Beautiful and isolated, Northern Michigan has been a “home away from home” for many, sportsmen, movie stars, poets, writers, filmmakers, inventors, politicians and other gangsters looking to escape trouble.
My Son Wyatt and I had a great time there with our friend Mike Stamm. As we walked the majestic landscape my mind turned toward the months I used to spend out in the cold hunting, snow shoeing and camping. So I thought I would pass along a few tips if you are going to brave the cold this winter enjoying what most people never get to see.
Even with the most careful planning and preparation there is always a greater risk to your life when you are out in the extreme cold or heat. Of course, getting lost or having an accident is always a possibility, but extreme weather makes either of these a more life threatening situation.
Hypothermia is the single biggest danger for people who enjoy the outdoors in the winter months, killing far more people than accidents or wild animals.
Poor planning and not thinking on the trail leads to getting cold and cold can lead to all kinds of injuries including death.
Staying warm is about staying insulated. You want the air near your skin to stay warm but not so warm you start to sweat. That is why you should always wear layers of clothing that can be easily put on, taken off and or unzipped to adjust your internal and external temperature. Having only one outside layer can cause you real trouble. If it gets wet or damaged or the weather changes you may find yourself in a situation that is more than just mere discomfort.
If your trip turns into a survival situation, staying insulated also means you should immediately look for a way to create more insulation and find or build shelter. Keep yourself off the ground and out of the wind even if you have a warm fire going the ground and wind will suck the heat right out of your body.
I remember starting a roaring campfire and my feet were still frozen, even though the rest of my body was scorched. That was until I was smart enough to stand on something to get my feet off the ground. Which brings me to another point; warming one part of the body does not keep the whole thing warm. Just because your hands are warm does not mean you will not get frost bite on your feet.
When sleeping out in the cold weather the same is true, your sleeping bag should be elevated by a pile of leaves or bows. If you are stuck and have no sleeping bag stuff your jacket with the fluff from cattail, dry leaves or grass it increase the insulation value of your clothing. Take shelter and start a fire if possible.
You can make a fire bed to sleep on if conditions are perfect, they never have been for me. To build a fire bed you have to have the tools to do so, and the ground has to be, or you have to thaw the ground to dig the trench to build the fire. Whenever I thought it would be a good Idea the ground was so frozen you could not blast a hole in it with dynamite. It would have taken me a whole day to thaw the ground by building a fire on it. So for me it has always been better to cut brush or kick leaves into a pile to sleep on with a fire in front of me.
Watch the weather and take a rain poncho. I have been out when it was below zero when I started my trek, and by noon it was raining, only to freeze again. Just like in the summer when the rain starts take shelter, and prepare to stay a while. Being soaked to the bone followed by a freeze will kill you faster than a bullet and you will a lot more miserable in the process of dying. If you get wet for some reason dry off as quickly as possible, or keep moving as quickly as possible back to safety. Strip the wet clothes off immediately and get on something dry or in front of a heat source and allow your clothing to dry completely before putting them back on.
The other danger when you get freezing rain while you are in the woods is huge trees and limbs begin to fall. They are large enough to squash you like a bug. Keep this in mind when finding or making shelter. I personally knew people who were killed in this way.
Visibility is always an issue in foul weather. Sometimes an easy hike on a beautiful day turns into a white out or foggy mess. In these conditions it is very easy to get lost by making a wrong turn. Depending on your location it is better to stay put then to try and blindly navigate your way out.
Drink fluids and eat. Dehydration and hunger can cause a drop in body temperature and take you out just as fast as the heat will in the desert. Besides it is one of the few times high fat delicious foods are good for you.
Although you need fluids avoid walking on frozen lakes or rivers if you have a choice. The last thing you need is to take a plunge into arctic cold waters out in the middle of nowhere.
Don’t use cotton clothes in winter they get wet easily and then don’t insulate well. When cotton gets cold it stays cold. I prefer wool, even if wool gets wet it stays warm. Today I use a combination of wool and synthetics.
As you are moving through an area take mental notes of things you may be able to use in an emergency like natural shelters, water sources, natural insulation , and tinder? Basically anything that you can use to make your situation more manageable.
Have more than one way to start a fire with you, and keep plenty of dry tinder in your pocket or kit. When you are cold and wet that is not the time to look for it. Learn to make a fire in cold wet conditions, and be well practiced before you go. It can save your or someone else life.
Copyright © 2010 by Steven L. Doran All rights reserved under international and Pan-American copyright conventions. No part of this article may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means without written permission from the author Steven L. Doran.