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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

21 Tips on Sleeping Warm

21 Tips on Sleeping Warm
I know it's spring and I was a little behind in getting the snow shelter posts out, but after all those posts on snow shelters, I thought it a good idea to write about sleeping warm before I start in on warmer weather shelters. Sleeping warm is a key any time of the year and just because it's springtime doesn't mean it can't get cold out there.

Sleeping warm is one of the key factors that can make or break an adventure. Remember the body cools down during sleep and the blood is drawn from the extremities (feet and hands) to the center or core of the body, so proper insulation must be provided to prevent heat loss. For a good nights sleep on your next adventure, you may choose to use some or all of the tips below.

1. Keep Hydrated
Hydration is key to proper thermal regulation for the body, so keep hydrated during the day (dehydration is more common in cold weather than hot weather). But, avoid drinking lots of fluids at night so you won't have to keep getting out of your sleeping bag and dropping your temperature to go to the bathroom.

2. Use a Pee Bottle
If you must go, use a pee bottle. It's better than exposing yourself to the elements by climbing out of your shelter and dropping your temperature even more. Besides, holding it in requires your body to waste energy (i.e. calories) trying to heat up water in your bladder to 98.6 degrees.

3. Eat a Big Dinner
Eat a big dinner with lots of calories, preferably fats and proteins. During the day carbohydrates are good for quick energy but they burn up to fast to last throughout the night. Remember, calories are a unit of heat and without them the furnace won't burn hot.

4. Keep Snacks
Keep a snack with you so if you wake up cold in the middle of the night, you can replenish those lost calories.

5. Go to Bed Warm
Warm up by taking a brief hike around camp or doing some jumping jacks. If you wrap a frozen salmon in a sleeping bag, it will stay frozen because your sleeping bag is an insulator for cold or heat, just like a thermos. So go to be warm and it will insulate the warmth.

6. Select a Protected Site
If you can select a protected site out of the wind and off the valley floor and other low areas where cold air settles. A good rule is to try and be 75 feet above the valley floor.

7. Fluff Up Your Sleeping Bag
If you have one fluff up your sleeping bag with vigor to gain maximum loft before you climb in for bed. Loft creates dead air space which is were the heat is captured.

8. Insulate Yourself from the Ground
Use a good insulating pad between you and the ground. Research shows that it's more important what you have under you, then what you have over you for warmth.

9. Wear a Stocking Cap
Where a stocking cap to bed, you lose most of your heat through your head.

10. Don't Breath Inside Your Sleeping Bag
Keep your nose and mouth outside your sleeping bag. Your breath contains a lot of moisture that will reduce your sleeping bags insulating value.

11. Cover Your Mouth at Night
One of the ways we lose heat is through respiration, along with moisture loss in cold dry air. That's why you see steam coming from your mouth when you breath in cold weather and we've already pointed out how hydration is important. So, wear a balaclava or wrap a scarf around your face and you will not only prevent some dehydration, but also conserve heat.

12. Roll the Moisture Out of Your Sleeping Bag
Roll moisture out of your sleeping bag each morning (roll from foot to head). Then leave it open until it cools to air temperature and if weather permits, set it out to dry in the sun.

13. Use a Layered Sleeping System
Use a layered sleeping system (i.e. sleeping bag, liner, half bag, and bivy sack). A layered system helps to remove the frost build-up that naturally occurs when your body heat meets the cold air on the outside of the bag.

14. Avoid Overheating
Avoid overheating at night and make sure you go to bed dry. Overheating produces perspiration, so vent your bag if needed or take off your stocking cap.

15. Make Sure Your Feet Are Dry
Make sure your feet are as dry as possible before going to bed. This can be done by having a pair of dry sleeping socks or polarguard booties in your bag for sleeping only.

16. Use a Sleeping Suit
Use a sleeping suit, which is clean and dry pair of long underwear stored in your sleeping bag for sleeping only.

17. Wear Loose Fitting Clothing
Wear loose fitting clothing to bed so it doesn't restrict circulation.

18. Stay Clean
Keep your sleeping gear clean. Dirt clogs air spaces in material and reduces insulation value.

19. Use a Hot Water Bottle
Fill a water bottle with boiling water before you go to bed and then strategically place it in any cold spots. Just make sure it has a screw on lid like the Nalgene bottles (one bonus is that you have some water ready to go in the morning, instead of having to melt snow first thing). A variation is to use disposable heater packs or hand warmers if you have them (I personally like to put them in my boots so their warm in the morning when I first put them on and us the water bottle for my bag). In the old days they would take a rock from around the fire and place it in an old sock. You can still do this, but with the modern synthetic fabrics, you need to be careful not to melt everything.

20. Use a Half Bag
If you have cold feet, sleep with your feet together in a half bag or a bag that pulls up over your feet and legs (you could also use a fleece jacket or sweater), inside the sleeping bag . A half bag uses the principle of the buddy system, where the feet share heat instead of being isolated, much like mittens are warmer than gloves because the fingers are together.

21. Use the Buddy System
Speaking of the buddy system in the last one, you can actually use the buddy system. Two people spooning (i.e. lying together side by side like spoons in a drawer) are far warmer than one by themselves. It's probably the oldest method of sleeping warm and in a true survival situation shyness loses is power.

See you on the trail and sleep warm,


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Monday, April 27, 2009

Snow Shelters - How Strong Are They?

How Strong Are They?
Those who are new to snow shelters often stay up the first night they sleep in one staring at the ceiling wondering if it's going to collapse. Remember they only collapse when you're building them and that's only if they are built wrong, if you can get inside a finished shelter it will not collapse. Plus, they harden with time and become rock hard or more like ice hard, but you get the point. Now just so you believe me, here's a photo with 20 students standing on one the next morning. Pretty solid!

Practice, Practice, Practice
There's an old saying, "repetition is the mother of skill". If you want to become good at any skill you must practice. For me personally, I can build any one of these shelters in under an hour and most within 15 to 20 minutes, but that ability has come from much practice.

Now I don't care if you practice in your backyard, drive up in the hills and build one with the kids and then just drive home afterwards and sleep in your own bed, The key here is that you practice. And, might I suggest that at least once you try to stay the night in one. You might actually enjoy it, they beat the heck out of a tent in the winter.

Speaking of tents, tents are colder and they rattle in the wind, where snow shelters are warmer and almost completely sound proof for an incredible nights sleep. Actually most people I know, after they get good at building one, won't sleep in a tent in the winter ever again. For backcountry ski trips they're awesome, you don't have to bother hauling in that extra weight for the tent.

Final Thoughts
A lot of people never practice their emergency skills or use their emergency gear until a true emergency happens. The only problem with that approach is that it's a bad time to find out something doesn't work or you're not sure how to do it. I can't count how many times a student broke one of those wire saws from their survival kits or have one of those 99 cent reflective blankets rip in half in the wind. I've always emphasized that my students use and test their skills and gear to find out what really works, so when the time comes that they truly do need them, they can count on them.

Remember, "repetition is the mother of skill" and after you build a few you'll be an old pro. Now go back and review my posts and try out each method.

See you on the trail,


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Friday, April 24, 2009

Snow Shelter Common Mistakes

Common Mistakes

1. Too Flat
Remember the shelter criteria from chapter one, well the first one was Round. People always ask if a shelter will collapse and the answer is, no if you can climb into them. If they're going to collapse it's only while you're building them and always because you have to flat of a ceiling (NOTE: it's always good to practice building them with a buddy or two, that way they can grab your wiggling legs if you collapse one and it only takes one collapse to learn to arch the roof, usually you never have a problem after that). The key is to keep an arch on the ceiling. If you can finish it and climb in, even if the ceilings flat it won't collapse, it will just sag overnight.
This ceiling is to flat, it wound up sagging about foot by morning. Again it won't collapse if you can get, it just sagged.

Here's a snow cave that collapsed only while they were digging. Notice how flat the roof was. No Arch!

2. Obstacles
The last photo brings up another point, obstacles. You can see where they started to hit the bank. Others will dig into a tree or a stump or a boulder, so one trick is to first probe the area you plan to build in. Take a ski pole, ski, branch, or even an avalanche probe pole and poke around in the snow real quick just before you build to make sure there's no obstacles and the snow is deep enough where you're building.

Here's a tree in the doorway they were able to go around. Small little trees are hard to find.

3. Too Big
One of the other criteria is Small, because it's easier to build, takes less energy and is easier to warm up.

This one is way to big, I'm actually standing inside the doorway while I'm taking this photo. The student in the photo is kneeling in what he called the living room and the area above him with the tarp is the loft or sleeping area.

Here's a photo of the same shelter the next morning with the two students that built in the loft in bed. Notice how much lower the ceiling is, they had to flat of a ceiling for such a large shelter, but because they could climb in it, it didn't collapse, it just sagged through the night.

4. Jagged Ceiling
If you have too many jagged points on the ceiling, you're going to get dripped on through the night. Remember as you heat up the shelter the walls begin to glaze over with a light film of water and then freeze by the morning to make a rock hard shelter.

Notice the point right behind his shoulder, it dripped on him all night long.

5. Square Door
Remember doorways need to be small and round or arched, otherwise they have a tendency to break. Here's a square one that later broke.

Yes they can be repaired. Here' the repair job notice the branch and snow block above.

Here's another repair with snowshoe and skis.

6. Doorway too High
Remember the doorway should always be lower than your bed area or your bed should always be a few inches above the top of the door, that way you will trap in the heat that rises in your shelter. Here's a door that was way to high, the student is sitting on the bed, needless to say they were cold that night.

Here's a eye level view of the same doorway and he's sitting on the bed area. Cold!

Now you know a few of the most common mistakes so you can avoid them and sleep warm. Speaking of sleeping warm I think that's what one of my future posts will be on.

See you on the trail,

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Quinzee Snow Shelter

The Quinzee is a shelter that was built by the Inuit Indians of Alaska and is basically known as the "snow mound" shelter. It's advantage is that it can be built in just about all locations and in any snow conditions (light fluffy snow to wet snow). You can build it in 10 feet of snow to 6 inches, so it's a method I suggest everyone learn. In short, you basically mound snow and then tunnel out a sleeping area and with a few tricks I'll show you it can be pretty easy. Let's take look...

1. Step One
Begin by stomping out a circle the size you want it to be depending on your height. A 6 foot wide circle is about right for the average adult. Some people will use a ski pole to get a reference by lying the handle in the middle and just rotating the basket end around in a circle. Now just stomp down the circle to help with crystal collapse. [NOTE: One trick is to pick a site where the door will face downhill, so when you dig it out you can pull the snow out and down the hill, as opposed to out and up to get out of a hole]

2. Step Two
Go around the perimeter of your circle and shovel snow in to the center forming a mound. [NOTE: One trick is that as you build up the mound, you will also be going down so it's like working double time and multiplying your effort. That way you only have to build half as high of a mound.] The Inuit used to put a pole in the center to be able to find the center when digging out, but I've got a better trick below.
[NOTE: Trick number two is to take your packs and put them in the middle of the circle, cover them with a tarp and then bury them (see picture). When you tunnel in and pull them out half your shelter is already dug out.] Make sure you take out an food, water and gear you'll need during the building process, otherwise you won't be seeing them for awhile. I learned that one the hard way.

Here was an experiment, the idea was to dig into the valve and then just let the air out. The valve froze solid and we had to just stab it with a knife to let the air out.

Besides it just made me think of the Beach! Not the focus to have out here.

Let's get back to the task at hand, shoveling snow to the middle.

3. Step Three
Once the mound is about shoulder height begin patting the mound to help collapse the crystals and smooth out the surface. Then take a break and have some snacks and water to give it a few minutes to become harder.

Here's a student using a snowshoe. Remember You can improvise many different digging devices. The shelter is going to be a three man but it's still a little to big even for that many.

4. Step Four
People always ask how thick should the walls be on a snow shelter and the answer is around 8-12 inches. The problem is how can you tell? [NOTE: Here's the next trick, take some sticks and measure 12 inches past your hand and then push them into the shelter roof and walls until your hand hits the snow]. Bingo, now all you do is dig until you hit the sticks and you have a 12 inch thick wall.

5. Step Five
Now cut a small door, tunnel into the backpacks and pull them out, then begin forming a dome shape until you hit the sticks and stop (notice the sticks in the top).

When you first get to the packs, try to come up under them and when you pull them out you'll have a small jagged looking cavity that will eventually become home. Just start hollowing it out until you get to the sticks you stabbed into the walls.

You can see the sticks in the ceiling in this photo, which means stop digging. [NOTE: Another trick is to use a tarp (as shown here) to drop the snow from the ceiling on and then you just pull it out like a skid]

[NOTE: Trick number two is if the beds are not high enough above the doorway, you can just drop the snow from the ceiling onto the beds to raise them up instead of shoveling it out of the shelter. What really stinks is if you have to shovel it back in to raise the beds higher, this trick can save you a lot of extra work]

6. Step Six
Now smooth out the ceiling by just rubbing a glove over it, jagged points like you see here drip at night. What happens after you climb in for the night is that the walls start to glaze over with a film of water and then it freezes over night to make a rock hard shelter.

That's just way to smooth.

Just Right.

7. Step Seven
Now vent your shelter over the doorway so you don't have snow rolling into your bed. Put the hole about halfway up the wall, the size of a softball and at a 45 degree angle.

The hole is right above the door about three feet up.

8. Final Thoughts
Here I am nice and comfy laying in my Quinzee ready for bed. [A tip is to make sure you have a good insulating pad under you. Research shows that what you have under you is more important than what you have over you for warmth. Otherwise, your body tries to warm up the surface under you to 98.6 degrees (it's one of the heat loss mechanisms called conduction) and on snow that's definitely a losing battle. In a true survival situation, you could use your pack, pine bows, the seat of your snowmobile, etc...]

Remember to keep the door small and the top of it at least a few inches below your bed level to trap in heat. This is the view from my bed. Notice also the candle on the left with the reflective qualities of snow all you need is one stick candle and you'll have all the light you need, not to mention a nice little warming of the shelter that comes from them.

Here's a condominium with one shelter behind the other and a tunnel between the two shelters. You can become quite creative once you get the hang of it. Notice also the kitchen area outside the doorway.

Now let's look at the most common mistakes in winter shelter building...

See you on the trail,

---Gregory E. Rouse

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Snow Caves


The old snow cave was the standard for winter shelters. You would just find a snow bank or hillside and just tunnel in. They worked fine but the building process of trying to crawl through a small hole and keep it lower than the beds meant getting covered with snow and very wet, not to mention all the bent over back breaking and knee crawling work. Not a good combo for survival. Now let's take a look at the new way...

The "T" Cave is the new and improved method and a whole lot easier. The name says it all, you basically cut a "T" shape into the snow bank, then carve out the dome inside, then put snow blocks across the front, all while standing up (no crawling). A pretty slick method and you can build one in about 15 - 20 minutes, so let's learn how...

1. Step One
Dig out a section of the snow bank about waist high, two feet in and no wider than your hips (the key is to keep it narrow because you will need to bridge this gap later).

2. Step Two
Now dig out each side to form a "T" shape about chest high.

3. Step Three
Now duct under lip and carve out the ceiling to form a arch or dome inside.

Here's a view looking up the snow bank at the inside of the cave with the shovel standing on end. You really only need enough head room to be able to sit up in the sleeping area because you'll be able to stand in the entrance.

Testing it out for size and making final adjustments.

4. Step Four
Now cut a big block to bridge across the entrance, this is probably the most technical part of the whole thing and why it was so important to keep the entrance at the beginning of the process as narrow as your hips. (Any bigger and it becomes really hard to find a big enough block to bridge the gap and not break). After you place the main block just fill in around it to the point where you're shoving snowballs in the holes. You can usually make blocks out of the snow you have shoveled out and packed down, along with where you've been standing. (Don't worry I'll be carving out the block over the entrance to form an arch, the trick is to just get it in there at first, you usually break a few).

5. Step Five
Now just put some snowballs in the small holes and shovel snow over the whole wall. Finally put in your vent hole over the doorway and you're done. Climb in and enjoy.

Here I am laying inside with a student taking the picture from the doorway.

Here's a cut out the next morning with a student laying inside, so you can see how it looks from outside.

Now let's see how to build a Quinzee in the next post...
See you on the trail,

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Fighter Trench Snow Shelter

The name says it all, this method was developed by the military and taught to their fighter pilots for a quick winter shelter. Basically you dig a trench and then cover it with branches, skis or whatever and then cover those with a poncho, tarp or even snow blocks. It's biggest benefit is that it's one the fastest shelters to build, the downside is that it's not as warm as others. There's a few points that can help you build one, so let's take a look...

1. Step One
First stomp out your area to dif the trench in. This helps to collapse the crystals in the snow and make for a solid shelter.

2. Step Two
Now dig a trench a little longer than your height while laying down. Make sure you keep the trench narrow (no wider than your hips if you can) or else it will be hard to bridge the gap this your skis or branches. Dig to about chest high in depth.

Notice there's a shelf in the back where the shovel is sitting. You don't have to do that I just wanted a shelf for gear. One neat thing about snow shelters is as you become more skilled, you can be as creative as you like, snow is easy to work with.

3. Step Three
Now carve a bed platform about knee high so as to keep a cold air sump in the bottom. Make the bed just wide enough for you to lay on. Always remember to keep the ceiling at an arch or half arch in this case (arching from the rim to the backside of the bed). The shovel is laying on the bed and I'm taking the photo from the opposite corner to look a little better inside.

4. Step Four
Now lay some poles, skis, branches or whatever you can find across the opening. Here I used some ski poles and a branch to show you a few examples.

5. Step Five
Now cover the poles and branch with a tarp, poncho, parachute or whatever you have and then bury the edges with snow. Now you're done. It's that easy. In the photo you can see the shovel down in the bottom.

Here's a view inside from the doorway. You can see the shovel on the bed platform and the shelf area straight forward.

Here's a view while lying on the bed looking out the doorway. You can see my boot on the right. All that's left is to put a plug in the door (like your backpack, branches or something). The vent hole in these shelters is the door, but if you did seal up the door air tight with a tarp or something, you would need to punch in a vent hole in the side wall.

6. Alternative Roofing
If you don't have poles or even a tarp you can use snow for your roof, if the snow can be cut into blocks and is not to powdery. For this trench I dug into a snow bank so you could see in easier. The trench is dug and the bed platform is done with the shovel laying on it. Now we can begin on the roof.

Here I've begun to lay blocks in an "A" frame across the gap.

Here I am sitting on the bed with the roof done. I went up and shoveled some snow on the blocks to fill in the holes. Note this is a tall shelter, they don't have to be that tall, but I wanted to be able to stand in it.

Finally, here's a photo taken from bed at night looking at the entrance. I put a tarp over the entrance because of being dug into a snow bank and as a result the front was left open (it was still very warm). Note that with the tarp sealing it up pretty tight, I put a vent hole in the side. Also, notice the candle on the left, remember all you need is one stick candle and they heat up nicely, not to mention the light it puts out with the snows reflection.

Now let's look at how to build snow caves in the next post...
See you on the trail,

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