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Cold weather survival-part #2

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posted on Oct, 7 2009 @ 03:26 AM
There are several models available through various mountaineering equipment suppliers. The only considerations are budgetary limitations, weight, and ease of set-up. Typically, one person will need a two person tent for all their gear. Trying to cram two people, and essential gear into a small two-man tent is unwise. At least, a three person tent is required for two people trying to survive out on the frozen tundra. It gives a better level of comfort. Whether your tent choice is canvas, or nylon, is directly depending upon weight and your personal preferences. The preference would be towards the lighter weight of nylon. A liner, gear vestibule, and footprint are also appealing. Stay away from the tents that require a PhD when setting up. If it takes you more than five minutes in the summer -time, then it’s probably going to take you twenty minutes in the arctic environment. That’s fifteen minutes of being exposed to cold weather and wind.

Never layout the sleeping bags, or extra clothing, until you are finished cooking. A tipped stove or lantern will quickly turn into a very cold night. Do all the cooking before getting out the sleeping gear. As a matter of fact, it’s best to leave the sleeping gear alone until you are ready to actually use it. Snow blowing in from the doors, or from your boots can soak a sleeping bag rather quickly. Even the very best sleeping bag will be unusable when its wet. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that s small water spot will dry. On the contrary, that small water spot will saturate the synthetic fibers of the bag, and in due course you will be cold. If the wet spot is large, then it’s a survival necessity that the bag be completely dried out before use. This will require additional fuel usage. A definite cost against your survivability.

Tents should be pre-assembled. Using duct tape and bungee cords, insure that the poles and snow spikes are firmly attached to the tent. Guy ropes and their stakes should also be attached. A simple setup would be to attach a 10 foot section for a ‘wind anchor’ to aid in setting up the tent when the wind is really strong. Basically, the tent is set-up with all the attachments, then carefully folded or rolled, and packed near the front of the sled for immediate use. Since the tent will get you out of the weather, keep it on top of all the other gear. Keep extra poles and lashing on hand, as well as a Tent & Gear repair kit. Even the best tents are prone to tearing under harsh winds, or constant use in demanding environments.

Each morning, before you take down the camp, inspect the corners of the tent for rips and tears. This is the most likely spot for damage, since high wind velocities will affect the corners more than other places. Grommets and guy lines should also be checked. These keep the tent tight, and having frayed lines will result in the tent collapsing on you. A situation that you want to avoid when its windy and cold outside.

Tire patches, nylon material, and a healthy supply of glue or goop will mend tears. Even duct tape will work to some degree.

Setting up the tent in a frozen environment takes a little forethought as well.

A ground sheet is a definite must, as it provides a layer of protection from the cold, and keeps ice from tearing the tent floor. Likewise, a quality fly is necessary to both provide an additional wind break, as well as another insulating barrier.
Some tents come equipped with a insulating barrier that is clipped inside of the tent. These are great, and there’s nothing that can be distracted from their use.

When setting up a tent in a flat, treeless area, always build two snow walls upwind of the tent itself. The first wall should be at least half the height of the tent, and twice as wide. U-Shaped is best. The first wall should be built 3-5 feet from the back of the tent, as the doorway should always be down wind. The second snow wall should be five feet from the first one. The second wall acts as a wind break, while the first wall protects the tent from snow accumulation that drifts across the top of the second wall. The last thing that you want, is to have to dig out your tent from the snow.

In heavily forested areas, remember to look up. Tree limbs loaded with wet snow, or even worse, sharp icicles pose a serious threat to anyone caught underneath. Wind will take down am entire tree that has enough snow and ice accumulation. Tents, and people underneath these danger areas are at risk to being crushed.

Look up, check out the trees, and look around at the trees in the immediate area. It’s better to pitch your tent in open areas, or at least near spruce, or pine trees, as they are less likely to bend and fall in high winds. Birch, Aspen, and other whose, roots are immediately below the surface, are far more dangerous to camp around.

A final important word about tents:
If you are trying to survive in “near winter: conditions, such as the possibility of rain and snow mixture, then remember this one tip that will save you many headaches.

“if it looks like it’s going to rain when you are setting up the tent, then ALWAYS put a waterproof tarp over the tent area itself. If there are no trees present, then use ski poles, of build snow walls, anything to keep the tent out of the rain. The last thing that you want is the rainwater to freeze on the tent, and possibly ripping the tent apart at the seams. Additionally, when your breaking camp in the morning, it’s a royal pain to have to remove all the accumulated ice from the tent material by kneading every inch of it. A waterproof tarp will save you a lot of trouble, and insure a peaceful night rest…”

Food Supplies:
Canned food, soft drinks, an any food items that will freeze is a complete waste of time and space. Stick with freeze dried food packs. Don’t skimp, buy the two person meals, you’ll need the energy boost of having a full stomach. Arctic MRE’s work equally well, and don’t require much space. The drawback between MRE’s and Freeze Dried food, is the weight. Freeze dried packages weight ounces, while MRE’s weigh pounds. The trade off is in the caloric intake, food tastes, and amount of food in respective packet’s. Freeze dried food seems to contain less food, and could leave you still hungry after a meal. In cold environments, having a full belly is critical to your body’s heat productions and heat retention ability.

Typically, each meal, such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks is sealed in zip-lock bags; then marked with a strip of duct tape. The meal is then placed into a “Food Pack”. (Another larger zip lock bag) that is marked with the menu contents. Each Food Pack has enough food for seven days. A ten day trip would require ten Food Packs. It sounds heavy and cumbersome, but in reality, using this method will save time, and the food inventory is controlled. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and other snack items are also kept in this manner. That way, during a rest stop, it’s easier to find the coffee powder, than digging through a Food Pack. Of course, if you’ve done your homework, coffee and other hot drinks should be in a thermos that you filled during the morning meal.

Sleeping Bags:
Having a good quality sleeping bag is a must. Stay away from the “Coleman” brands, or the imported brands that flood the department stores. These bags quickly wear out, the zippers tend to foul up, and the stitching is inferior. Trying to survive several nights in sub-arctic conditions with a $79.00 sleeping bag is suicide.

Stick with real sleeping bags used by expeditions into the North pole. A quality sleeping bag will have cross-stitching to prevent cold spots, a collar/baffle to keep your neck warm, and an insulated hood for your head. The absence of straps in the foot of the bags should also tell you that you’re dealing with an inferior sleeping bag. Quality bags have sown in straps for liners, and straps on the outside that serve as both for compression, and to add an outer protective sack. Storm flaps across the zippers, two way zippers, no binding YKK-zippers, plastic zipper teeth; all of these things add to the value of the sleeping bag itself. The imported brands claim to have all of these, but the fact is that they don’t. To test a bag, stand up in it, and start zipping it up and down a few times. Bend with the bag as you zip it. The low cost brands will quickly bind the zippers, and in some cases, the zipper seams will tear. A good sign that the bag is useless for real world extreme situations.

Never get into your sleeping bag with the clothes that you were wearing that day. The less clothes that you wear, the more comfortable and warmer you will be. But if you have to remain in a tactical mode, then remain fully dressed, and lay on top of your sleeping bag for ground insulation. A corner of the bag tucked across your face will keep you warm to some degree, as long as you aren’t wearing wet clothing.

Using a silk, flannel, or fleece sleeping bag liner will increase the bag’s temperature rating, and help to keep it clean. Damp feet, sweaty skin, dirty/oily hair; all combine to reduce the bag’s heat insulating efficiency. If you must wear socks inside your sleeping bag, a good pair of clean thermax of polypropylene socks will suffice. Likewise, a balaclava helps to keep your face warm to exposure inside a cold tent.

Every day, it’s a good idea to shake out the sleeping bag. Fluff it up, shake it out, and then roll it tightly for storage. You can keep a thermos bottle inside the bag during the daytime. Hot water will be waiting on you that evening when you’re ready to hit the sack.

Chemical heat packs are great at warming up a sleeping bag. Don’t discount these handy little heater packs. They do work,. Check the expiration date, insure that the heater packs are fresh. Alternatively, there are reusable heater packs that contained a gel like substance that is heated in boiling water. They do not hold heat as long, but the advantage is that their reusable.

There are several really good sleeping bags out there on the market. Some of the best suited for Alaska cold weather are the US Army’s Sleep System. A three-bag system, as well as a waterproof cover keep our troops warm. The down side to this bag is the bulk and weight. Their heavy, and usually not suitable for backpacks, as they take up a lot of space, even with ca compression stuff sack. REI makes a few good bags, as do some of the other mountaineering suppliers. Goose down is great, but it’s heavy, and when it gets wet, it’s just heavy weight that is useless.

Personal Survival Techniques:

The first rule of winter survival is; DON’T SWEAT.

Sweating in a sub-arctic environment is a bad thing. The accumulation of sweat on clothing cools your skin, and in turns, this makes your body’s metabolism work harder to keep you warm. It’s an energy burner that will quickly leave you stumbling. Over time, this adds to the miserable effect of a cold numbing day. Going to sleep with damp clothing is also bad. No matter how good the sleeping bag, you will start shivering later that night.

Wear a base layer of either Polypropylene of Thermax. Both of these have excellent heat retention, as well as moisture wicking abilities. Socks, drawers, and turtle neck tops are a good base layer to start with. Cold gear brand layering garments are nice, but for my own personal testes, they’re a little tight and make me feel like I’m wearing a rubber suit. I prefer to have trapped air pockets in different layers.

Fleece, Thermax-300, or some of the other synthetic materials are designed to block wind, prevent moisture build up, and keeps your body insulated from the cold. Wool is one of the better garments, even when wet, But in some cases, the weight of wool is a factor. If you’re hauling a sled, or heavy pack, the weight of the wool will cause you to sweat.-And that’s not good. Don’t over-dress this second layer. Keep it simple. Pants, pull-over, vest or light jacket will do.

Good quality Gortex that is windproof, waterproof, and breathable is required. Look for a fur trimmed hood, then add an extra layer of faux fur around the edges, and about 4-inches inside the hood using super glue. You will appreciate this when the snow flies. Make sure that there are plenty of inside pockets for stash away gear. If there are just a few, then use some glue, or goop, and add your own pockets. Nylon ‘ditty” bags, the kind used for cell phones and folding knives work really good. These extra pockets allow you to carry a small thermos, survival kit, radio/cell phones, and other small necessities.

Check the armpits for zippered gussets. These allow perspiration to escape in case you become overheated. Stay away from the “snap” models, as they tend to break under extreme cold weather.

Make sure that the parka has a cinch belt, or waist binding. Keeping the bottom half of the park cinched close to your waist and chest aids in heat retention, and keeps snow from blowing underneath the edges of the parka.

Don’t waste money on buying the parka that have “removable” hoods or collars. These are a complete waste of time and money. The collar leaves gaps, exposing your neck to water and snow run-off. Snow tends to stick to this area. It’s not a place that you suddenly want to discover a leak or cold draft. Stick with hoods that are sewn on, and not removable.

The Air Force Cold Weather Parka is ideal, but it has several drawbacks; chiefly that I have yet to find one that fits correctly, or comfortably. The lack of interior pockets is also a negative, as are the flimsy coverings over the outside pockets, as they tend to get filled with snow, and soon get mushy inside.

The earlier version had a wire around the hood. This allowed the hood to be customized for blowing snow conditions. Aptly called “Snorkel Hoods”. Later models don’t have the wire in the hood, another negative. Probably the most important feature that the Air Force N3B parka doesn’t have, is its ability to shed water. They are designed for dry cold environments, such as Iceland. Not the cold wet regions of Alaska. Snow will quickly turn this garment into a cold wet mushy outer jacket. It then becomes heavy, and more of a burden to the wearer, until it’s properly dried out.

Cabella’s, REI, Northface; all make very good cold weather parkas. Make sure that you choose the one for maximum protection from the elements. The parka should have an attached hood, drawstrings around the waist, and be 100% waterproof and windproof. There should be no exception here. There is a distinct difference between “Water Resistant” and “Waterproof”. Know the difference before your life depends on it, when it does-it’s too late then.

Bibs should also be constructed like the parka. Flimsy cheap plastic buckles break. Zippers break, and drawstrings along the waist have a tendency to bind and break. Stick to insulated bibs that have reinforced knees and seats, storm seals across the exposed zippers, as well as full length zippers on the legs. The one’s that have zippers less than full length, or at least less that ¾ length of the leg, are a pain to get out of without removing your boots. Pulling wet snow covered boots out from this type of bibs turns the inside of the leg into mush.

Lastly; if there aren’t enough pockets, then add some to suit your needs. You’ll want a few small pockets on the legs, and perhaps a few inside the chest area. The shoulder straps are a good place for “extra small” pockets to keep lighters and other small gear. Attach these pockets lower onto the straps themselves. You’ll want the pockets to be out of the way.

Boots and Gloves:
Buy the best that you can afford, at the lightest weight. Your feet and hands are the single most critical area, besides your face. Thermax insulated boots, waterproof, windproof, and built to defend against nicks and scuffs are the best. The trade off is in both price, and weight. The lighter and better a boot gets, the more pricy they get. Don’t skimp here, that is the last place you’ll want to be looking for a bargain. Stay away from the canvas boots, or synthetic nylon type boots, commonly called “space Boots”. Their okay if you’re standing on back of a sled being hauled by dogs, or on a snow machine, but actually walking in them is a different story altogether, as they quickly rip and tear. Besides the fact that their cumbersome to walk in, and it takes some getting used to.

Gloves should reach past the wrist, preferably “gauntlet” type gloves that can be cinched to the forearm. There’s nothing worse than having a cold spot on your wrist that your always trying to cover with the edges of your park, or having to pull down on your sweater’s arms to cover. Buy the gloves that reach over this area. Don’t be surprised to shell out over $100,00 per pair, but they are worth the extra cash. Keep a couple of extra pair of gloves handy, just in case. Another novel idea is to attach a “snot rag”. Basically it’s just a fleece glove, with the fingers, albeit the thumb, cut away. The glove is cut in a fashion, that the back of your gloved hand is covered with the fleece material. It keeps the “running nose” problem under control. Rubbing the soft skin of your nose against rough Gortex will damage the skin tissues. Something you will want to avoid. Handkerchiefs work to solve this problem as well.

Fleece , polypropylene or thermax lined balaclava are great addition, as well as snow goggles. Don’t venture out into the sub-arctic weather without them. Size the balaclava just a little larger, the added space will retain heat better by providing a warm air bubble around your head. There are the kind that offer “heat exchangers” that are used when ice fog -crystal fill the air. They also prevent ice from freezing around the mouth and nose areas. A wonderful invention for extreme cold weather situations. Head gaiters are a value-added addition to any cold weather gear. They can be worn as a hat, face mask, neck warmer, or several different ways. As with any fleece thermax, or polypropylene product, when they get wet, they become cold.

A decent “Fur Trooper’s” hat will work under almost any situation. The ear flaps can be either folder up, or folded down to protect the ears. The soft fur cushions the face and cheek and adds warmth to those exposed areas. Leather is good, but it has a tendency to get really cold, and sometimes small cracks appear on the leather, after repeated use and/or exposure to sub-zero temperatures.

Pick the ones that will accommodate tour weight, including any gear that you will be carrying. There are literally hundreds of different manufacturers that make quality snowshoes. It depends on how much cash you are willing to part with. But, stay away from the old wooden snowshoes. These relics from the past are heavy, cumbersome to walk in, and hard to traverse inclines when wearing them. They can be found in bargain basements almost everywhere, but not worth even $2.00 dollars when you consider their downsides, as compared to the newer lightweight aluminum type half their size, and 90% less in weight and durability.

Snow Goggles are also a must for travelling in cold areas. Blowing snow, freezing eye lashes, ice crystals in the air, ice fog; all of these weather conditions make it hard to see, much less maneuver across terrain. Even in full daylight, with no blowing snow, wearing shaded goggles, or UV protective sun glasses will prevent “Snow Blindness” from happening to you. Interchangeable colored lens are great, as long as you keep them from breaking. Typically, yellow colored lens work in all situations, and is best suited for all around use. I prefer the dark shaded one’s for strong sunlight, and them remove the shades for clear lens when necessary. Keep an extra pair of goggles in case the primary one’s break, or are lost.

Mod Edit: All Caps – Please Review This Link.

[edit on 7-10-2009 by Gemwolf]

posted on Oct, 7 2009 @ 04:48 AM
Stupid question time (haven't had one of these for a while), would you clear ground snow as much as possible before pitching the tent. If it is "wet" snow then one would assume that it's less useful as an insulator.

As a quick addition, unless I missed it, you do not mention cotton clothing. As far as I know wearing cotton in these conditions would be a one-way ticket and should be avoided at all costs.

Your comments would be appreciated.

posted on Oct, 7 2009 @ 06:19 AM
Great thread Alaska! Very thorough and well thought out, Yes, cotton sucks in cold weather. Cotton is excellent for hot weather however.
I can tell you are writing from personal experience. All the little tricks about keeping your thermos in the bag and batteries near your body are priceless to know. It is also worth one's time to learn the differing types of snow ( yes, there's many types of it!). Growing up in Upstate NY as a kid, the only way I could make money was to run a trapline by snowmobile. I never knew it could get so cold as it does from a snowmobile at 4 in the morning.
I saw you have more threads so I'm gonna go read them now, Excellent work AF, this type of contribution is what makes ATS such a great site.

posted on Oct, 7 2009 @ 09:13 AM
reply to post by Nirgal

No, leave the snow as you find it. It will act as a barrier to prevent wind from getting underneath the tent-footprint.

I know what you mean about checking the traplines at four am. I used to run a 8 set line. Didn't use traps (wish I had though) I used home made snares. Spent many a wonderful days out in the white building snares. I alsways checked my traps twice a day, unless the weather really sucked.

posted on Oct, 7 2009 @ 10:05 AM
One important thing that is left out is wind and how you also should plan on packing your tent so it will be easier to rigg up if the wind is creating a problem. You don't wan't to loos your tent.

Packing at tent is very important if its dark and very windy. Because when you reach into the bag you want to know what part of the tent you are grabbing for.

How you pack your tent before you sett it up on snow with a lot of wind is important. First you would want to dig down a bit but not all the way down to the ground. This hole will give you some cover to lay down and take out your tent. It will also keep the wind from getting at the sole of the tent.

The first thing you want to grab when you reach in to the tent bag is a strap that you can secure the tent with. Securing the tent as you take it out of the bag is very important ( Secure the tent to you body first then to the ground). And lay on top of the tent as you take it out of the bag bit by bit. And secure the bag to you body as well.

[edit on 27.06.08 by spy66]

posted on Oct, 7 2009 @ 12:39 PM
reply to post by spy66

""Tents should be pre-assembled. Using duct tape and bungee cords, insure that the poles and snow spikes are firmly attached to the tent. Guy ropes and their stakes should also be attached. A simple setup would be to attach a 10 foot section for a ‘wind anchor’ to aid in setting up the tent when the wind is really strong""

I think that I covered that..
But you are right. I've tried to set up tents in really terrific wind conditons. It's a job and a half...

posted on Oct, 9 2009 @ 11:11 AM
Well; it's a pretty simple theory to test.

The next time it rains or snows, or its really cold outside-
go outside for 1-hour wearing only a cotton shirt, then dry off, get warm, and go back outside wearinf a thermax, or fleece, or polypro shirt..

The results will be most evident..

I'm glad that you asked that question. Even around here, I see people wearing cotton shirts, or regular T-shirts when their out snowmobiling, and its below zero.

Start sweating in a regular t-shirt, and in no time at all, you will be cold. The cooton soaks up the sweat, and it spreads like a stain, colling the skin.

When I used to live down in Tuscon Arizona, I worked outside (cowboy) all day long. Couldn't figure out why all the mexican cowboys wore t-shirt under their long sleeve shirs, the cuffs buttoned and collars closed. I asked the old fart, foreman, and he explained to me, that wearing a cotton t-shirt, and sweating in it, created a liquid area on the chest. That in turn acted like a body cooler. That's why the vaqeuero's always wore long sleeve shirts to sweat, and keep cool. Also told me why I smelled like the nether-regions of a mule that got into the syrup drum....

Originally posted by Nirgal
Stupid question time (haven't had one of these for a while), would you clear ground snow as much as possible before pitching the tent. If it is "wet" snow then one would assume that it's less useful as an insulator.

As a quick addition, unless I missed it, you do not mention cotton clothing. As far as I know wearing cotton in these conditions would be a one-way ticket and should be avoided at all costs.

Your comments would be appreciated.

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