Written by 2:57 pmSurvival

How to Survive a Blizzard in the Wilderness

Image of a man with fury in snowstorm

When planning a trip into the snowy unknown you may be wondering how best to ensure your survival in case of a blizzard. As with any good wilderness trek, the best method of survival is to plan carefully and make sure you are familiar with different survival methods and tips. But what exactly should you do to survive a blizzard if you are suddenly hit by extreme weather?

Below we have collated a few of the simplest and safest methods you can use to increase your chances of survival when struck by a sudden snow storm. Make sure you read on before setting off on your next winter trip to check on the safest and surest methods any hiker should know when it comes to surviving a snowstorm. Stay safe, have fun but most importantly, stay warm!

The 5 Easiest and Safest Ways to Survive a Blizzard

Create a Snow Shelter

A traditional but underused method of surviving a blizzard and keeping yourself warm is by creating a snow shelter. Used by many survivalists and people native to cold environments, a snow shelter could be the difference between life and death when trapped in heavy snowfall. But how exactly do you build a snow shelter and what are the precautions you should take?

Firstly, if possible check your survival kit to see if there is a snow shovel or similar device you can use in which to mound up the snow to begin making your shelter. You will want to build your snow mound to around 8 feet high, consider how many people will be inside and plan accordingly. Once this snow mound has been built up sufficiently you then went to mould it into a dome style shape and leave it to sinter for anywhere between 1 to 2 hours.

Once the snow has hardened, you can begin hollow it out and start to form your own snow cave. You will need to form an entrance to enter and exit your snow cave, ideally, this should be on the downhill side of your shelter to prevent blizzards from piling up snow and trapping you inside. When you are happy with your arch you then want to smooth out the walls of your snow cave ensuring that they are at least 2 feet thick to prevent them from collapsing.

When you are happy with your shelter shape, you want to poke ventilation holes through your shelter, preferably at the top, to help ensure you have enough breathable oxygen passing through. This is extremely important if you are planning on lighting a fire near your snow cave as a lack of air vents may mean you are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

You should then use any remaining snow, which if there is a snow storm currently blowing there will be lots, to make yourself raised beds. This will aid you in keeping hot as the floor will be far colder than a bed of snow. You should also try to slope the outside of your cave down to help prevent a build-up of snow and ensure your new cave home is safe. Last but by no means least, place a flag or similar post just outside the entrance to ensure visibility at all times of the day, just in case you can longer find the entrance.

Build a Fire

Without a doubt the most important step you should take if you are ever stuck outside in the wilderness whether during a blizzard or just general cold weather. Building a fire is important to increase your body temperature and could potentially save your life. Before setting off on any survival expedition, ensure you know how to build a fire and use any kindling tools you may have at your disposal. If you are at all unsure, here is a brief guide you can fall back on:

The very first step to building any fire is to gather enough kindling such as dry sticks and light foliage. A good idea however it to buy pre-cut firewood before setting off so you can use it in an emergency without needing to travel far looking for it. Another backup option is to use cotton balls, commonly found in an emergency kit, as a fuel method as they tend to be dry and easily flammable. During a winter storm, wood may become too wet or too damaged to be a useful fuel option so having a backup option is ideal.

Next try to find the clearest and driest surface you can, to build a fire on. A good idea is to build a cross fire by setting up the logs surrounding the dry foliage in a Jenga style structure. This helps build a chimney that is semi-sheltered from outside wind and winter storms.

Now, this is where planning comes in handy, use the kindling tools you have brought along with you to light the fire if you have brought them with you. Things such as matches, lighters and flint can start a fire in seconds and help you reduce cold temperatures and regain body heat immediately. If however, you didn’t bring kindling tools with you – which we really recommend you do, then you will have to use more traditional methods. Whether that’s using a sharp rock to create a spark or making your own fire plough using a dry piece of flatwood. Always ensure you know some of these methods in case of an emergency.

Keep Hydrated

An often overlooked way to stay safe in a blizzard, staying hydrated is vital for any outdoor activity. Before planning your outdoors trek, be sure to stock up on bottles of water and hydro flasks to take with you on your journey. Although you might believe that hydration will happen naturally in a blizzard due to snow basically being cold solid water, you would be completely mistaken.

Due to the colder temperatures, your body will endure during a blizzard, you will end up using more energy to try and regulate your bodies temperature and thus you will need more water to fully hydrate yourself. This is easily a contender for the most overlooked method in which you can aid survival in the wilderness, regardless of the weather type.

If you don’t have space in your backpack for a load of water bottles and flasks, you should try to bring a water filtration system which will allow you to safely drink from rivers and other safe sources. Never drink water directly from an outside sauce without first purifying and removing bacteria by using a kit and boiling it. As long as you know the correct safety measures, this can be a brilliant method to ensure you stay hydrated.

Keep Warm

This point goes hand-in-hand with starting a fire and is perhaps the most vital part of surviving a blizzard. Before you begin your trek, make sure you have a heat source or at least the means to create one if necessary. It is also a good plan to bring spare clothing in case the clothes you are wearing get drenched as this is a sure way to suffer from frostbite or pneumonia.

Contrary to popular belief, you should never wear too much clothing as this can lower your blood flow and cause more harm than good, although you should wear enough to be warm. Wearing thermals and a thick pair of socks is ideal alongside a thick padded jacket and gloves to help prevent any heat loss. The right clothing can be incredibly important when planning on passing through avalanche areas. Wrap up and stay warm and if needed be sure to dive into your sleeping bags early to keep your body heat high.

Use Signals to Attract Help

When nothing you have tried is working or making you feel safer, you should always find a way to contact emergency help as an extreme snow storm is no joke. Thankfully, due to a lot of modern innovations, there are several methods in which you can contact help and people you know. Whether it’s a traditional SOS Morse code signal or contacting the local ranger using a walkie talkie, we will guide you through a few ways in which you can communicate with emergency services.

SOS Signals: One of the most tried and tested methods in which to communicate that you need immediate help is by using a flashlight or similar device to send Morse codes to any potential help. In most national parks and rural areas across the US, there will always be a ranger or a similar worker watching from up high for any potential SOS signals. Familiarize yourself with Morse code before setting off as this could potentially save your life. The morse code for SOS is . . . – – – . . . (Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot). To replicate this using a flashlight you would turn it on and off rapidly to represent a dot and leave it on for a second or two to represent a dash.

Flare Guns: Every survivalist, regardless of where they are travelling, should carry a flare gun with them whenever possible. When you are in a dangerous situation, such as a snow storm or ground blizzard, you may need to contact for help immediately. A fast and efficient method is to shoot a flare directly into the sky alerting any nearby rangers or other emergency workers to your location. They will know that a flare means “HELP” and will instantly dispatch officers to come to your location. Packing a flare gun before setting off is an extremely useful way to secure help when needed. Just be sure to tree limbs and branches when firing your flare to make sure it attains the highest visibility.

2 Way Radios / Walkie Talkies: When you are travelling throughout the wilderness, regardless if you are a camper or just a hiker, you should always bring a walkie talkie with you. Walkie talkies offer a quick immediate way to contact outside help when in dire situations. If you can afford one, a two-way radio is also an ideal option that offers impressive communication regardless of signal levels. Make sure you familiarise yourself with the local emergency frequency before setting off in case you need to communicate with a ranger or other hikers. If you know there is a decent signal in the area, you may also want to bring a cell phone with you just in case.

How to Be Prepared for a Blizzard:

Weather Forecasts

Planning a journey is especially important as you want to ensure you are prepared for any contingency. An excellent and fully recommended idea is to check the weather forecast in the area you plan on camping in to check for blizzard conditions or any potential ice storms. If you are expecting the weather conditions to rapidly decline, or for blizzards to impede your adventure, then you will be able to plan accordingly and figure out how best to handle these issues. If the weather is looking particularly bad you may want to cancel your journey into the winter wonderland, even if you believe you have the survival skills required to get through it unscathed.

Travel Companions

When you are planning on taking an extended trip in the wild, it can be extremely valuable to bring along some of your most trusted friends. Decent travel companions can rapidly increase your chances wherever you plan on going, whether it’s through the mountains or out in the prairie. If you are constant communication with someone, especially someone you trust, your survival chances rise exponentially.

Carry Enough Supplies

Ensuring you bring enough emergency supplies with can help protect yourself and fellow hikers from injury. Firstly you should check that your first aid kit is fully stocked and that you have brought enough drinking water and a sleeping bag to keep your health in shape. As mentioned above, you may also want to bring kindling tools such as a tinder cloth to help light a bonfire during a potential winter storm.

FAQs

What should you do if you’re caught in a blizzard?

If you are ever caught in a blizzard, follow the above steps and ensure you are staying as sheltered and dry as you can. Make sure you can contact the local ranger and that somebody you trust knows where you currently are in case of severe emergencies. The best tip is to stay calm and ensure you are taking steps to protect your core temperature.

What would you need to survive a blizzard?

The first thing you will need to survive a blizzard is heat, ensuring your temperature is maintained and you are keeping as warm as you can is an extremely important part of staying safe in a snowstorm. You should also try to stay calm and keep any tips or methods in your mind such as staying hydrated and the best way to start a fire. Be sure to check out our top tips to help ensure your health is safe during a snowstorm.

Why is it dangerous to be outside during a blizzard?

It is extremely dangerous to be trapped outside during a blizzard due to the sudden drop in temperature and the reduced visibility. With things such as pneumonia and hyperthermia being especially threatening during blizzards, you must ensure you are familiar with survival tactics before risking travelling through a blizzard prone site. If you are at all unsure or are feeling nervous about passing through one, then avoid it at all costs!

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