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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

By Ron Tussel
January 15, 2014

Record-low temperatures hit our region recently, keeping many folks indoors. For some, however, getting outdoors is a way of life, and regardless of the weather they heed the call to go hunting, fishing, hiking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, or skiing. For others, just getting to work and back is the extent of their outdoor experience. Still, a news report recently told how one man on his way home experienced vehicle problems and began to walk the final mile to get home. He was found dead from the cold less than a hundred yards from his home. Fact: cold kills.

Being prepared for a cold weather jaunt or extended stay is step one. Stocking a “bug-out” style pack for the vehicle or wearing it when outdoors can keep essential survival gear close at hand.

Clothing is our frontline barrier to keep cold out and heat in. A saying among outdoor professionals is “cotton kills.” Never use cotton clothing as a base layer of your clothing system, because it will hold perspiration against the skin, speeding the lowering of the body’s core temperature, resulting in hypothermia.

I prefer to use a wicking base layer such as polypropylene or similar man-made material that takes the perspiration away from the skin. I use layers on top of my base to trap air between, resulting in more insulation. Layers can be shed for activity periods to prevent sweating and replaced as needed. Down or manufactured materials that offer loft will trap air to add insulation. For my emergency pack of clothing, I use a vacuum sealer to compact extra layering items; this keeps them waterproof and reduces storage space.

The same goes for footwear and socks. Wet socks can quickly lead to frostbite. I layer socks with a wicking material base and a wool or alpaca sock over that. These natural fibers keep their insulating powers even when wet. An extra pair or two should be part of your survival kit. Shoes or boots should be waterproof and contain adequate insulation. They also should not be laced or tied so tightly that they reduce circulation.

Our exterior layer should be one that helps hold heat in, while blocking wind, snow, or rain. Exterior coats should have drawstrings that allow cinching to keep air or precipitation from entering from around the neck or waist areas, and a warm hat is critical.