Winter can dish out some of the worst survival conditions of any season, and this winter seems to be hanging on with a vengeance. Cold winter weather is often a common factor in emergency situations. A snowshoe trip gone hypothermic, a vehicle stuck in a snow bank, even a slip and fall into cold water—any of these and countless other scenarios could leave you scrambling for survival. But the cold isn’t new territory in the human experience. For millennia, people have been getting by with little and making what they need to survive in the frosty wastelands of the world. You can too. Here are two indispensable items that might save you in this frigid season.
If you can’t see, then you probably can’t survive long in the outdoors. It only takes a day without UV-protection lenses for the combination of sun and snow to temporarily take your sight. The painful and debilitating malady known as snow blindness is essentially a sunburn inside the eye. Treatment is simple for this problem, though time consuming. The remedy is 18-24 hours of rest, ideally with the eyes closed. It’s best to bandage the eyes and administer pain medicine to ease the burning. In the end, the eyes will heal themselves. Although it’s obviously better to prevent this odd and agonizing injury from the start.
Improvised snow goggles can greatly limit the amount of light entering the eye and help reduce the chance of snow blindness. They can be fashioned from duct tape, strips of cloth, a soft strip of leather, or even inner bark strips. Select a piece of material that is wide enough to cover your eyes (duct tape is just right) and long enough to wrap around your head and fasten. Cloth is easy to tie, so it can be knotted in place; leather can be fitted with a toggle or button; and the duct tape can stick to itself. For quick-and-dirty duct tape snow goggles, tear off a piece of tape a little over two feet long. Fold it almost in half and let the sticky sides adhere to each other. The offset gives you a sticky tab on one end of the tape to fasten the band to itself. Next, lay the strip on a smooth log or similar surface. With a sharp knife, cut slits 2 inches long and about 3/16 inch wide, spaced where your eyes would be. Wrap the strip around your head, stick the tape to itself and you’re done. These are also good for blocking the glare of the sun in deserts and on the open water.
Rather than having to “post hole” your way through deep snow, fashion some snowshoes. Even the most quick and crude set will keep you from sinking so deeply into the white stuff. Lash needle-covered evergreen boughs two to three feet long to your feet to provide some additional weight displacement. Thick and rigid slabs of tree bark can do the same, though are trickier to walk in. The best approach is to make snowshoes that actually look and work like snowshoes. First, bend a couple flexible branches or saplings into the classic teardrop shape. Lash the ends tighter and lash a sturdy stick across the middle of each for your pivot point. Add some cordage webbing, a basket-weave of slender sticks, or even duct tape strips to fill in the frame. Once satisfied or out of material, affix them to your boots. Of course, these will be laughable imitations of proper snowshoes, but in the end you’re just trying to make your feet bigger, and these can help you accomplish that task.