Basic Principles of Cold Weather Survival
(Adapted from the U.S. Army Survival Manual)
It is more difficult for you to satisfy your basic water,
food, and shelter needs in a cold environment than in a warm
environment. Even if you have the basic requirements, you must
also have adequate protective clothing and the will to survive.
The will to survive is as important as the basic needs. There
have been incidents when trained and well-equipped individuals
have not survived cold weather situations because they lacked
the will to live. Conversely, this will has sustained individuals
less well-trained and equipped.
You must not only have enough clothing to protect you from
the cold, you must also know how to maximize the warmth you get
from it. For example, always keep your head covered. You can
lose 40 to 45 percent of body heat from an unprotected head and
even more from the unprotected neck, wrist, and ankles. These
areas of the body are good radiators of heat and have very little
insulating fat. The brain is very susceptible to cold and can
stand the least amount of cooling. Because there is much blood
circulation in the head, most of which is on the surface, you
can lose heat quickly if you do not cover your head.
There are four basic principles of survival to follow
to keep warm. An easy way to remember these basic principles
is to use the word COLD -
C - Keep clothing clean.
O - Avoid overheating.
L - Wear clothes loose and in layers.
D - Keep clothing dry.
C - Keep clothing clean. This principle is always important
for sanitation and comfort. In winter, it is also important from
the standpoint of warmth. Clothes matted with dirt and grease
lose much of their insulation value. Heat can escape more easily
from the body through the clothings crushed or filled up
O - Avoid overheating. When you get too hot, you sweat
and your clothing absorbs the moisture. This affects your warmth
in two ways: dampness decreases the insulation quality of clothing,
and as sweat evaporates, your body cools. Adjust your clothing
so that you do not sweat. Do this by partially opening your parka
or jacket, by removing an inner layer of clothing, by removing
heavy outer mittens, or by throwing back your parka hood or changing
to lighter headgear. The head and hands act as efficient heat
dissipaters when overheated.
L - Wear your clothing loose and in layers. Wearing
tight clothing and foot gear restricts blood circulation and
invites cold injury. It also decreases the volume of air trapped
between the layers, reducing its insulating value. Several layers
of lightweight clothing are better than one equally thick layer
of clothing, because the layers have dead-air space between them.
The dead-air space provides extra insulation. Also, layers of
clothing allow you to take off or add clothing layers to prevent
excessive sweating or to increase warmth.
D - Keep clothing dry. In cold temperatures, your inner
layers of clothing can become wet from sweat and your outer layer,
if not water repellent, can become wet from snow and frost melted
by body heat. Wear water repellent outer clothing, if available.
It will shed most of the water collected from melting snow and
frost. Before entering a heated shelter, brush off the snow and
frost. Despite the precautions you take, there will be times
when you cannot keep from getting wet. At such times, drying
your clothing may become a major problem. On the march, hang
your damp mittens and socks on your rucksack. Sometimes in freezing
temperatures, the wind and sun will dry this clothing. You can
also place damp socks or mittens, unfolded, near your body so
that your body heat can dry them. In a campsite, hang damp clothing
inside the shelter near the top, using drying lines or improvised
racks. You may even be able to dry each item by holding it before
an open fire. Dry leather items slowly. If no other means are
available for drying your boots, put them between your sleeping
bag shell and liner. Your body heat will help to dry the leather.
A heavy, down-lined sleeping bag is a valuable piece of survival
gear in cold weather. Ensure the down remains dry. If wet, it
loses a lot of its insulation value. If you do not have a sleeping
bag, you can make one out of parachute cloth or similar material
and natural dry material, such as leaves, pine needles, or moss.
Place the dry material between two layers of the material.
Other important survival items are a knife; waterproof matches
in a waterproof container, preferably one with a flint attached;
a durable compass; map; watch; waterproof ground cloth and cover;
flashlight; binoculars; dark glasses; fatty emergency foods;
food gathering gear; and signaling items.
Remember, a cold weather environment can be very harsh. Give
a good deal of thought to selecting the right equipment for survival
in the cold. If unsure of an item you have never used, test it
in an "overnight backyard" environment before venturing
further. Once you have selected items that are essential for
your survival, do not lose them after you enter a cold weather
Steve's Notes: One of the most important principles
of survival in cold weather is to always be thinking ahead. Have
enough firewood, stop early enough to properly prepare camp,
etc. It is difficult to do much once it is dark and you are cold.
Back to the main page of
Cold Weather Survival.
Back to the main page of the