The Ultimate Winter Survival Pack
For generations, mankind has fought the elements and has learned to thrive in some of the harshest conditions thinkable. But even after all of the advances we’ve made in taming our environment, we still find ourselves dedicating our weekends to getting lost in the outdoors. Regardless of whether you’re an avid hiker, mountain climber, occasional hunter, or just love the outdoors, every one of us should own and always pack a survival kit in our packs before heading out into the brush. So instead of trying to set out on your next adventurer like an ill-advised episode from Naked and Afraid, make sure you’ve packed yourself the essential survival kit, designed specifically for the harsh, winter conditions.
Note the plural – being dependent on a single method of starting a fire and a single source of tinder is a good way to guarantee a visit from Murphy and his law. No one has ever sat in the cold, dark night and said “Glad I didn’t pack that ferro rod, I’m really enjoying the unlit night sky… was that a bear?”
A plastic bag full of a variety of starters and tinder needs to be packed along any time you venture out into the frigid weather. Among these should be:
- UCO Stormproof Match Kit
- Bic butane lighter
- Light My Fire Original Swedish FireSteel
- The Friendly Swede Magnesium Emergency Fire Starter Blocks
- WetFire Tinder cubes
- Cotton balls packed in petroleum oil
- Esbit Smokeless Solid Fuel Cubes
- S. Military-grade Trioxane fuel bar
Survive Outdoors Longer (SOL) Heavy Duty Emergency Blanket
Once you’ve got that fire started, you need to direct the heat so that it is useful. Those Mylar blankets you’ll find in many emergency kits are nice, but they’re the proverbial wet blanket stacked up next to the SOL Heavy Duty Emergency Blanket. Measuring 5 feet by 8 feet, it can be used to direct heat from a fire, wrap up one person, act as a cover for two, or even be used to line the inside of a shelter to keep heat in. It reflects a full 90% of the heat thrown at it, making it super-efficient. It won’t clutter your backpack either – weighing in at under 8 ounces and folding up to be pocket-sized, you’ll never notice it until you need it. At $15, it might be more expensive than a Mylar blanket, but unlike those blankets, this one can be used time and time again.
Mountain Hardwear Lamina -30 Sleeping Bag
In truly cold weather, the rectangular, down-filled sleeping bag from your Boy Scout days just won’t cut it anymore. They retain water and don’t retain heat – which is the exact opposite of what you’ll be wanting in frigid, damp winter weather. Mummy bags are made for heat retention, with a shape that allows movement. The Lamina features a nylon shell and an external water-repellant DWR coating that keeps the water on the outside, helping to keep more heat in. On the inside, polyester lining wicks away moisture from the wearer’s skin. It is relatively light, weighing in at under 6 pounds, so you won’t get a back ache hauling it around. Rated for temperatures down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit, that more-than-justifies the $300 price tag.
Gerber Camp Axe II and Sabercut Saw with Pouch
If you don’t have shelter, you’ll need to build one. You’ll also need to get some firewood – a fire starter and tinder is no good without some solid fuel. This pair of tools is perfectly suited for these tasks. The Gerber is so versatile that you should never leave home without it. It can hack up ice to help build a shelter, it can be used to create a trench, or just used to chop wood. The composite shaft means you don’t have to worry about it breaking just when you need it the most. The 2.5 pound weight means you won’t be dragged down, and the compact size means it won’t be too unwieldy.
While a number of survival experts will tell you that the axe is plenty, able to be used for felling, feathering, and even as a hammer, we feel the Sabercut Saw provides a great option. The Sabrecut is a bit more efficient when it comes to dealing with medium- to large-diameter hunks of wood – the amount of energy put out versus the progress you’ll make is better than with the axe. At $30, it’s not cheap, but you won’t notice the 6 ounces it adds to your pack.
The GRAYL Legend – Trail
Winter, spring, summer or fall, you need pure, drinkable water. While the flowing stream might be drinkable for a canine companion, it doesn’t go so well for humans – but then, they’re also used to drinking out of your toilet bowl. The GRAYL is a pressure-operated water purification bottle, with three different versions – the midrange Trail, ringing up at around $75, is perfect for survival. It beats out straws in that you can carry filtered water with you at all times, instead of having to find water. So don’t worry about what has happened upstream from you, just pack the GRAYL along and you’ll have pure water with you when you need it.
This multipurpose (and cheap, you can find a good one for a tenner) head scarf can fulfill an amazing number of jobs. Need to keep warm? It’s a scarf. Need a little support under your head? It’s a pillow. Need something to carry foraging supplies or wood? When folded correctly, it works as a bag. Need water? It can be used to collect water, or used to collect snow and let it melt, and will act as a filter for large debris. Just make sure to boil the water afterwards. If you’ve been using it as a scarf, it might taste of sweaty hiker, but it will still be fine to drink.
Husky 42-Gallon Clean-Up Bags
These are also truly multipurpose, and a light roll of contractor-quality bags can fulfill a number of duties. They can be stuffed with leaves and other debris to create a ground cover to keep you sleeping bag off of the ground. They can be cut open to use for a base layer for a shelter, placing it between the braces and the leaves and boughs that will help keep warmth in. They can be weighted down and filled with leaves and debris to make a door for a shelter as well. Plus at the end of the day, you’ve got to clean up after yourself. Again, this is a cheap piece of gear you shouldn’t go without – in a 32-count box, each bag costs about 50 cents.
RothCo 550lb. Type III Nylon Paracord
Another incredibly multi-purpose piece of equipment, a length of 100 feet costs about as much as a Double Whopper. Unlike the burger, you can get plenty of uses out of paracord, although eating it isn’t one of those uses. Instead, it can help secure a makeshift shelter or hang a tarp between trees, be used to make a sling or tourniquet in the case of injury, secure a splint, or hang gear off of the ground. If you’re stuck out there for a while, paracord is great for snare traps.
Dozens of tools in a small package. Need we say more? No one should go out into the wilderness without a knife of sorts, regardless of what you might hear from some hard-core survivalists who say they don’t need one. The Leatherman OHT has tools that will help you use or repurpose all sorts of goods, including debris you might find lying around. Pliers, a wire cutter, and a variety of screwdrivers can help repair any equipment that may break. What makes the OHT sit above the rest? It’s the only one-hand-operable multi-tool on the market, and it comes with visual tool imprints on the handle. This means you can switch implements as needed, with one hand and a quick look – perfect for when you are in a tight situation and you need to go from pliers to a strap cutter in an instance. $80 might be a steep investment for you, but the durability and easy operation of the OHT is well worth it.
Petzl Ultra Rush Belt Headlamp
Hands-free lighting can come in handy (pardon the pun) in all sorts of situations, particularly as in the winter the sun drops below the horizon fairly early. Being able to use both hands in survival tasks is necessary, especially when you are trying to take down wood or build yourself a shelter. It can also be used as a signal lantern in dire situations, and the belt pack provides more hours of light than a headlamp with the belt on the light itself. Sure, it’s a $500 investment, but at minimum power it can provide you with 3 days worth of light. Of course, if you like not having to squint, you’ll want the economic setting, which still gives you 14 hours of 300 lumens per battery cycle.
Winter survival can be extremely difficult if you are unprepared. It will test the physical and mental strength of any individual, from the novice to the expert survivalist. By having all of the winter survival gear above, your chances of survival shoot through the roof, allowing you and your families to sleep comfortably at night. As the Scout Motto says, “Always be prepared.” Because doing otherwise is just plain amateur.