Surviving Extreme Cold

From building a fire to winterizing your vehicle, learn all about how to be prepared and survive the extreme cold.

| September 2017

  • In extremely cold environments, situations can be life-or-death – learn the best ways to stay safe.
    Illustration courtesy Amber Books
  • Wind chill can have significant impact on temperature.
    Table courtesy Amber Books
  • As temperatures drop, it is important to take proper precautions to protect your skin.
    Table courtesy Amber Books
  • Keeping warm and dry is key in the cold. Protect yourself against extreme cold by covering exposed skin and layering clothing properly. Inner layers should draw moisture away from skin. Outer layers should be windproof and water resistant. To avoid overheating, outer layers should be vented or easily removed.
    Illustration courtesy Amber Books
  • When winds are relatively calm, a pit fire can be built for warmth. Useful for cooking, the pit prevents the wind from flaring the flames too severely. Because the flames in a pit fire are easier to control, it is also a good way to conserve fuel.
    Illustration courtesy Amber Books
  • In windier conditions, construction of a rock wind break may be necessary to protect your fire and conserve fuel. Use only dry, non-porous rocks to build your break, avoiding sandstone or slate. Damp or porous rocks may explode when heated.
    Illustration courtesy Amber Books
  • The Inuit snow melter works for melting either snow or ice. Build a small fire beneath a tilted stone slab. Arrange a series of small rocks in a V-shape to hold the snow or ice in place and direct the flow of water towards the receptacle at the slab's base.
    Illustration courtesy Amber Books
  • A snow tree shelter takes advantage of the fact that the branches of a pine tree provide a natural and dense form of overhead shelter. Dig out the snow from around the base of the tree and line the floor with vegetation.
    Illustration courtesy Amber Books
  • A snow cave can be created by digging out a chamber in a deep, stable snow drift. Note that the sleeping platform should be placed much higher than the entrance to take advantage from the fact that warm air rises.
    Illustration courtesy Amber Books
  • To protect against snow blindness, cut slits in a piece of cardboard or other material at hand. Use string or thread to secure your improvised sunglasses. Smearing soot beneath your eyes can also help cut down on reflected glare.
    Illustration courtesy Amber Books
  • Crossing ice is best avoided at all times. If you have to cross ice, carry some ice awls, which can be as simple as two pieces of wood with steel tips, in your pocket. If the ice breaks beneath you, use the awls to help haul yourself out of the icy water.
    Illustration courtesy Amber Books
  • In the absence of a rope or branch to hold out to a person who has fallen through ice, form a human chain to pull the person out. One person should kneel on dry land and hold fast to the legs of a second person, who can lie across the ice to where the victim is. Lying flat distributes your weight more evenly and decreases the chances of the ice breaking beneath you before as you perform the rescue.
    Illustration courtesy Amber Books
  • A first aid kit and manual, blanket, ice scraper, flashlight, tow chain, jumper cables, knife, tool kit, duct tape, and emergency flare are a few of the essential items you'll need in case you become stranded in your car.
    Illustration courtesy Amber Books
  • A well-stocked first aid kit is an essential item for every household. The most important things that it should include are adhesive bandages, gauze pads, tape, cotton wool, swabs, scissors, tweezers, antiseptic, iodine, a thermometer, latex gloves, a small sewing kit, sun block, and prescription medications. Check your first aid kit monthly, replacing items and disposing of any out-of-date medication as necessary.
    Illustration courtesy Amber Books
  • "Surviving Extreme Weather" by Gerrie McCall is a complete guide to coping with extreme weather, with each chapter dealing with a different element. McCall covers extreme cold by explaining how to melt snow for drinking water, prepare a car survival kit, escape to safety after falling through ice, and more.
    Cover courtesy Amber Books

In Surviving Extreme Weather (Amber Books, 2017), Gerrie McCall shows how you can survive the worst storms, floods, droughts, and cold spells. Notably, he dedicates a full chapter on surviving extreme cold weather conditions. The human body functions optimally within a narrow range of temperature. Frostbite can lead to gangrene and amputation and extreme cold can be fatal. To survive the cold you must maintain a safe body temperature, avoid cold injuries, find shelter, and prepare your home and vehicle.

Whether you are in a city or the wilderness, extreme cold can be deadly. It is important that you stay warm and avoid any actions that can cause a rapid loss of body heat.

Cold and the Human Body

Normal core temperature for the human body is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. In order to remain healthy this core temperature must stay constant within a narrow margin. Variations in either direction can cause irreparable organ damage and death.

Core temperature refers to the temperature of vital internal organs, including the heart, lungs and brain. Since the limbs and extremities have less protective tissue than the torso, their temperature tends to vary to a greater extent. It is important to keep the hands and feet warm to guard against heat loss and injury.



Shivering is the body’s way of producing heat, yet prolonged shivering causes fatigue, which results in a drop in body temperature. To survive in a cold environment you must take care of your basic needs of food, water and shelter, as well as protect yourself from illness.

Wind Chill






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