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Cold weather/winter survival shelter
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wiiawiwb wiiawiwb
(wiiawiwb) - F
Cold weather/winter survival shelter on 12/20/2013 21:10:00 MST Print View

The question is what should I carry in my backpack when I day hike in very cold weather (sub-freezing) and find myself unexpectedly having to survive for an overnight, or two, for whatever reason.

One option would be to carry a lightweight tent. You can set up a tent and protect yourself from the elements. The problem is how do I stay warm. Since it's a day hike I'm not carrying a winter sleeping bag and pad. I can build a fire but will it keep me warm in the tent?

Another option would be to carry a space blanket and 2 mil plastic and know how to create a "super shelter" as described by Dave Canterbury of DS notoriety.

I'm convinced that I would fare much better with the super shelter as I would likely stay much warmer and less likely to suffer from the effects of the cold. The 2 mil plastic sheet and reflective space blanket will not weight a lot so it would not be overly burdensome.


Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Cold weather/winter survival shelter on 12/20/2013 21:11:51 MST Print View

Those super shelters are insanely warm. With a big enough fire you could survive sub zero temps in only your clothes.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: Cold weather/winter survival shelter on 12/20/2013 21:56:00 MST Print View

Casual Observations after watching the video -

If the ground is frozen you can't drive stakes.
If you are exposed to wind, I think you'll be SOL.
How do you tend the fire if you're buttoned up in the shelter?
You won't find loose leaves at 10,000' in south central Colorado in the winter.

I assume if I'm out overnight, I'm injured and/or somewhat incapacitated.

For cold weather day hikes in the winter I take a full length CCF pad, a 2 person SOL Bivy bag, and about 1000 calories of food. I always have a EPLB. Occasionally I'll take a modified JetBoil kit and another 1000 calories of food.

I would flatten a platform next to a tree, hunker, eat, and wait.

Edited by greg23 on 12/20/2013 22:06:40 MST.

josh wagner
(StainlessSteel) - F
heavy on 12/20/2013 21:57:57 MST Print View

a hatchet

wiiawiwb wiiawiwb
(wiiawiwb) - F
In the Super Shelter on 12/20/2013 22:05:13 MST Print View

You're not buttoned up in the shelter. You lift the side that faces the fire, add some firewood and drop the side back down.

I don't hike in Colorado and have no interest being at 10,000' so that would never be an issue.

Edited by wiiawiwb on 12/20/2013 22:08:29 MST.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Cold weather/winter survival shelter on 12/20/2013 22:06:12 MST Print View

It depends on whether you are in deep snow or not.

If you have more than a few feet of snow, you are best off digging a trench in the snow that is a bit larger than your body. Just a bit of plastic tarp and a tree branch over the top can be covered in snow to make it insulate a little. Then you can get through the night alive, assuming that you've got some good clothing on. You won't be cozy, but alive.

Snow is a good insulator, but you need to leave an air gap between your body and the snow. Otherwise, the snow melts and the water gets your clothing wet, which makes you feel much colder. Besides, below the snow surface like that you will get out of most wind.

You can do this with even less snow depth, but it requires more preparation. You have to heap up the snow first. It is for this reason why some kind of digging tool is nice to have. It may not be much more than a Sierra cup, but that is a start.

Whenever I go cross country skiing for the first time each year, I ski out to some spot a mile from the road, and I build a tiny fire. All I allow myself is one butane lighter and all of the dry material I can find in the woods. I can scoop up snow in my Sierra cup, and I melt the snow over the tiny fire. Once the water is hot, my test is complete. I know that as long as I can make hot water to drink, I won't die of hypothermia.


Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
_ on 12/20/2013 22:45:44 MST Print View

IMO it is worthwhile to experiment and learn to improvise a supershelter. It is a powerful tool if you're in an area with a good fuel supply. I was taught how and that night the low was in the mid 20s (degF). It was so warm in the supershelter I could only wear my shorts and T-shirt; anything more was uncomfortably warm. I slept well.

Make a longfire that is parallel to the shelter and in line with the prevailing wind. Once the fire is well established, you only need to add wood every few hours. You still have to improvise ground insulation. I used pine needles. Plus even on dayhikes I carry a torso length 1/8" foam pad and it is a nice addition to an improvised bivy situation.

There are a lot of examples of supershelters on the internet but IMO you have to focus on the "quickie" designs. Some of the bushcraft guys turn their supershelters into major Lincoln Log projects that take too much time and energy to mess with at the end of a long day.

hwc 1954
Bothy on 12/20/2013 23:15:10 MST Print View

I just picked up a RAB/Integral Designs Bothy 2. 11 ounces, stuffs into it's own self contained stuff sack. Waterproof shelter. One or two people can sit in it. Can be supported with a trekking pole or just your head. I hope I carry it for years and never have to use it -- unless it's to sit and enjoy a snack during a passing shower.

Edited by wcollings on 12/20/2013 23:16:54 MST.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Cold weather/winter survival shelter on 12/20/2013 23:27:55 MST Print View

My first year living in Alaska, I found the bottom of my fun meter was -15F. Going skiing, hiking around, was all fine at -15F, in little wind. I was happy, the dog was happy.

But at -20F and certainly at -25F, it wasn't just a day ski or a day hike, it was a mini-expedition. If I went in just my skiing clothes, 1) I needed one more layer, but more so 2) I starting thinking, if I twist an ankle or somehow get stuck just 3 miles from the house, I'm screwed.

In my maritime climate, it can't be really cold AND windy, so the wind chill can't below -40.

If I'm wearing enough layers to not melt snow, insulation from the ground isn't so critical. If more lightly dressed or there is only frozen ground, an insulating pad would be my first bit of gear.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Cold weather/winter survival shelter on 12/20/2013 23:31:13 MST Print View

I would carry a wind-resistant tent and sleep system appropriate to the season. If you own the gear, the only thing stopping you is the weight--- and we have that fixed, DON'T WE :) Freezing to death sucks!

For 3-season day hiking CYA, I carry a poncho and line, space blanket bivy and extra clothing to the season. I always have redundant fire starting methods and a knife.

I see the improvised shelter techniques as being very valuable to know, but having appropriate equipment is much better.

Most survival systems are designed to be light, cheap and compact, as for aircraft or other vehicle use or disaster preparedness. In other words, better than nothing at all. Even a light 3-season sleeping bag and pad in a true shelter will be better than any survival type setup. I would assume that you would have ample clothing to use with the bag. We're talking maybe 4 pounds for just run of the mill UL gear, let alone SUL.

The super shelter really isn't any different than a tube tent. I would rather have a silnylon or Cuben tarp and a pad. The lightest 8x10 blue poly tarp would be better than the video example. What he had rigged in the video wouldn't last in moderate winds, let alone a storm.

Keep in mind that if you are stuck out overnight, it may be due to injury and it takes a lot work to rig an improvised shelter, gather firewood, etc. Last Winter a hiker was stranded on Mt. Hood and was able to start a fire, but couldn't move enough to gather fuel to keep it going. If you are hosed so bad that you can't fully rig your shelter, you can still crawl in your bag and wrap the shelter over you. Not the best night, but you'll be alive to see the dawn :)

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Cold weather/winter survival shelter on 12/21/2013 01:24:21 MST Print View

Often viewing those "survival" clips IF comes to mind.
So for example the super shelter could work IF you have a few long enough, straight enough and of the right size branches.
Then you need duff. Maybe that is abundant where you are but not so much in other places.
Then you need to be able to start a fire with possibly wet or iced up wood.
Ever tried to do that ?
This of course is assuming that you are not incapacitated and not too tired.
Now at the start of the Part 2 clip you see a nice wall of 5-6" thick logs at the back of the fire.
How exactly are you going to cut those with your day emergency kit ?
Later the guy mentions that it can be 90f inside that super shelter so you should not get in and out to feed the fire but someone else will do that for you. great ..( take a camera crew with you)
How about lifting the bottom of that plastic shelter wall so that it isn't 90f inside ?

Edited by Franco on 12/21/2013 04:20:39 MST.

wiiawiwb wiiawiwb
(wiiawiwb) - F
warmth on 12/21/2013 08:40:53 MST Print View

In my case, I'll be carrying a PLB in winter so if I've become horribly injured and can't move I'm calling in the cavalry. My initial thought for starting this thread is in a scenario where I turn an ankle or become off trail and realize I'll be staying the night. I'm still able to move about to take survival measures.

Three seasons a year I am fine with what I carry and could easily survive without any problem. In 40F weather it's one thing. In 10F weather, it's a horse of a different color. My concern is staying warm.

A tent is nice but I don't think it will keep me warm. I'd be doing a day hike so I would never carry in a sleeping bag, bivy, pad, or the like. I think the super shelter for warmth works for me.

Greg's point is well taken about the leaves and is a good one. I'm confident I could improvise and come up with something to sit on in the shelter during the night.

Daryl and Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
Re: Cold weather/winter survival shelter on 12/21/2013 09:27:00 MST Print View


I would choose to and do carry a myog double wall, all fabric inner, one person tent in anticipation of an unexpected night in the woods, for the reasons listed below:

(1) The tent gives me a dry wind free shelter in 5 minutes.
(2) The temps in the tent are 10-25 degrees F warmer than outside, depending on how much I move around within the tent. Not warm enough to sleep for long but warm enough to get through the night.
(3) The complete tent (tent, fly, poles, stakes) is under 1.5 lbs.

The materials in the shelter video (tarp, space blanket, garbage bag) look like they weight 2 lbs or more, would take longer to set up and would be dependent upon finding suitable materials. So if I'm going to plan ahead for this unplanned event I'm sticking with the tent option.

If I have to spend the night, don't have a shelter, am physically able and the natural materials are available I'd probably make a debris shelter.

If a fire was easy to start and maintain I'd start one. If I was in a Pacific Northwest wet winter with soaked and scarce wood I'm not so sure. Starting and building up a large reliable all night fire in that environment takes several hours and some daylight to be successful.

I also carry extra dry clothes and a closed cell sleeping pad.

Ryan Bressler
(ryanbressler) - F
Re: Cold weather/winter survival shelter on 12/21/2013 09:56:24 MST Print View

Even with a beacon or phone I think you should be prepared to sit tight as SAR may not be able to get to you/find you due to weather/avalanche conditions etc.

I grew up and learned to hike in the Olympic Mountains of PNW and for that climate I'd go with a Bothy, synthetic belay coat, pack you can sit on and a friend. I've never had to use this system overnight but have enjoyed it at lunch stops and heard from people who have spent the night out (apparently reversing the sack and shaking out condensation frost every few hours is a good idea).

Zip on synthetic pants would be a nice addition.

For above treeline/deeper snowpack/bigger storms knowing how to make a trench shelter (one of the quicker snow shelters especially if you have skis and/or poles to use as roof frame) seems like a good idea. A bothy or tarp could be used either as a bivy or as part of the roof in conjunction with such a shelter:

I usually have some basic fire starting stuff though I don't like planing on using it. I'm now in Montana where dry fuel is much easier to find (and down makes sense instead of synthetic) but if the snow is deep enough you'd have to either dig down to the ground or bring (or sacrifice a shovel blade) as a fire pan.

I'm still experimenting with the lightest way to melt snow but a jetboil and proper technique for cold weather works well. I dream about some sort of handwarmer like chemical warmth packet I can put next to a water bladder but when i've tried this it doesn't work.

Delmar O'Donnell

Locale: Between Jacinto & Gorgonio
Pneumonia? on 12/21/2013 10:26:14 MST Print View

The instructor in the video said that repeatedly going from the warm shelter to the cold outdoors could cause pneumonia, whereas just staying "comfortably cold" was less of a risk.

Is this true?? Does alternating warm/cold actually cause pneumonia?

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Pneumonia? on 12/21/2013 10:49:04 MST Print View

At least it is reviewed by an M.D., supposedly.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Pneumonia? on 12/21/2013 11:11:10 MST Print View

"Is this true?? Does alternating warm/cold actually cause pneumonia?"

If that was the case, every delivery driver in the northern US and Canada would be dead by February. :)

Lapsley Hope
pneumonia on 12/21/2013 11:17:15 MST Print View

Would most definitely NOT be caused by going from warm to cold or vice versa. If some instructor said that then I would question the wisdom of any other advice he might have.

Daryl and Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
Debris Hut on 12/21/2013 11:34:40 MST Print View

debris hut

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Debris Hut on 12/21/2013 11:38:14 MST Print View

A debris hut can only go so far, if it's cold enough and you don't have enough clothing, you NEED a fire. A debris hut with an open end and a fire just outside of it is super warm though.