As the nights start getting colder we're soon to be in one of my favorite times of year. Winter.
For all my fellow survivalists out there, it doesn't mean it's time to stop camping. Not at all. Winter is one of the most beautiful seasons to spend in the outdoors. The mornings are crisp, the days are cooler, and you won't get bitten to death by bugs when you're trying to sleep at night.
But it also presents a danger. You need to ensure you're protected from the cold if you want to stay alive, and in today's post I want to cover a few tactics to help you stay warm when you're bugging out in winter.
Respect the weather
The first rule when it comes to a winter survival situation is to respect the weather. If you allow yourself to get cold, hypothermia starts setting in. And it doesn't take long. Once your core drops from 98.6 degrees to just 95, you're already in big trouble.
Now what usually happens in hypothermia cases is the victim has gotten wet. Perhaps it was raining, they slipped and fell into a stream, or they've been over-exerting themselves and worked up a sweat. In cold weather, having wet clothing press against your skin leeches the warmth from your body and hypothermia can set in in minutes. You've got to be aware of the dangers of getting wet, and respect the fact that winter is now here.
Choose the right clothing
To combat the cold, you need the right clothing. And there's a simple rule I like to follow. If it's cotton, don't buy it. As soon as cotton clothing gets wet, it loses its ability to insulate your body. So if you do happen to get a little wet, cotton clothes are going to accelerate your descent into hypothermia. Not good.
Pick clothing that's been specifically designed for the outdoors. You want a base layer that's a polyester blend to better wick away any moisture from your skin. Follow this up with a wool layer that will keep you warm even if you do get wet. And cover it all with a protective shell casing that's completely waterproof. This way, you can remove layers as needed, and you won't have to fight the elements to stay warm.
I shouldn't have to say this here but it's also quite important. The waterproof principle also applies to your boots. You've got to have waterproof boots if you're spending any amount of time outdoors in winter. Once hypothermia sets in frostbite comes next, and without the right protection for your feet, extremities like your toes will be the first to go. Oh, and cover up your hands and face too. You're losing body heat through every piece of skin that's not covered. I've got a wool beanie that I wear, along with a round little scarf that sits comfortably around my neck.
Prepare for a good night's sleep
If you know you're going to be sleeping outdoors during winter, you need a high-quality sleeping bag that's rated for the temperatures you'll be facing. Personally, I'm a big fan of sleep, so I'd recommend getting one that's rated below the temperatures you'll face at night. I like to stay warm and cozy, so I'm usually sporting a 10-degree sleeping bag, along with a waterproof bivy sack.
I've been told its overkill, especially where I usually camp, but I find it's much easier to vent an overheated sleeping bag than it is to get warm once you're cold during the night. When it comes to the stuffing in your sleeping bag, I'm a fan of synthetic insulation, as the down alternatives are more expensive, and tend to suck once they get wet.
Oh, and don't forget to insulate yourself from the ground when making your bed. The cold ground leeches away your body heat, even if you're using a sleeping bag, so prepare for this. You need insulation if you're not wanting to have a crappy night's sleep. Pine boughs are good in a pinch if you've not brought your own sleeping pad (or hammock).
Have a means of creating warmth
For many this means fire, and it's important you've got not only a way to create a flame, but a way to actually get a fire started in cold and wet conditions. I take extra fire starters when I'm camping in the cold, as it can often be a challenge to find dry kindling when you really need a fire. Once it's going you can slowly add water-soaked branches as the heat from the flames will dry these out, so long as you can get your fire started in the first place.
I'd also recommend having a couple of mylar space blankets in your bug-out kit. In a pinch these can be used to keep your body heat from escaping if you've gotten yourself wet. Simply strip down and roll yourself up in the blanket. It's amazing how well these work. You can also use them inside your shelter to better reflect any heat from the fire onto you, or as part of the walls or roofing to keep the rain and wind out. Mylar space blankets are a must if you're camping in winter.
Of course, these are only two items in your kit, and your ability to stay warm while bugging out in winter also relies on your common sense. Have the right clothing and gear, and don't get yourself in a situation where you allow yourself to get cold or wet.
I get that this isn't always possible, especially if it's a crisis has hit and you're needing to evacuate through some pretty terrible conditions. But with the right approach, you'll be able to stay warm and dry, no matter what time of year you're bugging out in.