Spending A Night Out When SHTF
The local SAR team leader called me that same evening and was looking for experienced mountaineers to rescue the workers from the teeth of the storm. I told him no. Conditions were too dangerous, with the odds of success low and the risk of getting someone hurt unacceptable. I’d narrowly dodged my own disaster the day before, coming dangerously close to skiing off a cliff in poor visibility, trying to find a narrow mountain pass on a ridge on my way out. He didn’t like my response but ultimately conceded, and we spent the next 24 hours preparing our gear and waiting for the storm to weaken.
A twisted ankle, broken sled, or cut on the hand is not what makes people fear for their lives and call for help in remote locations. What most often makes people concerned is exposure to the elements. They don’t carry the gear required to stay warm and dry overnight, and then get cold, start to shiver, and become hypothermic.
Clothing is your first line of defence against the elements and is the best way to combat the weather. It has allowed humans to survive outdoors, from the first caveman putting on a loin cloth, to mountaineers climbing Everest, and astronauts walking in space. Modern clothing systems provide amazing performance, managing sweat, blocking wind, and keeping you warm with limited bulk. The two key components that ensure you have your bases fully covered within a technical clothing system are your active and static layers. You should be thinking about both any time you head into the backcountry.
Wear the active layers while riding and moving around, generating body heat. These layers provide enough insulation and protection to stay warm and focused while not overheating, wetting out your clothing, or making you dehydrated. These pieces include your base layer, a mid-layer fleece or light synthetic insulation top, and a protective outerwear riding suit.
The biggest mistake I see people make with the active system is not wearing a proper base layer. This layer is the foundation of the clothing system, pulling moisture off the skin and into the next layer. If you find yourself chilled or damp long after exertion, you likely weren’t wearing the proper base layer.
If you’re stuck out overnight, shelter is the number one survival priority, so you should carry more than clothing to protect yourself from inclement weather; but frankly, this applies even if only stopped for a few hours riding out a storm or period of poor visibility
A tarp, a small tent, or the knowledge of how to create a snow shelter or other natural shelters like an A-frame or lean-to is imperative to your survival outdoors, especially if spending an unplanned night in the mountains. An avalanche shovel, folding tree saw, and 550 cord are great tools for constructing suitable winter shelters
Food is secondary to water, as humans can generally survive around three weeks without it. But your body is a metabolic engine that runs on calories like your machine does on gas. Food keeps you warm and feeds your brain for performance to make good decisions. Carrying a few emergency dehydrated meals, food bars, and energy chews ensures you’ll weather the situation, stay focused, and make good decisions that will get you back home.
Fire is a commodity that should not be counted on to save your life outdoors. Lack of wood above tree line, high winds, and damp conditions conspire against the ability to make an adequate fire. Once struck, most fires often provide more psychological warmth than life-saving warmth. It’s important to have the ability to make a fire by carrying a small hand saw, fixed blade knife, pre-fab tinder, and several lighters. You can even siphon gas from your sled. But fire should be considered your third priority behind clothing and shelter to survive an unplanned night out.
MS Editor’s Note:
For over two decades John has taught the skills and mindset required to survive in austere mountain environments. He has trained SAR teams and Special Operations units how to thrive in dynamic mountain conditions, developed clothing and equipment systems for the military and hunting industries, and has personally hunted, skied and climbed in some of the most remote places around the world.