Les Stroud’s Ultimate Winter Survival Guide
Lifestyle Even the most basic survival tasks can be made much more challenging with the cold temperatures, snow, ice and strong winds associated with winter. Mediaplanet asked musician, author, activist and star of the hit series “Survivorman” Les Stroud for his tips for surviving the elements this season.
What do most people overlook when preparing for winter camping and hiking?
We all know it’s cold, but people don’t realize how much the cold can take out of you. You’re instantly burning more calories because of the temperature, so that takes a toll. Your intake of water changes, too. People forget to stay hydrated in the cold, even though you’re actually more dehydrated in the winter than on a hot, sweaty day in the summer. A common survival-guide debate is whether or not you should eat snow. I always thought, “Absolutely — you should eat snow all day long.” The time you shouldn’t eat snow is after 4:00 p.m., as you get colder in the day. But in the middle of the day, when you’re doing fine, and you’re warm and you’re working, you can eat a lot of snow because that’s water in your system.
Can you share a few tips for staying alive if you find yourself facing a disaster in the middle of the night?
The first step is to calm down. You have to be calm to make sound decisions. I recommend following what I call the three zones of assessment. The first zone is your body and yourself. Ask yourself: What’s in your pockets? What are you carrying? Are you injured? When was the last time you ate? The second zone is observing your immediate surroundings. Maybe you have a backpack with clothing and a bit of food in it. Zone three is what’s further ahead. Maybe if you walk east for a quarter-mile, you’ll run into the highway. You can answer these questions in less than two minutes, and the information can help you be proactive.
What must-have gear do you keep on you during cold weather adventures?
If we’re talking about survival, you have to think about what survival is: warmth, shelter, water, food and rescue. An array of signaling, or knowing that I’ve set up a signal system with somebody at home, is vital to have, whether it’s a cell phone or GPS. Then you’re going to want to focus on staying warm and protected from the elements. Think about how much a knife weighs. What if, instead of a knife, you carried a small, compact tube tent? A knife isn’t going to keep you dry in a downpour of rain, whereas a tube tent might. You also might want to consider carrying a water filtration system to stay hydrated.
Can you share with us a winter-survival situation where you thought, "This is not good; this is dangerous"?
My first survival experience was from when I was a student. It dropped to -45 degrees Celsius. I was okay; I had a shelter and a fire going, but I got tagged by the conductor around midnight. There were people who didn’t have well-insulated shelters or couldn’t start fires, and we had to get them out of there. It was the only time during a survival class that the instructor made a decision to say, “We have to go in — this is bad.” We all walked out of the bush at night, got into our cars and went home. I’ve never forgotten that lesson, that even though I was doing all right, that there was a time to say, “That’s enough; this is beyond.” Years later, we were filming my first show in Canada, which was still a pilot at the time, and one night it dropped to -45 Celsius. My camera broke it was so cold. I made sure my shelter was extra-thick, and I dedicated a lot of time to keeping my fire going, but that night was bad, too. It’s been 17 years since “Survivorman” started. Recently I started my own online network that has all the skills from my shows and a full series of channels that are all instructional. You can look up fire-starting and find six or seven different clips about it. When you become a member, you can actually tell me what you’re looking for. You can say, “Listen man, I want director’s commentary on the Norway episode,” and I’ll do it.
Tell us about your music.
I started writing when I was 14, but I pulled away from it to be an adventurer. Now I’m on my sixth album; I’m shifting out of my acoustic sound and into more progressive rock. The thing about my music is, just like my show, everything is about getting people outside. It’s about connecting people to nature. I love the stage. I used to play with Journey, Jonny Lang and Alice Cooper. I’m continuing to work on music, and now I’m developing outdoor summer music festivals. I ain’t gonna be no popstar — I’m way past that — but I’m still a survivor and a performer.