Winter Survival

In light of the record cold temperatures, and my laziness, I am reposting information that I previously published. You can read more survival tips on the Surviving Nature page. You can find credits and resources for this info on that page as well.

Surviving cold winter temperatures and conditions can bring its own special challenges.  Even though the basics remain the same, Water, Food, Shelter and Heat, achieving those basics can be much tougher in cold winter months.

Water-It is tempting in the winter to grab handfuls of snow and cram your mouth full of the white stuff.  Though, of course, melting snow or ice in your mouth does put water in your body, it can cause more problems than it solves. It’s not going to hurt you or your child (unless the snow is contaminated) to eat a bit of snow in a non-survival situation.  But, when survival is at stake, don’t do it.

The cold snow or ice will lower your body’s core temperature. Your body then has to work harder to maintain its heat. Your body uses more water, to metabolize to create heat, than what you are getting from the snow or ice. This will lead to both hypothermia and dehydration.

Rather than eating snow or ice, find a way to liquefy it. Eating snow or ice (or extremely cold water) actually dehydrates you. Heat it first. Melt it with fire or find a running source of water such as a stream. Heating the stream water is still important to both kill bacteria and to warm your core. Also, make sure your snow or ice is from as clean a source as you can before using it.

Food-can be real tough in the winter. There are some sources that are available if you know where to look. One of the easiest to find are pine needles. A tea from pine needles provides both comfort and Vitamin C. Another possibility is sumac berries.


A very nice and Vitamin C rich tea can be made by boiling the red berries of sumac.

Believe it or not, there are some green plants that survive quite well under the snow.  A few of them are Winter Green, Violet and Mallow.


Move the snow aside in areas that these plants likely live. Just keep in mind. The same rules apply in winter as in summer. 100% identification is a must. This is not a time to experiment.

The Goldenrod Gall Fly Larvae can be found on many Goldenrod plants.  Check out the photos.  I can’t find any evidence that this grub is harmful to humans and few that briefly state they can be eaten in survival situations. I post them as important to know because they do make great fish bait. You should have small hooks in your pack. Recover the grub as shown. They actually stay on a small hook very well. Small fish like trout, panfish, chubs and shiners love them. I grew up using these grubs because they are readily available and wax worms or mealworms just weren’t easy for me to get to. I caught a lot of bluegills on these grubs through the ice as a kid.

There are few other sources of food that you may find as you work towards rescue.

Rose Hips are a good source of Vitamin C.  Keep an eye out for the little red hips. You will recognize them when you find the thorny wild rose plant.

Don’t overlook animals as a source of food during the winter. Your sling shot or snare can take small animals such as squirrels, rabbits and birds.

Also, and this might sound gross, but you can find good meat on dead animals that you find.  Just make sure you are able to cook the meat thoroughly to avoid any possible bacteria.

Remember, this is survival during a tough time for all animals to find food. You can’t be choosy.

Shelter and Heat-If the snow is deep enough, you can dig a snow cave.  Be careful not to dig too deep down. Make sure only a couple feet of snow is over you. If it were to cave in on you, you don’t want six feet of snow on you. Snow is a great insulator. Making a tee-pee or lean-to packed with snow makes a very good shelter.

Don’t build your fire inside your shelter unless you have adequate ventilation. The only thing different about building a fire in the winter vs the summer is that finding dry tinder might be tougher. Make sure you have dry tinder and fire starting material in your survival pack. Also, wood that is cold is harder to ignite than warmer wood. You might need to make sure your fire is better established at each stage. Don’t slight it. Get each stage good and hot before moving to the next.

A few more notes to wrap it all up:

Remember that dehydration is a major issue in the cold. You might not think you are dehydrated, but you very well may be. Simply put-drink water.

Don’t get caught in a situation without your survival pack. Preparation is the first step of survival.

Remember, it takes a lot to starve to death. Finding food is tough in the winter. Keep a constant vigil for tidbits you can munch on.

Make sure you limit sweat. Sweat leads to major body heat loss when you stop work. When you are building your shelter or hiking out, don’t over dress. Keep your extra clothes dry so that you have them when its time to rest.

Do not forget to sit down and relax if you find yourself in a survival situation. Pray for guidance and calm. God has your back, lean on him.

Cold Weather Injuries

Cold weather injuries can be painful, debilitating and life threatening. Make sure you study and understand the sign of these injuries. Please research these conditions prior to embarking on a cold weather adventure.

Hypothermia-A condition with abnormally low body Temperature. Life threatening. Immediate attention required to prevent death.

Frostbite-The freezing of living tissue. Possible loss of extremities. Loss of skin and muscle tissue. Very serious. Immediately seek medical treatment.

Chilblains-Usually extremities such as fingers, toes and nose. Above freezing temps with higher humidity. Rash, burning, tingling, numbness. Usually not life threatening and can go away unassisted. Recommend medical attention.

Immersion/Trench Foot-prolonged exposure to cold moisture.  Loss of skin tissue. Can be debilitating. Immediate medical attention required.

Dehydration-Loss of body water to the point of reduced body function. Can lead to Hypothermia. Increase water intake. Possible medical attention required.

Constipation-Usually brought on by improper diet but also dehydration. Cold weather can increase chances of constipation. Seek medical attention if severe. OTC remedies. Proper diet/water intake.

Sunburn-Usually on face in cold weather. Reflection of sun off snow and ice can increase the suns ability to burn. Use sunscreen in the winter.

Snow Blindness-Due to increased ultra violet rays to the cornea from sun reflection off of snow and ice. Swelling of cornea.  Very painful, feeling of grit in eyes. Cover eyes with dark material. Wear good sun glasses. Seek medical attention immediately.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning-poisoning due to combustion of carbon based material. In nature it is usually due to a fire built inside of a shelter with inadequate ventilation.  Life threatening. Get medical attention immediately.  

Cold weather injuries are almost always avoidable. Make sure that you are properly clothed, nourished,  hydrated and dry. Use sunscreens and sun glasses. The better your overall health and condition, the better your body can resist cold injury.

The video that this link takes you to is an excellent source of information on cold weather injuries. It was put out by the US Army. You should take a minute to watch it.

About Nature's Access

I am a Grandfather of nine and father of three. I have been married for 35 years. I am a veteran of the Army with eight years of service and one combat tour. I have a bachelors degree in History and Military Science. I love the outdoors. I am a proud Christian. I have many interest and love to research anything that I lack knowledge in. Wild edibles/herbal medicines and survival are passions of mine and I love sharing what I know.
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