Every winter, you see news reports of hikers who survive long stretches of being lost in the woods in the snow and freezing temperatures. Unfortunately, you also hear tragic tales of hikers never returning home.
By going into the woods armed with a few simple tips for winter survival—and the right cold-weather gear—you can rest assured that even if misfortune comes your way, you'll be prepared to deal with it calmly and appropriately.
Surviving a night in the elements begins before you step out the door. Before you go on any day hike, no matter how familiar you are with the territory or mountain, check the weather forecast. Know ahead of time if the temperature will likely drop substantially, or any form of precipitation is expected. Also, look at your route, and commit to a turnaround time. Keeping in mind that the days are much shorter in the fall and early winter, be sure to turn back—no matter where you are—once you hit midday. As with any excursion, be sure to leave an itinerary with someone, and pack as if anything could go wrong. This means extra gear, food, and clothing.
Before you go, make a checklist of all necessary clothing and gear you may need if you get stuck overnight, and take it along. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with being cautious. A good backpack will be necessary to take all the extra gear, food, and clothing you'll need, and though it may be tempting to overdress, throw those extra clothes in your pack instead. This will prevent sweating, which could render the clothes on your back useless against the cold.
Your pack should contain an extra insulating layer, such as a down sweater or jacket, that can be stowed compactly. Space blankets, which fold up tightly and barely take up room in your pack, can also be a lifesaver in an overnight situation. Taking a stove and a metal cup will let you melt snow into water, which can be crucial for hydration if temperatures plunge. Chemical hand/toe warmers and extra winter socks and gloves don't take up much room and should always be a part of your kit.
Food and Water
You may not be lost in the desert, but staying hydrated is equally important in a winter survival situation. For the body to properly maintain its core temperature, it needs both high metabolic foods like chocolate, nuts, and bread and butter, as well as liquids. Without food and sufficient hydration, hypothermia will set in faster, decreasing your chances of survival. You should leave room in your pack for a double-walled thermos for hot liquids such as tea, coffee, or hot cocoa, and all bottles should be insulated to keep your water from freezing. If you don’t have an insulated water bottle, pack it upside down; if freezing does occur, it will do so at the surface, leaving the top easy to open and ice-free.
iPhones Get Cold, Too
If you've ever taken electronics skiing with you, you know how fast cold weather can drain your battery. You can't always depend on technology to save you in the cold, but you can up your chances by keeping electronics close to your body or taking along a battery pack, such as a Goal Zero charging device.
Realizing you're lost in the woods can be a terrifying experience, especially when a cold winter night starts setting in. But if you've packed the right cold-weather clothing, you should be able to safely hunker down for the night—which is always better than trudging on and making yourself more lost—and wait for rescue to come.
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