If there is one thing people like, it’s being warm. Without warmth in the outdoors we are susceptible to hypothermia, chills, colds, or at the least one very long weekend, and that thought’s just downright chilling. Staying warm, but not too warm, in the outdoors is a very important part of the outdoor survival basics.
Dressing For The Conditions
The single most important step to staying warm is how you dress. In cold weather it is important to dress in layers. This allows you to take off extra clothing as you heat up during activities such as hiking, skiing, or skating.
Layering is only effective if you do it in the correct order. Simply putting shirts on top of shirts won’t help keep you warm for long. As you begin to perspire while outside in the cold it is imperative that the perspiration get away from your body. Otherwise your clothes will get wet and the moisture will adjust quickly to the outside air temperature causing you to chill even faster at any time of the year.
How To Layer Clothing
Start with high quality long underwear. This should be a micro-nylon/micro polyester weave that will quickly remove perspiration from your body. Next wear micro-fleece long underwear shirt and pants. The micro fleece fabric is extremely effective in creating an insulating airspace next to your body which keeps you warm and helps to wick away perspiration. It is also very soft! Now you can start to wear your normal clothing.
Remember that cotton kills. Cotton absorbs moisture and is slow to dry which can ultimately cause your body temperature to drop. Clothing such as loose fitting jeans and shirts can be worn if they aren’t too close to your body or get changed out for something dry if they do get wet.
A fleece jacket or hoodie can be worn on top of your clothing. This will continue to wick away moisture from your body and is a nice, soft, yet very warm coat to wear around the ski lodge or in your car as it warms up in the morning. In dry weather many people stop their layering here as the combined thickness of the layers will be enough to keep you warm. However, if you are out in wet weather, in the snow, or in an area with high winds, a water repellent wind proof outer layer is necessary. This will keep the rain or snow from soaking into your clothing, yet breathe enough to get the moisture away from you. It is a good idea to pick a nylon type outer layer that has a hood on it and has bright colors so you will be visible against the snow or trees.
And of course as you mother used to say, “don’t forget your hat and mitts”. More heat escapes from your head than anywhere else on your body and cold fingers are just unpleasant. Mittens will keep your fingers warmer than gloves but are not as easy to work in. Touques knit from wool or made from fleece are great and very effective. Ensure they will cover your ears and fit nicely. Balaclavas are ideal if you are out in the elements in extreme weather or a cold wind.
Warmth When Stuck
What should you do if you are dressed nice and warm, but you are stuck somewhere without heat? If your car was to break down or you were to get lost and have to spend a night in the woods there are different approaches you can take to staying warm.
If you are travelling in winter carry an emergency candle, matches, and a foil blanket. The candle will provide some heat and light inside a car for several hours and help to keep you warm. Don’t use citronella candles as the fumes inside the car can be very obnoxious. The foil blanket is very useful, as it reflects body heat back towards your body.
This is effective anytime of the year regardless of what you are wearing. It is a good idea to keep at least one foil blanket in your car and one for each person you have on a boat. The foil blanket can lead to moisture building up underneth it as the foil does not breathe. However, even in summer time, if your clothing gets wet and won’t have time to dry, the foil blanket will help retain your body heat and help prevent the onset of hypothermia.
Hypothermia occurs when there is a significant drop in your body temperature which can lead to many serious health problems. Hypothermia can start very quickly and is nearly impossible to recover from when you are stuck outdoors.
Frostbite is another very serious condition that affects exposed skin in freezing temperatures. Areas of the body such as the nose, ears, chin, fingers and toes can all freeze when exposed to cold temperatures often in a very short period of time. This is yet another reason to dress appropriately for the conditions, even if it means packing a few extra pieces of clothing you may not need. A basic guide to outdoor first aid should instruct you on the symptoms and how to recognize and treat these conditions.
Always carry a fleece blanket in your car or backpack as well, to help keep you warm should you become stuck or if your heater stops working unexpectedly. All of these items can be purchased at your local department store for a minimal price. When ever possible, keep moving. You will get colder sitting in one place so get out and move around when possible.
Warmth In The Woods
If you get lost in the woods while hiking, hunting or skiing, knowing how to build a shelter to stay warm is very important. If you have become wet from rain, snow, or falling through the ice your gear could be wet as well, making much of it useless to keep you warm. A small fire will help to dry clothing and rejuvenate body temperature. The foil blanket will not soak up water and is a very useful item to have on you during these situations. Wearing layers of clothing also has an advantage as you can dry one layer at a time over the fire while still leaving you with something to wear while waiting for your clothes to dry.
Make sure when you build a fire that it is contained in a ring of rocks or snow and that sparks from the fire will not ignite surrounding trees and vegetation or your shelter. If you are building a fire pit in the snow, dig down to the ground and clear the snow away from the fire so it does not melt and run into the fire which can extinguish it. Travel with waterproof matches, flint and steel, and a small magnifying glass to ensure you can start a fire even if your gear gets wet. The flint and steel is most effective as it is the only item that will work even when wet or at night. Practise using your fire starter at home before venturing out into the woods to familiarize yourself with how it works.
Keep Warm Outdoors
Staying warm and knowing what to do in a situation without heat is very important. Humans can survive for days without food and much water, but shelter and warmth is critical for survival. Knowing how to stay warm by dressing for the conditions and building a shelter or fire is not only a warming thought but just plain cool.
Copyright 2016 Mike Wilson