If a crash or wrong turn leaves you stranded in the cold, these tips can keep you more comfortable, or even save your life.
1. Be Prepared
You can set yourself up for success well before disaster strikes. When it comes to surviving a cold weather situation, a little preparation can go a long way. You want to dress correctly, with multiple layers of loose-fitting clothes. Warm socks and gloves are essential. On top of that, keeping a cold weather survival kit could, as the name suggests, help you survive. It should include snacks, a means to start a fire, hand warmers, blankets, or even a compact survival sleeping bag. You can keep a kit in your backpack or in the trunk of your car and forget about it until it is needed. If you let people know where you're going and when you expect to arrive, they can alert the authorities should you not turn up.
If you're stranded in a car in cold weather, even the ability to light a single can make a huge difference.
2. Seek Shelter
Sometimes, hunkering down and waiting out the cold is necessary. If you're stranded as a result of a car crash, you're already in your shelter. You will want to make sure your exhaust is clear of snow so you aren't exposed to carbon monoxide when your car is running. If you are on foot, you may have to improvise your shelter. In a pinch, something as simple as a trench in the snow with some pine branches on the bottom should provide enough protection from the elements to get you through the night. Cover yourself with more pine branches or anything you can get your hands on and ride out the cold. If conditions allow, you can build yourself an igloo to make yourself more comfortable. Building a shelter provides the additional benefit of getting your heart rate up and keeping you warm.
3. Make Yourself Visible
Once your shelter is set up, you want to increase the likelihood of rescue by ensuring passersby will spot you. Use bright clothing to make flags. Write a message in the snow with branches or other debris. Set off flares or light a fire. If you're in a vehicle, make sure the hazard lights are on. Doing anything you can to make yourself more visible gives you the best chance of being rescued.
4. Stay Dry
When in the extreme cold, moisture is your enemy. Crossing frozen bodies of water should be avoided if possible, as a trip through the ice can be deadly in a cold weather situation. If your clothes get wet, take them off. Being shrouded in wet clothing will decrease your core temperature to dangerous levels. Believe it or not, it is better to be naked and dry than dressed and sopping. You don't want to exert yourself to the point that you're sweating, either. This is why it is in your best interest to wear multiple layers of clothing; you can regulate your temperature by adding or removing layers as necessary. Keep those feet dry by removing damp socks.
5. Stay Hydrated
An often overlooked aspect of cold weather survival is hydration. Dehydration can negatively affect cognition, compromising decision-making and causing confusion. In a survival situation, you'll want to keep your wits about you, so proper hydration is paramount to your success. Believe it or not, eating snow as a means to stay hydrated is a bad idea, as it will lower your core temperature, forcing your body to expend energy to warm itself up. You can melt the snow over a fire, or by keeping it close to your body in a container of some kind. You can wrap the snow in a cloth and suck the water as it melts.
6. Stay Fueled
Surviving in the freezing cold is a lot of work. Your body will need nourishment to make up for all the energy it has expended. The cold and stress you are exposed to will make your body tear through its energy stores, potentially causing low blood sugar and even hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia can cause mental confusion and cardiac arrhythmias. Simple sugars and carbohydrates are a wonderful snack in a cold weather survival situation. Consider keeping nuts, granola bars, honey, and dark chocolate on hand to fuel your body should an emergency situation arise.
7. Keep Your Heart Rate Up
Cold weather can lower your heart rate. This decreases blood flow, which lowers your core temperature, opening you up to hypothermia. To combat this, consider jogging in place or performing jumping jacks to increase your heart rate and warm you up. But don't overdo it! You don't want to start sweating. Remember, moisture is the enemy. Sweat is your body's cooling mechanism, and we don't want our bodies cooled as we fight for survival in the freezing cold.
Keep these tips in mind should you ever find yourself stranded in the freezing cold weather. They just may save your life!