Keys to Winter Survival

Hopefully your winter camping trip is fun and relatively uneventful.  But if things go south (so to speak)  and you are faced with a situation that could kill you if immediate and corrective action isn’t taken you would be wise to have followed the tips of outdoor survival instructor David Cronenwett.  David taught a  survival class funded by a grant from the Montana Wilderness Association with support from the Montana Discovery Foundation, the Helena Outdoor Club, the Helena National Forest, the Carroll Adventure and Mountaineering Program, and the Base Camp.

Keep your compass. “If your life comes down to a GPS or a compass, pick the compass.”

Pick tools wisely. “An ax makes a better knife than a knife makes an ax.”

Bring a survival kit. “Build it yourself and design it to fit your needs, your cardio-health and your psychology. Some people can get by with just a knife and some matches. Others may want a full load of gear. It’s really up to you.”

Share your plans. “If no one knows where you are, you might as well be lost in the most remote part of Alaska. You’re off the map.”

Wait for rescue. “If you’re truly in a survival situation, it’s best to wait to be rescued. It’s not very romantic or ‘survivor man,’ but that’s the real deal.”

Warmth, water and sleep. “You want to stay at 98.6 at all times. You want to stay hydrated. If you’re in a survival situation, you’ll need to get some sleep. You can’t function if you don’t get adequate sleep. You’ll make stupid, bad decisions.”

Fire. The majority of backcountry travelers are not competent fire makers. If all else fails, it’s still possible to emerge from a wilderness emergency unscathed if you practice the craft of fire making. One should always carry at least two means of fire starter into the woods, such as matches in a waterproof container and flint and steel.

Shelter. The most basic forest shelter consists of a tree with a thick covering of boughs. This, combined with a good fire, may keep you drier and warmer than a shelter made hastily in the fading light. If you pack a lightweight tarp for use as a windbreaker, it may be all you need.

Signaling. An under-practiced skill is to signal for help in the wilderness. A simple signal mirror is likely more reliable than a cell phone in the mountains. Another effective means of signaling is fire. A properly built fire can produce a thick column of smoke in minutes and reveal your position to rescuers.

Binding. There’s a huge diversity of uses for rope and cords in the wilderness. They can be used for trapping, sewing, fishing, snaring and building shelter, among other things. One should know how to tie a bowline, a single and double sheet bend, a trucker’s hitch, a taut line and a jam knot.

Clothing. The importance of clothing in survival scenarios must never be underestimated. Clothes insulate from the cold. So-called waterproof, breathable fabrics that comprise the bulk of rain gear today don’t live up to their own advertising; hard, sustained use in the wilderness as opposed to a weekend outing will destroy the product in short order. The layering system is best, and consider wool, a natural fiber that provides excellent insulation, even when wet.

Tools. Knowing how to use cutting tools in the wilderness is an important skill. Most backpackers have little experience with the proper use and maintenance of an ax, knife or saw. In winter, these tools can prove invaluable for survival.

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