Staying warm is something you should always prioritize when spending time outdoors. This holds true regardless of your location, unless you’re lucky enough to reside very close to the equator.
In all seriousness, it’s vital to be cautious, no matter where you live or how warm the weather typically is. When the sun sets and temperatures drop, getting wet or facing strong winds can make the difference between life and death, even in a typically warm climate.
Consider how much more challenging it can be in cold regions or places with Arctic or subarctic temperatures for much of the year. Many preparedness enthusiasts often emphasize essentials like food, water, and security, but statistically, it’s staying warm, or avoiding exposure to the elements, that is most likely to harm you. It’s important to note that exposure can lead to rapid harm, sometimes in just a few hours in extreme conditions.
So, every time you plan to venture outdoors or if your travel puts you at risk of harsh and unforgiving weather, you must have a plan for staying warm. Getting stranded in a cold environment or getting caught in bad weather can be just as deadly as starvation or a gunshot if you lack the necessary knowledge.
In this article, we’ll provide you with 10 effective methods to stay warm when you’re out in the wilderness.
Ten methods you should employ for staying warm in the wilderness:
Building a fire
Staying warm is the quintessential prepper skill. Since before recorded history, it is the ability to stay warm reliably, no matter the environment, no matter the conditions, that has assured mankind’s continued survival and supremacy over nature.
We have every manner of technological advancement today, with many of them bordering on the miraculous, but it would all be for not if we could not command fire.
Smart preppers will always have several methods by which they can stay warm in any given environment. They will rely on modernized tools like lighters and matches as well as more traditional methods like fire steels.
More than the tools, knowing how to stay warm is essential; understanding how to construct one utilizing tinder, kindling, and firewood and what materials you can burn safely in a real emergency.
A crackling fire might just be the only thing between you and freezing to death in a harsh environment.
Using an emergency blanket
Emergency blankets are brilliant, space-age tools resembling oversized sheets of aluminum or copper foil. While they may appear too thin to even fend off a hearty sneeze, they work their magic not by thickness but by staying warm through the ingenious use of infrared energy. These blankets reflect the infrared energy radiating from your body, redirecting it back to your skin, rather than letting it dissipate into the open air.
When wrapped in one of these, you might resemble a baked potato or a to-go hoagie, but don’t be fooled – they are far from gimmicks. That’s why they’re a common sight among search and rescue personnel, paramedics, and police officers.
Emergency blankets are exceptionally lightweight, incredibly compact, and highly effective in various situations. You can employ several ingenious techniques to maximize your body temperature and capture more heat than you would typically, making them invaluable tools for staying warm.
Using a bivy
Never underestimate the value of a small bivy in your cold weather survival kit. Smaller than a tent, a bivy can be seen as an oversized sleeping bag that comfortably accommodates one person lying down, and at times, two if they’re snugly nestled together.
Granted, it’s far from a cozy cabin with a roaring fireplace, but here’s the secret: your body heat plays a crucial role in staying warm. It efficiently warms the limited air space inside the bivy, ensuring you stay warmer than you would otherwise.
Cold weather-rated bivys are typically designed to be waterproof and windproof, which effectively shields you from the two major threats that can steal your warmth. Modern versions are incredibly compact and easy to carry, making them ideal for inclusion in dedicated cold climate survival kits or your BOB (Bug Out Bag).
Using a tent
Even with the widespread use of bivys today, the classic outdoor staple, the tent, shows no signs of fading away. Cold weather-rated tents come in various styles, shapes, and sizes, ranging from ultra-compact to luxuriously oversized.
The most significant advantage of a tent is its ability to accommodate multiple people. This means that several bodies can collectively warm the same air space, greatly enhancing efficiency in staying warm.
Tents are also spacious enough to allow you to store your gear inside and, with caution, even set up a small camp stove. The convenience of seeking shelter inside a tent for quick warmth and preparing a hot meal is invaluable. Furthermore, the ease with which you can seal the tent against wind intrusion adds another layer of protection for staying warm in challenging conditions.
Using a fire reflector
This clever technique combines elements from the first two methods on this list. It involves taking an emergency blanket and suspending it between two fixed points behind you while you sit between it and the fire. Alternatively, you can line the interior of a lean-to or another rigid shelter to achieve a similar effect.
Arranged in this manner, your emergency blanket becomes a substantial reflector. It captures the infrared energy – that is, the heat energy – emitted from your fire, which would otherwise escape, and redirects it back toward your body. This not only maximizes the heat you get from each unit of fuel consumed but also offers the added benefit of staying warm on both sides simultaneously, especially valuable in extremely cold weather.
Using hot rocks or hot water bottles
If you have a fire going, you can harness even more of the heat energy it emits for later use by gently and carefully warming rocks or bottles of water. These warmed items can then be strategically positioned against your body or placed inside your sleeping bag to assist in staying warm or keeping someone else warm.
This technique is straightforward in concept, though it requires extreme caution to avoid getting burned by hot rocks or metal water bottles. If you attempt this with plastic water bottles, exercise great care as they can easily melt.
There’s even a fire-free adaptation of this method when traveling in a group. Anyone who is walking, working, or generating substantial body heat can press a warm water bottle directly against their skin or beneath their innermost clothing layer to warm it. This warmed water bottle can then be passed to someone else coming in from the cold or experiencing hypothermia, aiding in their rapid yet gentle warming.
Building a shelter using available resources:
Building a pine needle or leaf bed
Nature provides a wealth of materials that can significantly assist in staying warm in cold weather. Among these, pine needles, pine boughs, and dry leaves are particularly effective.
Simply gathering a substantial pile of these materials to create a large, comfortable mattress before lying down can make a noticeable difference in keeping you warmer.
First, it elevates your body from the ground, which tends to leech heat from you at an alarming rate.
Second, it helps trap warm air between you and the ground, ensuring at least one side of your body stays warm.
To take this technique to the next level, you can encase these materials in large contractor bags, securely taped together, or wrap them in plastic sheeting, creating something akin to an improvised sleeping bag.
Building a leaf hut
A leaf hut is an effective wilderness shelter, especially in forested areas. Here’s how to construct one:
Gather Materials: Collect a substantial amount of large, sturdy leaves or broad foliage. These will serve as the primary construction material.
Create a Frame: Find two sturdy branches or saplings and place them upright in the ground, forming an A-frame structure. These branches will be the support for your leaf roof.
Add Roof: Start laying the gathered leaves onto the A-frame, ensuring they overlap like shingles. Continue layering until you have a thick, insulating roof that will keep you dry and help in staying warm.
Wall and Entrance: You can build walls using the same leaves or other natural materials. Leave a small entrance, low to the ground, to crawl into your leaf hut.
Insulate the Floor: To prevent heat loss from the ground, create a layer of leaves inside your shelter. This insulating layer is crucial for staying warm.
Waterproofing: If available, use a tarp or plastic sheeting to add an outer layer to your leaf hut for additional protection against rain or snow.
Building a leaf hut is an excellent skill to have in your survival toolkit, offering an effective way to protect yourself from the elements and maintain warmth, especially in forested environments.
Building a debris shelter
Constructing a debris shelter is a valuable wilderness survival skill. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to create one:
Select a Suitable Location: Begin by choosing a safe and dry location for your shelter. Opt for an elevated spot that’s away from potential hazards like falling branches or areas prone to flooding.
Frame Your Shelter: Create the basic framework for your shelter using long branches or logs. A triangular or A-frame structure provides stability and good drainage.
Cover with Natural Materials: Use natural materials like leaves, moss, and branches to cover the framework. These materials act as insulation, helping you in staying warm.
Add an Insulating Layer: Inside the shelter, build a thick insulating layer using dry leaves, grass, or other debris. This layer prevents the cold ground from sapping your body heat.
Design an Entrance: Create a small entrance that’s large enough for you to crawl through but small enough to keep warmth inside. You can use extra debris to seal the entrance when you’re inside.
Waterproofing: If available, use a tarp or an emergency blanket as an outer layer to enhance waterproofing and protect against the elements.
Ensure Ventilation: Provide some form of ventilation to prevent condensation inside the shelter, which can make you wet and colder.
Building a debris shelter is a crucial survival skill, offering a reasonably warm and dry refuge in the wilderness when you need it most.
Building a snow cave
If you are surrounded by an abundance of snow and have little else, use the snow itself to stay warm. Yes, it may sound a bit unconventional, but it can be a life-saving tactic in cold weather survival situations if you’re resourceful enough.
A snow cave is exactly as it sounds—a small cave excavated from a snowdrift or bank. It’s a shelter that you can reinforce and crawl into for protection from the wind.
Much like the tent and bivy methods mentioned earlier, the cave structure traps a volume of air that your body can contribute to warming. With some skill, you can even create a fire inside your snow cave, further aiding in staying warm.
Combine Techniques for Best Effect
When faced with severely cold weather or someone suffering from hypothermia, your top priority is staying warm and, if needed, warming the affected person. It’s essential not to rely on just one technique; you can employ multiple strategies simultaneously to enhance heat absorption and retention.
First and foremost, you should work on getting a fire going, provided you have the means to do so. Once the fire is robust, well-fed, and stable, create a bed or seat using pine boughs. Hang an emergency blanket as a reflector behind you and wrap yourself up with another one. It won’t take long before you start feeling comfortably warm, even in challenging weather.
Always strive to improve your “heat budget” when you’re in conditions or weather that could lead to hypothermia. Hypothermia is a silent and deadly threat, especially when you’re alone. It’s easy to cross the point of no return before realizing the danger, with sluggish thoughts, heavy limbs, and numb hands that hinder your ability to change your situation. Take this matter seriously; your life may depend on it.
In cold weather, there are numerous ways to ensure staying warm, whether you rely on modern gear and equipment or tap into age-old techniques that have sustained us since our early days as a species.
Take a moment to familiarize yourself with these methods and engrave them in your memory, just in case you ever encounter a survival situation in cold weather. With a bit of knowledge and swift action, you can effectively ward off the cold.