“But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter…” –Matthew 24:20
It is the prepper’s sum of all fears: a cold weather winter bugout. Heading for the hills in reasonably comfortable weather will be difficult enough, but add the threat of hypothermia, frostbite and the mental strain of freezing temperatures – and that could be a recipe for disaster.
In the old days, winter was often associated with a mortal struggle. Making it to the warmth of the spring alive was cause for celebration. However, in the 21st century, we merely associate winter with the nagging task of shoveling off the driveway. In the event of societal collapse, we may one day find ourselves dealing once again with the unmerciful harshness of winter and the mortal challenges it puts against us.
Though, unlike the old days, we still have a few advantages… Gore-Tex, Polypro and WetFire, just to name a few.
System #1: Cold Weather Apparel
One of the worst parts of winter’s unpredictability is that on one day the temperature may be in the 50’s, but the next may be below freezing. This issue essentially requires a system that can adapt, instead depending on one or two items for keeping warm. The key is to use layering, rather than simply throwing on a thick coat.
In addition, the presence of moisture is a major driver of hypothermia, as water is a heat-sapping conductor. This means, you need to keep sweat management and waterproofing as a major priority. Frankly, it’s best to stay far, far away from anything made of cotton.
The advantage to 3-in-1 cold weather jacket systems is that they will keep you comfortable in temps from the teens to the sixties, depending how well you’ve layered. The name of the game is ‘adaptation.’ Essentially, the system is composed of a wind and waterproof shell and a warm fleece, which are detachable.
Often the problem with gloves is the lack of warmth in each finger and the loss of dexterity. Glomitts are fantastic, because mittens are usually the warmest configuration for hand cover, yet you can easily remove the material when performing tasks like tying your bootlaces. Just make sure that you find waterproof glomitts, because you do not want your hands to get wet.
Wearing materials that can soak up water is definitely a bad idea, but you don’t necessarily want insulated pants. Through layering, you can achieve the same insulating properties, while maintaining the ability to shed a layer when it gets warmer, or your body temperature rises because you’re working harder.
SmartWool & Polypropylene Base Layer
Having a polypro base layer will keep you insulated and sweat-free, as it is a material that will wick away moisture. Also, having SmartWool socks are excellent in that if your feet begin to sweat, this material will maintain its insulating properties even if your feet are a little wet (which is often nearly impossible to avoid).
Boots & Gaiters
Keeping outside moisture out of your boots is crucial. While you might be able to double-up on socks, nothing will chill your feet faster than getting freezing snow or cold water in your boots… even if you’re wearing SmartWool. Waterproof gaiters will protect your legs all the way to your thighs, keeping out the snow. Also remember, Gore-Tex and Thinsulate are your friends.
Hats & Scarves
The scalp and ears are the places that dissipate the most body heat, meaning that if you cover them with a warm hat, then the heat retention will be quite noticeable. A wool or polypro beanie or scarf will do wonders for keeping warm.
Freezing temperature isn’t the only danger during a rough winter. Snow blindness can become a real problem if too much time is spent exposed to the sun’s glare off the white snow. A tinted pair of UV-protective glasses or goggles is highly recommended.
System #2: Winter Gear
Your winter gear will not only allow you to keep warm in addition to your apparel system, but it will also enable you to harness your surroundings, overcome winter challenges and even capitalize on its advantages. Here are several items that will set you up for success and survival in a winter bugout scenario.
Knowing the exact temperature can be important, especially for when it’s flirting with that freezing mark. Determining if rain, ice or snow is on the way will influence your decisions on where, when and how you pitch camp and travel. In addition, knowing your own body temp is of huge medical importance.
Covering any distance over a foot-thick blanket of snow is a disheartening task without snowshoes. If you’re traveling by foot with a long way to go and a short time to get there, snowshoes will provide an indispensable advantage.
If you’ve ever read To Build a Fire by Jack London, you don’t want to be stuck with only matches. You absolutely need a foolproof way to start fire without fail every time. Using a ferro-rod and WetFire is a fantastic option for when you absolutely, positively need a fire at a moment’s notice.
Cold Weather Sleeping System
A good night’s sleep is essential for mental strength, awareness and effective decision-making. Also, because it usually gets coldest at night, your ability to stay warm while sleeping is crucial. Finding an unissued 4-piece Gore-Tex military surplus sleep system will keep you quite warm, dry and comfy when the sun goes down.
Space blanket tarps are an essential pack item, and they do an excellent job of heat reflection. There aren’t many tarp shelter options that are designed to bounce your own body heat, not to mention heat from your fire, directly back towards you. It’s a material that has saved lives, and could save yours as well.
Believe it or not, solar panels actually become more efficient in the snow, because they absorb the sun’s energy from both the sky and the white glare on the ground. For this reason, not only should you harness solar power for your retreat, but if you have a small solar panel attached to your pack, you can even charge batteries while on the trail.
Winter is when disease spreads the fastest, as the cold weakens the immune system. Be sure to bring cold medicine and vitamins to help keep sickness at bay during the winter months.
Hatchet & Folding Saw
You must have a way of processing wood and building shelter. Having the right tools for the job will make life much easier and your work more effective. A folding saw will be able to cut through coniferous bows like butter, and a hatchet is necessary for splitting and processing firewood. With these two tools, you can also build anything from a quickie lean-to shelter to a makeshift log cabin.
In addition, packing tarred mariner’s line and duct tape are materials that could help repair clothing, construct shelter and even rig a pair of improvised snow shoes. While a winter bugout might produce additional challenges – it’s nothing that cannot be beaten, especially with the right gear and preps beforehand.