How to Survive a Surprise Winter Storm

How to Survive a Surprise Winter StormHowling winds drive the sleet and snow across the landscape suddenly changing the leisurely winter hike into winter survival. Nothing in the forecast warned of the storm coming this afternoon. The temperatures plummet and you can feel the wind-driven cold trying to penetrate your clothes. You're rightfully concerned, but prepared to handle what nature throws at you when forced to survive a surprise winter storm.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Compact survival kit
  • Metal coffee cup or Sierra cup (not needed if survival kit is in a metal case)
  • Waterproof clothing layers
  • Energy food, especially salty foods
  • Bullion cubes
  • Dark chocolate with more than 65 percent cacao
  • Electrolyte replacement fluid or powder
  • Candle
  • Storm-proof fire starter; either cubes or spreadable
  • Storm-proof matches
  • 3 or more packages of air-activated hand warmers
  • Large heavy-duty leaf bag; second bag optional
  • 2 plastic shopping bags, grocery-store size
  • 12 strong rubber bands
Step 1
Place a storm and survival emergency kit purchased from an outdoors supply or recreation store in your pack. Compact in size, basic emergency gear is packed into a storm-proof container. One style packs the supplies into a storm-proof metal can about the size of two smart phones. Another style fits everything into a wide-mouth 1-liter water bottle. Most cost less than $20.
Step 2
Watch changing weather patterns. Learn storm clouds, how to hear the quiet before a storm, and pick up on the smell of rain or snow. Activate the first pair of chemical hand warmers and put into coat pocket.
Step 3
Stay dry. Layer up and put on a waterproof jacket before undergarments are wet. Cut a slot in the bottom of the plastic shopping bag and pull it over your hiking boots and socks. Secure to the boot and your pant leg with rubber bands, creating a pair of gaiters.
Step 4
Cut a head-sized slot in the bottom of one of the leaf bags and pull it over your head as a poncho. Arm slots may also be cut, but the bag is generally large enough to keep sleeves dry and permit arm movement even with trekking poles.
Step 5
Find or build shelter. Find a rock overhang, cave, cluster of trees or thick bushes and shelter from the storm. Use the second leaf bag as a "bottom" and pull it up over boots and pants, tucking the top opening under the leaf bag poncho. The two bags convert to a tent when you pull your head inside the poncho, creating a hood.
Step 6
Make a fire. Find dry wood and tinder under the wet surface and use the fire starter and storm-proof matches to create a small fire. Heat water in the metal cup or survival kit and drink bullion or warm water. Shelter the candle from wind and use it to heat water.

Tips & Warnings

The purchased survival kit may replace everything on the materials list except food, flashlight and batteries, fire starter and electrolyte powder.
Survival supplies do not replace regular prudent hiking equipment such as adequate drinking water, flashlight and spare batteries, first-aid kit, trekking poles, map and compass.
Using a GPS receiver requires spare batteries and a map and compass back-up. Some GPS units cannot receive during a storm.
If the package is not metal, the Sierra cup or metal coffee cup is needed for heating water.
Never hike without a daypack containing emergency gear.
Hypothermia comes on quickly and can cause death; staying dry is the No. 1 survival skill.
Do not drink snow or ice water

Article Written By Eric Jay Toll

Eric Jay Toll has been writing since 1970, influenced by his active lifestyle. An outdoorsman, businessman, planner and travel writer, Toll's work appears in travel guides for the Navajo Nation, "TIME" and "Planning" magazines and on various websites. He studied broadcast marketing and management at Southern Illinois University.

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