Survival in Optimal Conditions
January 31, 2019
Most of us practice and prepare in optimal conditions. That is because we are living in the wake of brilliant people who have created technologies to keep us comfortable in our living spaces. What a blessing it is to have a thermostat! Huh?
This means that we are often robbed of the realities of life beyond our four walls. Now, that is a good thing in most cases. The fact that we can keep the winter cold at bay is a miracle. We can sit in our homes and keep warm with the flip of a switch. The cold has been something our ancestors have struggled against for millennia.
Not every survival situation is going to take place on a night in May when the breeze is just right. While the prepping community has come a long way with their appreciation of skills, it might be time to test those skills under less than optimal conditions.
Anyone who is in the business of amassing prepper related skills is a person to admire. This journey is no easy trek when you have a life outside of preparedness. The idea that you find time to prep at all is very impressive.
How do you feel about your skills in optimal conditions?
How do you feel about them in adverse conditions?
While some of the above-mentioned conditions might be a little radical, it does us all a little good to war game from time to time. The opportunity is more readily available than you might think.
I have trouble with quelling my natural excitement. One of the things I must work on is keeping my head when I am on an adventure. This can often lead to trouble but sometimes it leads to adversity that really pays off.
Living in Central Virginia, I find myself heading up to the mountains in my free time as they are just a couple of hours away. The Shenandoah National Park is home to incredible native trout fishing, beautiful scenery, waterfalls, swimming, hiking, and backcountry camping.
Just a couple of months ago my son and I headed up to the mountains in a hurry when we found some free time. We were looking to climb Bearfence Mountain but as we pulled through the service station it became clear that we would not be doing that.
The National park was snowed over, and the roads were perilous. In fact, the whole of Skyline Drive was closed and only accessible by foot! This changed our plans radically as we drove most of the way seeing no snow and not expecting this situation.
Now, let it be known that you can simply call the National Park and they will tell you all about the issues of the day. This could have been avoided but as I said above, I have excitement issues.
Bundled up, my son and I hit the AT (Appalachian Trail) and decided to make our way to a waterfall. It was about a 4-mile hike that we made maybe 2 miles of before getting hungry and very cold. My son is 7 so, I wasn’t really prepared to push him much further in those conditions. Also, I want the mountains to be an adventure he looks forward to. Frozen toes tend to hinder that.
We found ourselves sitting on a log firing up the camping stove about 60 yards off the main trail. We melted some snow in a little of the water that I brought from home. We brought the contents of my steel cup to a boil and added some earl grey tea to it.
Drinking the tea, we discussed cold weather conditions and the seriousness of cold weather. I remember asking him,
“Can you imagine our situation if the sun was going down and we were lost out here?”
He replied, “We would need a fire bad! Right, Dad?”
Not long after coming home from our adventure it became clear to me that I needed to start more fires in the cold and wet. I needed to thrust myself into the world when conditions were at their worst, to truly get a read on what I was capable of.
The test of the cold is a sobering experience and I would like to offer you two very different but equally helpful challenges. They both require that you get to know the cold a little better.
You can learn a lot about yourself and your gear with a short hike in the cold. We experienced a lot of things in our accidental adventure that were very beneficial.
You don’t have to hike mountains in the cold. This is all about understanding where you stand with cold weather preparations. So, grab a bag or two, a family member and head out into the cold. Spend some time out there and play with things like making food, making fire, just keeping warm, or maybe even finding water.
We could all use an excuse to get outside in the winter. Vitamin D deficiency is real.
I should first mention that cold weather camping is a life-threatening undertaking. If you do not have the right gear you can easily die of hypothermia. Your summer camping gear is not enough to carry you through a winter night. Also, weather conditions need to be considered in detail when you are camping in the winter. This is particularly true if you are driving into the mountains to camp. Mountain weather is very different than lower elevations and things can get crazy in a hurry.
If you are a seasoned camper and have the right gear for cold weather camping, it can be very rewarding to camp out in the cold. It’s sobering and eye-opening, as well. As a reward, you can often enjoy a massive expanse of woods all to yourself and wake up to a nice warm cup of coffee with a great view. The frosted mountain tops are something to behold.
There are several items that you can add to your normal pack to make your cold weather camping trip a success.
Whether you decide to sleep on the ground or in a hammock you should certainly invest in an insulated foam sleeping pad for your winter camping trip. While blow up pads and ultralight pads have their advantages in the cold your primary concern is conduction.
You will give all your body heat to the greedy ground or the cold air beneath your tarp if you are not insulated.
While this is not an item you can swing by Walmart and pick up, if you are truly interested in all weather camping there are few items as reliable and insulating in the cold and wet weather, as a wool blanket. You will find that wrapping yourself in that wool blanket will offer you serious protection both through the night and in the early morning.
100% wool blankets are expensive and there is no way to get around that. It’s just what it is. You will find that you invest in a high-quality blanket one time and you take care of it. Be sure not to get swindled by someone pushing 75% wool. If you really want to do this settle for nothing less than 100% and you will get those insulative properties.
Another great item to pack, for insulation, is the all-weather space blanket. These are a more durable version of the space blankets you see in most survival kits. These are very affordable and are 5’ x 7’ which make them great as a tarp cover for a hammock setup or even as a reflector wall between you and your fire.
You can also wrap yourself in this tarp and it will reflect tons of your own body heat. These all-weather space blankets are essential to winter emergency and camping. There is nothing better for $20 on the market that will assist you
Fire is everything in cold weather and it can also be a serious pain to get a fire going in these conditions. When it comes to fire, I like every advantage I can get. Sure, creating a perfect tinder bundle of processed barks and dried grasses is the bushcraft best case scenario, it’s a lot harder in the cold and wet conditions of winter.
I pack my bag with fire options, always. From lighters to matches, ferro, magnesium, candles and even some fire bricks, I want to be sure of fire out in the cold. A big Ziplock bag of dryer lint is a must. It will catch fire with a spark, open flame or an ember and it will happen in a snap. Start collecting it now and stow it away.
Some people go as far as mixing it with melted wax or petroleum jelly to get an even better burn out of it.
Plastic is a nasty product and many people are moving away from it, however, lots of people also carry water in plastic bottles like a Nalgene. A great practice is to forget about that Nalgene and start carrying a single-walled steel bottle. You cannot boil water in a plastic bottle, but you can do all sorts of things in a single-walled steel bottle. Boiling water is just one important thing.
For me, the great equalizer in the cold weather is warm liquids and warm foods. These two things make me, personally, warmer than any layering of clothes or insulated blankets. Maybe its mental but it really helps. There are also few ways to really warm the fingers and hands that are as effective as sipping hot tea from a steel bottle or cup.
If the fire is a priority in the cold then, of course, wood fuel for that fire is going to be important as well. In order to take advantage of that wood fuel, you are going to need a few items on hand. Maybe the most important is a folding saw that can be used to cut that wood into pieces that you can split easily.
While fire at night is crucial in a cold weather setting, you will also want to be able to start a fire in the morning as well, to warm you back up and get some hot liquids into your body.
Folding saws are very inexpensive and well worth the investment if you are doing any kind of camping that involves campfires.
Prepping is not about testing your limits and becoming some outdoors expert. It’s a very honorable pursuit that shows a person’s willingness to accept responsibility for themselves in the worst of situations. While preppers have been shown, by the media, to be these radical hoarders, it’s clear we are the ones who will have the bandwidth and the knowledge to act and help our communities in a disaster.
To me, there is no nobler an aspiration than to be the person who brings a community together and leads them through, perhaps, one of the worst times of their life.
What I am exploring in this article is the idea of the cold and how it can drastically affect your ability to act. How the cold can take someone with advanced survival skills and turn them into a mere beginner in its presence. There is real value there. You know.
If I am honest about all this, its terror that pushes me to write this article. Can you fathom anything worse than having to survive outside your four walls in the depths of winter? As a prepper, I feel it’s my duty to look at a situation like that and ask: HOW?
If you don’t wanna go out in the cold and hike or camp don’t do it! This is just my way of overcoming fear and that fear is being stuck out in the cold with my family and not having what I need to keep them and myself alive.
James Walton is the host of the I AM Liberty Show (www.iamlibertyshow.com) a podcast about 21st-century freedom. He is a freelance writer in the prepping and survival niche and likes to keep a healthy balance between prepping and enjoying life.
Excellent advice. It confirms my experience of sleeping in my backyard in the metro Detroit area at 12 below zero, to test my Quallofil sleeping bag. I used an army cot, 3 inches of foam pad, sleeping bag topped with an old army blanket. Since I did not use a tent and was visible to my neighbors,
my wife was concerned that they would call the police on the ‘nutty old man’
in the backyard. You have to know if your sleeping bag will keep you alive if you lose heat in Deer Camp. Blessings to your work…
Central Oregon here. Heading for an overnighter with a young man from my neighborhood who needs a lil guidance. Central Cascades, McKenzie River valley. Loved the article. Keep em coming.
I like that you used your cold weather hike as a teachable moment for your child. I’m in the U.S. Midwest and we just gone done with three days of windchills between -20 and -50. We included the homeless, law enforcement, hospital workers etc in our dinnertime prayers and used that as a springboard for conversations with our small children about how not everyone has a safe and warm place to be – and that other people risk their safety in order to serve as helpers to others in times like this. We did take them outside for *exactly* one minute so they could experience that extremee cold is quite different from a normal winter day. They were amazed that their fingers started tingling – even though they were all bundled up. Yes to practicing your preps while you’re still safe!
This really hits home for me this week near Cleveland as the temps have dropped below zero. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to live outside my house for even a few hours much less a day or two. God forbid a week or a month or ?!
Not only am I ill-equipped, I’m mentally unprepared and unskilled.
In the house without heat would be a piece of cake in comparison.
Great article and great tips.
You’re right about wool! In 1951 Mom received a 100% wool blanket as a wedding gift. It was used regularly until the late 1980’s. At that point the blanket was still very serviceable but ratty looking, so she made a quilt top and backing of cotton with the wool blanket in between the two layers. Now the finished quilt is too warm except in the winter. Her great-grandkids still use it every day, maybe as a blanket, maybe as a fort, tent, or superhero cape. Almost 70 years later and I’m not sure it will ever wear out!
As a Canadian I won’t go out into the winter wilderness without some sort of axe. It seconds as a hammer, a wedge, self defense and other functions.
I hiked in the Tennessee/North Carolina mountains a few years ago with two of my sons, in January. The overnight temps were 6 degrees F both nights. It was spitting snow the entire time and the big rushing creek was partially frozen over.
Believe it or not, my biggest problem wasn’t the cold – it was getting too hot. I had too many layers under insulated coveralls and camp life is too active for that kind of clothing. I was boiling water every time I turned around, trying to stay hydrated.
Keep that in mind when you plan a vigorous winter hike.
Most long term preppers have taken the time to assemble good survival kits which is all very nice BUT a lot can happen in seconds that can divorce you from your kit for an indefinite period.
For example earthquakes, Tsunami, civil disturbance, or even an Industrial or Terrorist incident. Let alone an active shooter and the subsequent lock downs of law enforcement.
So as opposed to thinking we will always have our well thought out kit to hand who, apart from preppers and survivalists, knows best how to survive and make do with very little?
I speak of street people, the homeless, or whatever you personally call them.
Having been one I had to learn fast what makes a good makeshift ground mat, a temporary shelter, and good insulation about your person. What the essentials are of maintaining my core temperature and how to keep clean.
Another skill is knowing where to forage clean water, ‘edibles’, and medical help in a hostile urban scenario. That and how to stay safe from the ‘good law abiding citizenry’ or, and more likely, out of control law enforcement.
Best bit about it?
That knowledge will usually cost you no more than a meal and a few bucks.
The more we teach our children today, the less we will need to be responsible for them 20 years from now!
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I’m Gaye, just an ordinary gal trying to make sense of our changing world. I am addicted to prepping, DIY projects, adult coloring books, and ballroom dancing. I live what I call a strategic life and believe you should too. Everyone needs to prepare for the worst and live for the best. Won’t you join me?
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