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Life-or-Death Decisions – Caught in a Storm

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