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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Life-or-Death Decisions - Caught in a Storm

When a storm comes out of nowhere, learn how to handle the unexpected.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

(Illustration by Supercorn)
(Illustration by Supercorn)

5. Surviving the night
WRONG: Get soaked in sweat trying to build a snow cave, which takes too much time and energy to be useful in most survival situations.
RIGHT: In the cold, your priorities are fire, shelter, signaling rescue, water, and food, in that order. Take care of number one by gathering dry wood under rock overhangs, leaves, and logs; finding deadfall snagged in tree branches; or using a knife to shave wet bark from sticks to reach drier wood inside. Rig a tarp to shield the fire from precipitation, then use thumb-width kindling to start a blaze that will dry bigger pieces of wood. Best tools? Try a butane lighter, wax-coated matches, flint firestarter, or Coghlan's fire sticks (they ignite even when soaked). Pitch your tent or build a snow shelter (see below). Leave markers, such as sticks, to help you find your way back if you must leave your refuge.

How to pitch a tent in the snow
Pack down the snow with your boots, skis, or snowshoes before setting up your tent in a sheltered spot (like the lee side of a boulder). Make deadmen to anchor the tent: Tie guylines to trekking poles, sticks, or rocks, and bury them in the snow with the guyline taut. No tent? Dig a hole in a tree well and cover the ground and walls with leaves or evergreen boughs.

How to build a fire in the snow
Construct a platform out of stones or logs to raise the fire above wet ground.

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Reader Rating: -


Delta Zen
Aug 23, 2013

What a dumb story - is it from Readers Digest?
Typical new BM - I've been laughing about it since 2008 when it came out. Story starts "what began as an October dayhike", that October as in Fall. How ridiculous then that the first WRONG scenario starts with "packed basic summer gear" or something like that.
Fall is not Summer.

Doug Shep.
Mar 23, 2012

Would like to see articles about those plants that could sustain life in the woods , while lost . Like Tanner Lowe suggested .

Doug Shep.
Mar 23, 2012

Would like to see articles about those plants that could sustain life in the woods , while lost . Like Tanner Lowe suggested .

Mar 18, 2012

Good everyday common sense article that new Hikers should memorize and from what I have seen, old experienced hikers too.

One suggestion if I may so add. I would NOT advise setting up an emergency camp under a Needle bearing Tree or build a fire under one for longer than an half an hour or so. The heat will melt the snow sitting on the branches above you which might just slide off and land on your fire and or on you. For a Gear suggestion, I have carried one of those Sportsman's Blankets with a nuetural green on one side and reflective Aluminum on the other since they were introduced, which I used more often than a tarp, in fact I stopped carrying a Tarp all together. Also one of the new Emergency Sleeping Bags that comes in the Orange sack and is reuseable on all my Dayhikes..
I also carry a Knit Hat to replace the Ball cap most of us wear. The Knit Hat is a lot warmer and conserves all that heat coming off your head.

Mar 17, 2012

nice article, however,it's just common sense that fills this article

Mar 16, 2012

Very good, common sense advice. Keep up the good work.

Tanner Lowe
Mar 19, 2010

I have very much enjoyed your articles on surviving a variety of situations. However, I have not heard or found any articles on edible plants and could sustain life in the wilderness and being able to differentiate them from the inedible. Another article that could be very beneficial would be learning about medicinal plants.


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