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Winter Survival Kits and Extreme Cold Weather Gear

Winter survival kits, extreme cold weather gear, and winterizing your home and car If you live in an area with severe winters, it's just as important to prepare for winter season as it is for people along the southern coast to prepare for hurricane season.

This guide covers the extra steps to take on top of your normal prepping foundation, including winterizing your home, winter emergency car kits, winterizing your bug out bag, and proper extreme cold clothing. Unfortunately, climate change is making winter and winter storms even worse, with more severe, frequent, and unpredictable events occurring in a wider range of places. Before long, people in northern Texas might need to carry tire chains because of polar vortexes that slingshot Arctic air down into the mainland. Nasty winter weather can happen as early as September in some parts of the U.S., but winter formally starts on December 21.

So if you live in an area where winter is a risk, try doing your annual preparedness review when the leaves start to fall. Although good emergency preparedness plans cover a wide range of situations at any time of year, there are specific steps and gear that help you handle extreme cold and winter storms.

This guide digs deeper into key areas:

* Last-minute tips in case a storm is headed your way

* Common risks in severe cold and winter storms, like hypothermia

* How to dress appropriately and tips on which clothing to buy

* Swapping/adding winter gear to your normal Bug Out Bags, Get Home Bags

* Swapping/adding winter gear to your normal Vehicle Everyday Carry

* Winterizing your home to prevent common damage

* What steps to take in your home and car as the storm arrives

Check out our separate guide to learn how to survive common winter emergencies, such as falling through ice or building wilderness snow shelters. How to last-minute prepare a winter survival kit In case you Googled this article as a bomb cyclone or polar vortex is headed your way, here are the best last-minute tips, right up front. We assume you're like most people: unprepared, with random/normal stuff around the house and only 1-2 days' worth of appropriate food and water. The main goal is to be able to comfortably survive in your home for two weeks without the grid or outside help. A blizzard or polar vortex usually doesn't last more than a few days, but the aftermath can disrupt life essentials for days and weeks after.

Items to buy:

* Groceries, two weeks of water (15 gallons per person) and food that doesn't require any/much cooking

* Two weeks of important medications

* Two weeks of pet and baby supplies

* Gas - top off your car, and a spare fuel can

* Snow shovel

* Bags of deicing salt or sand (or kitty litter)

* Ways to heat and light at least one room in your home that doesn't depend on the grid (space heaters and lanterns for camping that use cheap propane tanks are great)

* (Optional) chapstick, tire chains, window scraper, appropriate clothing Things to do:

* Have warm clothing, blankets, and space heaters ready.

* If you're using propane space heaters to keep warm, only use quality indoor-rated products (like the Mr. Heater Buddy's we recommend below), carbon monoxide detectors, and crack a window for ventilation.

* Make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors work. Home fires happen more in the winter than in any other season, and heating equipment is involved in one of every six reported home fires. Generators can feed carbon monoxide indoors if not properly ventilated. *Gather all your flashlights and batteries in one location.

* Ready your generator. Keep it in a protected, well-ventilated place, like an enclosed patio. Does it have fuel?

* If you burn things for heat, make sure you have enough fuel stored inside where it's dry and accessible.

* Close off unused rooms.

* Block drafts with towels under doors.

*Let your faucets drip to prevent pipes from freezing.

*Try to stay inside as much as possible. If you must leave, see our driving tips.

* Shovel important walkways and driveways multiple times throughout large snowstorms. You save overall time and pain compared to doing one big removal.

Winter prepping uses a common foundation If you're new to emergency preparedness, start with our Prepping 101 Checklist. It covers two weeks of home supplies, Bug Out Bags, and Get Home Bags (typically kept in your car). It's the foundation that everything else is built on, and we don't repeat it all below.

The 80-20 rule is true in prepping, too - that basic foundation will cover you in almost any emergency scenario, including winter. On top of that foundation are some tweaks or additions specific to severe winter, which we cover below. Prepare your Bug Out Bag and Get Home Bag for winter

A good emergency bag shouldn't need constant attention. Outside of an annual prep review where you tear it all apart to check for expired items and so on, a good bag should sit quietly, untouched, waiting to be used. Ideally, this means that if you live in an area that has a full range of seasons over the year, your bags would have the 80-20 range of climate-appropriate clothing and gear at all times. The less you have to fuss with it, the more prepared you are.

Layering, which is the right way to dress for severe cold anyway, makes this even easier because the inner layers can also work in summertime. So it doesn't add much bulk to have the winter clothing, too. Our favorite mid-layer jacket, the Arc'teryx LEAF Atom LT, scrunches up into the size of a large orange. If you can't do this because you're limited in bag space or budget, then plan on swapping the clothing and gear in your bags twice a year, before the summer and winter.

Whether you customize your Bug Out Bag and Get Home Bag for year-round coverage, or you swap out the gear between seasons, if you might deal with extreme cold than you should consider adding these items:

* Clothing layers. Instead of bulky hoodies and wool sweaters, see the section on best winter clothing.

* Extra pair of thick socks. We like Darn Tough.

* Gloves or mittens

* Beanies or winter hats that don't take much space

* Thermal gaiters are versatile ways to cover your neck / face / head

* Chapstick

* Travel- or purse-sized tissue packs

* Hand warmers

* Compact all-weather blanket as a supplement to normal Mylar blankets

* A BOB/GHB should have them anyway, but sunglasses are just as important in winter as they are in summer. Look for glasses that wrap around your face to block out sun and wind.

* A waterproof bag or extra backpack rain cover. Snow can become a wet nuisance. How to prevent hypothermia and frostbite Other than being uncomfortable, the real dangers of severe cold are hypothermia and frostbite. Understanding how they work is key to preventing them. Hypothermia occurs when your core body temp drops too low (a few degrees below 98 F) and your organs start to fail. Frostbite usually occurs in the areas furthest away from your core, like your toes and ears, when ice forms in the surface tissue.

In both cases, the key to prevention is protecting your body heat. Your body loses heat three ways:

* Radiated heat from unprotected surfaces

* Direct contact with conductive elements like water

* Wind pulling heat off your skin Which is why the Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic recommends the acronym COLD:

* Cover. Wear a hat or other protective covering to prevent heat from escaping from your head, face, and neck. Wear mittens instead of gloves.

* Overexertion. Avoid activities that cause you to sweat a lot. Cold weather plus wet clothing equals faster heat loss.

* Layers. Wear loose-fitting, layered, and lightweight clothing. Wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers hold body heat better than cotton.

* Dry. Stay as dry as possible. As is the case with most cold weather emergencies, so much of the battle is in preparation - not much you can do about frostbite if you're stuck outside without fire, shelter, and proper clothing.

We dig deeper into how hypothermia and frostbite work and how to treat them in our winter survival guide. Best extreme cold weather clothing

The most important things to remember with clothing:

* Use layers.

* Cover as much skin as possible.

* Use base fabrics that keep moisture away from your skin.

* If you're sweating, let your body vent, or remove layers.

* Clothes shouldn't be too tight, which slows down warm blood circulation and reduces the trapped insulation air between layers. Dress in layers to beat the cold Dress for cold in layers: base layer, insulation layers, and protective shell.

Each layer has a job. A base layer (against your skin) wicks moisture away from your skin, instead of absorbing it. An insulating layer keeps heat close to your body. A shell layer (outer layer) protects you from wind and rain. The maximum layers we recommend for severe cold is four: a thermal base layer, a mid-layer fleece, a down jacket, and a waterproof shell or down-filled parka. You might have your normal undershirt and button-down that you wear to work, then an insulating layer, and lastly the shell. Daily undershirts are usually cotton, which is bad for cold emergencies, so think about what you'll normally be wearing when you pick the right base layers to keep in your Get Home Bag and Vehicle EDC kit.

The point is to keep your body's heat in, not so much keeping cold out. This works both ways: if you're going to be physically active, like digging your stuck car out of the snow, remove layers first to keep from overheating and sweating. Overdressing is a thing. It's OK to be a little cold when you first go outside. You'll warm up as those insulating air layers do, too.

It's a common misunderstanding that the value of multiple layers is simply in the added total thickness of the materials. That helps, but an equally important value is that the air in between each layer warms up, creating insulation. This is similar to double-paned windows or wetsuits for water. A wetsuit doesn't keep you warm simply because of the 5 millimeters of neoprene - it's actually the water trapped between the suit and your body that warms up. Like your own personal, portable hot tub.

The notion of having one thick, waterproof, do-it-all down jacket is misguided. Some people spend upwards of $1,000 on a Canada Goose down jacket that's suited for fashion, not function. What happens if your car gets stuck and you have to push? You'll overheat, sweat, and wish you could take it off. You don't need to spend a lot on one garment and expect it to perform in every imaginable condition. It's better to buy a combination of layers that each do the thing they're designed for very well.

Pay attention to sizing. Some brands, especially the more well-known quality companies, make it easy by standardizing each layer on the same S/M/L/XL sizing - so the L base layer is designed to fit well inside the L middle layer. Read reviews to see what people say about sizing. Many of the cheaper options typically run small, and you may need to buy larger sizes for the outer layers. Your base layers shouldn't be too tight, which can cut off circulation of that all-important warm blood.

The closest layer to your skin should be just close enough to wick moisture away. Layers on top can be looser. Ideal materials for winter clothing There's a common saying in the outdoor clothing market: Cotton kills. Cotton is bad as a base layer. When cotton gets wet, whether from sweat or outside moisture, it loses its ability to insulate you. It's not a moisture-wicking material to begin with. It can leave you cold, clammy, and work against your body's ability to produce heat.

Shy away from corduroy, denim, flannel, or duck. These are also made with cotton. A recent trend is cotton-synthetic blends. It does help compared to plain cotton, but the synthetics are doing all of the work. So you may as well just skip the cotton altogether. Wool is a classic natural fiber that's excellent for these situations.

As of 2017, the US Antarctic Research Center at McMurdo Station's required packing list for extremely cold weather (ECW) breaks down materials by layers: Lightweight base layer requirements:

* Synthetics (polypropylene, polyester, branded materials) or natural fibers (silk or merino wool) * Density: about 140-200 grams per square meter (the label might list this as "140 weight" or a number in this range) Midweight base layer requirements:

* Synthetics (polyester, nylon, non-bulky fleece, branded materials such as PolarTec) and natural fibers (merino wool, down)

* Density: about 260-320 grams per square meter (the label might list this as "260 weight" or a number in this range) Outer shell (parka) requirements:

* 800+ cubic inches of synthetic or down fill (loft of the insulation = puffiness)

* 250+ grams of insulation (weight of the insulation itself) *Windproof outer shell *Attached hood * Fitted closures at cuffs and bottom

* Covers waistline when bending over

* Must keep you warm when inactive for 12 hours

Below are some ideas to get you thinking about gaps in your wardrobe, which we've compiled based on product research, reviews, and guides; the McMurdo Station ECW packing list, and the Army's FM 31-70 cold weather guide. Core Popular synthetic base layers include Smart wool merino wool or Patagonia Capilene. The shell is your first line of defense against the elements. Examples: Black Diamond Helio, Rab Latok Alpine Jacket, Rab Positron Jacket 800 fill, or Patagonia Fitz Roy Down Parka 800 fill.

Head and face It's a myth that the body loses the majority of its heat through the head. According to WebMD, our head represents about 10% of the body's total surface area. For the head to lose 75% of the body's heat, it would have to lose about 40 times as much heat per square inch as every other part of your body. The body doesn't work that way. Find a hat with synthetic fibers like Windstopper polyester and acrylic, which wicks moisture and dries fast. Wool is another warm, wicking material for winter headwear. An example is the Mountain Hardwear Unisex Dome Perignon II Hat.

For full head coverage, a balaclava like the N-Ferno 6823 Thermal Fleece is a good addition. For added neck protection, check out Smartwool's simple gaiter. Depending on your jacket or scarf, some of these items might be redundant.

Sunglasses and protective eyewear are just as important in winter as in summer. One benefit is shielding your eyes from cold wind. More importantly, snow reflects 85% of the sunlight that hits it, which can make it very hard to see and creates real danger when navigating. You can even sunburn your cornea, a condition called "snow blindness." Get sunglasses with anti-reflective, polarized, and wraparound lenses that block 100% of UV radiation.

If you expect to spend extended periods of time outdoors in winter, consider glacier glasses, which keep light from creeping in the exposed areas around the sides of your eyes. Legs Since your bottom half can get just as sweaty as your core, the underwear base layer should be made of synthetic fabric, merino wool, or silk. Under Armour and ExOfficio make popular men's and women's synthetic underwear, and the experts at The Prepared use both every day.

For longer trips outside, start with something like Helly Hansen's long underwear paired with North Face's Freedom Insulated pants or Marmot's Precip rain pants as a shell. We recommend windproof or wind-resistant pants, but with a caveat: they can trap heat as much as they block it. This is where zipper vents come in handy. For added coverage and warm, check out an insulated bib like Carhartt's Arctic Quilt-Lined Coveralls, which are spec'd by McMurdo Station's ECW. Hands

There are four types of gloves, giving you varying levels of dexterity:

*Gloves: Each finger is separate, so it's easy to work with your hands.

*Mittens: Best for warmth as all your fingers are inside together, but you can still grab a pole, rope, or strap.

*Lobsters: Hybrid of glove and mitten, where your pinky and ring fingers are separated from your middle and index fingers. Good if you've found gloves aren't warm enough and mittens too limiting.

*3-in-1: Some systems sell a liner, glove, and flip-over mitten all in one. You can layer gloves, too. We like using flexible gloves with touch-screen capability during normal daily use. But we also keep thicker, waterproof mittens in our BOB/GHB/VEDC that slide right over the base layer. It's a great way to get the best of both worlds - dexterous gloves that don't get in the way plus thicker mittens that keep you toasty when needed.

For profoundly cold conditions like what you'd find in Antarctica or at 12,000-foot peaks, consider leather mittens with removable liners. Feet The right boot for someone in Duluth, Minnesota, where the average low temperature in January is a balmy 2 F, might be overkill for someone in Asheville, North Carolina, where it occasionally snows and the average January low is a more manageable 28 F.

Proper winter boots are waterproof, insulated, and have great traction. The popular and well-reviewed Columbia Bugaboot Plus III and North Face Chilkat 400 are great options for both men and women. For extreme cold that you'd encounter in the upper Midwest, Canada, and Arctic, check out the Baffin Apex or Sorel Caribou. If you might be stomping around in deeper snow or even snowshoeing, consider using waterproof gaiters that slip over your existing boots, rather than keeping an separate set of massive boots around.

For socks, look for labels that describe them as winter weight, or mountaineering use. Mountaineering socks are the thickest, heaviest option for rugged winter conditions. Look for fabrics like merino wool or nylon/lycra blend. Our favorites are Darn Tough socks or Smartwool Mountaineering socks. To add a sweat-wicking layer to your feet, look for a liner sock made from merino wool or polypropylene. Smartwool's hiking liners do the job well.


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