Officially here now.
Wild cold snap across the country; major snow fall was recently recorded in many areas; upstate New York; 5 to 6 feet according to Drudge. Ever think about how you might GOOD in the dead of winter? What about if your vehicle takes a dump? Not a pleasant thought, to say the least. The obvious plan would be to SIP (Shelter In Place), but what if you’re forced by circumstance to move? Could you? Would you know what to take to keep you and your family warm? What about impassable roads due to snow or roadblocks? Could you do it on foot? There’s a lot of questions, and each answer to any of the questions brings more questions. Winter can be overwhelming when considering actually travelling in it, let alone on foot. But it can be done, just understand that the requirements for nutrition and fitness increase in the winter.
This post will focus on basic equipment for foot travel and how to prepare it for the least strenuous travel for you and your family, should you be on foot. Even if the circumstance is not GOOD based. This isn’t just for the North country, either. Snow storms are hitting areas harder than they have in recent memory. It’s up to you to determine what you’ll need and how to employ it should you find yourself in that situation. It’s not so far fetched when you consider the stories of people who die either trying to find help or stay in their vehicles and die of exposure or dehydration. Not all of the equipment can be carried in your vehicle all the time, but if you’re doing a GOOD in winter, find a way to get it loaded for the trip quickly, should worse come to worse and you have to take to, ‘shank’s mare.’
Survival techniques, per se, aren’t included in this post, but will be covered at a later date.
For the Vehicle:
If your vehicle is to become your shelter during a mishap while digging out or waiting for rescue:
- 120 hour emergency candle: These are available through and have up to 6 wicks, come with a book of matches, and will raise the temperature inside your vehicle up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Take into account that members of your party will have to get out of the vehicle to go to the bathroom, so understand that the temp will take a drop when this occurs. Plan to try to get everyone out to ‘do their business’ at the same time so that the door openings are minimized. Further, keep one window cracked open to keep fresh air in the interior. It’s better to have two than one. These can also be used to heat the inside of a shelter, snow cave, or igloo, though one must use extreme caution dependent upon the material used for the shelter.
- Water: For a family or group of 4, have at least 8 sixteen ounce bottles of water. More important than food, though food is a necessity. One way to make sure you have water immediately available that’s not frozen is to wear a hydration carrier between an inner and out layer of clothing with the drinking tube inside the outer later along the chest. It works great; we use that method a lot during winter training. You can always have a small filter/purifier like these to purify any melted snow, or boil the melted snow for 5 to 8 minutes (depending on its clarity): http://www.greatlakesurvival.com/water-purification-products.html
- Food: Some meal replacement bars along with comfort food. Mountain House type meals to use with heated water provide great ROI (Return On Investment) because they’re light, have great protein/carb ratios, and taste pretty good, to boot. Between meal replacement bars, such as the MetRx 30gr type and Mountain House entrees, you can have a week’s worth of food in your bag/pack without taking too much room or having significant weight added.
- Clothing: No cotton, especially when it comes to socks. In cold, wet weather, cotton is referred to as ‘the cloth of death’ with good reason. Once it’s wet, it returns very little insulation and will not do anything to keep your core temperature up where it needs to be. A good Merino wool blend, medium to heavy weight, depending on the fit of your boots. Some folks wear two sets of socks in the winter; I find that one good pair of high quality medium to heavey weight wicking socks do wonders. Wicking long underwear, such as a polypro or ‘under armor’ sytle (Costco sells as brand call ‘Paradox’ that works just as well as the higher cost brands for much less money) are essential, as are glove liners and a good glove/mitten. Your outer coat should be able to ‘breathe’ for you, meaning that you should be able to regulate the heat return from the insulation by unzipping various areas. Some of the more modern ‘extreme cold weather system’ type coats have a fleece liner and both the liner and coat have zippers under the arms to avoid overheating and profuse sweating, which can cost you once you stop if you don’t have a change of clothes. Speaking of changing clothes, recommend having an extra set of long underwear and several sets of socks over a change of outer clothing if you aren’t able to pack both. You can always build a fire to dry the outer layer. Your outer boots should be a high quality pac-type boot that fits your foot snugly enough that when you’re wearing your heavy socks, you don’t feel like your toes are pinched. You want dead air to circulate to help your feet stay warm and dry. Never skimp on your boots.
- Boots: Get the absolute best you can afford. A very good set comes from Wiggys.com here: http://wiggys.com/moreinfo.cfm?Product_ID=96&CFID=209145&CFTOKEN=28315461 There are others that are as high quality as well, such as the Schnee’s ‘Extreme’ pac boot. However, they cost significantly more than the Wiggy’s brand.
Incidentally, if you buy one of Wiggy’s sleeping bags, you’ll get your pac boots for $50 and depending on the sleeping bag you choose, you’ll get 20% off and free shipping. Quite a deal! On the bags, the Superlight in the FTRSS configuration is very adequate. If you don’t need the boots, then consider getting your Wiggy’s bag from Great Lake Survival Company. From what they’ve said, you might save a couple more bucks going through them, but that’s for the bag only. The boot and bag combo direct from Wiggy’s can’t be beaten. Here’s their site: www.greatlakesurvival.com
If you know you’re going to be in “dry cold”, you can also get a pair of military surplus mukluks and use these. I’ve had a pair of them for a very long time, and through experience, have upgraded and modernized them so i can use them in limited “wet cold” applications by simply treating them with a very good coating of ‘Camp-Dry’ in warm weather, and then replacing the issue wool bootie with a pac boot liner large enough so that I have dead air space. They work great! Look around: You can find them for pennies on the dollar if you find they’ll fit your needs.
- Snowshoes: For snowshoes, my personal preference is the Northern Lites “Tundra” model. Expensive at $280, however, they will float 250 lbs plus, and are extremely light weight at 48 ounces per pair. The 9.5 X 32 size can also be used in the woods, too, so it’s a great general purpose snow shoe. They take paint well, also.
- Ski Poles: Any good quality pair will do; some prefer the collapsible type. I’ve had both, and they both work fine.
- Sled Harness: A must have if you’re going to pull your kit on a sled (highly recommended. Wearing a pack with snowshoes requires exception physical fitness over long distance and deep snow. You can find these at most surplus stores or on eBay for about $10 or $15 easily. They’re very simple, with the wide belt being around the puller’s waist and an adjustable shoulder strap to help keep it at the right level. The sled ropes hook into D rings on each side, and when combined with a braking system as described below, is a great set up.
- Braking Assembly: Simply made with two pieces of PVC conduit (3/4 inch X 6 feet) made into an ‘X’ using a zip tie or duct tape to fasten the pivot point at the center of the ‘X’. It’s simple in design and function: The sled puller stops; the sled pushes agains the ‘X’ widening its shape stopping the sled from running over the back part of the puller’s snowshoes and into the puller. Costs very little. Threading the pull ropes through the conduit and using joining kno
- Sled: There are many sleds, but the best we’ve found for the money is Shappell’s Jet Sled. The basic sled is black, which is fine, as it sits down in the snow, but they do offer a camouflaged model if you have a concern in that area. We’ve found that the best all around size is their Jet Sled 1, 54″X25″, with a cover. We also recommend getting some good liquid or paste car wax and waxing the bottom of the sled with a generous coat before heading out to practice. You would be pleasantly surprised as to how much easier pulling your sled will be!
- Winter Kit: Make sure you have a reasonable assembly of equipment to make things more bearable in winter. Unlike operating in temperate weather, you are working harder every single minute due to temperatures and the possibility of becoming a cold weather casualty. A utility pot with a lid (canteen cups work great) is essential to heat up liquids (tea, water, hot cocoa, and yes, coffee (but always remember coffee helps dehydrate the body)) that you need to regularly consume to fight dehydration and keep core temperature up. Another addition to your winter kit should be several sets of ‘Hot Hands” and ‘Toe Warmers’. These have the potential to save the life of a hypothermic team member.
- Fitness Level Recommended: Everyone beats this subject to death with good reason: You are not going to go out into severe cold or other harsh winter conditions (significant snow, ice storms, etc), and be able to do more than lay in your shelter or have someone pull you along in your own sled if you don’t stay fit. Lose some fat (not necessarily weight); gain some strength (not necessarily muscle mass); increase your aerobic capability (not necessarily through running) as much as is humanly possible. Start small. Stay consistent. Stay self-conscious about your fitness level. You can always do one more. Be smart about it: If you haven’t done any, or much, PT in a long time, go see your doctor and find out if you’re able to do it, and if not, what has to be done to get you ready to start.
- Practice: You have to practice with your winter equipment just as much as you do with your rifle and pistol. You need to know how to walk in snowhoes, how to turn, how to build fires quickly, how to set up your shelters, and so forth. Much you can do at home or when you’re outside with kids. Set up your harness and sled and pull the kiddies around; practice turning, go for snowshoe walks with the spouse/significant other/friends. Bottom line? Get out there and do it.