Friday, December 9, 2011

What if You Had to Bug Out in Winter?

I happen to live in a part of the Deep South where winter is rarely a serious consideration when it comes to outdoor activities and even survival scenarios.  Sure, we have some cold snaps around here and especially at night the lows can be uncomfortable if you don't have the right gear, but outright freezing to death is not likely.  Some of my best hiking and paddling trips here in Mississippi have been in the dead of winter, especially just after deer season closes and hardly anyone is in the woods.

But just last month I spent a few days in Tennessee and North Carolina, and while there had a chance to do some hiking in one of my favorite wild places in the East - the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness Area.  The leaves were mostly in full fall colors in the lower elevations and were already gone above 4,000 feet.  That first week of November, conditions were perfect for exploring and camping and the mountain forests seemed benign and beckoning:

 But I've also hiked this area in December and January in years past, picking my times between winter storms, and as I walked familiar paths on this recent trip, I thought about what it would be like here in a bug-out context.  What would you do if circumstances forced you into prolonged stay in late fall with winter approaching, or perhaps even worse, if you had to suddenly leave the comfort of your home in winter?  The same area could very well look like this:

How would you prepare to operate in such conditions?  Do you have the clothing and shelter you would need to stay warm and dry, and have you tested it on actual trips?  Have you experimented with shelter-building and fire-making in winter conditions?  How much will cold temperatures and snow and ice slow down your rate of travel?  Will you still be able to navigate?  And if you are focused on keeping warm, especially at night, will you still be able to keep a low profile and stay out of sight of any potential threats?  What about staying hydrated and carrying enough food or finding sources to supplement your supplies along the way?  All of these things will become much more difficult in winter, and the consequences of failure could be much swifter.

If you live in a colder region than I do and there's a chance you may need such skills in a real-life survival scenario, now is the time to practice them.  As with any kind of survival training, familiarity gained by experience is the best way to build the confidence you need to know you can prevail if really put to the test.  You might even find, as many people do, that you prefer winter hiking and camping, especially if you love solitude and the challenges of staying comfortable in conditions that keep most people indoors.

For further reading on clothing, gear and logistics of operating in winter, there's an excellent post from earlier this week on the Warrior Talk News site called The Winter Warrior.  Much of what Suarez International Staff Instructor, Eric W. Pfleger discusses could be applicable to anyone considering bug-out strategies, and includes: clothing and footwear selection, hygiene, hydration and first aid considerations, and weapons care, transportation and counter-tracking measures.  It's an article well worth your time to check out.


  1. The guy that taught me wilderness survival skills (Tom Brown Jr.) taught us how to build winter shelters, methods of staying warm with little or no fire (if you're trying to keep a low profile), and scads of other winter survival techniques. He even runs a 10-day winter survival class. Even so, he says he prays TSHTF doesn't occur during the winter, for our sakes. And PS, if that should happen, it isn't a good idea to wait until then to start practicing your survival skills. So I've been told...

  2. Sandy,

    Yes, Tom Brown Jr. discusses this in his books frequently. That 10-day winter survival class sounds like a good one.

  3. Good point, especially important to consider if you bug out location is in a different climate than your current home.

  4. Love NC! I'm a San Diego native, but used to live a couple hours north off the Blue Ridge. Beautiful mountain country.

    Thanks for throwing to such a great post too. That article had a lot of really good info. As small of a thing as it may seem, knowing about thermo-regulation and different fabric types truly is life or death in a matter of hours in extreme temps.

    Another really good resource for that stuff is Cody Lundin's book 98.6 The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive. Great info and some entertaining drawings too.

    Thanks Scott.

  5. Hey Scott, book review posted. And you woke up my boat bug...

  6. Joe, You're right. For many people their bug-out location very well may be in a different climate. There's always a chance of being caught somewhere far from home while traveling too.

  7. Urbivalist, Yes, Lundin's book is a good resource. I've listed it in the bibliography/recommended resources section of all my books as well.

  8. Craig, Thanks for the review. I figured you of all people would appreciate the boat chapters and would especially take a liking to Reuel Parker's designs. Many of his boats would be idea on the Texas Gulf Coast.

  9. If you're bugging out, you're probably keen on staying off other people's radar as well - in the stark winter landscape, smoke, scent, trails, tracks, and other indicators stand out with more contrast.

    Harder to hunt/forage for food, as well, since animals are much more wary in the winter - if they come out at all.

    Don't wait for the balloon to go up to see if you could make it... go out there and try some of your skills in adverse conditions. Take a class, get some dirt time.

    Be Well.

  10. Snow caves are actually quite warm if built right, and you have a great water source with snow in most places. We built one once with several rooms and we were amazed at how well insulated it was. We had so much fun that winter with all the snow...but then we didn't have to LIVE in it, which can be very different!

    If you have some dried food and a way to build a small fire, you will be fine for awhile... What can kill you is if it there is a blizzard and you get buried. But then everyone knows that I suppose. I agree with Dustin that everyone needs to just go out and try out some things. We go camping every year and always learn something new to add to our 'preparedness list'.


  11. Insightful post. You really don't think about surviving in freezing conditions when you think about the SHTF.

    We experienced Hurrican Irene and had to use a generator for some time. However, that was during a relatively warm time. Would have been much more interesting in the dead of winter.

  12. Winter was one of my favorite times for backpacking. Growing up in the northeast we went out almost every winter vacation. We even went up to Vermont one winter. Once you develop your skills, it really is quite refreshing.

    One thing we liked about winter camping is having the whole forest to ourselves. even in good times, very few people were brave enough to venture into the forest in winter. If TSHTF, very people would survive going more than a few miles into the forest.

    We started out summer camping and as the weather got colder, we just made adjustments in our gear and clothing until we were 4 season campers. When we learned how to make shelters similar to the local Native American shelters our winter camping got a lot easier. Their shelters kept them warm no matter how cold it got and they are fairly easy to construct.

    I'm planning on going out next month. I just hope we have a good heavy snowfall by then.

  13. When I scheduled my meetup survival meeting for today, I wasn't expecting 10° weather but we went ahead with it anyway. We could actually watch my canteen freeze up while we were there. We met for about 4 hours discussing various topics before we decided to leave.

    This was also my first chance to test my bug out cart. I loaded it with about 150# of food, water and gear for the test. It passed it's first test 100%! Even going uphill over rough terrain was no problem for the cart. I can't wait to take it out camping next month.

  14. MaveRick, Good to hear from an experienced winter camper who looks forward to getting out when it's cold and the wilderness is deserted! You're right that most people are not brave enough to do this. I hope you have a great trip next month and will look forward to hearing about it.


Genuine comments are welcome. Spammers, don't waste your time. Your attempts to post links to any other site will be deleted.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Popular Posts