5 Winter Survival Skills to Know

Winter activities like backcountry skiing, snowmobiling and camping make wonderfully fun trips. But should a life-threatening injury occur or you accidentally lose your path, it truly pays to know certain winter survival skills. In dire situations, you may even save a life.

You may think that preparing a heavy-duty backpack with a first aid kit and the 10 essentials is enough. But it’s just the start. Here are the five most crucial winter survival skills you need to know to stay safe until help arrives.

1. Finding Shelter

The first step is to locate an area away from winds, below the tree lines. Many winter accident reports indicate that surviving is very dependent on whether people seek shelter below a tree line. Besides blocking wind, trees can also provide fallen timber and other resources for making a fire to stay warm, preventing hypothermia and frostbite.

If you or your party find it challenging to seek shelter below tree lines, due to injury or other severe weather, create a makeshift wind barrier by digging an enclosed pit or trench into the insulating snow. For these instances, an avalanche shovel is a critical piece of emergency equipment to have.

2. Igniting a Fire

12 crucial winter survival skills

Starting a fire will keep you and others warm, increasing your chances of survival. The smoke can also alert rescuers, directing them to your location. If you already know how to start a campfire, that’s great. However, due to snow and soaked kindling and deadwood, igniting and keeping a fire in winter is a bit more challenging.

Besides an emergency kit, a fire starter is a major lifesaver. While it’s certainly possible to ignite a fire from scratch, fire starters will get a flame going promptly to create instant warmth. Find them at a local recreation store or make them through various DIY methods.

When building fires, remember to ration wood. It doesn’t have to be a rip-roaring bonfire–just enough to emit warmth. In snow, dig a 2-foot deep pit, lining the bottom with thick logs to create a solid surface. Collect dry tinder, even if you need to break off the lower branches of trees. Build a bed of hot coals first and then add larger wood. Two extra pieces of emergency equipment? A lightweight pruning saw for cutting branches and downed trees and a knife for shaving kindling.

3. Administering First Aid

Injuries can and do occur. Next to knowing basic first aid and CPR, there are a few more winter survival skills that may even save a life. Out in the wilderness and frigid temperatures, remember these additional steps:

  • Call or signal for help.
  • Stabilize the injured person’s condition until help arrives.
  • Secure the area or move the victim to a safe location to ensure there’s no further damage.
  • Place them on an insulating sleeping pad ASAP to keep them warm.

While these are basic steps, it also helps to take wilderness first aid training courses to further your winter survival skills.

4. Melting Snow for Drinking Water

Our bodies can go quite a long time without food. But without water, we dehydrate, which can bring on a slew of potential dangers. That’s why one of the essential winter survival skills is knowing how to find water. And in winter, when there are limited resources like a canteen or nearby brook, this means you will need to melt snow.

Ideally, a stove or pot can melt snow efficiently. However, if you need to ration fuel for other things, you can melt snow inside a water bottle tucked under your coat. It’s best to use this method when you can combat any chills with a fire.

5. Signaling for Help

Whenever you prepare for a trip, tell a friend or relative your trip plan and itinerary. Let them know when you plan to return so that, should you not arrive, they can contact Search and Rescue units. SAR teams will only come to your rescue in daylight hours and when bad weather has cleared–even if they know your precise location!

If you forget to entrust someone with a trip plan, you must signal for help instead. This is when a GPS communicator can be a life-saving device. Unlike cell phones that lose signal, a GPS communicator uses the satellite networks to locate your position and alert SAR teams. Besides, many LED headlamps today, such as Pelican’s 2710 and 2720 models, come with a red emergency signaling mode, flashing “SOS” in Morse code.

Stay safe when enjoying your favorite cold-weather activities, but learn these live-saving winter survival skills by heart. You never know when you might need them!

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