The Ultimate Winter Survival Guide

“It’s a jungle out there” refers to not just a tropical jungle but a dense forest or even tough city streets. Winter brings cold temperatures, blowing winds, dangerous ice storms, blinding snow, and power outages.

To survive whatever is ahead, you have to include the unexpected in cold winter weather. What do you do when “it’s winter out there” and you’re stuck in it?

You cannot prepare for all the possible things that could happen but you can do your best to make sure you are equipped to handle extreme cold weather no matter what happens. Being stranded without supplies for an extended time can be fatal and results of prolonged exposure to weather can lead to hypothermia or frostbite and cause permanent damage or even death.

frozen water on tree branch


Hypothermia results if heat is lost quicker than it is being produced. Stored energy in your body is consumed, making you disoriented and unable to move normally. Although more common in extreme cold weather, it can occur in weather above forty degrees Fahrenheit if a person is immersed in cold water or is chilled due to sweat or wet weather.

Symptoms of Hypothermia:

  • Involuntary shivering
  • Disorientation
  • altered speech
  • loss of memory
  • drowsiness or fatigue
  • In babies, watch for lethargy and unusually cold skin that is bright red.

What to Do:

  • For any person with a body temperature under 95 degrees Fahrenheit, get to a hospital quickly.
  • If medical attention is unavailable, seek shelter and remove damp clothing.
  • Use skin to skin contact under loosely layered blankets, sheets, towels or even clothes to warm the victim’s chest, head, neck, and groin first.
  • Give warm liquids but no alcohol.

Someone with a serious episode of hypothermia may appear dead. It is still possible to resuscitate, begin CPR while warming the victim and continue until the victim is revived or medical help arrives.


Exposure to cold can result in a loss of color and numbness in your fingers and toes as well as other exposed skin such as ears, cheeks, nose and chin. This is known as frost-nip, a more severe form of frostbite. Severe frostbite can result in amputation. Those at greater risk include anyone with poor blood circulation or anyone not dressed properly.

Symptoms of Frostbite:

  • Red skin
  • Tingling
  • Pain in fingers, toes, or other areas
  • Skin with abnormally waxy feel to it
  • Skin turning white or even grayish-yellow means trouble

What to Do:

  • If medical attention is not available, get the victim out of the elements quickly.
  • Avoid walking on feet or toes that are potentially frostbitten, it can exacerbate damage.
  • If no signs of hypothermia are present, immerse affected areas in lukewarm water.
  • Avoid rubbing affected areas which can cause more damage.
  • Make use of body heat by placing frostbitten fingers under an armpit.
  • Avoid using the heat of a stove or heat lamp, frostbitten parts are numb and severe burns can result.

Tips on How to Dress Properly to Stay Warm

When you visit an external link on this page and then make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Read my full advertising disclosure here.

  • Wear wool gloves, socks, and appropriate boots to protect fingers and toes.
  • Cover as much skin as possible when out in the weather.
  • It’s better to dress in layers of clothing instead of a heavy coat because air trapped between layers helps to insulate.
  • A bottom layer against your skin that has “wicking” properties will keep skin drier. Layers are less bulky and allow you to move easier.
  • When layering fabrics, stay away from cotton. Choose wool, fleece, down or synthetic fabrics which are better insulators.
  • Your mother’s nagging advice “to wear a hat” is spot on advice. Almost half of your body heat can be lost through your head so a good warm hat is a must have in cold weather.

Car Tips and Tricks for Winter Survival

Tips for Winter Driving and Traveling

  • Ensure your vehicle is in good operating condition.
  • Fill your gas tank frequently, never letting it get to less than halfway full.
  • Put together a cold weather survival kit to store in your car.
  • Know your route and always inform a friend or family member of your destination and the route you intend to take.
  • Update them along the way if any change in route occur due to detours, etc.

Car Kit Checklist for Winter Survival

Your odds of survival if you are stranded in your car during extreme cold or a winter snow storm by putting together a cold weather survival kit for your car. Although the trunk of the car seems logical, it’s better to store your kit inside your vehicle. In extreme cold weather, your trunk could freeze shut and prevent you from accessing your kit.

  • 4 extra blankets or a cold weather rated sleeping bag for each person
  • Extra clothes, hats, socks, gloves for each person
  • First-aid kit and any needed medications
  • Hand crank radio or battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • Food including water, energy bars, raisins, mini candy bars, MRE’s or pemmican
  • 3-5 gallons of extra fuel for your car or to aid another stranded driver or to make a quick fire
  • tow chain in case you get stuck or rope to use as a guide if you have to leave vehicle
  • Jumper cables in case of dead battery
  • emergency flares, colorful ribbon or fluorescent flag for signaling you are in distress
  • Folding shovel, bag of gravel or sand, cat litter, or road salt if you are stuck in snow
  • Snow chains for traction in heavy snow and ice
  • Mugs of stainless steel, metal utensils, can opener
  • book or deck of cards along with paper and a marker or pen.
  • Hand crank flashlight or flashlight and batteries
  • pocket knife (here are some survival knife uses)
  • waterproof matches and candles
  • Window scraper and snow brush or small broom

If Stranded in Your Car:

  • Remain in your car if it is in a safe location, it will provide additional protection from exposure to the cold weather. Your vehicle is easier to locate in the snow than you are when walking through snow.
  • Ensure the tailpipe of the car is free of any snow to reduce the likelihood of carbon monoxide and other harmful fumes building up.
  • Roll the window down a little bit to let fresh air circulate.
  • Typically idling your vehicle fifteen to twenty minutes with heat on and then turn vehicle off for a half hour will help to stretch the gas in your tank a lot longer.
  • Once snow quits falling, lift the hood of the vehicle to let people know you need help.
  • If there are multiple people in your group, everyone should move to the rear seat and huddle to share body heat.
  • If you have an extra coat, blankets, or any other type of material in your vehicle, use it to wrap yourself and others up to retain body heat.
  • Avoid eating big meals. Any food you may have should be rationed out so it will last as long as possible.
  • Eating frozen snow can actually be detrimental to your body. It’s much better to melt the snow when possible so you can drink it.
  • Move around at least every hour. Anything will work including feet stomping, hand clapping, or just wiggling.
  • If you must leave the vehicle, be sure to take any useful materials with you. A blanket, plastic tarp or other fabric can be used to construct temporary shelter. If that isn’t practical, look for a cave or an overhanging ledge to get in out of the elements. If snow is deep, consider building a quinzhee or snow pit around a tree trunk.

To Get Your Car Out of Deep Snow:

• Clear all snow and ice from the top of your car and remove as much snow and ice as you can from around the tires. Apply snow chains if you have them available.
• Pour kitty litter, gravel, sand, or rock salt in front of and behind each tire.
• Start with tires straight and attempt to pull out slow and steady in first gear. If tires spin, stop and try turning wheels right or left and attempt again.
• If you cannot simply pull out forward, try “rocking” the car by going smoothly from reverse to first gear until the car begins to rock back and forth.

Prepare Your Home for Winter Weather

If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow or gets below freezing, dealing with extreme cold weather doesn’t only happen when you are out on the road or during a ski trip. There are a number of winterization things you can do around your home to not only reduce your heating bills but also make your home a better refuge in the case of an extended power outage.

Air Leaks

Identify any air leaks throughout your home by lighting an incense stick next to any place in your home that may be drafty. Smoke that travels in a horizontal pattern indicates an air leak. Check for air leaks around windows and doors but also around plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, ceiling lights, and attic hatches or roof eaves.
Leaky windows and doors can be sealed using weather-stripping or caulk and/or plastic window film that shrinks to fit. Special black-out curtains which are heavier and lined can also help. Air follows the easiest way out, so larger gaps such as those along baseboards and around windows or doors, should be a priority.

Preventative Home Maintenance

It’s crucial to maintain your primary heating system in good working order so you can depend on it through the winter. It’s also a good idea to identify a secondary source of heat that isn’t power dependent in case of power outages. The more you prepare now, the more easily you will be able to keep your family safe and warm during cold winters.

Get into the habit of replacing batteries in smoke detectors at least once per year prior to the onset of cold weather. Carbon monoxide poisoning is more common during winter weather when homes are sealed tight so a carbon monoxide detector will serve to alert you to any dangerous fumes. Purchase an extra space heater as well as a camp stove, candles, and oil lamps.

A fireplace is a good secondary source of heat for your home and for cooking during power outages. Ensure your food stockpile includes items that can be eaten as is if needed. Store plenty of water in case you cannot access your home’s water system. Keep one set of warm clothing including hat, gloves and blanket stored so they are clean and ready for use quickly.

Wrap water pipes with heat tape to prevent water lines freezing. Keep supplies for snow removal at the ready including ice scrapers, rock salt or ashes for melting ice, and a sturdy snow shovel. Fragile plants should be brought indoors, lawn care equipment and patio furniture cushions put away, and swimming pools emptied.

small non-folding shovel
I love my Fiskars shovel. It’s not a folder, so it’s sturdier and less likely to break.

Avalanche Survival

If you are unlucky enough to witness an avalanche, there are some things to remember that can increase the chances of a positive outcome. Avalanches occur because heavier, denser snow falls from late December into early January. Thicker chunks of snow layer over weaker “sugar snow” that coated the ground in the months before and are easily dislodged.

Always Carry Avalanche Emergency Equipment:

  • A receiver-emits a beacon to indicate where you are buried.
  • A probe-can be used to find a buried person and begin digging them out.
  • Wear a whistle on your neck or securely attached on your chest so you can use it to signal rescuers if buried.
  • Small shovel-utilized to dig snow away from your face to form an air pocket.
  • Helmet-protects your head from the initial force of snow which knocks you off your feet.
  • Skier’s air bag-these are used to keep you up toward the snow’s surface and prevent you from being buried.

Additional Safety Tips Regarding Avalanches:

  • Travel on the windward side of ridge tops but not never the edge of the ridge where you could slip or be blown off.
  • If moving along the ridges is not practical, go through the valley to get out but stay as far as possible from the lower part of the slopes where falling snow could land.
  • Always carry a lightweight pack with you, that contains a folding shovel and other emergency equipment.
  • If you see or hear the avalanche begin, find shelter behind a large stationary object such as a truck, a large boulder, or tree.

If you witness an avalanche overtake someone:

  • Keep your eyes on the victim and try not to look away.
  • If the person completely disappears from view, keep your eyes trained on the spot where you last saw them. As soon as you can get to it, mark that spot for rescuers.
  • Don’t approach the area too soon, it takes about 60 seconds or so for the moving snow to settle after it appears to stop.
  • Have a second person keep watch if the snow in the area seems unstable or if another avalanche seems likely.
  • Determine the area of deepest snow where you last saw the victim and search that area first.

Before going for help:

  • An avalanche victim has about a 50/50 chance of surviving one hour of being buried.
  • Carefully estimate the time it will take for you to seek help, as well as the time for them to get back to the victim.
  • Only leave the trapped victim to get help if you are absolutely sure you can reach help within a few minutes.
  • Make note of the time the avalanche occurred, the specific spot where the victim was last seen, any road or trail that would provide the nearest way in to the area, how many people might be buried and the immediate weather conditions.
  • Make sure to clearly mark the route to the spot where you last saw the victim so rescuers can find their way to it quickly.

If You Are Caught Up in an Avalanche:

Victims found within 15 minutes of being buried have reasonable chance of survival. This means your goal if you are caught up in an avalanche is to first of all stay alive until it stops and secondly, make it as easy as possible for rescuers to find you quickly.

  • Hold on to your backpack and transceiver or beacon if you can.
  • Let go of ski equipment such as poles and skis which can pull you down and allow for more forcible twist on your arms and legs resulting in a greater chance of broken bones.
  • Try to get as far away from your snowmobile if you are thrown from it so it doesn’t hit you and cause you more injury.
  • If possible, reach out for and grab a nearby tree to pull yourself out of the path of the snow.
  • While the avalanche is moving, attempt to keep one arm up in the air. This makes you more visible to anyone trying to locate you and may help you know which way is up when you try to dig out later.
  • Release a glove or something else lightweight as the snow slows to help rescuers locate you.
  • Put your arm across your face to keep snow from getting into your nose and mouth and cup your mouth with one hand to form an air pocket.
  • Before the snow settles, inhale as deep as you can and hold it for several seconds. Doing this expands your chest so when the snow hardens around you, there will be some room for you to continue breathing.
  • Dig as much of the snow away from your face as you can. If you can create a bigger air pocket, it will provide at least ½ hour or so of air to let you breathe until help can arrive to dig you out.
  • Thrust your arms as if you are swimming to help push your way toward the top of the avalanche.
  • Determining which way is up once the snow stops may be difficult. Look for and dig toward any light or in the direction that your breath rises.
  • The snow will settle quickly so as soon as it stops, push any parts of your body up through the snow to allow rescuers to see your location better.
  • Attempt to dig yourself out if you can if you can do so without caving in your air pocket.
  • To prolong available oxygen, breath slowly and stay calm. Only call out when you sense rescuers are in the area.
  • Remember rescue dogs use their nose to help them locate. The odor of urine can be an additional way for you to be found if you are buried too deep to be visible from the surface.

SHTF Winter Survival

If you prepared well, your home may be a refuge during cold weather in a SHTF scenario such as a volcanic eruption or a nuclear “cold” period. Keep in mind that these types of scenarios over time have a long lasting negative effect on the economy. Make sure your supplies or your BOB include these items:

  • Metallic cup or canteen for boiling water and soup
  • Compass and whistle
  • Bandana
  • First aid kit
  • Warm clothes, hats, socks, etc.
  • Several ways to start fire
  • Snow goggles, gloves, hat
  • Signal method—mirror, flares, bright colored duct tape or tarp
  • Pemmican or other fatty foods

A winter weather SHTF scenario means it’s less likely that people will travel long distances to raid for supplies, but makes simple things like cooking outside more difficult. Even if you have stockpiled well, you will eventually have to leave your shelter to hunt for food or to get water.

Always mark your trail so you can find your way back, your footprints can be erased by blowing snow. It also gets dark earlier in the winter in most locations so plan your trips wisely to avoid being stranded outside at night when temperatures drop further.


If staying in your home is not practical, you will have to build a shelter. If deep snow will last for a long period, consider an igloo or here’s how to make a quinzhee:

Survival- How to Build a Quinzee / Snow Hut

Purify Water from Melted Snow

You can purify melted snow to get water. We are all familiar with yellow snow and how that occurs but did you know that snow can be colorful? Red snow contains algae that flourishes in freezing water and can have a laxative effect. Yellow snow should be avoided, that kind of goes without saying.

Green and brown snow also contain algae. Avoid these and use clean, white snow for best results. Ice holds bacteria and must be boiled before drinking.

Begin by heating a small amount of water in a pot over your camp stove or fire. Add your fresh snow little by little and stir until it melts. Be patient. Keeping the lid on the pot in between stirs will conserve heat. Do not pack a pot full of snow and leave it to melt, the water evaporates and the snow will burn.

If you have a bandana in your BOB and no stove, you can wrap fresh snow inside the bandana and then suspend it from a tree or anchor it on a stick near the fire but not directly over it.

Put a container under it to capture the water as it drips. It will take about a half hour to get a quart of water so make sure you have enough time.

A less tried and true method that could work is to put fresh snow on top of a reflective emergency blanket or a black trash bag and allow it to melt in the sun. This obviously only works when there is sun and will take considerably more time than the above methods.

Act Now to Prep Steps:

  • Gather or review items in your emergency car kit and add items needed for winter emergencies.
  • Do the same with your EDC kit and BOB supplies
  • Learn survival skills that can help you in a winter emergency such as how to make fire, use a compass, build a shelter or how to do first aid/CPR.

Regardless of what may be ahead in the coming days, it pays to prepare now to ride out the cold weather. While food is important and definitely a consideration, you can survive up to three weeks without eating.

The priority should be to carry needed supplies, dress properly, stay warm, and know how to get purify snow to get more water. Are your supplies missing anything to prepare you for a winter emergency? What did we miss on our lists above?

20 survival items ebook cover
Like what you read?

Then you're gonna love my free PDF, 20 common survival items, 20 uncommon survival uses for each. That's 400 total uses for these dirt-cheap little items!

We will not spam you.

7 thoughts on “The Ultimate Winter Survival Guide”

  1. A ggd list for those who live cold climates. As T/S living in the south has some advantages but we have had some low temps here in north Florida.

  2. Off topic: Have any of you ordered from Emergency Essentials lately? I’ve been unhappy with their website and all the typos in their catalog, but I placed an order anyway. They shorted 3 cans that they billed me for, and they substituted a combo I didn’t want for the one I actually ordered. It’s worthless to me, because it included items I ordered separately. They never sent shipping confirmation, there was no packing list, and several lids were missing. Was this just a fluke, or is this what the company has evolved into?

  3. I have been in need of a long term tent for a long time and someone shared it on facebook, usually these dome type structures are 5 to 10 grand before acccessories or add ons so picking up the dome for 2500 bucks was amazing. I get the dome in 1 week, which is way faster then I was quoted from the wall tent shop so I am stoked. Now I just gotta get some funds to get a wood burning stove put in.

    Have any of you had a dome tent before? Whats your thoughts? Anyone have pictures or ideas on how to live in one? (The picture below is just he one from their website)



Leave a Comment