Survival Tips for Nature’s Most Challenging Season
by Tony Nester
We just had a blizzard impact northern Arizona this week and drop over two feet of snow. As it was, I was driving back from Joshua Tree NP after teaching a desert survival class and then had to negotiate the icy roadways back home. Only in the Southwest can you go from the potential for heat-exhaustion to hypothermia and frostbite in one day!
With winter weather upon us, it is time to deck out our vehicles and daypacks for the unexpected emergency. If you become stranded on the road, your vehicle will become a mini-hotel providing shelter and warmth for the next few days until rescuers can get to you. With this in mind, here is some essential gear that I keep in my truck:
sleeping bag rated to zero degrees F
wool hat & mittens
spare wool socks
3-4 upper body layers (not cotton as this fails to insulate when wet)
insulated boots or Sorel pacboots
food consisting of a jar of peanut butter, a box of crackers and a package of M & Ms
120 hour Nu-Wick candle for warmth, light, and snowmelting
coffee can for melting snow and cooking
2 gallons of water per person
vehicle cell phone charger
cat litter or sand for traction if you get stuck
For a longer roadtrip, I will bring a cooler with food and sandwiches and packets of instant soup and hot cocoa. High-fat food is essential in cold-weather hence the peanut butter which is stowed in the vehicle for much of the winter. Chocolate provides a quick burst of energy and should be in bite-size pieces.
extra clothes and socks
mittens & hat
sleeping bags or blankets
reading materials, coloring books, or “travel” games
If you become stranded on the road, stay with your vehicle. It is a tremendous resource for weathering out a winter storm if you prepared it with the gear above. Run your vehicle every 15 minutes on the hour to warm up your body’s core and to conserve fuel for the next few days. Make sure you check the exhaust pipe to remove any snow that has accumulated and crack your window when the engine is running to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Hypothermia and frostbite are your greatest dangers in the outdoors during the winter months. When dayhiking, dress properly (no cotton!), stay hydrated, and carry 3 firestarters. If you should become hypothermic, get a fire going, dry out, and get some hot fluids in you. A good hypothermia recipe is to have a cup of hot chocolate with a tablespoon of butter. I always carry this solution in a thermos when on the winter trail.
Enjoy the Wilds!
Ancient Pathways Survival School
Tony Nester is an author and instructor who runs the Ancient Pathways Survival School and has taught courses for the U.S. Military, National Park Service, and served as a technical consultant for the movie Into The Wild.