Cold Weather Survival Gear

Capt. Mike

A recent post prompts this Cold Weather Survivial Gear post. Perhaps someone with Desert experience can start a similar thread for those conditions.

So about 22 hours into the journey, stressed out from the fear of freezing to death on the side of the trans-Canada, I phoned home (2 hours away) and good ol' Mom and Dad came out to save my poor freezing butt. They arrived in the nick of time let me tell you . . .. When they got to me I could hardly get out of the van; delerious from the extreme fatigue and bitter cold. Later after some well deserved sleep and a few hot cups of coffee, I figured out . . . the problem.

So PLEASE don't make that same mistake, and be darn sure to take good appropriate winter survival gear in the season, because you just can't be that confident.
Point well taken. I'm getting ready for a winter trip up near the Great Lakes and will take a survival package. We've long taken such items as part of our regular camping stores (See "Camper Inventory . . ." on this forum.) but only when taking another vehicle or not camping does it become a separate issue.

Our pending Great Lakes trip will include one of those giant Rubbermaid totes full of survival type supplies. (We're not taking the Westy.) Although we will need heavy clothes for some expected outdoor activities, what I'm listing here wouldn't necessarily be taken for just a visit to Grandma's.

Blankets -- besides a couple of very warm 'lap robes' in the truck, I'll include one or two of the survival type super-insulating jobs in the back.

Hands -- First frostbite is often the hands. Besides very heavy 'warmth' gloves (mittens are warmer) -- I like Thinsulate & Gore-Tex -- carry work gloves for both of you and even some Playtex rubber gloves in case you have to work such as shoveling snow or mechanical repairs. Better they get wet than your warmth gloves. Carry a packet of latex "exam" gloves; underneath regular gloves, they provide another layer of water-proofing.

Feet -- Yea, they're big & bulky, but get a set of heavy insulated boots. The higher top the better. And liners, with several extra pair of heavy socks. Waterproof is a must, again Gore-Tex the construction of choice. A $100-150 for boots you only use once or twice is cheap compared to an artificial foot.

Hat/Cap -- You can diss the coolness of headgear all you want, but most body heat is lost through the head. There are some nice, inslated Gore-Tex caps around that don't look much different than a baseball cap. Some even have an ear cover tucked inside. Ski or wool caps are great but include a heavy scarf or "neck gaiter". You don't have to go the full Ninja face mask but the more you cover, the warmer you'll be. Somewhere in the mix, I'd inlude some brilliant hunter or safety orange for visibility and this is the area I'd choose.

Long Johns -- Despite the cartoons and jokes, long underwear is now surprisingly comfortable and effective. The trap-doors of Grandpa's era have been replaced by super-insulating synthetics. Thanks to new breathable and wicking technology, most will keep you warm in the coldest tempratures without boiling you in your own sweat inside the house or if active.

Sweats -- sweats still make a great middle layer between the long-johns and the outer wear. The newer polarfleece models are extra warm and styles with zippers and pockets make them verastile.

Towels -- take a couple big terry towels in case you get wet. Drying off with a McDonald's napkin found under the seat isn't very effective.

Coat -- What can you say? A parka. With hood. Insulated, Gore-Tex is nice, and nowdays, available in some nice styles and light weight. But don't assume even a Gore-Tex is fun to live in after it's gotten wet. I'd carry a raincoat or better yet, a light waterproof poncho to throw over it if caught in a downpour. (Isn't that when all breakdowns occur?) Staying dry is a lot easier than getting dry. Even the little disposable traveler's poncho will work in a pinch.

Food & water -- Today's energy bars and box drinks let you take plenty of susistance without taking lots of space or worrying about refrigeration. A GI ration pack or one of the camper pre-packaged meals wouldn't hurt. Something that can be eaten cold. Cold weather consumes tremendous amounts of body energy.

Tools -- I'm not going to suggest you carry the necessaries for building a 3-room cabin, but a few items are essential. The biggest Swiss Army knife should be standard equipment in every car. Along with one of those new multi-purpose tools that has built-in pliers. Amazing what these two tools can accomplish in a pinch. Also, a shovel, hatchet/axe and I like a little camper's bow saw. The latter is far quicker and less energy consumed in cutting firewood or shelter boughs & saplings.

Car stuff -- A spare that will actually hold air! Duh! But also the jack & tool kit. Besides a big flashlight -- the 6v work type -- a set of flares and emergency triangles. Now days you can get some very reasonable shooting flares if you're inclined that way. I put a tarp in this category, along with a roll of duct tape to seal up a broken window. I shouldn't have to add this: chains! Yup, old fashioned chains. Still cheap and no better insurance to prevent snow (Murphy's Law). A few boards, some sand and the aforementioned shovel can get you out of some tight spots. It shouldn't take cold weather to get you to have the windshield washer full of anti-freeze type solvent for your set of snow-blade wipers. You do have a tow rope & jumper cables, right?

Electronics -- As much as an EPIRB might be nice, a cell phone has moved into the necessary category. For most areas, you don't need a cell phone service contract to call 911. A CB can still be handy and with the combined CB/weather station models, make a nice addition to a Westy. If you'd listened to the weather station, you might not be in this predicament, huh? I suppose a GPS would be great but at least a decent map so you can tell people where you are. And a compass to go with them.

One can go into the hard-core survivalist stuff to any degree you and your budget want. At the top of that list, there are now heat packs in most sporting good stores that are activiated by breaking a seal or massaging them them. Mixed results! Those of us that hunt, usually have a pretty good stock of warm clothing. We have used experience there to chose necessaries for the wife.

So we'll be bundling up, taking this big box of stuff we probably won't need, and be breathing easy during our trip into snowbird land. Safe over sorry.
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May I add a couple of things to your list, Mike?

If you are heading off during the winter months, tell someone your route and expected time of arrival...and keep in touch with people every 4/6 days, if on a long trip.

The most important thing?...COMMON SENSE.

Gary Haupt

Capt. Mike


But I'll suggest you do a daily check-in. In this day of cell phones and phone cards, it's not a big expense for the results. I still have to call my Mom and tell her to, "Turn off her worry machine." At 82, she's still a mother and I'm still her baby.

If things are really tight, you can set up some sort of 'OK code'. Back in the days when a long distance phone call cost more than a Westy, my family used to make "collect person-to-person" phone calls for a family friend with a rather unique name. "Sorry, she's not in at the moment," passed on that everything was OK.


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I'll add two-bits that I heard from an old timer up here in Alaska. Don't take off all your darn clothes when you get in the car for a long winter road trip. Leave on a jacket or a sweater and turn down the heater. If you happen to go off the road and become incapacitated, the extra layer of clothes may make a difference in warding off hypothermia.


Don't get too dependant on your cell phone. Contrary to what you would believe coverage is not nearly universal. It might also be important to note that in more remote areas there is only analog service because it transmits further with fewer towers. Unless you have a dual mode or tri mode phone it won't work in an analog service area. Also an outside antenae is a must. Just remeber that if you are more than about 15 miles from a reasonable sized town, (particularly in Canada. I live part of the year near thunder bay, and there is scant service between Winnepeg and Sault Ste. Marie) If you get off the beaten path don't stake your life on your phone working. (I spend the rest of the year in the Mountains of B.C and the northwest. It has become all too common for hikers and skiers to try to save themselfs with thier phones rather than common sense.


Capt. Mike

GTransferred to consolidate similar topics.

Aswah Member Posted August 07, 2007 05:48 PM

My wife Lisa and I camp just about every week in our 89 Westy... so our camper pretty much always stays packed and ready to roll. Plus both of us are avid backpackers (did the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine 2.5 times). We kind of live in the camping world. Which I guess in a way makes it easier to get the camper ready to roll. One thing I am happy to have included on our "list" is a Snow Peak stove. Two days ago, while camping in Vermont (back side of Stratton Mountain) we ran out of propane on the last afternoon. I pulled out our portable stove and finished cooking our blueberry pancakes, sausage and coffee... On a side note: We have added 2 inch layer of memory foam to both beds... what a world of difference that makes.


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since my post moved to here and this topic is about cold weather survival... I would add to my previous post that I almost always have a negative 20 sleeping bag in the Westy. I slept in a tarp in minus 40 weather in it and stayed toasty. I have done a fair amount of winter camping as well. Nothing beats using logic and keeping your cool, so to speak. If you get hypothermic, get out of any wet clothes, get into a sleeping bag and/or warm blanket and make some hot coffee, tea, chocolate, soup, water or whatever. That saved me once backpacking in the springtime in North Carolina. Started walking in 40 degree rain, went up a mountain, temperature dropped down to 20 snow turned into rain... I started shivering uncontrollably so I stopped walking, thru my tarp up, crawled into me sleeping bag and started cooking hot chocolate and soup. Hypothermia is no joke. I had some friends who had to carry down a body from the White Mountains in New Hampshire. The guy apparently got hypothermic and undressed... they found him leaning against the rocks pretty damned close to naked.

I once saw a special on some nature program about surviving cold weather. What the researchers found was that keeping you torso warm/hot kept your fingers, toes and other parts warm. They researched the latest military thinking and natives up in northern Alaska... interesting program.


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Here's a great back up for a heat source when you need to heat up your body real quick -- go to your local drug store and buy a package of the instant heat packs/wraps for your back - store it in your Westy. I think the box will say that the packs last 8 hours, but my experience has been up to 12 hours.

You don't have to use the pack on your back --- put the heat where you need it.

Capt. Mike

Last Christmas, my daughter bought me a hand-warmer muff. Now I'm sold. This hunting season has had some cold weather. I put on my pair of thermal gloves, which had never before been 100% adequate even with an underliner pair, and stuck them in the muff. The muff has a quick-release belt to hold it in place. 3 hours later, my hands are still toasty warm. In fact warm enough, to switch down to a lighter pair of gloves as the sun warmed things up. Normally, by sun-up, the residual body heat from the hike in and climbing the stand has gone and the hands start getting numb. I can imagine they'd do even better with one of the above mentioned heat packs.
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Random points-
those little "survival space blankets" are near worthless except as vapor barriers. Not only that, but they are so loud that you'll never sleep thus increasing your fatigue level. The military's casualty type blankets are better but thicker- they look like a tarp with a Mylar coating on one side. The "Blizzard Survival Bag" is an even better choice (they make a blanket version as well as several other styles too).

Wool blankets, probably one of man's greatest inventions. When it gets really cold, I will leave the poptop down and tuck one in the upper bunk so it hangs down in front of the lower bed. This decreases the size of the area I'm releasing heat into as well as helps reduce the cold air coming from those giant heat sinks we call windows and the windshield. Similarly, I bought a roll of Reflectix material at Lowe's (the Mylarized bubble wrap insulation; ~$20/roll will cover all the windows in the bus except the windshield). I precut and labeled these for my windows, added some magnetic tape to help hold them in place and now the interior is a bit warmer at night. Insulating the bus where you can helps a lot too including throwing a blanket on the floor- all of that metal and glass just doesn't insulate well.

An external antenna will definitely help your cellphone reception; a Wilson Amplifier (~$185) that boost it to a full three watts is even better. The external antennas and adapter cable for many phones can be had for less than $15 on-line. I bought mine, a short magnetic version made by Wilson, from Cellular along with a Motorola brand spare battery for a lot less than Verizon wanted for just the battery (no affiliation, just fast service and good prices).

I'm not a huge fan of Swiss Army knives for this type of use. I love mine and carry it backpacking, etc. but for general use a multi-tool such as the Leatherman Wave is probably a better choice. They are easier to hold onto and the tools lock into place which is safer when using them with bulky gloves or cold fumbly hands.

Cotton kills. Wool and synthetics are much better choices for cold weather use- especially if it's wet.

Road flares- everyone should have at least one on board and I'm not talking about those stupid chemical lights (which are near worthless when it gets really cold). When you get cold, one of the first things to go is fine motor skills- things like striking a match become difficult. Not only are road flares very easy to strike, they burn hot enough to get wet/damp wood burning.

Have/know at least two ways to start a fire. I also keep a couple of those small Duraflame fire starters under my back seat (available at Wal-mart for <$1/each); the Duraflame versions work better than the store brands. It's easier than slowly building up a fire as we were taught in Boy Scouts and not as susceptible to being blown out by the wind.

One interesting item my cousin used to carry in his truck when he lived in Arizona was a small LED strobe light with a magnetic base that he could stick on top of his truck.

Not only is the spare stove a good idea, a liquid fuel stove or one of those specially formulated for use in cold weather will burn hotter and more reliably than straight propane. If you are going to use propane, wrap the propane bottle in something to help insulate it for better performance.


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winter in a westy


Not sure where to post this but hope its OK here. I have a T4 California Hi top and we are planning a week snowboarding in April. as its my idea and I want my girlfriend to actually enjoy it any advice appreciated.

1 Anyone done it ?
2 Any tips on keeping warm - we have an eberspacher not sure how heavy on fuel it is but think it should be fine if we can get a hook up
3 Snow chains - not likely to be essential but legal requirement potentially
4 Camp sites/Aires with hook up any advice for ones open and near snow
5 Can I run a heater off my leisure battery from the socket behind the drivers seat.

Thanks in advance


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Thanks for the tips on keeping warm. I have a question about how much cold the Westfalia can take. I have a 1984 westfalia and plan to drive it from Cali to Chicago, MN, and WI in mid-Feb. I'm concerned, having grown up north of Chicago and remembering how our cars would have a hard time with the cold. We used to plug in the diesel engine over night so it wouldn't freeze. Now I know things have changed with global warming but there are still below-zero temps happening over there. Any advice about having a westie in the midwest would be very helpful. I hope this is the right place to post this question. I'm new to the site.


Its very simple. Use a properly adjusted choke to start a carb in cold weather.

The OP has the option of either adding a choke or just tolerating it until the engine warms up.

Whether its worth adding a choke just depends on how often you run in the cold.