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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Winter Survival - Stranded in a Snow Storm

I recently had a question from Robert B., based on a story he read in the newspaper, about what would I do in a similar situation. Apparently two college kids traveling on a seldom used road became stuck in a snow storm. Robert’s questions were would I stay in my vehicle? How long would I stay waiting on help before I would trek out towards civilization? Would I take the shortest route or would I follow the roads? What if I didn’t have any survival gear with me in my vehicle?
 

My reply to Robert:

It would near impossible for me to be caught in any vehicle oriented situation without my traveling Bug Out Bag holding various pieces of kit depending where I am going; the season (hot or cold weather); whether I am flying or not; and what purpose I am traveling for.

But for the sake of argument let’s say we ventured out without any kit, without any knowledge of impending adverse weather, cell phone went dead or no signal, traveling a remote road with long distances between any infrastructure, and, became stuck in our vehicle in a snow storm.

Your first priority is not to become a cold injury. I would not sit in my car running the motor and heater as it will eventually run out of fuel. I would use it to get warm between bouts of survival work. I would build a shelter outside of the warm for two reason: one - to have a fire (for signaling and warmth) and, two – the vehicle becomes a refrigerator without the motor and heater running....two plys of sheet metal do not insulation make.

Shelter. Even in the desert location, there are natural materials to build an overhead cover or lean to type shelter. Maybe not enough to provide decent cover from a rain, but if you make it sturdy enough you can stop snow even if you have to clear the snow off from time to time (to reduce the weight and maintain the survival shelter’s integrity).

Vehicle seat covers, floor mats and trunk carpet can be used as a tarp for your overhead cover. All these materials as well as removable seat(s) can provide insulation from the ground as well.

I would build and maintain a fire. If you do not have lighter, the vehicle’s cigarette lighter (until the Government outlaws them) can be used to ignite tinder. One of the vehicle’s battery cables can be loosened and touch connected to the other cable to produce a spark to ignite tinder.

The vehicle’s fuel supply can be used to provide an accelerant. Stuffing a piece of string, root or vine down into the gas tank with a piece of cloth wrapped on the end can collect enough fuel to help start a fire. Maybe you can stuff some paper or cloth down into the carburetor or fuel injection system then pump the accelerator to collect the fuel onto the rag or paper.

Everyone has a owner’s manual or vehicle registration, or scrap paper,…or maybe even a pile of traffic citations or parking tickets in their glove compartment. This paper source combined with small twigs, scarps or torn pieces of clothing or insulation material from your coat provide the tinder. Most vehicles have a paper air filter. The paper filter can be used as a tinder sources as well.

Don’t start your fire until you have an adequate amount of tinder, bigger tinder, small pieces of fuel and even larger pieces are collected and ready to be added to your growing fire.

Water. Don’t pile the snow into your mouth to drink. Instead collect snow in a cup, water bottle or makeshift canteen and melt it by placing it close to the fire. If you have a used water bottle you can pack with snow and put in your coat pocket or under the vehicle’s heater when you run it, to melt. Hub caps and removable vehicle cup holders all can be used for improvised canteens.

Signaling. Keep the vehicle roof, trunk and hood clear of snow so that any aircraft can more easily spot it. You can take two, 2 or 3 inch diameter sticks and fashion an “X” on the roof. You can find an open area on the ground and create a larger “X”. If and when you decide to walk out, leave a note in the vehicle on the dash or steering wheel articulating your intent and direction.

If your vehicle ran off the road, making a signal on the road where passers by can see it is a good idea.

Decision to Walk Out. The decision to walk out has to be made considering your physical condition,.....what your condition will be in a day or two. How far you have to walk…if it is within your capabilities. I would probably walk the roads, as it is much easier and in case there is other traffic on the road – you can access help. If you have no land navigation skills and are in poor condition, there is no other route but staying on the roads. Other considerations are what gear you have on you in order to build shelters and fire if the trip will take more than one movement. A final factor is if anyone knows what route you took and will be missing you therefore reporting you as missing.

The bottom line is that winter survival, as described in the scenario, above can be made much easier if you carry wilderness survival kit in your vehicle. A simple bag in the trunk or cab containing a blanket or two, a couple small tarps, fire starting material, some long stay food, a couple of bottles or tins of water, a flashlight,…even better if you add candles and chemlights. These are all simple and inexpensive items to keep in your vehicle just in case.

3 comments:

  1. When I was 19 Two friends and I drove into the big city for a night of fun. It began snowing around 10pm and by 1am it was a blizzard. We took two cars so I was driving home alone when I slid into a curb destroying my left front wheel. After getting the car onto a side street and into a parking spot I began the long (18 miles) walk home. I had on loafers and a sports jacket against sub freezing wind driven snow. It was my youth and condition that allowed me to walk the 18 miles in a blizzard and live. I have never left the house in the winter since then without a good coat and boots and gloves in the car or one my person.

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