Early this week, wind chills across the U.S. could reach as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service.
In extreme cold like that, 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, and the 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 U.K.’s SAS Survival Handbook.
1. Water/Food: for cars, at least a few gallons.
2. Fire starting material: a flint, matches, a lighter.
3. 550 Cord: gets its name from the weight it can bear. Good for making shelters, trapping animals, 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 sell for cheap and contain a flint.
8. First Aid kit
10. A mirror: for signaling. A woman’s 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 survival.
1. Planning: First you have to assemble your kit. If it’s mobile, make sure it is in a water proof container or bag.
Lost/stuck first 24 hours …
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 stuck in extreme weather.
Hollowed out logs can be cleaned out and enhanced. Caves work as well. Reduced living space equals warmer living space. Beware of occupying animals, consider ventilation.
Here’s an example of a snow cave, dug from beneath a tree caught in a snowdrift:
3. Start a fire: Plan to maintain the fire. Dig a hole, use dry pencil thick branches and ever green 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.
Second 24 hours …
4. Find water: Nearby lakes and rivers are great, snow and ice will do. Ice is better because it has a higher water content for volume.
You can build a water generator out of three sturdy sticks, some binding, and a plastic bag/sock/shirt:
5. Conserve food: Given that you told people where you were going, they’ll 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.
The days after …
6. Improve survival conditions: This doesn’t just mean upgrade 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.
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