Surviving Extreme Environments by Using the COLD

| July 29, 2013 |

Surviving In An Extreme Environment

Depending on the environments you live in and visit, being able to survive in extreme cold weather may be a vital skill to have.  Unfortunately, there are a few misconceptions when it comes to cold weather that can also cause people to make costly mistakes.  In this article, I’m going to outline an easy system for remembering the most vital parts of cold weather survival.

The system itself is, fittingly enough, called COLD, and it stands for Clean, Overheating, Loose Layers, and Dry.  The words by themselves are a little bit cryptic, but you’ll understand exactly what I mean in a second.  Committing these things to memory could help you immensely when it comes to surviving in the extreme cold – so pay attention!

The first step of the system is to keep clothing CLEAN.  The air pockets in the insulation/lining of winter clothes are what give them the ability to trap in your body heat and keep you warm.  If these air pockets become filled with grease, dirt, or otherwise soiled, they become less effective and you will experience greater heat loss.  This comes down to a classic survival basic:  Take care of your gear, and it takes care of you.

Next, you need to avoid OVERHEATING.  It may seem a little counter-intuitive to recommend you avoid getting too warm while standing in a frigid arctic environment.  The reason you want to avoid bundling up too heavily is that being too warm can cause you to sweat, something you really want to avoid while in the extreme cold.  As soon as you start to sweat through your clothes, your clothing loses that precious insulation value and you’ll soon cool off.  To avoid this, make small adjustments to your clothing to fine tune your temperature; these can include opening up your jacket or parka slightly, or switching to lighter head gear.  The hands, feet, and head are easy places to adjust temperature, but since you need your feet in contact with the cold ground, and anything less than the best insulation for your toes is dangerous, stick to using your hands and head as a thermostat.

The ‘L’ in cold is to wear clothing in LOOSE LAYERS.  Clothing that is too tight restricts blood circulation, a dangerous prospect in freezing temperatures.  Also, a big part of insulating yourself well against the cold is that you don’t just have thick articles of clothing, but many layers to capture air between them.  Because of this, it’s actually preferable to have many thin layers than just a couple large ones; this also allows you to shed layers for temperature regulation as needed, as outlined in the previous step.

The ‘D’ in cold stands for keeping your clothing DRY.  This is kind of a no-brainer, but it’s a double-threat in cold weather:  Your clothes can become damp both from your sweat, on inner layers, and from snow and rain, on outer layers.  Water repellent outer layers are essential.  In the event that you can’t avoid your clothing getting wet, you’ll need to find safe ways to dry them.  If you are able to have an open fire, that’s the easiest way to dry out your clothing.  If not, you can place them in between the layers of your sleeping bag, this will allow your body heat to dry them while you sleep without having to be in direct contact with the wet article(s) of clothing.  Certain materials, like suede and leather, should be dried slowly to avoid cracking and deformation/damage.

When it’s just you against the cold, it’s as much about what you know as what you have; that parka won’t do you any good when it’s soaked through.  For this reason, I hope you learned something today, who knows, it might save your life tomorrow.

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Category: Survival Guides

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