When winter sets in for the season and you can’t wait to walk in new fallen snow, it’s easy to forget the dangers you could face. But if you just have to remember a few simple rules everything will be fine. The snow is so beautiful when it falls from the sky and it gives a clean, crisp feel to the countryside. It is a time of peace, sleep and renewal of spirit for those brave enough to venture out and embrace it’s challenge.
It is also a time to think clearly before you roam to far in romantic daydreams. A winter day hike can quickly become a test of survival for many reason. It is easy to get turned around in unfamiliar countryside when you leave sight of your car. You may feel you are only five minutes away, but it can turn into an hour confusion and panic. From that point on you are lost, scared and not too sure how to survive another hour let alone the next few days.
It’s always dangerous to venture into the woods unprepared, but even more so in winter. A slip on an icy rock or down a mountain side will leave you cold and injured. While it’s true you don’t have to worry too much about bears in the winter time moose can be just as dangerous when looking for food. You will have to contend with being too cold, too tired, too scared and too hungry to be able to think straight.
The following information is the very basic of what you can do to survive from a few hours to a few days if you get lost. Always follow the advise even if you think you are going to stay within sight of your car. After all it may not start! If you plan to take your family along then you must plan to take care of them above anything else.
1. Dress warmly for winter. Do NOT wear tennis shoes, sandals, clogs or any other light weight shoe. They will not hold up to the cold for more than a few steps. Wear boots with good socks. It’s that simple when it comes to footgear. Wear pants all the ways to your ankles. No shorts. Wear a tee shirt with an over shirt and a good coat. Remember it is best to always dress in layers. You can remove something if you get too hot. Wear a hat of some kind. Heat escape from the upper most part of your body so if you keep the head warm the rest of you will retain more of your body heat. Wear gloves! Now all parts have a chance to stay warm and prevent you from exposure.
2. Carry a few simple items and you will give yourself a chance to tell your story of survival in the great woods! Carry a lighter. Just a small disposable lighter you can pick up in any store for under $1.00. They are water proof, light weight and small. They retain a flame easier than a match and you can light them even if you are so cold you’re shaking. Always be very careful when you build a fire. You don’t want to set yourself, the forest around you or your hair on fire! You want to get just warm enough to live, not hot enough to become the main meal at a BBQ.
3. You can go to any large department discount store and purchase a survival reflection blanket in the camping department for under $5.00. It fits inside your pocket along with a $2.00 poncho. When the reflection blanket is wrapped around your body it reflects your bodies natural heat and keeps you very warm. With these two items you will be able to stay dry and therefore much warmer. Carry a plastic garbage bag. It is good for shelter, catching rain water to drink, staying dry or blocking wind. The reflection blanket is a great asset if planes are searching because of it can be seen for miles in the sunlight.
4. Any kind of energy bars, cereal bars, jerky, hard candies or even toaster pastries in a pocket will last for days if rationed carefully. You may feel hungry, but you won’t starve if you have enough for one each day.
5. A positive attitude! You have to tell yourself it’s going to work out and you will be found. You do not think about what happens if no one comes for you. If you were smart you left information regarding your destination and return with someone who cares. Tell stories, sing, dance or just talk about something fun. Make up games and have fun. Keep smiling a lot!
6. Carry water with you. It can be in plastic containers you buy at the local quick stop store or in a pack made especially for hiking. But you must have water. If you have to gather your own and you are in snow country then look for clean snow fall. Do NOT eat the yellow snow! It means an animal or human has relieved themselves in the spot. If you are going to take bites of snow for water remember to put it in your mouth and let it melt and warm some before swallowing. Do not eat straight snow without warming it first.
7. If you must survive without snow water then make a small funnel of leaves over a cup of some sort or your plastic garbage bag. During the night and early morning dew will gather and flow into the cup. Remember you may only get a few swallow this way but it will keep you alive.
8. For extra water when none is available or you feel you are not getting enough then choose a clean pebble or button from your clothing and put it in your mouth. Hold it under your tongue and move it around once in while. This will help your body to produce saliva for extra moisture.
9. If you are cold keep moving enough to warm up. You do not want to build up a sweat. Sweat produces water and will draw the cold air to you. Move only enough to warm up by slapping your arms against your body, jumping up and down or moving you arms in a circular motion.
10. Make faces. Yes, funny faces all you can. Smile, frown, laugh, raise your eyebrows, squish you face together then open it wide. Sound strange? It will help to prevent frost bite!
11. If you get lost and it’s getting dark then stop for the night. Especially if you have children with you. It’s dangerous to travel in the dark and it’s gets colder. You will find yourself getting sleepy and not feeling the cold as much and this is a sign of danger. If you lay down and fall asleep in the snow you will freeze to death. You have to prepare for sleep so everyone wakes up the next morning.
12. Prepare a shelter for protection from more snow and the wind. If the wind is blowing even the smallest amount it will lower the chill factor making it even harder to get warm and survive. It is better to stop and stay where you are so searchers can find you rather than following a constantly changing trail. Pick an area away from the wind as much as possible but where you have sight of open sky for search planes or open ground views for ground searches. A cave without a bear, ledge overhang or hand built shelter will protect you from the elements and give a feeling of security.
Snow shelter – If you are going to attempt to build a snow shelter remember it can be small. Snow will insulate very well again cold and wind. If possible find a tree, standing or fallen to use as a partial wall. Pack your snow wall thick and solid. For a roof use branches from trees and other materials. When you are inexperienced in the woods this will be a fairly good shelter without worry of collapse from above.
Tree shelter – Make a low shelter of fallen limbs and branches again a tree truck, large rocks or canyon wall. Make your shelter as thick as possible and always be careful if you are going to build a fire inside. When you make your shelters this is where your plastic garbage bag can come in handy. It will help to insure a dry roof without leaks.
13. Fire. Man has always been blessed by the discovery of fire and harmed by it so be careful. Your fire should be to warm you only enough to survive, not roast a wild boar! Make a shallow hold in the ground and find whatever dry wood and twigs you can. You can also purchase fire tender (starter) at most camp areas of a store. Layer you twigs and starter in the fashion of a small pyramid and light. Do NOT set your shelter or yourself on fire. Make sure you feed the fire often with dry wood or whatever other dry material you can find. If you use green wood or slightly wet wood it will smoke and is therefore a great signal. If you are going to use the smoke as a signal be sure you make it outside of your shelter otherwise you are going to smoke yourself right out of it.
Now you have the basic. When you go on that wonderful winter hike alone or with your family everyone should carry the above items. They are light weight, compact and you will be very thankful for each and every one of them if you get lost. It’s up to you to protect the tribe so be prepared and have fun.