‘Alone’ Contestant Gives Emergency Winter Shelter Tips

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

The information in this article should never come in handy. The best way to make it through an unplanned night in the woods is to never end up there in the first place. Still, you should always be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Check this out from Outside Online.

So, let’s say it’s winter, and you’re skiing or snowshoeing in the backcountry, and you get lost or hurt. Maybe a storm you didn’t see coming comes, or the sun goes down, and you can’t get out safely. If it’s an emergency, you might want to stay where you are. Moving around blindly when you’re lost can be dangerous.

Most people who travel in a survival situation end up dead. Think long and hard before you attempt hiking out or self-rescue. Stop, sit down, breathe, and assess your situation,” says Jessie Krebs, a survival instructor from Colorado who was a U.S. Air Force survival specialist and a contestant on season 9 of Alone, where she survived 46 days on the Labrador coast. Krebs started and owns O.W.L.S. Skills, a school for women to learn how to stay alive. “This is part of the mental and emotional aspects of survival. Most of us think we need to get somewhere else to be saved. People will keep pushing when they should just shelter in place.”

If it’s stormy, dark, you’re hurt, or you’re lost, you should take cover. You should do this in some kind of shelter. Krebs has some tips on how to build a makeshift one.

Choose Your Place
First, you should look for a safe place to build your shelter. Krebs says, “Make sure it’s an area that will meet all of your needs, including shelter-building materials and a good signaling site so rescuers can find you.” See if there are any safety issues. Are you in the way of an avalanche? Are there big dead trees or branches above you or close by? Once you’ve chosen a place, you need to decide what kind of shelter you’ll build.

Choose Type of Shelter
Think about what you have and what is around you. Do you have a large piece of material or an emergency kit with rope and a tarp? Did you have a sleeping bag or a bag that can be turned into one? Hopefully so. Try them. Take in your environment: Are you above or below the tree line? How hard is the snow? There might be several feet of snow on the ground, or you might be able to dig down to the dirt. “Depending on your location, that’ll determine what type of shelter you can make,” Krebs says.

Most likely, you’ll be building what Krebs calls an “immediate action shelter”—something you can make in 20 minutes or less that will keep you safe for a few hours or a night.

This isn’t really a type of shelter, but it will do when you’re in a pinch. “If you’ve got a lot of branches around you, pile them up until it’s about chest high, then wiggle your way into the pile of boughs,” Krebs says. “Essentially, you’re making a sleeping bag and a shelter at the same time. Most animals make nests and burrows. They bed down, and they do just fine.”

Snow Cave
People often spend the night in the backcountry during the winter in snow caves, but building them takes time and energy. You should bring an avalanche shovel and a pair of gloves that are waterproof and warm. Look for a steep wall or drifted snow where you can dig sideways instead of up and down. “Snow is such a good insulator. Look for a wall, usually on the downwind side, then start digging in, then dig down, then dig up, and build a sleeping or sitting platform,” Krebs says. Don’t forget to make an air vent on the roof of the snow cave that is at least two inches in diameter and at a 45-degree angle, separate from the cave’s entrance. This will keep the air from getting too stale.

Set Up Signals for Rescuers
This is very important. If you are waiting for help, ensure you aren’t hiding where you can’t be seen or heard. “It can be very difficult, especially if the weather is bad, for people to find you,” Krebs stated. “Make sure you put something outside of your structure so they know you’re there.” This can be done with poles, sticks in the ground, a bright piece of clothing, or anything else you have that can be seen.


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