-down
A stretchable cargo net, as well as a waterproof covering is also needed. Both to secure, and protect your gear from the elements. The tarp/covering
is placed over the gear, and the cargo net secured over the tarp. Additionally, several bungee cords are used to keep all the gear secured to the sled
itself, and this keeps everything inside the sled in the event of a roll-over. Expect that to happen occasionally, especially when traversing rough
A “South Pole Sled” works best. Basically it’s the type of sled that is used by arctic explorers to carry their gear and supplies. The sled is
attached to a pulling harness, worn much like a backpack, though it possible to install a pulling handle. Basically one steps inside the handle, and
using sheer strength and willpower, pulls the sled along behind them.
The sled should be packed with extreme care. The first and foremost, is to have all your gear arranged for quick access.
Stoves, and lanterns should be stored in plastic hard-sided cases, each marked with a strip of duct tape. Fuel, food, and other essential gear should
be stored in plastic containers as well. Separate the fuel from the food, and if possible, keep the fuel away from sleeping gear and clothing. Medium
size cases make ideal storage containers, and make loading and unloading supplies a breeze. Never just toss your gear into the sled and call it a day.
It will catch up with you later when you least expect it.
Waterproof gear bags (not the plastic type that crack in cold weather) should be used for clothing, blankets, and sleeping gear. Compression-stuff
sacks work best to avoid bulk and reduce space in the sled. Forget about wrapping your gear with saran wrap or aluminum foil. Both tend to become
brittle, and snap, when it’s really cold out in the wind.
The sled must be arranged in such a way, that at a moment’s notice, in total dark, with the wind howling at 50 miles an hour; you can reach your
gear without fumbling around, or trying to guess where everything is located.
Typically a loaded sled will weigh about 75Lbs to 100 Lbs, depending on the amount of supplies you decide to carry. The amount of supplies depend on
how far you will have to travel, and how long it will take to complete the trip.
There are some smaller sleds available called “Husky” sleds. They are only about 18”x24” in size. Normally they come with a very long square
handle for pulling, much like a lawn mower handle, except you step inside of the handle area itself. These are excellent for carrying your BOB, and a
few other supplies. They are ideal for “Getting Out Of Dodge” in a hurry, when there’s not a lot of ground to cover. Their only limitation is
the amount of gear that they will carry.
Going “light” during extreme winter weather is never an option. Many people die each year from exposure to the elements. Even in 35 degree
weather, people have perished of hypothermia. Extreme cold, such as what is found in Alaska, and some of the northern states, complicates survival
situations many times over.
A broken leg, a deep gash that requires sutures are life threatening. Other medical emergencies are complicated during these extreme situations. Being
alone, or even with another person, could spell serious trouble in the event of a heart attack, stroke, or other illnesses.
With the ever-changing weather patterns sweeping across the globe, knowing how to survive in extreme cold should be part of the overall survival
Butane, Alcohol, and Propane have no use in a survival situation such as this. The fact that you cannot resupply is most evident. Propane freezes at
-20 (below), and requires thawing/heating before it will work in a propane stove or lanterns. Multi-Fuel stoves, such as MSR Stoves work best.
Gasoline, kerosene, aviation gas, diesel fuel, white gas; these are the types of fuel sources a multi-fuel stove utilizes. But, an ample supply of
fuel is required, and usage time must be limited.
Think of fuel stoves in this way: A typical isobutene or alcohol stove will bring a liter of water to boil in less than 4 minutes. Normally the
average burn time for these stoves are between 32 to 43 minutes. Taking this basic formula, it’s easy to determine that a standard liter fuel bottle
will only last through 8 uses. That in itself speaks volumes, in that these types of stoves, though lightweight and efficient, are sorry fuel misers.
Having a stove that burns a liter of fuel every 2-1/2 days is wasteful. Keeping enough fuel on hand will offset this little problem, unless you’re
taking on a serious trek that will require trekking across a vast expanse of land. Practice with several different models and types of stoves before
it becomes necessary to actually have to rely on the stove for survival. Now is the best time to test, as opposed to a survival situation when your
life will depend on it.
Stay away from the flimsy aluminum fuel canisters that comes with most stoves. Use hard case plastic that will not crack when frozen, or burst open
when dropped. Tight fitting caps are also essential. Fuel vapors, as well as the fuel itself, can leak out. If the fuel containers are near food
supplies, then food supplies becomes unusable. Test the fuel container beforehand. Fill the container with water, and put in the freezer for several
weeks. If it breaks at home, it’s useless in the field. Remember; spilling fuel on your fingers when filling a stove during cold weather, will
quickly lead to severe frostbite. Use a small hand siphon pump, or a funnel.
The best set-up for a stove also includes a plywood sheet. The plywood keeps the stove from melting the snow/ice under it, provides a stable cooking
platform. and saves the tent floor from burns and scorching. A small piece is all that’s required. Normally a 6” x 8” section will do the trick.
Small blocks of wood glued or nailed onto the plywood sheet will aid in stabilizing the stove. Treat the wood with a waterproof stain, and nail/glue a
plastic or laminate strip around the edges of the wood itself. This keeps moisture from permeating into the fibers of the wood.
Always use the stove inside a tent, or at least out of the wind. A fierce howling wind eats up (Btu) energy. Even with a wind-screen, the
effectiveness of the stove is reduced in high wind environments. But, when using the stove inside of a tent, a cross-draft (open the air vents) must
be used to prevent the steam from icing up the roof of the tent, and then freezing.
Cold weather affects every piece of your survival gear, but none are more critical than having a good stove to cook with, and keep warm. Spare parts
such as regulator valve, pump, leathers, and small set screws are critical to keeping the stove operable. Good quality indestructible fuel bottles, as
well as a good supply of fuel, is also critical. Normally, two people will use about 1-Litre of fuel every day. This is under optimal conditions.
Melting ice, thawing out frozen gear, and just staying warm will double that number.
Below zero freezing weather plays havoc with small screws, nuts, and bolts. These snap off when tightened or adjusted. Use quality steel screws, not
the cheap imported steel that comes from Asian countries. The cost is not that much more. But the overall survivability of equipment, and yourself are
A Coleman “Dual Fuel” camper’s stove (Gasoline or White Gas) also makes a great addition to the winter survival kit. Keep extra regulator, fuel
line, as well as various bolts, screws, and nuts around for field repairs. Coleman makes a field repair kit, as well as a maintenance kit. Buy both,
and store it with the stove. Make sure you get the kind of stove that has a fold out wind screen. Replace any rusty or dented parts before venturing
out into the cold weather with it. It’s always best to keep the stove and repair supplies stored inside a weather tight box. This will prolong the
life of the stove, and prevent rust buildup.
Keep your stove in top notch shape, or you will pay the price for neglecting it.
This will probably be one of the most important items in the kit. Even though you are surrounded by miles and miles of snow; the energy expended to
melt snow into drinking water isn’t worth the effort. Likewise, melting ice for water is time consuming and requires a lot of energy/fuel source,
unless you happen to be sitting by a roaring fire.
Test a thermos bottle; fill it with water, then tossed into your freezer for a week. The cheap one’s will crack and allow the water to freeze. The
good quality one’s such as the Nissan Stainless Steel variety, won’t crack when frozen. These are the best for sub-arctic situations because their
lightweight, and durable for extreme elements. You will need several of these in the arctic environment. They in fact, replace your canteens, as well
as providing you with hot liquid refreshments when it’s not possible to stop, or when trying to conserve fuel.
Meals are prepared with water from a thermos.
Since the cold weather will freeze most canned foods, you will have to have plenty of drinking water on hand to prepare dry bulk meals. A typical menu
would consist of oatmeal, cream of wheat, freeze dried scrambled eggs, and other freeze dried food packs. Don’t skimp and buy the one-person
servings. In extreme cold weather situations your body will require a lot of fuel for energy. A hot meal takes care of that.
Water for morning “coffee” is boiled at night, and the thermos is stored inside the sleeping bag with you until morning. A quick hearty breakfast
of oatmeal, sprinkled with a liberal helping of brown sugar, gives one the energy boost for the long trek throughout the day. Adding a little avocado
oil also helps to boost the body’s fuel pump, but using too much will quickly lead to diarrhea . Olive oil tends to freeze in extreme weather. Spray
cooking oil will quickly freeze. Lard packed in cans will also freeze and become a solid frozen lump.
When water becomes a critical issue, the best method for filling the thermos, is to melt ice. The general rule is to melt ice every time that the
stove is used. That way, a small amount of water is replaced whenever cooking is done. However, if the water supply becomes critical, then it will be
necessary to stop and seek out an ice supply. Frozen streams, lakes, or rivers are good sources. Using a small hand held ice auger; a person can bore
through several feet of ice in just a few minutes. Melting is accomplished by boiling ice in a lid covered pot. As the ice melts, and turns into
water, more ice is dropped into the pot. As an added bonus, the water is purified, at least to some degree.
Small kerosene lanterns are great for cold weather survival. They put out a small amount of heat, even though smoke and noxious fumes are a problem to
contend with. Battery operated lights are near useless, since the cold weather affects their performance and energy storing capacity. Most LED variety
of lights fail miserably in a survival situation. That expensive LED flashlight has a low burn time, and require a steady supply of batteries.
Typically, a three watt LED will use four AA-Batteries, and only burn 12-15 hours on the lowest setting; half that on the highest setting. Not worth
it when your hauling everything on your sled, or your back.
Candles are good, as long as you’re out of the wind. In this case, the triple wick-120 hour candle in a can, add some flavor to those dark nights.
Stick with the small metal kerosene lanterns. The plastic one’s tend to crack in extreme cold weather. You don’t want a leak, and possibly a tent
fire from one of these cheap overseas brands. Always carry at least two of them. That way there’s a backup in case you drop the first one.
The Coleman “Dual Fuel” lanterns work equally as well. They will run all night long, and well into the next day, if used on the lowest setting.
Insure that you have a suitable hard-plastic storage case with the lantern, as well as extra mantles, and a field repair/maintenance kit. Store the
lantern inside a foam padded weather tight box.
Mod Edit: All Caps – Please Review This Link.
[edit on 7-10-2009 by Gemwolf]