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Basic Survival:Cold Weather Survival

Updated on April 29, 2012

Alone and cold

This hub will give some recommendations on surviving in cold climates.These suggestions will be cold weather specific and intended as supplemental to the first two parts of this five part guide on surviving emergency situations.These tips,suggestions and recommendations are for emergency situations and are intended to provide those without education in survival situations the basic knowledge to quickly and efficiently protect against the dangers of being alone and in the cold.

The cold

As in every situation remain calm and go through the steps laid out in the previous hubs

How ever you came to be lost and alone in this situation is not the important matter at hand,in cold weather environments it is very important to create a shelter immediately to protect from cold,wind,snow and or rain,and hypothermia. After carefully assessing your situation you must not be indecisive or waste any daylight,after sunset temperatures will drop and your ability to keep warm will be the first priority.Although the cold is a very dangerous situation do not be dismayed you can survive but you will have to be clear and focus only on your survival.

Things to remember

Your primary goal at this point is to create a structure that will keep you warm and allow you to rest.There are some simple things that you should keep in mind.

  • Try to remain dry as possible. Your clothing loses it's insulating properties when soaked with water so any snow you get on your arms and clothes try to brush it off before it melts from your body temp.
  • Snow is a very good insulator. It may seem like snow would be harmful for a building material but it actually has very good insulating properties and if built correctly a shelter made from snow will keep the temp to a level that you can survive within.
  • Don't over work yourself. Your body already has to burn extra calories to keep core temp up,pace yourself and try not to sweat as this will cause your clothing to become wet and wick body heat away quickly.
  • If you do become exposed and tired,don't go to sleep. When your body reaches a certain point of fatigue and core temp drops you experience a numbing almost burning sensation and an urge to lie down and sleep.Do not lie down on snow or out side of some type of shelter. Fight the urge to sleep until you have an adequate shelter constructed and have realistically raised your body temp.
  • Don't eat the snow if you are thirsty.This one is tough and may seem silly but the cold snow will drop your core temperature and cold contain nasty parasites or bacteria.If you have built a fire and can warm yourself you should melt and boil the snow if possible.
  • Don't give up. In the cold you become very tired very easy and if you do not keep the correct mindset it is very easy to become discouraged and beaten.That's just the drop in body temperature and a natural response that comes from some ancient instinct to slow down and sleep through the winter. You aren't a bear so hibernation won't work and you can get through this like any other situation if you value life and use caution and some simple tips.
  • Signal for help. I have not covered this in the other hubs because signaling for help was not one of the important priorities but in cold weather you will become hungry much quicker and food will be very hard to find,along with the fact that your shelter will be impossible to see from further than a few yards away. Leaving a highly visible sign or signal is important also because when inside a snow shelter outside noises are almost totally sealed out.Would be rescuers won't see you and you won't hear them.
  • Don't suffocate. When you get your shelter completed make sure you provide a couple of small vent holes to prevent oxygen depletion and if you have a fire you don't die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Snow Trench type shelter

Shelter and warmth

In cold weather only two types of shelters should be considered.

  • Shallow or light to no snow - Debris shelter. As in the previous hub a simple debris shelter is the fastest and easiest to construct and provides excellent protection from the elements.
  • Deep snow(knee deep or more) - Snow trench(snow pit). This will provide an insulating shelter that is easy to build with no or minimal tools and or skills.

The debris shelter should be constructed the same as in the previous hub with the exception that there may not be an adequate amount of loose or fallen debris,this lack of material means you will have to use evergreen bows and pile on an extra foot or so to ensure adequate insulation.

The snow trench is simply how it sounds,a trench dug into a snow drift or in deep snow that is then covered by placing limbs across the top and piling snow onto the limbs to keep warm air in and cold wind out.

  1. Dig down into the snow and push the material removed back and into a pile to be used later.You should dig out a trench about four feet wide and no more than four feet deep.If you can reach the ground underneath it is recommended as long as you do not create a huge amount of interior space which will be much harder to keep warm. Make the trench long enough for you to lay down length wise and a couple of feet extra for a small fire or heated stones for warmth.
  2. Gather limbs or logs sturdy enough to hold up a few feet of snow.If this material is hard to find you may have to break off evergreen limbs,save the needles for insulating the floor.Place the limbs across the trench snugly and then cover with evergreen needle and limbs to stop snow from falling through the cracks.
  3. Cover your trench with snow.Try to get at least a foot of snow over your trench,if you can manage two it will insulate better.
  4. At the front of the trench try to dig down into the ground or into the snow if the ground was too deep,and make a step about a foot lower than the level where you will be laying.This will provide a means for water to escape leaving your sleeping area dry as well as a place for the colder air to settle into leaving the temp higher at your level.If you want a small place for a fire line the wet ground with green limbs,also if you intend on having a small fire you will need to remove enough snow from the roof above the fire for smoke ventilation.
  5. fill you trench with as much dry soft material such as leaves or evergreen needles as possible.You should place at least a foot of this material after it is compressed.Heat transfer from your body to the ground will account for the majority of heat loss. channel out small drainage ditches around the edges of the trench for water drainage and the stuff your insulating material into the corners and as far up the walls as possible.Stuff extra insulating/bedding material at the foot of the trench,if possible fill the trench almost to the top almost half way back.Once inside and sealed you can cover your legs and feet completely with an insulating layer.
  6. Keep enough snow close to the entrance to allow you to seal off the entrance completely.This will create an insulated capsule that will block out cold wind and air and the temp inside will stay very comfortable after a little time and or minor heating.
  7. Try to seal off any leaks or gaps and make sure water that comes from melting snow is drained away from you and your nest.

Warm and dry

Staying warm and dry are the most important issues when stranded in the cold wilderness,once you have your shelter you should build a fire.A fire provides warmth,provides a means to sterilize water and cook,and elevates mood.You can also dry wet clothing and use fire as a signal for help.

Build your fire in front of your shelter,if the snow is too deep to find the ground place a couple of layers of logs or limbs on the snow and build your fire on top of them.If you do not have matches,lighter,or emergency fire starter you should use the bow and drill method covered in the previous hub.Finding tinder and kindling that is dry will be a little more difficult and you may need to consider tearing a pocket off of your shirt or jeans.Cotton is an excellent tinder,but try not to waste any cloth and do not remove clothing that provides warmth.

Once you have your fire started you can use it to heat the inside of your shelter.This can be done by building a very small fire inside provided you have adequate ventilation.If at all possible the safest way to heat your shelter would be to find several large stones and place them inside your fire and allow them to remain there for an hour or so.Then carefully use and evergreen bow or other tree limbs to transport the stones inside,closing your door to keep the radiant heat from the stones inside.Frostbite can be prevented with a fire so this should be at the top of the list of priorities.


In cold weather food is less abundant and depending on location very difficult to find.Many of the food sources will be dead or covered by snow.The lack of food is not the immediate threat but as time passes soon becomes a serious threat.There are small mammals and various tree barks and roots that can be obtained but without the proper tools and experience can be a waste of valuable time.If you are close to running water you should attempt fishing and stay put if successful.Always remove all entrails from any animal that is to be eaten and cook the meat well.Use caution especially with fish when handling the bones as they cold be very sharp.

If you are in an area where thick forests have blocked the ground from deep snow cover it is possible to find edible bark and roots,but look under dead logs and dig in and around stumps for grubs and worms.Grubs and worms provide a good source of nutrients and can be easily caught and cleaned.If the ground is frozen and or there are no plant life then fishing with a spear is the best bet.It is possible to observe the birds that remain in a winter environment and depending on the time of year follow them carefully to the nest and harvest eggs.Leaving two or three eggs if possible will create a replenish-able food source as the hen will instinctively replenish the clutch by laying more eggs.If you have no luck with finding food the signaling for help and or moving to lower country will be necessary.


Fire is one of the best signals,and by burning resinous evergreen wood as fuel the fire will produce large amounts of dark smoke.If a search and rescue operation is in affect this can be the best way to reveal your location,so this needs to be started as soon as you have built a shelter and fire and secured a means of gathering fuel. At night burn a large fire for only a few hours after dark.Most searches are halted at dark in cold weather due to the dangers in temperature drop.Used blackened wood to create a sign in the snow near your shelter."Help" or "SOS" should be spelled out in very large letters and include some type of arrow or sign pointing to your shelter.When inside a snow type shelter he snow insulates sound as well as cold,and providing a sign to the shelter could send someone close enough to see the shelter or for you to hear. Make several signals and point them all in the direction of your shelter,and as always follow the SURVIVAL guide by using your senses.By paying attention to the environment you may hear a slightly different sound that could be a possible search vehicle or rescuers on foot.Also smells of fuels and oils or other campfires could lead the way to safety as well as the scent of cooking which will travel distances on clear cold days.

If time passes and due to lack of food or water you decide you should move,pay attention to the sun and where it sets and rises and travel in a southern to south eastern direction as this direction will bring you to more suitable climate faster.If you are on the southern hemisphere travel in a north eastern direction.If you do commit to move always start early and stop in plenty of time to construct another shelter and build a fire.Also it may be helpful to leave some type of signal and an arrow or marker as you move in case rescue came after you moved.

If you travel over snow during the day you should strip a piece of bark and cut small eye-slits and cover your eyes,snowblindness is a serious condition and only takes a short amount of time exposed to the rays of sunlight reflecting off of snow.At minimum use soot from your fire to black out under and around your eyes to reduce glare.

Snow shoes


If you need to move around in the deep snow to find food or change locations to be closer to food or water you will need snow shoes.Trying to walk through deep snow without snow shoes is very difficult and will cause you to become soaked and fatigued quickly.In snow over six inches snow shoes can be the difference between life and death if you have to travel or search for food.Snow shoes are not difficult to build with an understanding of their basic form and function.

Snow shoes work by distributing your weight over a larger area and are loosely connected to the foot so they remain in a flat position as you walk.

  1. Find two green saplings about four feet long,cut and strip the limbs.
  2. Bend into a teardrop shape and using string or cord to bind the two ends tightly.This is the frame.
  3. Place your foot in the frame with equal distance between your foot and the frame all the way around.Mark the frame where the ball of your foot will be located and place your first cross brace at this mark.
  4. Bind the cross brace with cloth or string and place braces about an inch apart toward the back of the snow shoe and securely bind them to the frame.
  5. Repeat for other foot.
  6. Place your foot on the cross braces with the ball of your foot centered over the first cross brace and use string or cord to tie the cross brace to the laces of your boot on both sides
  7. Try to walk around and adjust the the snow shoe for comfort.The snow shoe should remain almost horizontal as you walk,preventing the front of the snow shoe from dragging in the snow.Pick your feet up as you walk and take care to side step on steep slopes.This will extend the life of your snow shoes.


Remember that cold weather is an especially hash environment with some unexpected hazards.The numbing cold will cause you too think irrationally and lose your will to survive if you allow yourself to be exposed for too long.A feeling of hopelessness and or an urge to lay down and go to sleep can be overwhelming.If you begin to experience these thoughts or symptoms force yourself to understand what they are.Busy your mind with surviving and resignation can be overcome.These are symptoms of hypothermia and being over exposed so preventing core body temperature from dropping can prevent this. Be aware of frost bite and often stop to warm hands,feet,nose,and ears.Using caution and keeping warm will make prolonged survival possible and keep your spirits up.Any situation can be overcome by using the right mindset and by having a little knowledge.


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    • mrshadyside1 profile image

      mrshadyside1 5 years ago from Georgia

      I will and thanks.Yeah I know those guys were real men my father served in Korea.Training can't be compared to the extreme conditions the men faced there along with being out numbered 6 to 1 and fighting off constant waves of enemy soldiers sometimes fighting all day with melee weapons.The strength of that generation is unreal,you never hear anything about the things those great patriots faced.My father only told me his rank and that he had received a purple heart and that I would have to wait I could sign my own name to join the military because he could not consciously allow me to see the faces of war.If he had the ability to prevent it.

      Again I really appreciate your comments.

    • philabustah profile image

      Philip 5 years ago from Boston, MA.

      Why 'mrshadyside'??? You don't seem shady to me. I also saw a show on the allies who needed to push the North Koreans and Chinese back to the parallel. The had to endure up 50 below temperatures for days on end. It things like that that make you say, 'whatever the reason, these guys really, really went above and beyond the call.' If I am ever asked to do so, I would want you on my side! Hey, I answered one of the ads on your hub, so make sure they pay up! Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more of your hubs.

    • mrshadyside1 profile image

      mrshadyside1 5 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you,and to be honest it came from the very basic outline of Ranger mountaineering training.I just tried to take some of the tech lingo and make it easier for anyone to understand and I also tried to incorporate a situation of less than military thinking and lees than military equipment possession.Although RMS you are with one to three other trainees and they give you a very good knife and one rabbit to start out with and you are monitored by training officers just in case you decide to bail or die.It's still mentally and physically challenging.the cold causes your mind to work against you.

    • philabustah profile image

      Philip 5 years ago from Boston, MA.

      Good read! I would say my #1 priority would be to avoid getting caught in the cold. Right now, I'm watching the battle between the US and the Japanese near the Aleutians in Alaska. THis should be standard reading for putting a man in those battlefield conditions! Thanks!