In 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Finland in what was called The Winter War. This war caused about 70,000 Finnish causalities with most of them being innocent civilians. As a result of this invasion many Finnish civilians were forced into a winter bug out in order to avoid death or being captured.
At the beginning of this invasion Finnish military went through towns and villages letting them know that they had 15 minutes to leave and burn down their own houses so that the Soviet army couldn’t use them for cover. They had to leave all of their belongings.
The Finnish people didn’t have time to sit down and put together a bug out bag list or even given the wealth of knowledge that we have in the preparedness community. They frantically gathered what they could but sometimes disregarding the necessities for survival and instead opting for precious valuables. The Winter War forced thousands of civilians to bug out in the coldest winter that had hit Finland in a century.
They left on a journey to survive and rebuild their way of life. There was no hope of returning. This is the true definition of a bug out and not merely an evacuation what many preppers call a bug out today. Bugging out is being forced to leave with no option of returning. You can watch a documentary of interviews from people who were involved with that bug out below.
Little did they know that their fight for survival was just beginning. No longer did they have to worry about Soviet warplanes dropping bombs on them. They now how to face their true adversary Mr. Frost. Winter weather will be your biggest threat to survival if you are ever forced to bug out in the winter or if you live in colder temperatures.
When SHTF it never happens during a convenient time. It happens at the worst possible time with the worst possible circumstances. So as preppers we need to be prepared to bug out in extreme weather conditions including in the winter.
Having to bug out in the winter especially during a storm will be risking your life. There are life threatening dangers associated with the winter including: hypothermia, sicknesses, frostbite and even heart attacks. The only warm thing for miles will be your body. The winter will also deplete natural resources. So you won’t be able to rely much on scavenging for edible plants to eat.
Ultimately bugging out should never be plan A. We should be strategically prepping to put ourselves in a position where we are bug out or crisis proof. Bugging out should be the absolute last option. This is why it is important to first determine if and when you should bug out.
So I’ve put together a list of tips for surviving a winter bugout. This of course isn’t a comprehensive list of tips because there will always be gear, skills and supplies you can always stock up on. I believe that these few should be helpful if such an event should ever arise.
15 Life Saving Tips for Bugging Out in the Winter
- Sleep off of the ground
If you are bush crafting your trip and don’t have much gear that you can resort to then placing leaves on the ground as a cushion. Stack a pile of leaves to sleep off of the ground. It provides insulation from the cold earth.
However, if it has been snowing then the leaves will be cold and wet. That would defeat the purpose of sleeping on them. Then you should build your own raised bed using branches that can be found around your location. Below is a great video by Survival Lilly on how to build a raised bed.
If you have the money or the room in your pack then I would recommend packing a tent print that can be placed under your tent or shelter along with a sleeping pad. If you can’t afford a tent print then you can use contractor trash bags. They won’t work as well as the prints but it would be better than nothing.
- Boil a bottle of water to place in your sleeping bag
Your bug out bag should include a steel insulated bottle. These bottles can typically keep drinks warm anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. By placing this bottle of boiled water in your bag it will produce heat to keep you warm throughout the night. It will keep your body temperature at a warm level even though you are laying still. If your body temperature drops then you are in danger of hypothermia.
- Have multiple fire making tools
Most preppers are not familiar with building a fire let alone a wet or cold fire. Most of the wood and tinder laying around you will be too wet to start a fire. You will want to search for dead standing wood.
You should also have a fire making kit in your bug out bag. There are some homemade sources of tinder such as dryer lint that you can use along with cotton balls. You can also find multiple fire making kits online.
More importantly you need to be practicing your survival skills now. You can only survive 3 hours in rough weather conditions. So knowing how to build a fire is vital to your survival.
- Have heat reflectors in your shelter
Mylar or space blankets are a great tool to help you reflect heat into your shelter. You could build a regular lean-to shelter with the inside lined with the Mylar blankets. Then build a fire a few feet in front of your shelter. The Mylar blankets will reflect the heat from the fire into your shelter. To go a step further you could place a plastic liner hanging over the front of your shelter to keep the warm heat inside.
- Eat or drink before going to sleep
Healthy fatty foods like peanuts will keep you warm. These fats will rev up your metabolism. This is an especially good idea before going to bed because your body will be laying still but your insides will be working.
You can also drink warm drinks like hot water, coffee or teas. A warm bowl of soup or some spicy foods will do the trick as well. DO NOT DRINK COLD LIQUIDS! Despite how much better food tastes with cold drinks this will cool down your body temperature again putting you at risk for hypothermia.
Stay away from alcohol. Despite the common prepper myth alcohol will not keep you warm in cold weather. You may feel warm but it actually decreases your core body temperature.
Be sure that you are using wooden utensils to eat with. Metal utensils can cause the temperature of whatever you are eating to quickly drop. You can place these wooden utensils in a case so that they don’t break in your bag. Otherwise you can carve up your own utensils using the wood that can be found around you.
- Layer your clothing
Start with a polyester base layer that wicks moisture. That way your sweat won’t free and stick to your body. Frozen sweat can also cause hypothermia. Remember that cotton is your enemy. Cotton will retain moisture. Under Armour produces some really quality base layers that will keep you warm.
When it is cold it is common to have 2 base layers. You could choose to put on 2 synthetic layers to ensure that the moisture is wicking away.
The middle layer is for insulation. This is to retain your body heat. Fleece or microfleece is a great option. Wool is another great option but tends to be a little heavier and thicker. I bought a Columbia River fleece jacket that I wore in 20 to 30 degree weather but still felt comfortable and warm.
The final layer will be the outer layer or what is called the shell. This should be waterproof, windproof and breathable. This includes Gore-tex or polyurethane-coated fabrics.
The important thing to remember about layering is that you want to be able to quickly put on and take off these layers when needed. For example, you don’t want to first put on a long sleeve base layer covered by a short sleeve base layer. The short sleeve should be put on first.
- Take off any wet clothing
If by any chance you fall into some water or your middle layers get weight you will need to take them off quickly so that hypothermia doesn’t set in. Be sure to place these clothing items next to a fire to dry off. If you don’t then the sweat or water will just freeze and you won’t have anything to put back on.
- Maintain your body temperature
Sweat can freeze cloths to your skin which can lower your body temperature again putting you at risk for hypothermia. So when you are bugging out pay attention to your body temperature. If you notice sweat beads rolling down your face or body then it is time stop and cool down. Winter campers will typically hike for 5 minutes then cool down for a minute.
Try not to push yourself when bugging out. This may seem impossible but if you have the opportunity to slow down then take advantage of it.
- Cover your extremities
Hypothermia and frost bite typically begins with the extremities like your hands and feet. This is especially true if you are bugging out in the snow and your feet are getting wet. You will want to have some water proof and insulated boots made with Gore-tex materials. Columbia River produces some great waterproof boots but there are tons of great options that you can find.
Mittens may not be the best option to wear when bugging out because you are not able to grip anything while wearing them. When bugging out you will need to grip your weapon and tools. So again wear some insulated gloves or even wear multiple pairs.
On top of having waterproof and insulated boots you will want to be wearing the appropriate socks. You should also be layering your feet just like your others parts of the body. So you should start with a synthetic base layer covered by wool socks.
When sleeping at night be sure to place your boots inside of your sleeping bag. Your body temperature inside of the bag will keep the boots warm preventing condensation from building up on them. So when you wake up in the morning you are not placing soggy boots on which in return keeps your feet warm.
Be sure to place hand warmers in the socks and inside of your shirt when you are sleeping. I like to place the hand warmers inside of my arms pits. When I sleep I typically place my hands inside of my armpits. So that will keep your hands and body warm.
- Keep ventilation open in your shelter
Keep your ventilation open even if it is freezing outside. Your breath will condense, creating snow or water inside of your shelter making it colder and wet inside.
- Find a spooning buddy
If it’s weird it’s because you made it weird. Spooning your buddy might feel weird but if you are bugging out in the winter this could save your life. If your life is on the line then your body temperatures will keep you warm. It will also prevent the cold from the ground from rising into your shelter. You may become really intimate but it can save your life. So straddle up.
- Bottoms Up
While you are on the move you will want to place your water bottles upside down. That way the water freezes at the bottom first. The last thing you want to happen while bugging out is not being able to drink your water. It will take quite a long time to boil the water back to drinking temperature.
- Have a water repelling bug out bag
Moving around in the snow will cause what you are wearing to get wet. This is including your bug out bag. What really sucks is if that moisture seeps through your bag into your contents either freezing them or causing them to get wet.
So be sure your bug out bag repels water. The Condor 3 Day Assault Pack is a great pack that repels water. You can test this by simply pouring water on your pack and see if the insides get wet. You can also place the inside items in Ziploc bags to further waterproof them.
- Setup your base at lower elevations
If you have ever been in the mountains then you know that it gets extremely windy the further up that you go. It also gets a lot colder. You will want to place your bug out shelter near the bottom preferably in the valley.
- Pack extra tent or shelter stakes
When it is snowing the ground will freeze. So there is the possibility that your stakes will break when striking them into the ground. So pack a few extra in case that they do. Otherwise you can find branches to use as stakes for your shelter although they will not be as strong as metal stakes.
These are my survival tips for a winter bug out. Please leave a comment below of your suggestions. Your feedback better helps the community prepare the smart way now so that we can thrive later.
Photography by 4 Cdn Div / 4 Div CA – JTFC/FOIC