The most important Navy Seal tips to survive cold weather without a Bug Out Bag
I remember when I was a kid that I went winter hunting with my dad and all it comes now in my mind is the cold. That freezing cold that hits your face and you feel that even your bones hurt. I learned a lot as a kid and the army training just pushed me forward.
Now, I am a lot more prepared and I can manage to survive cold weather more easily.
Still, I can say that even the best gear won’t be of any help if you don’t know how to use it or, worst, if have no minimum training about managing cold weather.
The secret about winter survival is not about the gear.
You have all your stuff packed in your Bug Out Bag and you can easily rely on it when you go out there. You can find tones of lists about what to put in your emergency bag from windproof jackets to matches and packed food. When you have all of these with you, surviving is a lot more easier.
But from my point of view surviving the cold is fighting against it when you don’t have that bag with you. When, in the best scenario, you have an EDC (every day carry) kit and nothing else except your skills. There are a lot of checklists out there that can inspire you on what to carry every day. I don’t go anywhere without minimum like a knife, a paracord bracelet and my watch. However, the list you have must not ignore the fact that everyone has different survival needs.
Keeping warm is your main task
You are out there with nothing except what you have on you. The biggest winter-specific risks are (1)hypothermia, (2)dehydration and (3)getting lost. As long as you manage these and prepare for it, you have a lot more chances to survive any situation you face.
What happens to your body when you have hypothermia?
Hypothermia is when your body’s core temperature drops below 90 F, which causes your vital systems to shut down. This means your body loses heat faster than it’s produced.
Depending on conditions, you can become hypothermic in as little as a few minutes. During exposure to cold temperatures, almost 90% of your body heat escapes through your skin; the rest, you exhale from your lungs, especially if you are walking. Heat loss through the skin speeds up when skin is exposed to wind or moisture.
If you have any contact with cold water, heat loss can occur 25 times faster than it would if exposed to the same air temperature. One of the most important things you must remember in any cold survival situation is to take advantage of your body heat. You main task is to protect it from the outside cold that’s trying to steal that precious thermal energy.
Your head is basically a radiator. It has lots of blood flow, but has very little fat for insulation. Try to keep your head covered as you can lose 50% of your body heat and even more from unprotected neck. I learned this the hard way when I went deer hunting. I always got cold, tried new clothes and invariably the cold weather was “killing” me on the deer stand.
So I find a very simple solution: I have always with me a Buff which is practically a technical fabric head wear, very light and easy to carry in a pocket. What is special about it is that it can be worn in more than 10 different ways from a cap to a balaclava.
So, good insulation on your head and neck is a must.
Since heat is so important, all elements that are most threatening are your enemies. Almost everything you touch is stealing your heat.
Every winter survival tip is based around this concept.
Exposure to the elements, wind and contact with water can be fatal for you. Including overheat that will make you sweat. Wet socks or t shirt can steal heat faster than dry ones and wind will dehydrate you faster than calm air.
As long as you can perspiration away from your skin and you head covered you will have a clear view and think about your next steps. Be smart and remember that if you are walking and the physical exertion starts to overheat you, simply remove your head wear as the first action to prevent sweating.
Stay on track and maximize your chances to be found
Now that you know how to protect you body heat, it’s time to focus on main necessities like water and shelter. As long as you have these in control, your chances to survive and gain some time are much more increased. The only risk you have here is getting loss in a storm or making things worse like falling through ice.
These kind of scenario always happens because in the extreme situation you must decide whether to build a shelter or move and forge ahead.
The truth is that this is a very important decision and from my experience your default decision should be to stay on ground. Leaving your position must be executed only if you really have to, like lack of materials to build a shelter, an imminent threat or just to increase your chances of being found.
If you have to walk in snow take notes of these tips and take everything slowly. Move as much as possible during the day and use the snow in your advantage – look for tracks and build markers from trees and rocks so you can find your way back or discover that you are not walking in circle.
Notice that you must hydrate, but NEVER eat snow when you feel thirsty.
Look around or use a map if you have one and spot your location and relate it to the surrounding area. It’s very important to look close on what is around you and notice how you can find food and water. You must prepare yourself for hard days and everything you have is related to the area you are.
Any good place is time winning, so you can start to warm up and dry your clothes. The main problem is that wet clothes doesn’t dry so fast when it’s cold outside.
You need a heat source and before you make a fire you can use your body heat. Walk around and get some wood and rocks to prepare a fire near your place to build a shelter.
Navy Seals call this technique Rewarming Drill and they learn it during the winter training. It means you need to trap and protect your body heat so it can raise your internal temperature and slowly dry the clothing. The main goal is to let your body do the job, but you main target must be to start a fire. Is better to stay naked in the cold air for 20 minutes than keep wet clothes around you.
Fight dehydration and stress
In a cold weather environment potable water is a task you must not ignore. Dehydration is a major threat. A loss of only 5 % of your body fluids causes thirst, irritability, nausea, and weakness. When you pass over 15% you will have a feeling of numbness in the skin, swollen tongue and you will lose the ability to move. This can result in death.
In most of the cases you can acquire water from your environment. You can melt snow or ice, the last being preferable due to higher concentration of water per volume. However because ice is frozen water, it needs to be disinfected before drinking it. You can do this by boiling it, and this means to have at least a metal tin.
If you don’t have this option, you can melt snow as you don’t need any disinfection process.
The easiest method is to use a t shirt and build a water generator.
You must form a tripod by gathering 3 poles about 6 feet long. Tie them with a piece of paracord, grass or whatever you find handy. Fill the material with snow, and tie it completely. The idea is to constantly bang the shirt on the ground to compact the snow as much as you can.
Hang the material of snow to the tripod and place near the fire and ensure the material is safe from being burnt. Place under the drip any container like a tin can or a tree bark cup.
In about 30 minutes you will have water. Remember to fill the bag constantly with snow.
Keep in mind these tips:
- never melt snow or ice inside your mouth
- if you are working or on the move, use body heat to melt snow. Use any bag and place it in your pocket, not on the skin
- if you melt snow by the fire, put rocks around to speed up the process and conserving fuel
- don’t drink your urine; drinking urine returns body waste into your body and requires more fluid to expel it
- be extreme cautious when there are streams or rivers nearby. Approaching the edge can increase the risk to fall in cold water
Build a winter shelter
Building a shelter is an important skill in surviving a cold weather event. The shelter should be no larger than needed so that it is easier to heat. In a survival situation smaller is better when it comes to building a temporary shelter.
And as long as you plan to make a fire there, think again about ventilation. In such conditions, an incomplete ventilation will trigger the “silent killer” called carbon monoxide. Colorless and odorless it is a great danger for such scenarios.
Your shelter needs to satisfy six basic criteria, according to the US Navy Seals, which follow the rule Prepare For Some Very Hard Days. :
- Protection (against storm, wind, snow)
- Free from natural hazards (under rock fall or “standing dead” trees, which have the potential to fall on your shelter)
- Stable under stress from further severe weather
- Heat retention
- Drying facility, to dry your clothes
You job now is to find the best spot that is flat and has some wind protection. You can use anything you have around you to build a shelter including snow, leaves and logs. Build a solid winter shelter can be a real challenge as there are less natural resources. Still, you can use parts of the airplane (if that’s how you ended there), skin from an animal or just some branches.
If you spot a natural place like a cave or fallen tree, act with caution as there can be home for wild animals like bear or snakes. More, anything that can look like a shelter can be a deadly trap just waiting to fall.
I suggest to look around and build a snow cave shelter, as snow can be a very good insulator. Keep the roof arched for strength and to allow the snow to drain down the sides. Inside the shelter build a platform higher than the main level and use it as a sleeping platform. Never sleep directly on the ground, and lay down a bed of leaves. grass or any other insulating materials to avoid the ground from absorbing your heat.
When night comes remember to have a full stomach and drink plenty of water. It will help you stay warm through the night. Don’t forget to check the ventilation if you plan to keep the fire all night. Also, the rocks from around the fire will give a boost of heat, so stay close to them.
Now, after you have a setup like this you can think about food, rescue and signaling. Putting green wood or leaves on a fire will generate smoke that can be seen from miles. Circumstances may vary, but you can use almost anything to signal and send a SOS, no matter how lost you think you are.
Winter is something you can’t joke about and having some gear with you (this is prepping also!) it’s not enough to survive. You will need survival skills and my advice is to learn these essentials skills that I outlined above in this article. If you love hiking you can practice them out there, as any knowledge become a skill only after you use it.
If you have any questions about these tips or you want to share some more about surviving in cold conditions feel free to write below.
God bless you,