When you find yourself in the middle of extremely cold weather—whether you live in the area or if you’re just passing through—there’s always a possibility that you’ll get stranded with no immediate shelter or rescue. It’s a scary thought. You might’ve heard stories of people trapped in blizzards; of hikers bunkering down in the snow, of travellers huddling up in their cars when the roads are impassable. Getting caught in a snowstorm unawares can mean certain death; in fact, ¼ of winter deaths are attributed to people getting caught out in a storm.
Having a survival kit for extremely cold weather can make all the difference. In fact, many of the people who survive emergency situations in cold weather have the necessary survival gear to keep them warm, nourished, and sheltered until help arrives or the weather subsides.
What should be in a winter emergency survival kit? Here are the essentials.
Winter Survival Gear Checklist
1. Warm, waterproof gear
You could find yourself in cold weather for any number of reasons. You might be going winter camping. Maybe you’re travelling through a cold-weather area. Or perhaps you live in a very cold region and your home’s heating unit fails. Point is, if you know that extremely cold weather is imminent, there’s a good chance that you’ll already be wearing winter gear.
But your emergency survival kit should have extra survival gear just in case you lose something, or if you need to add additional layers for warmth. All your gear should be waterproof, especially if you’re in snowy conditions.
Gloves and headgear are small and easily fit into a survival kit. Headgear is incredibly important—you can lose up to 70% of your body heat through your head alone. But you should also include waterproof jackets and windbreakers.
Don’t forget to include items that will protect your eyes and your skin. There’s an exorbitant amount of white in a snowy landscape. If it’s bright outside, all the snow can shine brightly and cause damage to your eyes over a period of time. Pack a pair of goggles, and also pack water-resistant sunscreen.
2. Maps and a compass
If you’re lost in cold weather, a map is the easiest way to find shelter. Thanks to satellite technology (and thousands of years of human exploration), there exist maps of nearly every part of the globe—even of areas that are mostly uninhabited. Satellite technology allows you to easily access maps on your smartphone. Unfortunately, we’ve developed an overreliance on these digital maps. If you’re stuck in an area where there’s no Internet connection, your smartphone won’t do you any good.
Wherever you go travelling, a good ‘ol fashioned paper map is the best way to ensure that you’ll have directions to shelter, even if the weather goes South. Speaking of which, you should also bring a compass with you so that you know which direction to go. Even if you have great directional awareness, a strong blizzard can badly throw off your sense of direction.
3. Bivouac sack or space blanket
When you’re resting or sleeping, your body temperature will fall because you’re being inactive. But rest is important and you can’t neglect it. So make sure you have either a bivouac sack or a space blanket for those resting periods.
A bivouac sack is a covering that’s usually slipped over a sleeping bag, providing you with a little more warmth. A space blanket is a type of blanket originally designed for astronauts. It’s made from a reflective foil material, which is effective at trapping your body heat.
Both a bivouac sack and a space blanket are lightweight and portable. A space blanket might be a better option because it’s more waterproof. But a bivouac sack is a fine alternative for cold, dry weather.
Check out some additional winter sleeping tips below:
4. Portable power source
You probably won’t have access to a full-fledged generator when you’re stranded in the freezing cold. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be completely without power.
A good winter survival kit should have portable flashlights that are either battery-powered or crank-operated. Flashlights are very important. Aside from helping you see in the dark, they could also help ward off predators in the outdoors. You can use flashlights to signal your position to potential rescuers.
You should also have portable charging kits that can recharge your electronic devices, especially your cell phone. Cellular technology can be inconsistent. Even if you’re not able to get a cell phone reception at one minute, you might be able to get one the next. Always try and keep your cell phone operational.
5. First aid kit
First aid is your “kit within a kit”. Always have a first aid kit ready to tend to minor injuries. Make sure you study up on wilderness wound management so you know exactly how to make use of all the materials in a first aid kit.
6. Fire-starting tools
The catalyst of human civilization was when we learned to light fires. It’s an age-old practice that could be the difference between life and death if you’re stuck in the extreme cold. Include these two fire-starting tools in your winter survival kit:
- Magnesium alloy fire starter
Matches are pretty self-explanatory. The challenge is finding dry material to gather and burn, which could be difficult in a snowy environment.
A magnesium alloy fire starter can be more effective in bad weather conditions. This tool has self-contained magnesium in it. You’re able to shave off some of the magnesium into a small pile, and then strike the fire starter to light the power on fire. Magnesium is very flammable, so it’s better suited to wet conditions.
Make sure that both of these fire-starting tools come in waterproof cases, especially the matches.
A multi-tool is just that: a tool that combines multiple tools into one. It’s better to have a good multi-tool than to have a full tool box, because a multi-tool is much lighter and takes up less space in your survival kit. At the very least, a multi-tool should serve all of these functions:
- Wire snips
- Small knife
- Phillips and flathead screwdriver
- Bottle opener
Take some time to get familiar with the multi-tool and learn how to use all of its functions.
8. Non-perishable food
Your survival kit needs to have non-perishable survival food. Try and pack food that’s lightweight and that has plenty of simple sugars or complex carbohydrates. You won’t have room to pack a whole buffet of food, so make sure the foods you pack have a high calorie count so you’ll be getting enough energy. Trail food, like granola bars, are great because they’re loaded with calories and you can stuff your survival bag with lots of them.
If you’re able to heat water, then you’ll also be able to get nourishment from:
- Hot chocolate
There are several different ways you can pack water. Water bottles are the most common method, and you can often find water bottles that are built specifically for outdoor and travelling purposes. A collapsible water bottle might even be better for your survival kit. A collapsible water bottle is made of plastic, so it fits better into tight spaces and shrinks as you use up the water inside it.
If you’re stuck in a snowy environment, you can obtain water from the surrounding snow. Never eat snow: it takes too much energy for your body to convert a solid to a liquid. You can do one of two things to turn the snow to water:
- Boil the snow. Place the snow in a pot, or make a bowl out of foil. Use your fire-starting tools to light a fire underneath the container and melt the snow.
- Dig a small ditch in the snow. Place a tarp over the ditch. Place piles of snow on the perimeter of the tarp. The snow will melt and seep down into the trench, where you can collect it. Water converted from snow does not have to be purified.
10. Winter car supplies
Your vehicle is one of the most convenient places to store your winter survival gear. But your vehicle should be equipped with some survival gear of its own, especially if you get stranded. Extreme cold can reduce the effectiveness of your vehicle by 50 percent - so make sure you’ve got the essentials you need if your car stops working.
Have tire chains ready to go in case the road gets icy (very likely to happen in extremely cold weather). Tire chains can dramatically improve the traction of your vehicle on icy surfaces.
You should also keep a tow strap handy. If your vehicle or someone else’s gets stuck in deep snow, a tow strap will enable you to tug out the stuck vehicle. Away from your vehicle, a tow strap can serve a variety of useful purposes. You can use it as a rope to cross short gaps, and you can use it to hang a tarp over yourself for shelter. If you find yourself stranded without these tools, you can also use snow for shelter. Fresh snow is 90% to 95% air, meaning it’s an effective insulator.
Finally, you should have a portable jump starter and USB charger ready to go in case your car battery fails. In extremely cold weather, you might not encounter other drivers, and so regular jumper cables might not be very helpful. A portable jump starter, on the other hand, will enable you to get your car started all by yourself. Our Zeus jump starter is unique in that it can also charge USB devices, like your cell phone or laptop.
You don’t have to pack all of these car supplies in your survival kit, but you should definitely store them in your vehicle. That way, your vehicle will be its own kind of survival kit.
Build a Kit or Buy One
Building an effective survival kit isn’t easy. It’s difficult to find durable products, let alone trying to fit all those supplies in a single portable bag. If you don’t want to assemble a winter survival kit yourself, check out one of Uncharted’s high-quality, cost-effective survival kits. These kits are made from waterproof materials, and they’re meticulously designed for easy organizing of all your supplies. The kits even come with essentials that are difficult to pack, like a tarp, tent, pickaxe, and shovel.
Hopefully you’re never in a position where you’re struggling against the extreme cold. But if you are, a quality survival kit is an invaluable lifeline that could save you. Make sure that your survival kit has all the essentials to keep you going.