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Dutch whaler woolen hat, c. 1650-1700, I photographed at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

…the men recognized one another only by the pattern of stripes on the caps. The men were bundled up so tightly against the fierce cold that only their eyes were visible.” Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

It’s wintertime and I plan to spend time outdoors. Despite the prevalence of winter survival videos that make life in the wilderness look so easy, the elements can be very unpredictable and conditions can become life-threatening very quickly. I have experienced some challenging times in snow country, including my snowmobile falling through the ice. Fortunately, I was able to jump away from the ice hole, but after that, I had a much greater respect for winter safety and safety in general. I travel with a buddy whenever possible and make sure I set up a communication and locator alert system with a designated family member or friend before setting out.
Here’s what I do to keep warm and safe in the cold:

1. Wear a woolen hat and neck warmer. (I have knit myself several, and always bring a couple of extra ones in case it snows heavily and they get wet.)

2. Use a waterproof shell for my woolen mittens to keep my hands warm and dry (see below). I pack spare pairs of mitten liners.

3. Dress in layers to regulate my warmth and so I can remove or replace ones if needed. I pack backup clothes as well, including a bag that I always keep in the trunk of the car. If it is really cold, I wrap a wide wool scarf around my waist and over my kidneys to keep my core warm.

4. I know my gear: I have tested my sleeping bag to be sure of its comfort rating. I pack an extra one in case the temperature drops lower than anticipated. (I use a converted quilt as my backup sleeping bag to my mummy sleeping bag.) I make sure to keep them both dry, especially since they are down-filled.

5. Take a pocket thermometer to be aware of the temperature dropping, particularly in the late afternoon.

6. Take a travel carbon monoxide detector in case I have to spend time in my car or a cabin with a gas heater or open flame.

7. Keep my phone charged and keep it close to my body so it doesn’t freeze up. Pack a backup battery.

8. A flashlight, headlamp, and high visibility reflective vest are musts.

9. Bring along extra food such as power bars and especially water – I keep a water bottle tucked in an inside pocket.

10. Car equipment: chains or cables, shovel, sand or kitty litter for traction. Snow equipment: waterproof boots with snow leg gaiters, snowshoes, boot calipers, rope, and a small axe, ice pick and knife. I mark my ice pick handle with one inch markings to measure the thickness of the ice.

My cold weather mittens with wool liners and outer shells.