Cold Weather: The Great Equalizer

forest_cold_winterFor preppers, cold weather has to be the worst of the elements.   In some parts of the country we are just entering the phase of the harshest part of winter. It has been pretty mild in most cold zones, but Mother Nature being as she is, I expect that to change.  Remember, if you saw the Seattle-Minnesota NFL playoff game last year, the air temp on the field was at or below zero not counting the -10-20 degree wind chill factor. How would you like to be outside during a SHTF in that?

How do you prepare for and survive a bug out with outside temperatures in the teens or worse? It is the ultimate challenge in my mind. Cold has a way of sinking into the soul. Can you remember photos of the German Army marching in to Russia in WWII?   How about Valley Forge with soldier’s feet wrapped in mere cloth because no boots were available? I shiver just thinking about it. Cold can zap your spirit and take your life.

Structural Preparation

But like any other part of preparing for a SHTF, preppers can prepare for cold weather, too. First and foremost some kind of shelter has to be paramount. You simply cannot sustain yourself in zero temps huddled under a tarp cover. Even a cloth or nylon tent is sketchy. One exception might be a high quality outfitters wall tent with a good wood, propane, or gas stove inside. Protection from cold, wet and wind is essential to survive the winter months.

Related: Tarp or Tent Debate 

Better yet some kind of a fixed house, barn or structure. Doors and windows can be sealed and walls insulated. A wood stove or even a fireplace would generate some heat to stave off the penetrating impact of the cold. Kerosene or propane gas heaters could also be deployed. If you live or escape to where it could be cold, then plan now.

Camping trailers are an option, too, as a bug out shelter in addition to being available for regular recreational use.   If considering a trailer to tow, shop for one with good wall and floor insulation and a good heating system. Most likely a heater and cook stove will be fueled by propane, so plan for ample supplies for a long term stay if needed. Try to park and anchor a trailer out of prevailing winds with a tree line screen or other protective block.

Clothing Matters 

Obviously proper clothing is an essential defense against cold.  That cotton hunting outfit will not do. Forget the blue jeans for driving winds and snow. And don’t be fooled by some highly marketed super fabrics either. Many of them fail in the cold. Go for well insulated outfits and or wool. Wool from head to toe will provide better body heat retention than just about anything else, even when wet.

Read Also: It’s Winter – Don’t Go Hiking Without Proper Clothing! 

Though you’ve heard it many times until you’re dizzy, layering is still the best strategy. Use wicking layers against the skin and work out from there. Then, just like a wall thermometer, as you heat up or cool down, you can adjust by taking off or putting on layers. Don’t forget a good hat or beanie to stop body heat from escaping through your head. Use a scarf for the neck.

Get proper boots, and gloves, too. If there is a driving wind, then a protective facemask adds warmth and skin protection as well. Cold weather boots such as Schnee’s or Kenetrek boots with the wool liner inserts provide exceptional foot protection from the cold. Your boots should be totally waterproof and well insulated.

frost_tree_pine_winterSupplemental heat can also be added to the exterior of the body by using the chemical heat up pads that can be placed in gloves, boots or as body wraps. The ones that stick on the bottom of socks add an extra measure of warmth for cold feet. Place them on top of the toes and the bottom for even longer heat generation. There are battery operated or rechargeable boot heaters, too, but these require extra batteries or access to a power source to recharge them.

During super cold you have to eat right and hydrate more than you might think. Internal ovens  fed with protein foods with a good mix of carbs.   Cold weather will drag on your mind and body. Prepare ahead to withstand it and you will survive it.

All Photos Courtesy of:
John Woods








Written by John J. Woods

John J. Woods, PhD, has been outdoor writing for over 35 years with over 3000 articles, and columns published on firearms, gun history, collecting, appraising, product reviews and hunting. Dr. Woods is currently the Vice President of Economic Development at a College in the Southern United States. Read his full interview here. Read more of John J.'s articles.

6 thoughts on “Cold Weather: The Great Equalizer”

  1. Diving neoprene suits are available used even if wet they can keep your core temperature better than other methods.
    weather changes " go figure" if your out and a blizzard sets in for a day or so your basic cold weather gear probably will not suffice for days of exposure. As mentions wind is an additional threat.

    people on water need to pull their heads out of their nether regions depending on the water temp your time of exposure puts you at risk the further you have to swim or time to wait for emergency services your loosing body temp and risk slipping into a comma and dying many times it is called drowning but that can be a result of exhaustion added to injuries,

    depending on the extremes of weather as to what suit to pick a surfing suit short sleeve and legs up to full coverage dry suit it also depends on your wampum bag some are costly but people can find used ones also for survival use you do not need it as tight as in diving use. You will also find that a dark color absorbs heat so if you get some UV your get some free warmth no power or calories expended ? is that not a + gain.

    Prepping or being prepared means foreknowledge and planing for it using basic gear for extreme weather does not work. Military rated clothing is great but just remember you do not have the backing of the added equipment and supplies to supplement like mre heaters sleeping bags and liners etc etc etc people use the jacket and pants what about the rest ? and expect to overcome a maybe once in a century event that is nonsensical IMHO.

  2. You write, "Cold weather will drag on your mind and body. Prepare ahead to withstand it and you will survive it." Ah, yes…the undeniable psychological aspect needs to be factored in ahead of time, too. That's such good and important information and advice; and really, it cannot be overemphasized, especially for those of us who can reasonably expect to find ourselves "out in the cold" because of where we live, travel, or work. Really good, concise article. I hope a lot of people get to see this information, think about it, and factor this information into their planning.

  3. we are in the northeast about 3 miles from one of the biggest weather makers in the world one of the great lakes and me being a wanderer i used to hitch hike all over the country between that and and working on a snow removale crew back in the mid 70s i learned how to dress for the weather FAST it was either that or die so i adapted and over came it LAYERS LAYERS AND MORE LAYERS is the key without question

  4. Couple of yrs. ago, we had a water problem in our town. Thought I'd just go to the store & buy a few bottles til the problem was over – WOW what a shock – the shelves of store bought bottled water were absolutely empty!! Taught me a lesson! That won't happen to us again – I keep cases of bottled water on hand at all times. Next to my 9mm and my AR, water is of great importance! (And yes, I shoot very well!)
    70 yr. old granny

  5. I was somewhat disappointed that this article didn't have much to say about winter tent camping. Most of us don't have RV's or log cabins, in fact I wouldn't consider that "winter camping".

    I grew up in a rural Canadian town back in the seventies. One of our teachers was an immigrant from one of the Scandinavian countries. Every winter she organized a 5 day winter camp in February for the students, who ranged in age from 12-15. We camped in remote wooded areas and fields. We were taught first of all how to dress – all cotton socks, long johns etc. Next, a wool layer. Finally the outer layer of snow pants and heavy waterproof coat. Boots had to be what we used to call snowmobile boots, with removable wool liners which could be dried by the fire, and laced upper gaiters to keep snow out. The strictest rule was that we were never to wear the inner cotton layer (or gloves or boot liners) for more than one day without drying it, even socks had to be changed every night. Clothes were hung by the fire to dry. One person who ignored this rule and kept their socks on overnight lost the soles of their feet to frostbite. All it took was the moisture from the sweat on their feet.

    We camped in nylon or canvas tents. First we had to dig the snow out down to the ground, you can't pitch tents on snow unless you want to freeze to death in a tent full of moisture. Usually there was at least 2 feet of snow on the ground. We also had to dig out the fire area. We spent a lot of time gathering and cutting firewood, keeping the fire going and using it to dry clothing, boil snow for water or cook food. We brought most of our food but we were also taught how to use available trees and plants, for example making tea out of spruce, birch or willow bark (willow bark tea also acts as a pain reliever). We did have some fun, we brought cross country skis and snowshoes to hike in the woods.

    I can say overall that winter camping of this nature is quite grueling, physically and mentally. I did it for three years and could do it again if I had to. But when the five days were over it would take a couple of days to regain normal energy and strength, and one of the worst parts of it was feeling like you would never get out of the cold again. And bear in mind, we brought most of our food. Add hunting and foraging to your daily chores and it's quite a challenge to camp this way.


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