Surviving Outside In The Winter

Monday, March 14, 2011

Warm weather is starting to approach, and as it does, the bright sunshine is giving people the encouragement they need to play outside. After all the snow this winter, people are really coming out and enjoying the spring skiing, hiking, and playing that the sunshine inspires. While the past couple of weeks have been gloriously sunny, don’t forget that we live in Steamboat Colorado and a storm can roll up on you before you have a chance to sneeze. While usually this means little and we return home quite easily, there have been quite a few calls to Search and Rescue this winter due to white out conditions. It is good to be prepared to at least wait out the storm, or stay overnight, even if you were planning on just taking a short hike for the day. Most of us have heard the typical rules of thumb, (Don’t wear cotton, bring layers, and always tell someone where you are  going), but I’d like to go a little bit more into depth about what you should carry with you at the bare minimum, even on a sunny day.

1. Always have at least 2 ways to start a fire with you, one in your pack, and one on your person (in case you lose your pack in an avalanche, set it down and become separated from it, or feed it to a bear in a last attempt of distracting it from eat you.) Fire is the ultimate life saver. There are three reasons you might want to be able to start a fire easily this winter; 1. you get lost and a fire is easily visible. 2. You run out of water. 3. You disregarded the common tips and wore cotton, or left your down puffy at home and are freezing. So what should you carry to be able to quickly start a blaze? Personally, on my person I carry a lighter and a film canister that holds (and keeps moist) cotton balls soaked in vaseline; these start up quickly and burn for quite some time. In my pack, I carry a saw, waterproof matches (dropping the lighter once in the snow will kill it, and you can waterproof your matches by dipping them in nail polish) and my favorite secret; hand sanitizer. With something like a 90% alcohol base, hand sanitizer lights up pretty darn quickly and makes short work of the annoyance of starting a fire. If you are a snowmobiler, carry tampons. (What? You’re a dude and just won’t do it? Get ready when your lady friend conveniently dips a tampon into your sled’s tank of gas without getting gas on her hand, and then has a blazing fire-on-a-string ready before you can finish saying you won’t touch it.) If you really want to be proactive, throw some fire sticks or flint/steel into your pack, and you’re set.

2. An empty coffee can and a $1 bag of instant rice. The food can stores all my fire making goodies and keeps them dry, and with a wire attached to it for hanging on a branch, works great for setting in the fire to melt water. Or, cook your bag of rice so at least your stomach isn’t upset at the situation.

3. Basic first aid kits. What should these include? in addition to the ‘I have a splinter and it is bleeding’ items, a SAM splint is great for stabilizing a broken bone, and a feminine pad or diaper (who knew?) is the best thing you can get for putting pressure on a bleeding wound. Don’t forget the superglue, you never know what you need to hold together.

4. An emergency survival blanket. Don’t get the solid silver ones, they don’t work. If you want cheap and light, the colors you need to look for are orange and silver and they are usually sewn into a bivi sack ($8). If you want durable and reusable, look for solar tarps (around $18). Again, silver and a color, but much thicker and larger. Both of these can be used to A: sleep in and conserve heat, B:reflect heat up from a fire towards your body, C: used as a shelter, D: Used as something to sit on.

5. Duct tape, zip ties, string. If your snowshoe or ski breaks, you can use zip ties to secure a pine bough to your foot instead. Lose your ski skin? Wrap string around your ski to help you get traction and hike out.

Get out there, have some fun, and enjoy the last month of winter! Spring is right around the corner, and soon we’ll be down to shorts, cotton, and flip flops!

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