Hey there and welcome back. I hope you're having a great new year inspite the weird weather we've been having here on the east coast. Many of those in the South in particular have been having a rough time of it the past two weeks or so, and those in the North aren't doing all that much better. Some of my friends in the North tell me that on the worst nights their heat pumps were having trouble keeping their homes above 50 degrees! Let's face it. It's almost like Mother Nature has either developed a serious case of PMS, or she suddenly decided to hand her beer to God and said "Hey y'all, watch this!" So what does one do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe during such conditions?
Let's be honest with ourselves. Most of us prefer to wait for warmer weather to go hiking, camping, and otherwise enjoying the great outdoors. And for those activities that do involve going out in winter weather; hunting, skiing, and ice skating just to name a few, most of us use cabins or ski lodges. And if you're a long time reader of my (admittedly irregular) rambles, then you probably have a store of food and water laid in in case of an emergency that leaves you home bound (or even cabin bound). But what happens if your vehicle breaks down or slides off the road while going to or from home?
First off, let's be honest with ourselves. You can be the best driver in the world, with tons of experience dealing with driving conditions of all descriptions; but the world is filled with idiots and you can never predict what they're going to do next. And even if there's not an idiot in sight, the unexpected can happen at any time. A patch of black ice on a blind curve, an animal suddenly darting in front of your car, a blow out due to a bad tire, or even just a bit of water in the gas line and you may be stuck out in the middle of nowhere with only what you have with you to keep you save and secure.
So what sort of things should you have on hand for such an emergency? And should you find yourself in such a situation, what should you do, or, perhaps more importantly, not do? First and foremost, shelter needs to be your primary concern. The biggest risk in winter survival is hypothermia, and it doesn't have to be below freezing for hypothermia to become a very real risk. Wind, moisture, quality of clothing, all of these and more can have a direct impact on the onset of hypothermia. Indeed, one can start to develope hypothermia in as little as 30 minutes in 40 degree weather. Get wet in a strong wind and below freezing weather, and severe hypothermia could set in in as little as 5 minutes!
So you leave your car and find shelter as fast as possible, right? Ummm, no. As cold as a car can get, it still offers shelter that may be better than anything else available. Besides, a vehicle, even one as small as a smart car, is a lot easier for searchers to spot than a person on foot. But keeping the car running might not be a great idea either. It isn't hard for snow to block the exhaust if you're in a ditch or a snow drift, in which case carbon monoxide levels inside the car can climb just as quickly as running a car in a closed garage. So the first thing to add to you emergency survival kit is a blanket of some kind.
When I was growing up, my father kept an old army blanket in each of the cars. It was brown wool, ugly as sin, scratchy and itchy, and just as uncomfortable as hell; but as long as it stayed dry it would keep you warm in even the coldest weather. Plus it was cheap, and since it was already ugly no-one really cared if it got stained from being kept in the trunk.
A more modern alternative is a so called "Space Blanket" or survival blanket. These things are light as a feather, and take up almost no room; but they're designed to reflect your body heat back at you. As a result they'll do a wonderful job of keeping you warm in all but the most extreme conditions. Admittedly you'll probably never get it folded up tightly enough to fit it back in the pouch it came in (or at least I never have), but you can still get it folded into an amazingly small package. And besides, they tend to be cheap enough that you can easily replace it if you can't.
Another possibility is to pick up a sleeping bag. They're bulky, and much more expensive; but you can get one designed to keep you warm even at 40 below. The choice is up to you of course, but if you live in a northern area then it might be the best idea yet.
The next thing every emergency kit needs is some way to signal that you're in trouble. The simplest way is to tie a rag to your antenna or hang one out the window, but a white rag would tend to disappear in snow. So most experts recommend something orange. Most auto parts stores have orange clothes specially designed for such an occasion, or you can buy orange triangles made to place on cars and roads.
Another more traditional method is to use flares. They burn bright enough to be seen at a distance even on the brightest day, and, as long as you keep them dry, they last for decades. The draw back is that they only burn for maybe 30 minutes or so, which means that you will have to keep getting out of your car or truck and lighting new ones every half hour until you're found. Not always a good thing when the wind chill hits 10 below.
Yet another thing you can do is to keep an emergency/survival lantern in the car similar to the Siege Compact Lantern I did a video on not too long ago. The Siege is compact (about the size of your fist), light, and has multiple settings from a 200 lumen white light that's too bright to look at, to a red light that can be set to flash. Admittedly, the S.O.S. setting, has they call the flashing red setting, is no where as bright as I might personally like; but it can last for 100's of hours as long as the batteries are good. And even at the highest setting, it can still last for 7 or 8 hours; and believe me, 200 lumens can be seen for quite a distance even at dusk, let alone at night.
So we've covered keeping warm and signaling that you're in trouble. What next? Well I'm assuming you have a cell phone with you, today's world being what it is; but you still need a way to keep it charged, and as I've already mentioned, keeping the car running might not be a good idea. So you should probably pick up a charging stick to keep your phone charged. One of my personal favorites is the Anker Astro E5. Rated at 16000 mAh, this thing can charge two devices at the same time, and can probably charge them at least 2 or 3 times each before it needs to be recharged. It's main drawback? It can take up to 10 hours to recharge it once it dies. Still, if you do as I do and buy two of them, then you can have one recharging at home while you take the other one with you and then the recharging time doesn't matter nearly as much.
There are a host of other things you should probably add to your emergency kit. Things like protein or energy bars in case you get hungry (staying warm takes more energy than you might think), and bottles of water to keep from getting dehydrated if you're stuck for an extended period of time; but once again this ramble is getting just a might bit long. So instead I'm going to talk about something that most of my Northern readers already know, but some of you here in the South might not. What's that you ask? Why, how to dress for cold weather.
Now let's be honest. How you dress can be as much a matter of personality as anything else, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you're not used to dealing with 20 degree and below weather. The most important thing is that the number of layers matter. Look, my dad got transferred to the Pittsburgh, PA area when I was just about to start high school; and the way I dressed used to drive him absolutely bonkers. I would walk to the bus stop wearing a thermal shirt under a t-shirt, and sometimes a flannel shirt with rolled up sleeves over that. I'd then put on a leather jacket and a cut off jean jacket vest over top of it. If it was really cold, say in the teens, I'd even add a pair of old socks that I had cut five finger holes in under my gloves. All in all, I definitely looked like a guy you'd never want your daughter hooking up with; but you know what? That biker/hoodlum look kept me much, much warmer than the fancy ski jackets my dad was always buying me. In fact, more than once I'd be standing there with my leather unzipped, completely comfortable, all the while kids wearing those fancy ski jackets would be huddled together and shivering from the cold. Sure, they may have looked down their noses at me and sneared at me behind my back, but that would have happened anyway since I was from the South and Roots had just recently come out; and I was as warm as a bug in a rug while they were freezing their asses off. And by the time we became seniors, a lot of them had figured that out and were starting to dress more like me.
Now look. I'm not saying you need to dress like you're from the wrong side of the tracks to keep warm. What I am saying is you don't need to go out and buy fancy ski clothes and parkas just to stay warm on the 2 or 3 days it gets really, really cold. Put on a t-shirt or long sleeve shirt under the shirt you'd normally wear, and then add a sweater or sweat shirt before putting on your jacket. Make sure your gloves are good quality, not thin pieces of crap that look good but couldn't keep an ice cube warm in the arctic. Wear socks that go up at least to calf height instead of ankle socks or no socks at all. And last but not least, get yourself a hat. Look. The rest of you except for your hands is covered, and good gloves will cover even them. Besides, you can always stick your hands in your pockets. But your head is going to exposed to all the elements. That's why the mountain folk used to say "If your feet get cold, put on your hat".
But for now I've used up all the time I had and more. So once again I'll wish you smooth sailing. May the wind always be at your back and the sun never in your eyes. And remember. If you're going to do something, no matter how trivial; if it's worth doing at all, it's worth doing with attitude!