It was an unseasonably and even historically warm Christmas weekfor much of the US. But we’re only a month into winter, and more intense weather could bejust around the corner.
In extreme enough cold — like the conditions that gripped some parts of the US during last year’s “polar vortex” — exposed skin can freeze in only 10 minutes. People also risk hypothermia just by going outside.
Besides desert climates, winter is the worst to endure. The US military has whole courses designed to teach its people how to survive.
Here are a few tips and some items the Marine Corps considers essential to combating the cold. They come from the Winter Survival Course Handbook, which draws reference from the UK’s SAS Survival Handbook.
Here’s what the Marines say to take with you if you venture deep into the cold this winter.
1. Water/Food: At least a few gallons of water is advisable in harsh conditions.
2. Fire-starting material: Flint, matches, or a lighter.
3. 550 Cord: This gets its name from the weight it can bear. Good for making shelters, trapping animals, and treating wounds.
5. A metal container: For boiling water. It’s not safe to eat mass amounts of snow off the ground. Must be a non-petrol carrying container. Kill two birds with one stone and carry a can of beans.
6. Tape: Electrical or gorilla duct tape has near-infinite uses.
7. A knife and/or multipurpose tool: Some of these actually contain a flint.
8. First Aid kit
10. A mirror: For signaling. In a pinch, a makeup mirror will suffice.
11. Pocket sewing kit
These items can be packed differently for travel in a car or on foot. Obviously, one for a car can be a bit more robust.
Considering you probably won’t be “caught behind enemy lines,” we can dispense with the war-time survival tips and get right to more generic survival.
1. Planning: First you have to assemble your kit. If it’s mobile, make sure it’s kept in a water proof container or bag.
As for the first 24 hours of being lost or stuck:
2. Shelter: If you’re in a car, don’t leave it. If you’re on foot, build a shelter, or find one: Finding shelter is the paramount consideration when stranded in extreme weather.
Hollowed-out logs can be cleaned out and enhanced. Caves work as well. Reduced living space means warmer living space. Beware of occupying animals, and consider ventilation.
Here’s an example of a snow cave, dug from beneath a tree caught in a snowdrift:
3. Start a fire: And plan to maintain that fire. Dig a hole and use dry pencil-thick branches and evergreen limbs as kindling. Evergreens burn fast and hot.
Fuel should be thicker limbs that have broken off a tree — found near the ground, but not submerged in snow.
Now for the second 24 hours:
4. Find water: Nearby lakes and rivers are great but snow and ice will do. Ice is better because it has a higher water content by volume.
You can build a water generator out of three sturdy sticks, some binding, and a plastic bag, sock, or shirt:
5. Conserve food: Given that you told people where you were going, they will be out looking for you within a day or so. Catching food in the wild is not difficult though.
550 cord (or better yet, fishing line, if any is handy) can be used for snares. Paper clips, hairpins and sewing kits all yield hasty fishing hooks.
And here’s what to do if you aren’t found after a couple of days:
6. Improve survival conditions: This doesn’t just mean upgrading your shelter with new additions. It also means preparing to be seen by anyone looking for you.
Prep a platform of dry interlocking green limbs to be set ablaze at a moment’s notice, and bright pieces of clothing or material could be placed in visible places.
This post is originally by Geoffrey Ingersoll.
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