Cold and Exposed: Five Essential Tips Every Hiker Must Know About Surviving in the Cold

Category Hiking

Every hiker’s worst nightmare is being stranded cold and alone in the depth of the woods. Few people know how they’ll react or survive in such extreme conditions. By following a few tips and tricks, you can ensure that you are prepared with the essentials for combating the cold.

1. Building a Shelter

Constructing a shelter is the first way to get out of the cold and reduce your exposure. The most common type of shelter for this circumstance is the lean-to. Constructing a basic lean-to with branches and shrubbery will protect from wind, rain and snow. In order to insulate and keep generated heat inside the lean-to, be sure to pack snow around the exposed areas. This will create a shelter that will protect from most of the elements you’ll experience in the cold. Another great tool for shelter is the use of a fallen tree as cover. This requires expending less energy in gathering resources, but does require energy to dig a hole out from under the fallen tree.

2. Keeping Warm

The clothing that you wear is going to be your best method of keeping warm. Wearing your clothing in layers gives you the option to take off or add on clothing to avoid sweating and keep your warmth at a steady level. By utilizing layers, you must ensure that they are not tight to your body in order to make sure your blood flow isn’t restricted. In addition, loose layers create insulating pockets of air between the layers that help keep you warm. Another piece advice is to keep the clothing you are wearing clean and dry. Any type of soil or moisture can instantly reduce the insulating value of clothing.

3. Constructing a Fire

Fire is a great psychological and physical boost for those stranded in the cold. Used to cook food, warm the body, as well as melt snow and ice for water, a fire is the ultimate resource in combating the cold. Building a fire in the cold and wind can be a huge challenge. Avoid constructing a fire directly inside your shelter for a variety of reasons. Fire within an enclosed space can quickly lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, in addition to risking compromising the integrity of your shelter itself. Try to find dry firewood or fuel sources that will effectively produce a warm fire for you. Try to start the fire on an area cleared of snow and moisture to ensure you can keep the fire going for an extended period of time.

4. Staying Hydrated

Just as in any other survival situation, it is vital to stay hydrated with clean drinking water. If you are in a location with abundant snow and ice, constructing a fire to melt the snow is a great way to get a quick, clean source of drinking water. Remember that if ice is near by, it is often more efficient to try to melt that as opposed to snow as it contains more water in a compact form. Do not try to eat ice or snow as a method of hydration, this will quickly drain your body heat in doing so. If no fire is available, fill a canteen or other water reservoir with ice and snow and place it between your layers of clothing, not directly against the skin. The radiant heat that your body generates will gradually melt the ice and snow to become drinkable.

5. Paying Attention to the Weather

Knowing what weather is coming is an essential tool for any survivalist. Be sure to pay attention to the wind, any significant shift can signal an unsettled atmosphere that may be cause for you to seek shelter immediately. Paying attention to birds and insects also helps you know when rain or precipitation may be imminent. If birds are flying low to the ground, it often signals that some sort of precipitation is on the way. Smoke is another good indicator of this. Look at your fire and see if smoke is rising in a vertical column or laying flat. If it is rising normally in a vertical column, that means conditions are fair. If you notice it flattening out, you can be fairly certain that stormy weather may be on the way.

The cold and snow are very dangerous for any hiker or individual outdoors. By utilizing these five tips and tricks, people can be better prepared for any adventure that may take them into the cold and snow. As always, be sure to do your research before going on any hike and ensure that you have the proper equipment for the region you are going.

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