Extreme weather poses a threat that can overwhelm even the craftiest of survivalist. However, even the unique challenges presented by old man winter can be overcome with a little preparation. Your ability to write messages in the snow, build shelters, find food or water, and retain body heat are all skills that can potentially save your life if you were to find yourself in a cold-weather emergency. But, with the threat of hypothermia, frostbite, and even freezing to death looming on the horizon… will you be ready to survive the winter when it comes?

Here are 10 ways to prepare for and ultimately survive an unexpected cold-weather situation.

1. Emergency Survival Kit

A cold-weather emergency can happen at a moment’s notice. Even if you aren’t planning a stop at a cold location, sudden climate changes and freak weather fronts can cause temperatures to drop. When this happens, it’s best to be prepared beforehand with plenty of gear. A Cold Weather Bug-Out-Bag, or CW BoB, will substantially increase the chance of saving your life.

Your basic CW BoB includes:

  • Insulation pads
  • Well-insulated sleeping bag and a space blanket, if possible
  • Hats with muffs
  • Snacks
  • Hand warmers and other types of heat-producing packs
  • A fire-starting kit with matches or a lighter and spare fluid/material
  • Water

You don’t ever want to be caught in a snowstorm without this kit. Any situation can turn sour within minutes. Make sure you pack enough to last you for a day or two.

2. Stay Well Fed and Hydrated

In a survival scenario, your body will inevitably trigger the fight-or-flight response. Normally, this would be an efficient action as your body converts fat into energy in order to react. But in cold weather, you have the additional stress that low temperatures will put on your body. It will quickly begin shivering to produce warmth, burning up valuable energy in the process.

Between the fight-or-flight response and the shivering, you’re going to burn through your energy reserves quickly. Additionally, as you lose carbohydrates, you might start experiencing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can cause a person to enter a state of mental confusion and disorientation. Being in a hypoglycemic state during an emergency will always lead to disaster, so avoid it at all cost.

Your best and only option is to eat plenty of simple sugars and carbohydrates. Finding food in a cold- weather scenario is one of the hardest aspects of survival. You’ll usually end up spending more energy than you’ll gain. So make sure there are veggies and fruits and other snacks in your Bug-Out-Bag.

What snacks should you bring?

  • Peanut butter
  • Mixed nuts
  • Natural honey
  • Granola bars
  • Granola mix
  • Chocolate
  • Veggies and fruits

While this is not a complete list, it will serve as a guideline on what is useful to have on hand when participating in any outdoor activity. Furthermore, it is only meant to increase your chances of survival; it is not intended to allow you to stay in a survival situation for prolonged periods of time, especially if you start running low on water.

Hydration is extremely important when outdoors in the winter. While most people will associate dehydration as a threat in hot climates, it’s well documented that people have died from loss of fluids in cold weather as well. When you are cold, your body is not going to tell you that it requires fluids. It is too busy using up its remaining fluids to produce energy. Thus, drinking water at regular intervals is important for your survival. However, before you go grabbing a handful of snow, stop to think about what you’re doing.

Eating snow will lower your body’s core temperature, which increases the threat of hypothermia. Your body will increase its heat production, which then uses up the fluids stored in your body. It’s the beginning of a vicious cycle that inevitably leads to dehydration. So, in order to produce water from snow, you must first melt it. You can use an external heat source or even your body heat. The latter method should be exercised with care, as it exposes you to the risk of hypothermia.

3. Search for Water and Food

If you don’t have food and water with you, you’ll need to find some. Finding potable water in cold weather is not as easy as you’d think. So bring plenty of water-purifying tablets, filters, or chemical treatments. Don’t carry your water bottle with the spout facing up as water will freeze first on top. It’s best to carry water bottles upside down, so you can get whatever water remains unfrozen at the bottom—that is, the top—of your bottle.

To preserve your energy while you are searching for food, look for:

  • Sources of unfrozen water are typically spots where animals gather.
  • Fishing, while challenging in winter, can be a potential source of food.
  • Pay attention to clues of animal activity, such as droppings and trails.

If you decide to fish, keep in mind that fish stay near the bottom of the lakes as water temperatures drop and become less active in the winter. Additionally, you’ll need tools to cut through the ice unless you can find an unfrozen water spot.

4. Stay Warm with Multiple Layers of Clothing

A good way to regulate the body’s core temperature is to add or remove clothing layers as needed. In a cold-weather survival scenario, your chances of surviving increase exponentially if you wear the appropriate amount of clothing. Basically, you don’t want to wear so much that you’re constantly sweating, but you don’t want to be caught not wearing enough layers, either.

You should wear three or four layers of clothing, depending on how cold it is.

  • Your base layer should be designed to keep the moisture away from your body. Keep in mind that if your base layer absorbs too much sweat, it will be difficult to maintain a steady core temperature. Wool and nylon are best suited for a base layer because they can dry quickly.
  • A secondary layer should be something thick, like a fleece. If you’re in an extremely cold area, then you should consider wearing an additional insulating layer underneath the fleece.
  • As a final layer, try finding a Gore-Tex jacket that is specially made to resist the elements of the outdoors. Fur ruff jackets are also well suited.

Your feet and legs will need special attention and specialized legwear. If you are trekking through the snow, wear snowpants. These pants are typically made from the same water- and windproof material as the snow jackets snowboarders wear. They’re great for keeping you warm and dry in harsh environments. Don’t forget to wear or bring some long johns.

Any time you’re going to be in a cold climate, try to wear winter-rated boots. They usually come with removable insulation layers that can be used to dry the boots quickly, should they get wet on the inside. Since you are likely to wear a double layer of socks, consider going up a half or full size when looking for winter boots.

Pro Tip: Wrapping your feet with plastic bags before putting on socks creates a barrier that holds heat and prevents your socks from becoming damp with sweat.

5. Ears, Face, and Extremities Need Protection Too

Your body loses heat from almost any area that is exposed to the weather. This means your face, ears, and hands need to be covered as much as the rest of the body when you are out in the cold. Gloves, hats, goggles, scarves, and earmuffs can save you from frostbite, possibly save your life, and should never be ignored.

6. Maintain a Regular Schedule

In a cold-weather survival situation, you need to set a schedule and have regular intervals to eat and drink, sleep, and explore. Keep in mind that if you stay still for too long, you’re going to get colder than if you move around. Don’t explore during the night; always return to your shelter before sunset.

Pro Tip: Wearing a tactical watch that is resistant to climate changes will be extremely useful. Most of these watches are solar-powered, so you don’t have to worry about a dead battery. Additionally, knowing exactly when the sun will set ensures you won’t get caught in the dark without shelter.

7. Sleep Doesn’t Matter If You’re Cold

If you’re cold while you sleep, your body will expend energy shivering. Then, you’ll actually feel more tired in the morning than you did the night before. Furthermore, your body will lose heat through conduction, so it’s very important that you properly pad and insulate the floor of your shelter with anything that won’t conduct heat. If you don’t have a closed-cell foam sleeping pad or inflatable mattress, gather leaves, debris, and other insulators that will keep you off the bare ground.

Additionally, you should always ensure that you’re dry before going to bed. Sleeping in wet clothes will put you at risk of hypothermia as the body’s core temperature drops while you sleep. Sleeping in too many or too few layers of clothing can be dangerous as well. Too many layers will make you sweat, and too few won’t keep you warm. In both cases, you’ll lose body heat. Finally, keeping your neck and head covered is as important while you rest as it is while you are active.

Pro Tip: If you keep a water bottle filled with boiling water and place it inside a sleeping bag, it will work as a radiator for a few hours. Be careful with plastic bottles, as they might melt if the water is too hot. Rocks and stones that are heated up by the fire can serve the same purpose. Just make sure to wrap them in fabric before placing them inside the bedding.

8. Find Shelter

Finding shelter is crucial to surviving in the winter. Survival experts will tell you that getting stuck in the wild without any form of shelter is akin to suicide. In fact, it’s actually more important to find or build shelter than to find food or tend minor injuries.

If you’re really lucky, you’ll have access to a cabin or vehicle. Both can be insulated to prevent freezing to death. If you need to break and enter a structure, exercise caution and read up on the laws of the state regarding this type of situation. For example, in Alaska, you can legally break and enter a cabin if you’re under threat of dying due to exposure.)

If you’re not fortunate enough to find a man-made shelter, then your best option is to find a natural formation that can be used to hide out. Whether you’re using a cave, a rock outcropping, or an old hollowed-out tree, your shelter should:

  • Protect you from the elements.
  • Be in an area that is far from natural hazards, such as animals or potential avalanches.
  • Be ventilated.
  • Be insulated to retain heat.
  • Ideally have enough space to keep a contained fire source and dry clothes.
  • Face away from the wind.

You can modify a natural shelter to suit your needs by adding or taking away rocks or making makeshift walls with whatever you can find. Be aware that animals may live in these places. In addition to the threat of wildlife, the ventilation might be an issue as well. Still, it’s best to take an educated risk rather than expose yourself to the climate.

Pro Tip: Keep the fire away from the entrance to trap the heat inside your shelter.

9. Learn How to Start Fires in the Snow

Snow is frozen water, and water puts out fires. Who would have guessed that? So how do you build a fire when you are surrounded by snow? Well, it’s simple, but you have to use the natural resources available to you. First, find a way to keep the fire elevated and away from the snow. A good example would be clearing a patch of snow, placing a rock slab as a foundation, and making a rock circle on the platform with plenty of dry items for fuel. But, failing that, you can always dig out the snow until you hit the dirt and keep the snow away manually.

As far as finding fuel for the fire, keep in mind that frost and snow will dampen most of the wood in the area. Your best alternatives for starting fires are:

  • Dry moss
  • Tree bark
  • Pine cones
  • Dry leaves

Pro Tip: If you find that the materials above are slightly damp, you can actually dry them with your clothing.

10. Getting the Attention of Rescuers

Signaling for help in winter is possible, even if you don’t have a fire or flares available. There are plenty of tried-and-true methods that involve just a little creativity on your part.

The first method is simple: Gather logs or large tree branches to spell out a message in the snow. A simple X or the word HELP will get the attention of anyone flying over or surveying the area. If you don’t have logs or branches, write your message in the snow and fill in the letters with dirt, so that they stand out from the snow.


Surviving in cold weather is truly challenging. Not only are you in an unsuitable environment for people, but you’re also facing a plethora of other obstacles. The scarcity of food and water and the difficulty of finding a suitable shelter are among the problems that can arise in such a situation. But by following all of these tips and investing in a bit of preparation, you can hold Jack Frost at bay until you’re able to return to civilization.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Emmanuel "Dash the Bomber" Barbosa

Emmanuel Barbosa, AKA Dash The Bomber, is currently serving in the 7th fleet, and has over 8 years of experience in the military. A writer with a penchant for the humorous and informative, he loves to share his stories with those who would be willing to listen. Having served in deployments that have taken him around the world, Dash has seen and heard about many things that would be hard to believe. A loving father and a faithful husband, he is dedicated to protecting his family and country. For fun he enjoys cosplaying, videogames, and writing for online magazines.

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