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October 22, 2014
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Winter survival

Dressing in layers, with a base layer that wicks away moisture from perspiration, is important to retaining one’s body heat.
Photo courtesy of Washington Trails Association


Maintaining your core temperature is vital to ensure survival. Chemical body heaters and those that use lighted fuel or fuel sticks can be carried in multitude for little investment and very little room or additional weight in a gear bag or pocket. These little power sources can be lit or activated by squeezing to mix components or by exposure to air. Larger ones provide up to six hours of warmth with temperatures around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Placed inside of your garment layers (never against the skin), they help maintain your critical core body temperature for many hours.

When hiking in cold weather, dehydration is a very real threat, as water is expelled with every breath. For the body to properly maintain its core temperature, it needs both high metabolic foods like chocolate and nuts, as well as liquids. Trail mix is easy to make at home, and the one shown at the right includes dry fruit, nuts, chocolate and venison jerky bits. Without food and sufficient hydration, hypothermia will set in faster, decreasing your chances of survival.

Because a lighter will not fire up in brisk winter winds or if it gets wet, my pack also includes a magnesium fire starter that works even when wet. I keep it in a small tin with cotton balls that are used as tinder to get a fire started.

Finally, I also carry a Mylar space blanket. They weigh ounces and can be huddled into to provide hours of heat retainment.

Winter can be an excellent time to enjoy the outdoors, and with a little forethought and planning, can provide a safe and unique opportunity.

[Ron Tussel is a seasoned outdoor professional and an award-winning outdoor writer and television producer. He is a past president and an active member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. He resides in Bohemia, PA.]