“Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” is a well-known adage in disaster-prepping circles, and when it comes to weather conditions, bugging out in the cold presents unique challenges. If you’ve ever lived where the winter brings foul weather then you’ll understand that as things get a little more complicated when it’s both cold AND wet outside, let alone during an evacuation scenario. Nevertheless, the right preparations can make all the difference in the event of a cold-weather SHTF evacuation. Let’s discuss each of the four main preparation areas now…
1. Vehicle-Specific Preps
Just as you would plan to have your bug-out vehicle ready for any SHTF situation, you’ll need one in colder months. A few specific features and modifications can help ensure your car or truck doesn’t leave you stranded or become so stifled by the weather that it’s no longer a viable transportation solution.
If you guessed that a four-wheel drive vehicle is one of these, you’re correct. However, given the uncertainty of a bug-out scenario in the cold, you’ll want to look for something a little bit more robust than your bone-stock Subaru. Ground clearance could be critical in a situation where you have debris on roads or have to drive off-road. Locking differentials are helpful in technical circumstances, and could be useful in deep snow.
Speaking of deep snow, snow tires are a must for any cold-weather bug-out vehicle. They vastly improve grip in snow and are more durable than your standard-issue radial tire, making them less likely to leave you stranded with a flat. A full-sized spare tire is a good idea, too. Most modern cars only have undersized “safety spares” intended to see you through until you can visit a tire shop. Don’t plan on any tire shops coming through when SHTF.
[Editor’s note: Appropriate snow chains would be a viable alternative for most situations.]
Extra fuel is a good idea to carry and, if you’re running a diesel, make sure it’s a recent model with solid cold-weather starting abilities. While large diesel trucks can make effective bug-out vehicles, older diesel engines can stall in the extreme cold if their glow plugs aren’t enough to get the engine running.
Anything made in the last decade should be well past the date of improvements to this technology. Gasoline-powered vehicles are another option. Make sure that whatever you choose is well-maintained and regularly serviced. Carry a full-sized jack and a set of simple tools with you, and if you know of any parts on this vehicle that are prone to failure, it’s a good idea to have an extra or two.
Pack a snow shovel and windshield scraper, so you can clear snow packed around your vehicle and remove ice from your vehicle’s glass too. A propane space heater will go a long way to make your space cozy if you have to live out of the car or in a simple shelter, but ensure you have space to pack fuel. Pack some kitty litter and ice melt, which you can use if your vehicle becomes stuck in ice overnight.
If you still have room in the vehicle, larger power equipment can be very helpful for a SHTF evacuation in your car. Specifically, a chainsaw can clear paths when off-roading and help construct a rudimentary shelter. Finally, include simple signaling equipment, like road triangles and flares, which you can use to attract the attention of nearby help should the need ever arise.
2. Bug-Out Bag
In your bug-out bag, you should have enough food to sustain your family’s nutritional needs for at least three full days. That said, people’s preferences vary when it comes to emergency rations. Dried goods like cereal, nutrition bars and dried fruits and meats work well, as they are compact and safely edible long after you pack them.
Freeze-dried backpacking food is a viable option if you’ll be carrying a camp stove, which you should in any cold-weather situation. Look for watertight packaging, since it’s possible you’ll be getting in and out of a vehicle wet.
Water is always critical, and you should have one gallon per person, per day on hand to satisfy basic needs. Don’t forget extra food and water for pets (among other crucial items) if your furry friends will be joining you. One potential advantage of the cold-weather SHTF situation is that you can boil snow or, better yet, ice to create potable water. You’ll still want to have some means of water purification on hand, but if you are confident you’ll be in a very snowy setting, you can plan to take advantage of the snow as an additional water supply. Make sure you have a water bottle that’s ready to stand up to the elements so you can transport any water wherever you go.
Staying warm is a priority, so don’t be stingy with the hand warmers either since they’re inexpensive and you can use them to warm all sorts of things while you’re in the field.
Medical supplies remain the same as for any bug-out kit. Include a simple first-aid kit as well as any specific medication your family members need. Pack all essential paperwork for the medical supplies, as well as passports and other critical identification records.
3. Cold-Weather Clothing
Dressing correctly in the cold can easily mean the difference between life and death in a SHTF bug out. More frequently, it can mean the difference between being miserable and cold or not, let alone feeling up to the task of navigating the challenges of survival. You don’t need a massive cache of cold-weather gear to survive in an SHTF scenario, but you do need the right stuff, and you need to know how to use it properly.
Rule number one in any cold-weather situation is to layer. If you’ve ever been skiing, you’ve probably heard how important it is to use multiple layers of clothing to trap heat and wick away moisture effectively. Allowing sweat to stay close to your body in a cold-weather survival situation can have dire consequences since moisture can refreeze and keep you from maintaining your core temperature. Proper layering will help you stay warm and eliminate this risk.
Your base layer should be a technical fabric that is soft next to your skin. Wool base layers are a good option as long as they’re not itchy, as are synthetics. Avoid cotton base layers that will breathe well, but won’t wick moisture and, therefore, risk allowing you become cold and clammy at the very least. There are lots of options out there from companies like Smartwool, Exoficcio, Patagonia and The North Face.
For many people, when their feet get cold, they have trouble feeling warm no matter what. Wool socks are a must-have for cold weather, and you should always bring more than you think you’ll need. Best of all is that they will continue to insulate even when wet. Even so, we recommend swapping wet socks out for a new pair if they do get wet. If you’re the type whose hands get cold too, go for some wool glove liners.
Next, wear a mid-layer over your base. Here is where you have the most flexibility and can customize your outfit for the conditions. Comfortable, breathable cotton is pleasant in milder cold weather, but for serious cold, you’ll probably want to stick with synthetics or wool again. Down technical mid-layers are also quite popular for their outstanding insulative qualities and the convenient ability to pack them into a very small space. Just make sure that if you choose a down mid-layer, you keep the insulation dry because down will NOT insulate when wet and is effectively be useless until it dries out.
Many mid-layer tops include temperature-control features like half-zippers that help shed body heat. If you’re wearing base layer top and bottom, you may not need a mid-layer bottom, but it’s a good idea to have in case your jeans or pants don’t provide much insulation.
For your outer layer, wear technical pants and a jacket over your mid-layer clothes. Both pieces should be waterproof. Look for items that use a laminate waterproofing and can handle water at pressure. Many clothing manufacturers treat lightweight technical jackets and pants with durable water repellent, which is excellent for casual use, but will not keep you dry during a prolonged downpour.
Quality footwear, too, is essential in a bug-out situation and for snowy terrain. As such, you’ll want a rugged pair of waterproof boots. Don’t make the mistake of grabbing the first pair you see! Try on several pairs because bad ones can ravage your feet. Choose a well-fitted pair and consider giving them some wear before your SHTF situation to break them in.
Additional goods you’ll want to bring along include:
- A pair of sunglasses or goggles with low-light lenses
- A waterproof and durable set of insulated gloves
- A beanie or warm hat of some kind to trap all the heat that wants to escape your head
- A facemask, which will help keep your mouth and nose from becoming red and chapped in chilly winds
Now, repeat this checklist for the whole family. You might even want to start an REI membership since their discounts will go a long way toward outfitting the entire family.
4. Shelter Considerations
No one wants to have to think about creating shelter in an SHTF situation, but it’s something you should prepare for. We suggest having at least one method of staying warm and dry outside your vehicle. Realistically, if you’re going to be without shelter for a prolonged period, living out of the car is not ideal. It’s also true that eventually, you might not have any more fuel for your vehicle which means you’ll have to make do where you are.
Thus, a high-quality sleeping bag is a must for your cold-weather kit. As with boots, this is one area we recommend splurging a little. Finding out after the fact that your bag doesn’t keep you warm at night will make for a miserable and cold night. Fortunately, you can use a waterproof bivouac to keep the weather off without compromising the bag’s breathability. We recommend down insulation, since the bag’s waterproof exterior should keep the baffled down nice and dry inside. Plus, the ability to crush your sleeping bag into a tiny ball will help if you have to travel on foot.
A four-season tent with arrangements for a camp stove is the ideal solution for a cold-weather survival camp. Most of what you’ll see at stores are three-season shelters, which will have weaker pole structures and less weatherproofing. After purchase, learn how to setup the tent and properly use your camp stove to heat water and prepare food by taking your new equipment on a few camping outings.
If you can’t fit a tent or just don’t want to, consider including a tarp and laminated nylon fabric to make a windbreak. You can use hiking poles as structure and rig a basic shelter that will keep rain and wind off your back, creating an all-important space to make a fire.
Now You’re Ready… Well, Almost
Do you best to keep all of the above equipment already in your vehicle–especially during the winter months–so that you’re ready to go at a moment’s notice. Of course, these items may well take up quite a bit of space, so you’ll have to consider precisely how to pack it all or, at the very least, have it ready to be tossed in at the last moment. That said, I would encourage you to keep your bug out bag in your vehicle along with some extra winter clothing as noted above so that you can evacuate immediately, if you must. Then add the rest of the gear and supplies (e.g., tent, extra gasoline, chainsaw, etc.) before you leave.
Even the best-prepared people can’t control for every scenario. All you can do is to choose quality equipment, have a knowledge of how to use it, and be ready to do so if/when SHTF. Remember, you’re not alone. There are scores of like-minded people who have probably tried out that piece of equipment or who can lend some experience in rigging shelter or outfitting your specific make and model of truck for cold-weather use. Lean on your community!
Have you got a tip about how to survive in the cold? Share it with us in the comments section below. Stay ready and stay safe!
[Note: This was a guest post.]