As I sit down to write this short article, it is 23 degrees outside in Austin, Texas, with an overnight low forecasted to hit a record-breaking 15 degrees; the television is humming in the background with non-stop chatter about the winter blast that is sweeping the central and eastern United States and trapping hundreds of motorists in white-out conditions, and there are reports of unseasonably cold weather from around the globe. So far more than a dozen deaths have been attributed to the harsh cold of what will no doubt go down as one of the most frigid winters in record. And we are only two weeks into the official winter of 2010…
As a mountain climber and outdoor enthusiast, I have learned over the years that while harsh winter weather is not something to be feared, it is definitely something to be respected. History has taught us that even the best weather forecasts are destined to be wrong, and that old’ Mr. Murphy and his law that if anything can go wrong – it will – is alive and well in the complex world of weather prediction. It is for this reason that seasoned climbers follow a simple rule: plan for the worst and hope for the best. In fact, if you study climbing accidents and fatalities (something I did for many years), you will almost invariably discover that the climber(s) in question failed to follow this simple rule. Not giving adequate respect to Mother Nature and her penchant for sudden fits of fury can get you into a whirlwind of trouble. Quite literally.
It is for this reason that mountaineers have developed their list of 10 Essentials. Pick up any book on mountaineering or take any course on climbing and you will quickly be introduced to the 10 Essentials. Years of experience and hard luck have taught climbers that there are 10 tools that you must never leave home without – to do so will put you and your team at unnecessary risk. Likewise, if you always have the 10 essentials with you, chances are you can survive even the worst of conditions. If you are adequately prepared, you can survive almost anything.
So, how do we prepare for this harsh winter, especially if we are out in it? Ensure that you have the 10 Essentials to Survive! It doesn’t matter if you are a climber or not, the principle of preparation is universal and severe weather is everywhere. We should all be familiar with the 10 Essentials and take the necessary steps to ensure that both our homes and vehicles are equipped for survival.
Below are the 10 Essentials for winter weather survival that you should never leave home without (or stay home without), slightly modified for the non-climber.
1) Clothing & warmth. You should always have fleece or pile socks, pants, shirts, jackets and hats in your car. A fleece blanket and goose down jacket and sleeping bag will ensure your comfort should you be stranded for any length of time without power or assistance. Remember, climbers live for days in negative degree temperature through some of the worst conditions – in tents – simply because they have the right clothing.
2) Non-perishable food. You should have three days worth of food storage in your vehicle during the winter. Store MRE’s or other dehydrated foods and power bars to stave off the hunger in the event of a prolonged stay in your car.
3) Water and/or water filtration capability. When you are surrounded by snow, you are surrounded by water, assuming you have a means to melt and purify the water. Water purifiers and purification tablets are a must for the climber, and you should have both in your car emergency kit. Remember, the human body can last weeks without food, but only a matter of days without water.
4) Knife, lighter, duct tape, utility tool and string. The simplest tools are always the ones that are the most missed in an emergency. Remember Cast Away with Tom Hanks? A simple knife and lighter would have changed his circumstances considerably and you should have both in your car at all times. Also, duck tape in an emergency is a must, you can manufacture any number of inventions with a little duct tape.
5) Communication. Your cell phone is vital. Make sure you have the means to recharge your phone with a crank device in the event you are without battery power. If you can’t communicate with the outside world, you are really on your own.
6) Heat and stove. Your car emergency kit should include a camp stove and fuel for melting water and cooking food. A warm meal or drink soothes the soul in a long winter emergency, and will provide an indirect source of heat to boot. (Remember that a camp stove emits dangerous carbon monoxide, so you should only use one in a well-ventilated space. Open the car windows or cook outside when you use one.)
7) GPS. If you don’t know where you are…you are truly lost. A good GPS unit will give you a sense of direction, but more importantly, it will give you a position for rescue. A portable GPS unit is a great addition to your car emergency kit.
8) Light. You should always carry a crank operated light and/or lantern for those unforeseen emergencies. Flash lights are good, but they rely on batteries that run out of power. Crank operated lights and snap lights for those long dark knights are the best companion you can buy in a winter emergency.
9) Hygiene & first aid. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Sanitation wipe for those wilderness privy’s and cleaning needs are a must, and there is nothing better than brushing your teeth with real toothpaste after a long day in the wilderness. Basic cleaning soaps, gloves, lotion, essential medications (Benadryl, Tylenol, etc.), and basic first aid tools should be key ingredients in your safety kit.
10) Survival Book. There are many out there and I recommend you research them. Find your favorite and make sure you keep it in your car emergency kit. You never know, one day you may need to make fire from sticks…without a how-to guide, you may never see the glow or warmth of fire.
I am from Texas, so I don’t usually keep all of these essentials in my car. But if I know I’m headed into cold climates, I never leave home without them. The importance of the 10 essentials was made profoundly clear to me one winter day 8 years ago when I became trapped in the worst white out snow storm I had ever experienced in the Silverton Pass in Colorado. I was in my Dodge pick-up (equipped with the 10 essentials) when a rogue storm hit the pass. I was completely blinded by the storm and had to stop my vehicle for hours on the road while snow piled up all around me. While I was nervous, I knew without a doubt that I could weather the storm because I had the 10 essentials.
It’s all about preparedness. Remember, when the time for action is upon you, the time for preparation is gone.
Stay safe. Stay Informed. Be Prepared.