It happens to thousands of motorists every winter. It also happens to many people who just went out for a fun afternoon snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing or hiking. Fortunately, being stranded in the snow doesn’t have to end in tragedy, and it often can simply be avoided. Let’s look at some common-sense approaches for how to survive getting stranded in the snow.

By far, the best approach to ensure survival if you’re stranded in the snow is prevention and preparation. The following suggestions will help in that effort.

  1. Avoid it. The best way to survive being stranded in the snow is, of course, never to get in the situation in the first place. Check weather reports before traveling or going outside and away from shelter for long periods of time. Be smart and simply avoid being out in extreme weather if at all possible.
  2. Pack an emergency kit. Always have some essentials with you. No matter your mode of travel, carrying extra water, food and layers is crucial should you become stranded. Beyond this, use a good checklist, like the ones available at Ready.gov in their Winter Storms and Extreme Survival section, to help you prepare your vehicle or backpack for your winter excursion.
  3. Take your cell phone. Of course, make sure it’s fully charged before heading out. Being able to contact help right away can mean the difference between life and death. Don”™t rely on your phone as your only emergency plan though.
  4. Tell someone your plans. Tell them where you’re going, how you plan to get there (your route) and when you plan to arrive or return. That way, help can be sent as soon as you miss your designated times. When cold weather is a factor, never deviate from your plans if at all possible.
  5. Take extra. Sure, you have your emergency kit, but packing extra water, layers of clothing and blankets, and food is always a good idea. Especially when traveling by car, there’s no reason not to have extras of these items on hand. When participating in outdoor snow activities, investing in a comfortable and lightweight backpack for these items is absolutely essential.

Unfortunately, avoiding being stranded in the snow is simply not always possible. So when it does happen, adhere to the following tips to ensure your survival.

  1. Stay put. In most cases, staying where you are is your best option.
  2. Be smart with your supplies. Make a plan for rationing everything and stick to your plan. You simply never know how long you’ll be stranded.
  3. Signal for help. Use your cell phone if possible. If it’s not working, there are other options for signaling for help like raising your car’s hood, placing shiny objects (like mirrors and cd’s) around your location and laying bright clothing on the snow. And of course, making a fire not only will help you stay warm, it will also be another indication of your location.
  4. Stay warm. You can survive 30 days without food and 3 days without water. However, you can only survive 3 hours without warmth. This is where extra layers of clothing and blankets are absolutely essential whenever going any distance away from shelter in cold weather. If possible, take items for starting a fire both for warmth and for signaling.
  5. Hydrate. Second only to warmth when stranded in cold weather is hydration. As already mentioned, be sure to ration water appropriately. If you run out, consider options for melting snow into drinkable water. Do not eat the snow as it will lower your body temperature quickly and increase the rate at which you’ll succumb to hypothermia. Also note that staying hydrated at all times, whether traveling or not, allows you to be better prepared should an emergency happen.

Even the most careful person can get stranded and even lost in the snow, but you never have to be unprepared for it. Use the above tips for preventing tragedy and ensuring survival if it ever happens to you.

For additional tips, please visit the following resources: