coming back alive
You should always bring a friend when you go cross country skiing.
Basic Principles to Keep Warm

Keep Clothing Clean

This principle is always important for sanitation and comfort. In winter, it is also important from the standpoint of warmth. Clothes matted with dirt and grease lose much of their insulation value. Heat can escape more easily from the body through the clothing's crushed or filled up air pockets.

Avoid Overheating

When you get too hot, you sweat and your clothing absorbs the moisture. This affects your warmth in two ways: dampness decreases the insulation quality of clothing, and as sweat evaporates, your body cools.

Adjust your clothing so that you do not sweat. Do this by partially opening your parka or jacket, by removing an inner layer of clothing, by removing heavy outer mittens, or by throwing back your parka hood or changing to lighter headgear. The head and hands act as efficient heat dissipaters when overheated.

Wear your clothing Loose and in Layers

Wearing tight clothing and footgear restricts blood circulation and invites cold injury. It also decreases the volume of air trapped between the layers, reducing its insulating value.

Several layers of lightweight clothing are better than one equally thick layer of clothing, because the layers have dead-air space between them. The dead-air space provides extra insulation.

Also, layers of clothing allow you to take off or add clothing layers to prevent excessive sweating or to increase warmth.

Keep Clothing Dry

In cold temperatures, your inner layers of clothing can become wet from sweat and your outer layer, if not water repellent, can become wet from snow and frost melted by body heat.

Wear water repellent outer clothing, if available. It will shed most of the water collected from melting snow and frost. Before entering a heated shelter, brush off the snow and frost.

Despite the precautions you take, there will be times when you cannot keep from getting wet. At such times, drying your clothing may become a major problem.

On the march, hang your damp mittens and socks on your rucksack. Sometimes in freezing temperatures, the wind and sun will dry this clothing. You can also place damp socks or mittens, unfolded, near your body so that your body heat can dry them.

In a campsite, hang damp clothing inside the shelter near the top, using drying lines or improvised racks. You may even be able to dry each item by holding it before an open fire.

Dry leather items slowly. If no other means are available for drying your boots, put them between your sleeping bag shell and liner. Your body heat will help to dry the leather.

Winter Camping Safety

Winter camping is a challenging outdoor adventure. Special considerations you should take while camping include:


In no other camp is the type of leadership as important as in the winter camp. It is vital that a leader be an experienced camper with a strong character.


Do not attempt to camp unless completely outfitted. Even if equipment for winter camp is more expensive than for summer camp, you must be adequately clothed, and leaders should ensure that blankets and other equipment are of suitable quality and weight.

Physical Condition

A physician's certificate as to physical ability should be obtained by each person before preliminary training begins.

A fire is a great source of heat when helping a hypothermic victim.

Your environment and the equipment you carry with you will determine the type of shelter you can build. You can build shelters in wooded areas, open country, and barren areas.

Wooded areas usually provide the best location, while barren areas have only snow as building material. Wooded areas provide timber for shelter construction, wood for fire, concealment from observation, and protection from the wind.

Note: In extreme cold, do not use metal, such as an aircraft fuselage, for shelter. The metal will conduct away from the shelter what little heat you can generate.

Shelters made from ice or snow usually require tools such as ice axes or saws. You must also expend much time and energy to build such a shelter.

Be sure to ventilate an enclosed shelter, especially if you intend to build a fire in it.

Always block a shelter's entrance, if possible, to keep the heat in and the wind out. Use a rucksack or snow block.

Construct a shelter no larger than needed. This will reduce the amount of space to heat. A fatal error in cold weather shelter construction is making the shelter so large that it steals body heat rather than saving it. Keep shelter space small.


Lean-To Shelter

Construct this shelter in the same manner as for other environments; however, pile snow around the sides for insulation.

Never sleep directly on the ground. Lay down some pine boughs, grass, or other insulating material to keep the ground from absorbing your body heat.

Never fall asleep without turning out your stove or lamp.Carbon monoxide poisoning can result from a fire burning in an unventilated shelter.

Carbon monoxide is a great danger. It is colourless and odorless. Any time you have an open flame, it may generate carbon monoxide.

Always check your ventilation. Even in a ventilated shelter, incomplete combustion can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Usually, there are no symptoms. Unconsciousness and death can occur without warning.

Sometimes, however, pressure at the temples, burning of the eyes, headache, pounding pulse, drowsiness, or nausea may occur.

The one characteristic, visible sign of carbon monoxide poisoning is a cherry red colouring in the tissues of the lips, mouth, and inside of the eyelids.

Get into fresh air at once if you have any of these symptoms.

There are several types of field-expedient shelters you can quickly build or employ. Many use snow for insulation.

fallen tree shelter

Fallen Tree Shelter

To build this shelter, find a fallen tree and dig out the snow underneath it. The snow will not be deep under the tree. If you must remove branches from the inside, use them to line the floor.

Snow Blindness

The reflection of the sun's ultraviolet rays off a snow-covered area causes this condition.

The symptoms of snow blindness are a sensation of grit in the eyes, pain in and over the eyes that increases with eyeball movement, red and teary eyes, and a headache that intensifies with continued exposure to light.

Prolonged exposure to these rays can result in permanent eye damage. To treat snow blindness, bandage your eyes until the symptoms disappear.

You can prevent snow blindness by wearing sunglasses. If you don't have sunglasses, improvise.

Cut slits in a piece of cardboard, thin wood, tree bark, or other available material. Putting soot under your eyes will help reduce shine and glare.

Protect your eyes!

When bundled up in many layers of clothing during cold weather, you may be unaware that you are losing body moisture. Your heavy clothing absorbs the moisture that evaporates in the air.

You must drink water to replace this loss of fluid. Your need for water is as great in a cold environment as it is in a warm environment.

One way to tell if you are becoming dehydrated is to check the colour of your urine on snow. If your urine makes the snow dark yellow, you are becoming dehydrated and need to replace body fluids. If it makes the snow light yellow to no colour, your body fluids have a more normal balance.

Stay safe, stay smart, and have fun!
Trench Foot and Immersion Foot

These conditions result from many hours or days of exposure to wet or damp conditions at a temperature just above freezing. The symptoms are a sensation of pins and needles, tingling, numbness, and then pain.

The skin will initially appear wet, soggy, white, and shriveled. As it progresses and damage appears, the skin will take on a red and then a bluish or black discoloration. The feet become cold, swollen, and have a waxy appearance.

Walking becomes difficult and the feet feel heavy and numb. The nerves and muscles sustain the main damage, but gangrene can occur. In extreme cases, the flesh dies and it may become necessary to have the foot or leg amputated.

The best prevention is to keep your feet dry. Carry extra socks with you in a waterproof packet. You can dry wet socks against your torso (back or chest). Wash your feet and put on dry socks daily.



A Close Call

The sun was shining when we left Garibaldi Provincial Park near Squamish, B.C., one January morning.

As we hiked along on snowshoes the temperature had warmed enough that most of us had stripped down to shirtsleeves while we busied ourselves shoveling out the snow caves we'd sleep in that night. It felt more like late spring than the dead of winter.

But as the sun began to set, the temperature also fell. And I discovered, after emptying my pack, that I'd forgotten to bring a fleece hat.

As well, my hiking boots -- and the wool socks inside -- which had become thoroughly soaked during the day were now, with the plummeting temperatures, beginning to freeze.

I changed into dry socks and swaddled my feet in plastic bags -- an old trick to help keep feet dry and warm -- pulled the jacket-hood over my cooling head and hoped that someone else had brought extra headgear.

Shivering, I hopped around camp trying to get warm, then decided to stop looking like a lunatic and go for a more invigorating walk instead.

I wandered far enough west that I could see the lights of Squamish shimmering below. They looked so close. And for a moment, the thought passed through my cold-fogged brain that I should simply walk downhill to the lights.

Although I didn't know it at the time, hypothermia was setting in.

And I was at the stage when many people make such foolish decisions as walking down a steep slope waist-deep in snow, in total darkness with frozen shoes, no food or water and fewer than usual mental faculties.

Fortunately, I still had enough working brain cells to realize the foolishness of such an expedition. Instead I headed back to camp where an extra fleece hat, hot soup and warm sleeping bag awaited me.

Told By Dawn Hanna

Land Hypothermia

Simply put, hypothermia means the body loses hear faster than it can produce it. Hypothermia happens when a person is exposed to moisture (rain, sweat), wind and cold without adequate clothing and shelter.

Your most important task if you are lost is to guard against the effects of hypothermia.

Many people believe that they can only get hypothermia if they are in water during cold seasons, however anyone can get hypothermia in any season, in water and on dry land.

When planning an outdoor excursion such as camping or cross country skiing, there are several ways to prepare yourself in order to avoid hypothermia:

Wear lots of layers of clothing and keep extra clothing in a backpack. If your clothing gets wet, you can take out your extra clothing from your pack and replace the wet clothing.

Do not wear jeans, as they get wet (from snow and rain) easily. Instead, wear insulating materials such as wool, a wind-proof jacket, and rain gear.

Bring high energy food with you and keep snacking. Food provides heat and replaces energy that you've lost while walking or skiing.

Dieting has no place in winter camping or cross country skiing. You need the extra calories to keep your energy up and keep warm.

Drink lots of warm fluids such as soup to avoid dehydration.

Do not drink alcohol! It clouds the mind and actually speeds heat loss.

Insulate yourself from the snow- Do not sit on the snow when resting, instead, place a pack between you and the snow to insulate yourself so you do not become wet. If you do sit on the snow, this will take away your body heat rapidly and contribute to hypothermia.

Your head is the main heat loss area of your body, so cover it up and keep it warm!
Warning Signs

You should always be watching your friends for signs of early hypothermia when skiing or camping. Here are some early warning signs that you need to be aware of:

  • Irritability, complaining

  • Fatigue, clumsiness

  • Shivering

  • Disorientation, unable to look after themselves

  • Cold

  • Wet

  • Hungry

To Prevent Further Heat Loss.
  • Get the victim out of the wind

  • Place some form of insulation between the victim and the ground such as a tarp

  • Avoid rough handling the victim

  • Cover the victim as quickly as possible

  • Cover the head- the main heat loss area

  • Remove wet clothing and replace them with dry clothing

  • Make a wind break (for example, from a tarp) to protect the victim from a chilling wind

  • Add heat to rewarm the victim- with warm liquids (no alcohol!), with a fire, and clothing on the head, neck, sides of chest, and groin (the main heat loss areas)

  • If there is no way to carry the victim, send for help, but never leave the victim alone

Snow Cave Shelter

The snow cave shelter is a most effective shelter because of the insulating qualities of snow. First, you need to find a drift about 3 meters deep into which you can dig. While building this shelter, keep the roof arched for strength and to allow melted snow to drain down the sides.

Build the sleeping platform higher than the entrance. Separate the sleeping platform from the snow cave's walls or dig a small trench between the platform and the wall.

This platform will prevent the melting snow from wetting you and your equipment.

Ensure the roof is high enough so that you can sit up on the sleeping platform. Block the entrance with a snow block or other material and use the lower entrance area for cooking.

The walls and ceiling should be at least 30 centimeters thick. Install a ventilation shaft.

If you do not have a drift large enough to build a snow cave, you can make a variation of it by piling snow into a mound large enough to dig out.

Tips for Winter Camping Trips

1. Use the buddy system for winter outings. Buddies can check each other for frostbite, make sure no one becomes lost, and boost the morale of the entire group.

2. Plan to cover no more than 5 miles per day on a winter trek on snowshoes. An experienced group can cover 10 to 12 miles on cross-country skis.

3. Fatigue encourages accidents. Rest occasionally when building a snow shelter; taking part in cross-country skiing or snowshoeing; or participating in other active winter sports. Periodic rests also help avoid overheating.

4. Encourage everyone in your group to wear brightly coloured outer clothing so that each person will be more visible, especially during severe weather.

winter camp
Drink warm liquids and bring lots of snacks.

Fire is especially important in cold weather. It not only provides a means to prepare food, but also to get warm and to melt snow or ice for water. It also provides you with a significant psychological boost by making you feel a little more secure in your situation.

In cold weather regions, there are some hazards in using fires, whether to keep warm or to cook. For example--

Fires have been known to burn underground, resurfacing nearby. Therefore, do not build a fire too close to a shelter.
  • In snow shelters, excessive heat will melt the insulating layer of snow that may also be your camouflage.

  • A fire inside a shelter lacking adequate ventilation can result in carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • A person trying to get warm or to dry clothes may become careless and burn or scorch his clothing and equipment.

  • Melting overhead snow may get you wet, bury you and your equipment, and possibly extinguish your fire.


There are several methods for laying a fire, each of which has advantages. The situation you find yourself in will determine which fire to use.

Knowing how to build a fire can be a life saving skill.


To make this fire, arrange the tinder and a few sticks of kindling in the shape of a tepee or cone. Light the center. As the tepee burns, the outside logs will fall inward, feeding the fire. This type of fire burns well even with wet wood.


To lay this fire, push a green stick into the ground at a 30-degree angle. Point the end of the stick in the direction of the wind. Place some tinder deep under this lean-to stick. Lean pieces of kindling against the lean-to stick. Light the tinder. As the kindling catches fire from the tinder, add more kindling.


To use this method, scratch a cross about 30 centimeters in size in the ground. Dig the cross 7.5 centimeters deep. Put a large wad of tinder in the middle of the cross. Build a kindling pyramid above the tinder. The shallow ditch allows air to sweep under the tinder to provide a draft.


To lay this fire, place two small logs or branches parallel on the ground. Place a solid layer of small logs across the parallel logs. Add three or four more layers of logs or branches, each layer smaller than and at a right angle to the layer below it. Make a starter fire on top of the pyramid. As the starter fire burns, it will ignite the logs below it. This gives you a fire that burns downward, requiring no attention during the night.


It is very important to relieve yourself when needed. Do not delay because of the cold condition. Delaying relieving yourself because of the cold, eating dehydrated foods, drinking too little liquid, and irregular eating habits can cause you to become constipated.

Although not disabling, constipation can cause some discomfort. Increase your fluid intake to at least 2 liters above your normal 2 to 3 liters daily intake and, if available, eat fruit and other foods that will loosen the stool.