Cold Weather Preparedness & Survival

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You can write books on the topic, but for now, a few quick thoughts on preparing for the cold and surviving the experience. This morning, we hit somewhere close to -10 they say, with -8 and -9 seen around the lair. With winds staying above 10 mph and gusting up above 25 mph, it makes it a bit brisk. Thankfully, we are not among those who have lost power though it did flicker a bit around 0300 this morning.

You can survive being out and about in incredible cold, even worse that what just hit a good bit of the United States. If you are prepared and have the right gear, it doesn’t suck too bad. In fact, I’ve had fun out doing things even with -45 wind chills and significant snow. I’m still amused that wolves love that type of weather, and will just curl up and let the snow build up on them — it’s insulation for one thing. Got a nasty look one time for daring disturb a wolf who was asleep and had more than a foot of snow on top of them.

Let’s start with some basics. First up, a trick I wish I had known decades ago. Moisturize your skin. Seriously. Not going to add a huge amount of protection, but it helps and it helps with healing after you have been out. Trust me, if you are out in below-zero conditions, your skin is going to take a hit almost no matter what.

Second, don’t sweat. If you are out and so active that you are starting to sweat, slow down. I had read about it before, but experiencing it is something else. You sweat, it builds up in your clothing (hopefully wicked away a bit), turns to ice, and you have to sweat more to deal with it… It’s a vicious cycle that can take it out of you. Avoid it at all costs.

Third, layer. The best way to go is multiple thin to moderate layers. Give yourself the ability to add additional layers at need, and to remove layers at need. The thermal underwear of my youth has been replaced by some really good stuff that works much, much better. Make sure your outer layers are as wind-proof as possible. Also, insulated boots, mittens, face coverings, and similar are fantastic. Doesn’t matter if you are wearing tanker goggles or ski goggles, protect your eyes. When the temps are low, you want zero exposed skin.

Four, hydrate. Believe it or not, more people dehydrate under cold weather conditions than hot. Personally, I drink water as well as hot teas, ginger drink, etc. You want the water as caffeine will dehydrate you, which is one reason I go for the ginger drinks and teas. Trader Joe’s has a very good ginger drink that is wonderful served hot on a cold day. Any will work, just be sure you stay hydrated.

Now, let’s look at being out and about. When I first moved up to Indiana, I asked around and got pointed to Rural King where I found not only wonderful (and relatively inexpensive) insulated farm boots, but fleece and flannel lined jeans that I love. Along with one or more layers of modern long-johns, coat(s), and gloves, you are good to go.

Two things in regards hands and feet. For your hands, look at exam gloves under everything. They do help. For both hands and feet, look at hand and toe warmers. For working outside in below-zero for 8-12 hours, you want them. In fact, I have been know to put one hand warmer on top of my hand and one below, as it helped heat the blood slightly as it went out into my fingers. Every little bit helps.

Also, layer. For my feet, I go thin sock, regular sock, and then boot sock even with insulated boots and the use of toe warmers. For gloves, it is exam, thin, moderate, then seasonal. I’ve even had to top that with snow mittens on occasion. I’m also able to take off layers at need to answer calls, type in info, scan items, etc.

If you are law enforcement, military, or other and have an undercover vest, boy howdy are those the thing for extreme cold weather. They are warm, block the wind, and protect the core from thermal as well as ballistic threats. Highly recommended even in a non-ballistic environment.

You can pay as much as you want for gear, but if you want things that work even as you do real work, go to places like Rural King, Tractor Supply, or similar as farmers have to be out 24/7 365. You will find great gear at great prices at such stores.

Another good reason to avoid bulkiness if a male is that you do need to be able to get it out to urinate. If you are having to drop layers to do so, you need to look at how you are layering.

When it comes to head gear, I do have one advantage over most people: I have a genuine Russian fur hat. During the sadly brief time it was safe for me to visit, I grabbed a good one though I missed out on excellent because I mis-translated the price/exchange rate. No ermine, sigh. That said, have a great hat that I can’t wear unless it is near zero or below. Don’t skimp on the head gear and protect the ears. Ears can freeze (not just get frostbite) faster than your fingers and toes.

Layer your head gear too. Skull cap, something nicer, and then pull up the hood of your coat/parka/whatever. Throw in goggles and a face mask, and you are good. Also, if things are really bad, I have a pair of bib/overalls that are designed for snow and cold weather. I also have a couple of good coats as well as a leather trench coat that is great for windy conditions.

Now, let’s look at indoor survival if the power goes out. We’ve been lucky so far with just some flickering but no outage (knock on wood). I’m going to tell a tale on a friend, to spark some ideas.

A few decades back, one of those 20-50-year winter storms hit the southern Appalachian mountains, and tested the preparedness of a friend and her then husband. Since one is not supposed to say much if you can’t say something nice, I will try not to mention him at all. My friend, we will call her Strawberry, was more than a touch experienced with survival. Really do need to sing her song one day soon, but for now know that among other things she had been a big game hunter and guide, as well as a deep sea fisherman.

Well, this storm hit and it was a doozy. Power went out early, which wasn’t surprising given how remote she was. The home she had was not the best insulated and weather-tight, to be polite. Pro Tip: the more weather tight and energy efficient your home is, the better.

Thankfully, if I remember correctly, the stove was pre-safety-nazi/officious bureaucrat so they could light and run it at need. They also had a fireplace. Fire 24/7 for heat and some cooking, stove at need for cooking. Given how long power was out, the freezer was an issue until it was realized they could just open the door and it was so cold that everything re-froze. They could only open the refrigerator door for a set time, then had to close it so nothing did freeze.

Pro-tip: If you don’t open the door, a freezer can stay frozen for up to 48 hours with power off. A refrigerator will be good for 4-8 hours (maybe more). If you aren’t in an open-the-door situation, put the items in each into a cooler and put the coolers outside, porch or similar being preferable. Problem solved. I do recommend, strongly, NSF-grade thermometers for each. I also do the container/coin thing in my freezer as a backup. Watch your temps and act accordingly. Had some friends in Huntsville do this a few years back, and putting everything in a cooler on the balcony was just the ticket. In fact, he started keeping his beer out there all winter.

i shouldn’t laugh, but the most comical part of the incident was the death of Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Strawberry had a flying squirrel get in somehow, and it homed in on the toilet to get a drink. Porcelain is slick even without ice, and poor Rocky fell in. Sadly, he froze to death trying to climb back out of the toilet. Poor Strawberry had to get his frozen corpse out of the toilet, and he was sent out into the woods for a funeral.

For most people, the key is to pick a room and fort up. If you have a fireplace, that’s the room. If you have a kerosene or other heater, set it up (along with a CO detector) in your fort. Everyone into that room to maximize bodily warmth. If you have an alternate means of cooking (camp stove, etc.) set it up in there. Good time to use candles and such instead of battery lights as the candles will give off heat.

Forget beds, use sleeping bags and look at people sleeping together. Mommy and Daddy can share a bag, though caution is advised so that the family doesn’t increase in size in about nine months. Kids can share too within reason. Long johns are a good idea, and always put on dry socks before going to bed in situations like this. Add in all the blankets you have, and you can stay fairly snug and warm even in weather like this.

If the water goes out with the power, this is also a good time to teach the kids about yellow is mellow and how to be sure anything else goes down. Good way to test your preparedness levels all around. UPDATE: If the power is out and you do have water, DRIP YOUR FAUCETS! Keep that water moving so that the pipes don’t freeze. I’m dripping my shower right now because the pipes have to go down the outside wall, and that wall is cold!

For me right now, we have power though I have broken out the chef’s stove. Not sharing my mulled wine, so heating it in my room. The candles are ready, and I’m good to go. Hopefully, this has given you a few ideas on how to deal with the cold and the unexpected.

If there is something you would like me to expand upon, let me know. Meantime, be safe, be good, and may your day be filled with warmth internal if not external.

3 thoughts on “Cold Weather Preparedness & Survival”

  1. If you have to urinate, do it, even if you have to leave a nice cozy bed/sleeping bag to do so. Don’t ty to hold off. Your body will use energy to keep it from freezing in your body, which will pull heat from your hands and feet.

  2. I have a genuine Russian fur hat.
    Mine is Alaskan. Bought in Fairbanks in February, while watching the starts of a sled dog race (not THE big one, but another major one). “Polar fleece” with otter fur for the flaps and the ends of the ties. (Yes, I got furry otter balls on my hat! it makes it much easier to find the ends to untie the strongs and pull the flaps down.)
    And, yes, where I live, there are years I never get to wear it and make “furry otter balls” jokes. Because I will sweat in it if it’s not really cold.

    always put on dry socks before going to bed
    YES! And may I suggest that you do NOT go to bed in any clothing in which you perspired during the day? Put on fresh long johns or wear pajamas. You actually are kinda nasty when you sleep (at least more than many people think) and dirt/sweat/oils in your sleep clothing will impair your ability to feel warm. So, get in your bag, change into jammies and clean socks, put your “gotta pee now” covering in there with you (so it’s not ice cold when you need it), put your other clothes outside the bag, and snuggle up.

    As to extra blankets – put some of them UNDER you! Insulate yourself from the ground, even if it’s indoor carpeted flooring. People usually want a pad, anyway, for some softness. But it’s important to try and get some insulation between you and the ground/floor. (Cots are good, btw – assuming you don’t have beds in your fort – because you can stack things under the cot and save room.)

    Also, open the cabinets under your sinks. Let the house warmth into that space and it will provide an extra margin against freezing. Unless, of course, the builders of your home ran the pipes on the outside of the wall insulation…. This, btw, applies to inner wall plumbing, as well, if you’re on a crawlspace. And, know where your water cutoff is in case the worst happens. Hopefully you don’t have to shovel it out first.

    Also, an endorsement of Drang’s advice. Use big empty water bottles if necessary. But please do empty them/throw them out when you get up in the morning. Do not do as the soldier did in Bosnia and simply stack the full ones under your cot…. (Especially since he left them there when he rotated to a different camp. Yuck!)

    Oh, one odd off suggestion….
    If you happen to be living in an old (100+ years) farmhouse, and the garage is an old barn with sliding doors….
    Do NOT put your car in there and close the door without first clearing out the rut and clearing all around the bottom track for the door. The warmth of the car that was just a short time ago running will melt the snow and it will run into the rut (or possibly onto the track if it’s a more modern setup) and then refreeze. It is not fun to try and chisel that door open with a screwdriver and a flashlight. (Also, keep in mind there is a side door and you could just go in and re-start the car until the ice melts. Leave the side door open for emissions safety until you can open the main door. Yes, I figured that out after the first half hour of chiseling.)

    Stay frosty toasty, everyone!

    1. LOL on the otter balls! Thanks for a lot of good advice too. And glad you did figure that out on the rut and chisel. 🙂

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