As we dig deeper in to the 5 Cs of Survival and eventually the ultimate 10 we concern ourselves with the third element and again a very important aspect of our survival, cover! Cover to me means the ability to control body core temperature through manipulation of both internal and external resources, and the clothing we wear is our initial barrier against the elements that helps protect our core.
We should understand that wearing the proper clothing, and following some simple rules for the bush, is our first line of defense against both hypothermia and hyperthermia. To me, there are two simple acronyms we can follow when it comes to protecting our core, and part of this is important when it comes to clothing in general.
C-Keep clothes Clean. Dirty clothing does not allow proper ventilation, or sometimes insulation. O-avoid Overheating. Sweating is always bad in a cold weather environment. L-dress Loose and in Layers. Being able to manipulate clothing to release or trap heat is very important in cold weather environments and this includes our head and neck as well as extremities. D- clothing must be kept Dry to be kept warm. Wool is the best mid-layer you can choose as it will hold most of its insulative value even when wet, but drying it should be a priority if an emergency occurs like immersion in water. E- Evaluate your situation often and adjust as necessary. R- Repair clothing if needed. Clothing in disrepair cannot properly do its job. Now, as for HOT weather; H-Hydrate often. This will be discussed more in the next segment. O-again, avoid Overheating. T-Take time-outs to rest and adjust clothing needs.
Now that we have a better picture on this portion of our cover and we go into a situation properly prepared with appropriate dress for the environment, to include any possible environmental changes dictated by the season; altitude, weather etc., we can now look to items we carry for making a shelter or cover to help protect us from the elements.
The first things we need to think about are heat loss mechanisms. These are the things we must manipulate to control core temperature. There are three main mechanisms for manipulating heat in our favor; conduction, convection, and radiation.
To explain conduction in simple terms, if you lay directly on the cold ground, the ground will draw heat from the body just as laying on a hot rock will warm the body.
Convection can be looked at like a forced air oven circulating heat, but this also is a factor in cold weather with wind, so trapping heat by reflective materials or reducing wind with a break of some sort will manipulate this mechanism in your favor.
Radiation could be from the sun or from a fire, and obviously we all understand the nearer we are to a fire the warmer it feels and a sunny day can make even a cool day seem warmer.
So to this end, we must pack a few items that we can use to manipulate the mechanisms beyond just our clothing, that can also protect us from overhead environmental changes like clear sunny days, rain, snow, sleet etc. The items needed for a quick shelter need not take up a ton of room nor be heavy in most cases.
In winter weather situations, my advice would always be to have a queen size wool blanket with you. A good US-made Merino wool blanket of 96”x 96” will weigh about 5 lbs, but this weight will be worth it in an emergency, as it can be used for both outerwear as well as sleeping, and is large enough to create three layers around the body for a normal sized man if done correctly. This should be the bulk of an emergency shelter for colder weather. Two simple additions would be a reusable emergency blanket with a Mylar side of 5’x 7’. This will be very little weight, less than a pound, but add versatility for not only convective heat when used as a lean-to-type shelter, but can also be a moisture barrier, and wrapped around the body under a wool blanket to trap heat as well. On a hot day, we can use the reflective blanket with the shiny side up, to reflect radiant heat away, and provide shade. And in the cold, we can reflect heat onto our body from a fire. Just be careful to avoid sweating! A couple of 3 mil. 55 gallon contractor bags , are again almost weightless, but give you emergency rain gear or can be filled with leaves for an impromptu mattress to battle conduction, or as an emergency rain fly shelter if needed. The uses for a trash bag are endless and too much to discuss here but for shelter they are light, versatile, and convenient.
Understand how to create several shelters to manipulate these mechanisms. The best three in my opinion are the fly, the lean-to, and the plow point. Each is easy and doesn’t take many resources beyond what you carry in the 5 Cs to construct, and they are quickly put up in an emergency. It is not a bad idea to carry six ABS or titanium stakes with you. Many would ask, “why carry stakes when there are sticks all around?” Well, in some environments there may not be sticks about. Stakes that will hold in wind, go into hard ground, etc., must be made correctly and this takes time. If you are injured, you may only have one hand to work with, making this more difficult. Six of these type stakes will weigh well under a pound.
The last item I would add, if weight allowance were not a concern due to conveyance of some sort or multiple persons in the party, is a 6×8 light 10-12 ounce canvas tarp, like you get at any hardware store. This will be a much more robust shelter, insulate better, and can quickly and simply be used as a bedroll directly on the ground when combined with the other elements of the kit. Stay safe.
About the Author – Dave has been published in Self Reliance Illustrated, New Pioneer, and American Frontiersman, Trappers World, and has appeared on the cover of Backwoodsman Magazine. Dave’s book BushCraft 101 is a two-time NY Times Best Seller. In addition to writing about survival, Dave is the Co-Owner and Supervising Instructor of The Pathfinder School in SE Ohio, the United States Premier School for Self Reliance. The Pathfinder School is listed as one of the top 12 Survival School in the U.S. by USA TODAY. Dave holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Wilderness Ministry from Frontier Christian University is certified in Advanced Search and Rescue, Wilderness First Aid/CPR, as an Expert Trapper by the Fur Takers of America, and holds Basic and Intermediate Certificates from the International School of Herbal Arts and Sciences.