Winter Survival

Photo Credit: Outdoor Life

Hunting safety is priority number one, and a hunter should always go into the woods prepared. Always venture out with your survival essentials: pocketknife, matches/lighter, map and compass, headlamp, sunglasses/sunscreen, raincoat, extra clothes, food, water (and purification), first aid kit (with whistle). If you’re still lost and your map isn’t helping you, here’s what to do.

The one positive of getting lost in the forest during winter is that your feet will leave tracks in the snow. It will be a little easier to keep track of where you’ve been and you could possibly follow your tracks backwards. If the wind is blowing so hard that it’s covering your tracks immediately, it might not be that simple.


You might think that simply wearing one or two incredibly insulating articles of clothing is enough, but multiple layers of varying thickness are the key. You want to dress in layers so that you can remove and replace layers as needed. Your body temperature will fluctuate, so if you’re wearing 5 layers of heavy clothing, you might start sweating. Sweating when you don’t have any water to replace what you’re sweating out is very dangerous. If your water levels are running low, you can’t afford to lose any moisture from your body. Every drop is precious to survival. Not only will sweating dehydrate you, it will make you colder. The water on the surface of your skin will cool when it reacts with the air, which is the last thing you need in the winter. This is why your body sweats more in the heat of the summer, it’s human air conditioning.

Water and Snow

Because water is so important, you want to arm yourself with as much water as you can carry. Your body overcompensates in extreme cold, just like it does in extreme heat, so you still run the risk of becoming dehydrated. If you run out of water, start using the snow. Melt the snow before ingesting it. Eating direct snow will cause you to lose core body heat when your body tries to melt the snow as it digests. That is extra energy you can’t afford to lose, so you should melt the snow manually before ingesting.

It may be your first instinct to avoid settling into the snow in extreme cold, but a structure made of snow is surprisingly insulating. Use the snow to build a structure to shield yourself from wind. The snow is thick and will hold in your body heat.

Stay Put

If you come to the conclusion that you are too lost to repair, stay where you’re at. You should always stay stationary when you determine you are lost. If you continue to wander, you run the risk of circling your rescuers, constantly passing each other without knowing it. Every step you take could potentially be taking you further from the entrance of the woods. If you stop where you’re at, at least you know you’re not worse off than when you started. You should never move unless you have a plan. Give yourself the opportunity to get yourself out of it but know when to call it quits. Listen to your body and its signals. If you’re becoming exhausted, continuing will only deplete your health and could possibly cause you to pass out. Then you wouldn’t be able to respond to rescue calls.

The key to survival in these types of situations is not panicking. We know that’s easier said than done sometimes, but it does truly help you focus. Avoid making rash decisions and force yourself to stop until you have a game plan. Have you ever been lost in the woods during winter? What helped you survive?

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