Winter Survival

by Karl Shoemaker


This page is under construction, therefore incomplete, however this will get you started in the right direction. Errors and spelling are not confirmed.

If you have the need to stay overnight in winter conditions it would be to your best interest to consider taking several items to make your stay safer. "The book" talks about 5 elements to survival; water,food,heat,shelter and spiritual or psychological needs. The order of importance depends on your situation. The more you are prepared the easier your stay will be. It would be nice if everyone you are riding with would be prepared, but they won't. Those that prepare will be helping those that don't, so keep that in mind and carry extra. We'll start with.............

Attitude/common sense spiritual or psychological needs

One basic item that's easier to preach than do and is free and came with you- that's common sense. If you panic or "flip out" all the other items discussed here, are not going to do you much good to stay alive. Yes, the body is fragile, however in many area rather resistant and if you fight you can amaze yourself (afterward) how tuff the body can be to survival, if you have the attitude not to give up. Take a First Aid course--Shock, CPR/rescue breathing, splinting, bleeding. By reading this is your first start to success in survival. Another simple suggestion is to bring a book, or a deck of cards. The nights are very, long and your mind starts to mess with you. Never carry anything you have not practiced using;some things are intuitive but if you have anything that requires technique; use it in a controlled environment so you're confident you can use it. This will help a lot in an emergency situation. Your attitude won't be "oh man what do I do?", but rather, "yea, I remember this neat little item; that'll do the job just fine".

Don't PANIC ....knowing u can spend a nite in the bush in the winter with relative ease is the biggest step towards that goal.to do that u have to go out and do it...practice, practice..try different ways to make shelters,fire etc, (talk some buddys into it and it could be fun )you`ll find out what works and what dos`ent.then in your mind you`ll know u can do it ,u won`t panic,and still be alive in the morning...


You can't just eat snow; it lowers your body temperature and then you are in real trouble. So you need a way to melt snow. "Waterproof" matches weren't that waterproof. Learn how to make a fire in a hurry;and carry a GOOD fire starter kit. Practice building a fire with your non-dominant hand (simulated broken arm/hand). There have been several people mention a tampon and dip it in your gas. That is great but gas burns fast and really not very hot. To start a fire a better way is to dip the tampon in your oil reservoir. Two stroke oil starts easy and burns longer then gas which is better when you are trying to start damp wood on fire.

Here's a possible neat idea. Take and old metal Tobacco can, place a roll of Toilet Paper in it, soak the paper with Methyl Hydrate. Too seal it just put a wrap of duct tape around the lid. Too light just put a lighter or match to it. Makes a great small fire. You can also use it to light a camp fire by placing it in the middle of some wet wood until it got going. To stop the flame just place the lid back on it. Reusable as long as the can stands up. Matches in a waterproof case, lighter, and a magnesium strip.

Another idea is to bring bottle caps with string criss crossed in it and then filled with wax,,good to start a fire or candles..good for 10 min.or so (lite and small). magnesium block ) but as far as starting a fire goes if you get desperate you can get gas out of sled and pull a spark plug out of the motor and pull sled over to get spark. If you can get sled close enuff. Or use spark plug to light gas soaked rag and then throw in pile of wood to get the fire started.


Learn how to build snow shelters--Quinzee, snow cave, thermal A-frame, tree-well

Some keys Points to keep in mind is start looking for shelter before its dark. If your in wooded area look for falling/dead trees as you go through ALOT of fire wood. If its more then just you split up the work load. One guy start build shelter,. another start gathering wood, another start trying to get fire going. Once you have fire shelter you can be cutting lots and lots of pine boughs--some to make a bed so you're I'm not sleeping on the snow itself and the rest to ready a smoke signal

Small self-inflating mat. Weight is aprox. 1 pound, and there's room in a sled to carry. Getting off the snow to sleep or set on really makes a difference. If the snowmobile seat is detachable you can use it to set on but it might be hard to sleep. You can also brake lots of tree limbs off to sit on and sleep on, but those are frozen and depending on the night temperature you can't stay on them that long. You start to get chilled especially if the temperatures get down to -10 F.

For shelter a group can find tall poplar tree and climb up it until it bows over, then use the rope to tie the top of the tree to the base of another to make an arch, then piled up pine bows against it as a wind break.

The rope was also used as a clothes line to dry out one guys gear (fell in creek)

In regards to this space blanket/tarp issue, it's suggested in addition to this getting something called a 'ranger blanket'. Officially they are called a 'poncho liner' or something, but essentially there are a normal-sized blanket, made of some light-weight space age material. They are extremely warm and lightweight (if you sit at home with one on you on the couch, you start to sweat in a few minutes, and they wrap up to the size of a fleece.) They aren't water-proof or anything, but they retain heat even when wet, and dry out in a matter of minutes. They have strings on them so you can tie it into a poncho, sleeping bag, or tie it between trees as a windbreak, or whatever. They are only 40 bucks, and come in a cool woodland camo pattern, available at any army surplus, and occasionally outdoor stores.

The Land/Shark system is like a outer sleeping bag cover. Here is their specifications:

Overnight stay at 6700 ft. altitude inside Instant Survival Shelter with regular clothing.* No sleeping bag or other aid. Body temperature drop of only 0.9 degrees° F after 5 hrs. Body temperature was recorded every 30 minutes. Ambient temperature below freezing (30° F) throughout test period. Minimum breathing opening. Low condensation.

those small space blankets work well to line the snow pit with(as long as the fire is`ent too big) they act as a reflector.it`s like being in a oven .. '-)

Here's some testimonials on the shark:

Another "test":hyperthermia happens at a body temperature of 96 and below. The above data shows at a outdoor temp. of only 30 degrees you lose .9 degrees every 5 hours. That means in 15 hours @ a 30 degree outdoor temp., your body temperature would drop 2.7 degrees and be at 95.9 degrees. You would be on the edge or start of hypothermia. Granted this test was with regular clothing (*T-shirt, sweater, wind-jacket, underpants, jeans, medium socks, hiking boots, gloves), but even with the best snowmobile gear on you are damp and somewhat wet/sweaty. All the recommended clothing was used but it still took a fire with a space blanket to keep from getting chilled. Our temperature dropped much lower than the 30 degree that they did the first test on.

"It is so effective at retaining heat, that no infra-red emissions are detectable from a person in the bag."

"Now... I would rather be emitting an IR signature so that if they are looking for me with IR equipment they would actually be able to find me."

"I have also spent many planned nights in the mountains in the middle of winter and have found it works best for me to dig a small snow cave and light a can of sterno. It would surprise you how warm a small can of sterno will keep a snow cave. Just make sure you have enough ventilation so you don's suffocate. A 8 oz. can of sterno burns at 205 d. F for 2 1/2 hours. "

Another idea is to make a group camping trip on sleds and do the actual thing, overnight as a practice and even a recreational fun activity. After all you ARE out side with your buddies, right? With a tarp, ranger blanket, and fire, you'd probably enjoy a night stuck in the hills.

you guys might look into bivvy sacks. basically a rain coat for a sleeping bag. They work a lot better and don't rip like space blankets.

Be warned that a space blanket and fire do not mix. The space blanket takes about 2 seconds to go poof and its gone and maybe burn you too.


You have to stay hydrated, after we ran out of the fluid we had carried with us we were able to melt snow for water in the container I had.

Large lady's kerchief (mine's yellow)--sounds gay but it's a for laying out my survival gear so nothing gets dropped in the snow and lost. It also can me used as a bandage or sling or you can make a flag to get someone's attention and to make water. Tie the corners to a pole (hobo style) and fill with snow and set close enough the BFF to get the snow melting. Catch the drips in your camelbak bladder or nalgene bottle or whatever you have, or make a cup with the foil.


MRE'S work great for food they take up a bit more room but they pack a lot of cal's. Also a candle in a coffee tin works great to warm up the inside of a snow cave.


the cell phones we had did did not work well, it took about 50 trys to 911 to get them our GPS readings. I know carry and old style straight analog phone with car charger. (i have a power outlet on my sled) The analog signal will almost always get out when you dial 911.

Sat phones are a very good idea as well. Another option is a Personal Locator Beacon.

Try lithium. They are more expensive, but will do a full discharge at much lower temps than regular batteries. I use them in my flashlight and GPS. I would say at 10 deg they last at least 2.5 times as long.

baby aspirin, chewable kind. This is good for heart trouble.....and the chewable stuff gets in your system fast. Learned this from 10 yrs. on an ambulance. ER docs would have us give baby aspirin to any patient having chest pain. Definitely a must have for the backcountry.

An alternative method to two backpacks...I carry a backpack on me and a Mountainsmith fanny pack on the sled. I think they call it a "lumbar" pack. If needed, I can then easily walk out with both packs.

Learn how to improvise ground signals

Testomonies and other neat ideas:

A 1.5hr walk in waist deep snow will give you some time to think of the need for snow shoes. They can double as a digging device as well.

If you are going to strap something to the cargo area of the sled - it is better to use a backpack in case you or a buddy needs to carry it out.

"I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, and at the age of 12-years old I started to do a lot of winter camping and backpacking...I can't believe my parents actually let me do it. While I was in the Air Force I attended the Aircrew Survival School up in Spokane, WA. and lived on snow shoes for a full week out in the woods. Although I learned some good stuff in that school, it was a very basic class for me since I was already experienced with winter camping. The company I work for now has provided some good Winter survival classes and seminars for us, mostly put on by Qwest Adventures who is contracted to provide winter survival training to Military Special Forces (Army Green Beret, Navy SEALS, And British SAS). Again, I learned some good stuff from them but I feel most of my knowledge is based on personal experience. "

"There are a few things that people need to really consider before they pack something and later try to rely upon that item and find out that it's useless. The biggest thing is those emergency space blankets that can fit in the palm of your hand that everyone packs.

They are made of a very thin aluminum coated mylar plastic. Great for keeping athletes warm on a cold rainy day after they cross the finish line at the NYC Marathon, but worthless in the wilderness. If the wind is howling, they are difficult to work with, and at 20 below zero they can rip and tear very easily especially if you catch a tree branch or something sharp on your sled. I'd say they are better than nothing, but given a choice I would rather have a couple of large heavy duty garbage bags over a space blanket. I use and prefer the All-Weather Sportsman's Blanket, rugged, flexible, has grommet holes and can be used as a tarp, shelter, etc. On a sunny day, lay it out with dark side up on a slight incline, put a crease on the downhill end and throw a little snow on it. The heat from the sun will melt the snow for emergency water even on a cold day."

No need to waste time, effort, and materials warming up snow to produce water with a fire or camp stove.

My suggestion is to go out and spend the night while sledding to see if the gear you have will work. Better to find out what you'll need and how you gear works when you are in a good situation then when things are at their worst like being lost in a whiteout at 5 PM.

Last year a small group of three of us almost had to spend the night out due to weather factors. All three of us are trained medical pros that have been in ems and healthcare for at least 5 years each. Anyway I was the only one that had any survival gear at all. After that I stepped up what I carry with me so I can share with others. Also make sure everything works. Its easy to do. While at the cabin or trailhead after your ride break out your stuff and make sure everything is in working order. Try it out in the weather, snow, wind, whatever. Make sure you can use it and it works how it is supposed to. I pulled one of those pocket blankets out in a snow storm that was really windy and it tore in about two minutes. They suck. I still carry at least 4 though for people to tuck into jackets or whatever. I also carry a brunton lantern. It is small and I got it for like $40 at sierra trading post. It runs on those small fat fuel canisters. It provides a lot of light and some heat. it will burn for about 10 hours using one cannister. I also carry a primus micro camp stove. It uses the same fuel as the lantern. One thing that I carry that hasn't been mentioned alot is a 100% waterproof jacket and pants. You can find these at sierra trading post or rei outlet all the time for real cheap. If someone gets really wet they can shed their wet stuff or just put these on. I have lent them to several friends and they are worth it. Something else people can do is think of different scenarios that may occur and try to prepare for them. Like falling in a creek/lake, breaking a bone, things like that. Try to put yourself in others experiences to see what you need. The sterno thing is a great idea too. You don't have to get fancy and spend a lot of money to stay alive. Stick to the basics at first, then build on what you know from there. Everyone have a safe season."

links for supplies:

  • Item a Campmor

  • Item at Campmor

  • List of items

    [Karl's sled page]