Survival Guru

Thursday, September 22, 2011 2

Q: How can I survive a night in the cold?

What can I do to stay warm if I have to spend a night in the cold without a sleeping bag?

By: Question from: The Editors, Santa Fe, New Mexico
These could save your life.
These could save your life. Photo: Artep/Flickr

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Outside GOOur hottest adventure-travel tips and trips. Sent occasionally.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Subscribe
to Outside
Save Over
70%

Magazine Cover

iPad Outside+ App Access Now Included!

Advertisement

Four-Star Camp Food

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

A:

On my Knife-Only Survival Courses, students and instructors sleep out in the cold by burrowing into a thick bed made of pine needles. By thick, I mean four to five feet of needles or leaves piled high into a framework of logs. Stack the logs into a rectangular frame about a foot wider and longer than your body. Then, layer two feet of compressed debris (leaves, moss, duff, cattails) on the bottom to keep the ground from conducting away your body heat. Next, pile up about three to four feet of more debris on the edges to create a body-sized trough. When it’s time to turn in, spread flat on your back in the trough and scoop the debris in around you like a blanket, covering yourself from head to toe. Yeah, you're going to have dirt, rabbit droppings, and pine needles in your hair, ears, and nose, but it beats dying a slow death from hypothermia.

I’ve slept this way, without a sleeping bag, down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit during the colder months and, on occasion, have had to pull off some “bedding” during the night, as these shelters retain heat quite well (squirrels use a similar setup). I recall one story about a lost child stuffing his pants and shirt with oak leaves and surviving several nights out in freezing temperatures.

Just keep in mind that this is a non-smoking shelter, and build any campfire a good distance away. Otherwise, your shelter itself will turn into a signal fire—you don't want to be that warm.

More at Outside

Next in Adventure (5 of 101)

What's the best cold-weather survival food to carry for an emergency?

Read More »
Current Issue Outside Magazine

Subscribe and get a great deal! Two free Buyer's Guides plus a free GoLite Sport Bottle. Monthly delivery of Outside—your ultimate resource for today's active lifestyle. All that and big savings!

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Gear of the Day The latest products, reviews, and editors' picks. Coming soon.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Ask a Question

Our gear experts await your outdoor-gear-related questions. Go ahead, ask them anything.

* We might edit your question for length or clarity. If it's not about gear, we'll just ignore it.