Being in a survival situation outdoors can be tough in any season, but being lost in the wilderness in the middle of winter can be especially dangerous. The cold can cause hypothermia to set in very quickly if your not prepared and can interfere with your ability to survive. It can cause drowsiness, confusion and memory loss as well as affect your coordination. Hypothermia starts when your body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees, which is only a few degrees below your normal temperature. This is why it can be so dangerous because it can happen very quickly, and once it starts you’re in deep trouble. The most important thing you can do in a survival situation in the cold is to avoid letting your body temperature drop below that 95 degree threshold.
If you find yourself in an emergency situation in the winter, the first thing you should do is stay calm and don’t panic. The last thing you want to do is wander aimlessly, getting more lost and burning up energy. Look for a highpoint and try to find landmarks or a nearby highway where you might be able to find help. If you do decide to keep moving, place markers along the way pointing in the direction you are traveling so that if people are searching for you they know what direction you are traveling. If there is no visibility and you’re not close to any possible help, your best bet is to start building a shelter.
The two easiest way to find shelter is to make a tree line or rock shelter. The base of a large tree like a pine tree, will often have a snow free pocket around the base of the trunk or at least significantly less snow than the surrounding area. Try to dig down as low as possible and use things like pieces of bark or branches to create cover as well as insulate you from the cold ground. If you see any large boulders nearby, they often have natural partial shelters that you can get underneath. Use smaller rocks and boulders to create a windbreak wall on any exposed sides and plug any holes with snow or nearby debris. Staying out of the wind and keeping dry by creating a small pocket of protection like this can mean the difference of like and death.
If these 2 options are not available and there is heavy snow, your best bet is to create a snow cave. Even though snow is cold it can make a great insulator and keep you safe from dangerously low temperatures. Keep in mind that this will take longer to build so start early before it gets dark. Look for a large mound of snow and dig a tunnel about 2 feet in and then hallow out a small area to sit in above it. The main hallowed out area of your shelter should be elevated a foot or two above the tunnel you initially dug for the entrance. This will allow for the coldest air to sink to the floor and the warmest air to be near the top of the shelter where you will be sitting. Try to block the entrance way with a bag or debris to stop any wind from blowing cold air in your shelter. You should also make ventilation holes by using a stick to poke into the snow above.
For the best chances of survival when outdoors always make sure to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. If you go missing, at least you have a chance of help coming to look for you who have a general idea of where you are. Also be prepared before you go anywhere remote and pack extra clothing in case what you’re wearing gets wet and bring a small survival kit that will provide you with some basic tools when you need them most.