By Kurt Vonderehe

Having already mourned the loss of the crisp, sunny days of fall, we embrace the chill of the winter mornings and wetter days. With the weather changing, so does our menu of outdoor activities. No matter the activity, even when simply traveling to visit loved ones for the holidays, we need to review our level of winter preparedness. The primary basics remain the same—fire, food, shelter, and water—but there are a few things we don’t always consider.

Before your trip

There is no one aspect of preparedness that will ensure your safety in any situation. But education, training, proper gear, and being aware of your environment are key, and will greatly increase your chances of survival if you do find yourself in a life-threatening bind.

In addition, before heading out, be sure to inform at least three people of what you’re doing, where you’re going, with whom, and when you expect to return. This will assist possible rescuers in narrowing down the time spent looking for you and your loved ones.

Keep out the cold

Hypothermia is the most common winter killer. You can survive three weeks without food, but exposure to the elements can become fatal in just hours.

To protect yourself, be sure to have proper clothing and layer it well. You should start with a wicking base (long-sleeve silk or synthetic fabric works well), topped with an insulating shirt, all under a microfleece layer. A waterproof shell is critical to staying dry and retaining your core temperature. Our bodies run at an internal temperature of 98.6 degrees. As hypothermia starts to set in about 95 degrees, there is thin margin between safety and danger.

Signs of hypothermia

• Shivering

• Shallow breathing

• Slurred speech

• Drowsiness

• Confusion

• Memory loss

To beat hypothermia, you need to seek shelter, remove any wet clothing, and raise your core temperature by drinking warm fluids or warming yourself with a heat source.

What to pack

A survival kit should always be considered. There is a ton of gear available, but to keep it simple, here is a minimum list of items to have in your pack:

• Fixed-bladed knife

• Lighter and waterproof matches along with some tinder (cotton balls soaked in Vaseline work like a charm)

• Poncho

• Thermal blanket

• Compass

• Map of the area

• Some food

• Flashlight/batteries

• First aid kit

• Water and metal container

• Signaling device

• Cordage 

If you’re in a vehicle, be sure it’s in good running condition and your roadside kit is adequate for the area you are traveling in.

No matter where your winter adventures take you, ensure your survival and that of others by properly preparing, packing, and being aware of possible situations. Know your limits and stay safe this winter.