Survival School- Top 10 Winter Tips for the Wilderness

With winter many climbers, hikers, and backpackers tend to get out of shape and gain weight.  The cold doesn’t have to get in the way of fun, as long as you follow some basic winter camping and survival principles the snow can be your friend.   Here’s 10 tips for a fun and safe winter trip outdoors.


1.  Clothing – This is your first line of defense against the environment and one of the most important factors.  Focus on layering.  Start with a good base layer (long underwear top & bottom) that’s breathable.  Depending on how cold it is and your activity level you’ll want to bring insulated or fleece tops, insulated or fleece bottom, a shell top & bottom, at least 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of gloves (can be base & shell), a warm hat (watch cap), and extra dry t-shirt or long sleeve shirt in event your base layer gets wet.  Wear a tough pair of insulated (such as 600 grams of Thinsulate Ultra Insulation) water-proof (100% Gore-Tex) boots we also recommend packing hand and foot warmers. 


2.  Like clothing, hydration is critical in the code.  Being well hydrated will prevent many cold injuries and keep you at peak performance.   Plan for 2-4 liters of water per day depending on activity level.  Remember to follow proper water storage techniques to keep you water from freezing, such as selecting the right bottles, burying in snow overnight, and storing upside-down.  More on water from this post on staying hydrated.


3.  Managing Battery – Devices such as headlamps, radios, GPS, and smartphones have be indispensable to wilderness activities.  The cold can drain batteries much faster, one option to extending your device battery life is to ensure the battery and device are warmed up before using, do this by storing on your body between layers of clothing or holding it for a few minutes.  Follow these battery tips with smartphones.


4.  Nutrition – Pack healthy high energy snacks.  When your at camp focus on hot foods that contain moisture like soups, stews, and oatmeal.   Consuming a few teaspoons of butter before you go to bed will help you sleep warm.  We can talk about food and nutrition for days, with thousands of resources online.  Remember to pack foods you enjoy.


5.  Understand and be prepared to treat Cold injuries.  This is a decent video.

6.  Sleeping Warm – The key here is staying insulated and dry.  Dead air space or insulation from the ground is important, pack a good sleeping pad or improvise one.   We like sleeping bags rated to -20, but if yours isn’t you can supplement with extra layers of clothing.

7.  Alcohol – Avoid it since it saps your performance and makes you do stupid things, also contrary to what some might think it won’t help you stay or sleep warm.  If you must have some do it in moderation, ensure your close to safety, drink when you don’t care much about performance (it’s the last day of the trip), don’t consume alcohol at high altitude, and don’t plan on driving after.   A small amount can go a long way in cheering up a group.  Here’s some favorite outdoor cocktail recipes:


  • Lemon-lime flavored powdered Gatorade and tequila.  Purify water; mix in in Gatorade, Mix 2 ounces of tequila to 16 ounces of Gatorade. 


  • Hot cocoa and Peppermint Schnapps.  Bring a 50 mil nip bottle of Peppermint Schnapps and add 10-15 mil to each hot cocoa cup depending on how strong you want it.


  • Mountain Sangria.  Dried fruit (sweet citrus, cherries, cranberries, even raisins) and one 500ml Black Box wine (Merlot or Cab).  At home open the box and drink about 50ml then fill the rest of the box with the fruit so it can soak during the hike.  In camp, you mix with snow/ice or place box in cold water.  After drinking wine eat fruit with chocolate for dessert.

  • Hot toddy – 1 ounce of Bourbon, honey packet (pick up at Starbucks near napkins and cream), 2 teaspoons lemon juice, heat with 6 ounces cup hot water.


  • Hot spiced wine.  Spiced tea bag, 500 ml Black Box wine – Merlot.  Pour wine and drop tea bag in pot and heat.  Great for cold wet days.

  • Hot buttered Rum, favorite for cold weather to help you sleep warm.  At home mix 1 cup of brown sugar, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger, and 12 ounces of butter in zip -lock to make 3-4 cups.  In camp heat mixture in zip-lock with 18 ounces of spiced rum, preferably Kraken, enjoy.


8.  Equipment-   Pack the proper equipment like snowshoes to help you travel, a shovel, and decent tent that helps you manage condensation.  If you plan on sleeping in a snow shelter an ice saw to augment your shovel can save you hours in construction time.  Extra cord to tie things down and hang clothing to dry is a good bet.  Don’t forget the chains for the car.


9.  Fire – A fire can give you warmth, help dry out clothes, and provide light, but the most important aspect is raising morale.  Every outdoor enthusiast should know how to make one in various conditions.  Here’s video of how to build a fire in the snow.

10.   Avalanche safety- Check the latest avalanche forecast, in the USA, the American Avalanche Association.  Avoid avalanche terrain within 24 hours of a storm that brings a foot (30 centimeters) or more of fresh snow, which is when slides are most common.  Avalanche danger starts on the climb up, so stick to low-angle ridges or dense trees when possible. Move from one safe terrain area to another. If you plan on venturing out in avalanche terrain it’s best to take an avalanche safety course and pack the right equipment.

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