AY Honor Cold Weather Survival Answer Key
- Fire Starter - such as waterproof matches, lighter, flint & magnesium
- Knife or multi-tool
- Survival whistle
General principle here is how the material interacts with water, either perspiration or external water. The key is to stay dry. Materials like wool, polypropylene and nylons do not absorb (hold) water/moisture. Moisture in fabric quickly wicks away heat from the body. This is why these materials are preferred for winter use. Cotton is not recommended for cold weather wear since it will absorb and hold moisture, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the material to keep a person warm. In extremely cold weather, fabric that gets wet (from sweat or otherwise) can actually freeze and stiffen making it both very cold and very inconvenient.
While down is a wonderful natural material, it can absorb moisture too (though some very new treatments minimize this). Down gets its warmth from its loft, or fluffiness. If down is compressed, it has little to no insulating value. If down is moist (even from heavy perspiration), it can lose much of its insulating quality as well. Down is best saved for use when heavy exertion is not expected, or as a top layer in a very carefully planned, layered system. Down makes a very poor base layer.
Another factor to consider is how fast an article of clothing will dry once wet. Synthetics tend to dry much faster than cotton, even in the cold. Generally speaking, cotton is a poor choice for cold weather use where it cannot be dried easily.
Benefits of layering: the ability to modulate (change) the warmth of clothing easily. Example of NOT layering: tee shirt and heavy winter parka. If one is on a pack trip, or snowshoeing with a backpack, or digging a snow cave, the options are 1. Jacket on, or 2. Jacket off. While one could unzip the jacket, it's still either on or off. That may bee too hot in some situations, leading to sweating. Sweat = moisture on the skin = cold camper.
A good layered system may consist of a thin base layer: polypro tee shirt. If there is one layer that should NOT be cotton, this is the layer. Base layer needs to be a material that will not absorb moisture. Nylon, polypro, and even modern wool are good base layers. This does not have to be expensive outdoor-specific fabric; a simple athletic tee shirt will do. Mid layer: long sleeve polypro or nylon or wool shirt (ideally any layer above base layer has at least a zip T neck zipper; this is very useful in modulating temperature without removing the layer). Insulation layer: if the camper is not expecting exertion and perspiration, this may be something like a down sweater or coat (but not one with a heavy outer layer). Or, a layer of synthetic fleece. Top layer: this is either a wind-stopping membrane shell or waterproof shell. A top layer with a built in hood adds extra warmth and protection from the elements.
Ideally, the insulation layer is adjustable for warmth with a full-length zipper. If the insulation layer gets too warm, one can unzip it while still under the top layer. Or the top layer can be removed and the insulation layer worn by itself on top. Or, if conditions are a bit wet or windy but not cold, one can remove the insulation layer and wear the top layer on top of the mid layer. Outer jackets that feature adjustable cuffs, full-length zipper, and pit-zips (zippers that go under the arm pits) are very adjustable to allow ventilation and a great degree of fine tuning for comfort. The key is to have the ability to change the warmth and breathability of the clothing without only an On/Off option. In winter conditions, one may have to modify the layering/performance of clothing a dozen times in a day to keep the warmth/moisture balance correct.
Generally speaking, one can be much warmer with multiple thin layers with less bulk than a single heavy layer too. This, plus the ability to fine-tune warmth makes layering the best choice.
It's important to remember headgear. Some moderation of headgear is useful too. Some serious cold-weather enthusiasts carry several hats of varying thickness and swap them out (or layer them) as conditions merit. Consider a thin, wool or polypro base layer for cool weather or base layer, and top layer hat of some wind-stopping material with insulating properties. Some hats have ear flaps that can be tied down or flipped up to moderate temperature. The ability to modulate head temperature is probably the fastest and easiest way to modify overall temperature and comfort.
Feet and hands can benefit from layering too. One is better off with multiple layers of thin socks (which also helps prevent blisters) than one pair of super thick socks. Same principles apply with socks as upper body: wool or polypro are great base layers; cotton is not good. How do you layer for hands? Glove liners. Glove liners are really thin gloves that can be worn below regular gloves or mittens. They are a huge asset when someone has to remove a pair of heavy gloves or mittens for a job requiring dexterity because glove liners minimize the instant freeze of either exposure or conductivity (that is touch) when in the cold air or handling freezing equipment.
- Survival Whistle
- Fire Starter
- Tinder (dryer lint, candle)
- High calorie energy bar
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Pocket Knife / multi-tool
- Mylar Emergency Sleeping Bag
- Hand warmers
- First aid supplies
- Compact Folding Shovel
- This Honor Sheet
- Rain Poncho / Small Tarp
- Cell phone, GPS, FRS Radio
- Signal Flare
Other items you might consider
The items listed above are part of this honor's requirements, but they are not an exhaustive list of items that would be useful in a cold weather survival situation. You might also consider these items:
- Large Trash Bag
- can be used as a emergency shelter. Cutting a breathing hole near the bottom of the bag lets you cover your head and save a lot of heat.
- Bright Colored Jello
- spread on the snow is a good signal to air search and rescue teams (if it is not snowing).
- Avalanche Transceivers
- send out a radio signal helping buddies with another unit locate exactly where the sending unit is located.
- Avalanche Airbags
- help someone "float" near the top of an avalanche.
- PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)
- these are not dependent on a cell phone signal and can be used to call in a full-fledged rescue effort. They require registration of the unit with then NOAA, and are to be used only in serious rescue situations only. But they can save a life, and should be considered for expeditions where help may not be readily available.
If exposed to cold and the internal mechanisms are unable to replenish the heat that is being lost, a drop in core temperature occurs. Characteristic symptoms occur such as uncontrollable shivering.
Surface blood vessels contract further as the body focuses its remaining resources on keeping the vital organs warm. The victim becomes pale. Lips, ears, fingers and toes may become blue.
Difficulty in speaking, sluggish thinking, and amnesia. Inability to use hands and stumbling are also present. The exposed skin becomes blue and puffy, muscle coordination becomes very poor, walking becomes almost impossible, and the victim exhibits incoherent/irrational behavior. Major organs fail. Clinical death occurs.
“One of the most difficult survival situations is cold weather. Cold is a far greater threat to survival than it appears. It decreases your ability to think. It weakens your will to do anything except get warm. It numbs the mind and body. It subdues the will to survive.”
The "umbles" show that a person is being adversely affected by the cold. It begins with the loss of physical coordination (stumbles, fumbles, and tumbles). This progresses to the loss of mental acuity (grumbles and mumbles).&
Cold water hypothermia aboard a ship. University of Alaska, Kodiak Community College.
MedWild has a number of good videos on wilderness survival and medicine including altitude, frostbite, hypothermia, etc.
By Nature's Rules is a hypothermia training movie from the 1970s but is still good.
Remember that SAR are volunteers that give tirelessly of their time and money to training and helping people who are in trouble. Respect their time and be thankful.
When choosing a cold-weather survival whistle, consider a pea-less whistle. If one is blowing warm, damp air into a whistle with a pea -- it is possible that the pea becomes frozen in place and greatly diminishes the value of the whistle.
Most hardware stores sell lightweight, bright plastic ribbon that comes in a roll (yellow, day-glo green, orange, or pink). 20' to 40' of ribbon weighs almost nothing, but could be very valuable in marking your path, making it easier for rescuers to find your trail, or for *you* to find your trail again. Tie 6" on a twig and you have a bright, weatherproof marker.
Be VERY cautious with fire in a snow cave or igloo. Fire consumes oxygen and leaves carbon monoxide which has no odor or sign, but can kill occupants. It has killed outdoorsmen before. Ventilation (and LOTS of it) is essential when something as little small camp stove is used in a semi-enclosed area. Even the smallest campfire is not advised in a snow cave for many reasons (carbon monoxide, too much heat, and melting issues among them).
In snowy conditions tree wells can provide excellent shelter from the wind. Tree wells are the area right next to the tree trunk where the upper branches catch or shed the snow, leaving a hole next to the trunk. These can be very deep at times.
Be aware of snow in branches above any fire. The warmth of your fire can begin to melt the snow and cause a mini-avalanche -- right on top of you and your fire.
Paper egg carton, sawdust, and wax
For this fire starter you will need to melt some wax. Use a double boiler for this so that you do not accidentally ignite the wax. While the wax is melting, fill each compartment of the egg carton (make sure it's a paper-based egg carton) with sawdust. Fill them all the way to the top, but do not pack the sawdust in. When the wax is fully liquified, pour it into the sawdust and allow it to soak all the way through. Once the wax hardens, cut the compartments apart. You only need one of these to get a fire going.
Cotton balls and petroleum jelly
Another great fire starter is made by working petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) into a cotton ball. Store these in a water-tight container so that you don't get petroleum jelly all over everything in your pack. These will light even when wet, and they will burn for at least ten minutes.
Compare to this honor version: http://www.pathfinderconnection.com/uploads/3/2/1/3/3213915/winter_wilderness_survival.pdf