I live on a small ranch in Northern Alberta, Canada. I’m approximately a half hour drive to the nearest small town, and the winters here can be tremendous. I’ve always taken a slightly different approach to preps than most of my American counter parts, because most energy, food, shelter, water and defense advice floating around the Internet is not cold weather viable. In this short paper I will attempt to relay to you, the reader, the importance of being ready for winter in all aspects of survival. This is a short collection of some thoughts and experiences I’ve had living through Northern Canada winters.
1) Heat is what you need in the winter. ‘Of course!’ you say. It’s hard to emphasis the priority having heat takes when it is -40 (Celsius or Fahrenheit it doesn’t matter). Food, shelter, water, medicine, and defense all rely on having enough heat. You can’t clean with, or drink, water that is frozen. Even eating snow is not recommended because of the energy your body must use to heat the frozen water. You can’t eat meat that is frozen solid. You can’t live in uninsulated flimsy structures not designed to handle the weight of snow, or the extreme life-sucking cold. You can’t stay in a LP/OP for very long without heat. It is harder to fight with a rifle when you cannot feel your hands or they ache intensely from being frozen. Everything takes a back seat to keeping you and your families body temperature at the correct level. You will find that all aspects of surviving a winter are ultimately steps towards providing enough heat to live. I think most preppers agree a good wood stove and a way to efficiently obtain dry fire wood in the winter is a must. A Ski Doo (snowmobile), a sled for hauling, a good chainsaw, extra chains, oils, parts, fuels, tools etc are all requisites as well as the ability to differentiate dead standing wood (the dry stuff) with live trees that are simply dormant for the winter (not dry stuff) and transport it back home. Have multiple methods of heating the indoors.
2) Food is akin to warmth. Your body will automatically try to keep warm if it detects colder temperatures, burning extra calories. You will find that in order to maintain a healthy mind and body, you will need to start a supplement regime through the coldest winter months, when there is little to no fresh vegetables or fruits, and mainly a diet of preserves and game. Canned goods that become frozen may go bad, or the container may rupture. Unless you have an extensive organic garden that provides a winter’s worth of preserves each summer, you will most likely end up eating some GMO canned products. Hunting changes with the coming of snow. Deep snow can become a serious problem for most hunters as mobility in four to five feet of snow without snow shoes or a skidoo is minimal and exhausting. For game you will mostly find mammals such as coyotes, deer, elk, etc. All can be taxing to move or prepare in deep snow. Ice fishing requires an ice auger, and multiple lines in multiple holes to really be successful.
3) Water is relatively easy to find. See that white stuff? Yup. Water. It needs heat. For every shovel full of snow you melt, you will get approximately 1/3 that volume in water. Start shoveling! If you have a good well, the water will remain liquid until it is exposed at ground level. If you heat water then put it outside it will freeze even faster, so don’t do your animals a favour. All lakes, ponds, and rivers will freeze over and become hidden under snow, so you need a water source.
4) Shelter is a means of efficient heat. It contains the heat from your stove for a longer time. It keeps the wind off you, which can make the cold multitudes worse. It is a place to prepare food, practice good hygiene, and spend time with friends and family, safe from the hostile environment outside. Temporary shelters such as igloos can work if one is skilled enough and snow conditions allow snow to be packed together. This is not always possible in extreme cold. An alternative is using layered pine tree branches in a sturdy lean-to design, with a fire in front projecting heat. Note that you must dig down through the frozen snow before starting a fire for obvious reasons. Be creative. Keep the wind off your skin. Contain the heat safely. Find a way to dry your clothes and skin off while in shelter. Your shelter needs to handle huge amounts of snow weight, and will still need to be cleared. If you own a house you must shovel your roofs off if too much snow builds up on it, or it may collapse or deform, and leak.
5) While I have never been in a gun fight in the middle of winter, there are some common sense things that everyone needs to take into consideration. Cold hands are the least of your worries! We are all taught to ‘get off the X’, but this becomes problematic in a situation where you may have to run through a foot or more of snow. Its slippery, heavy, and you don’t know what you’re stepping on under that snow. If it gets a little deeper you simply cannot run, much less retain a sight picture of your firearm. Sinking into a snow bank up to your waist while someone is trying to kill you is probably not a good thing. Going prone may save you, but its a gamble if you’ll land softly on the snow and ready to fight, or end up swimming in the snow looking for your buried firearms (which may or may not function after being packed with snow). You will be wet and cold when you stand up again. The first nations had a proper solution to this. Snow shoes are life savers. I recommend rifle drills where you practice positional shooting with snow shoes as well as getting off the X. Go on winter hikes through a forest area with the shoes on. Skis become problematic due to the length especially if you are in a thick tangle of branches. Cold weather will affect the ballistics of your rifles tremendously. Canadian Rangers still use the Lee-Enfield which is a .30 caliber bolt action rifle, because the AR-15 platform simply does not perform in the super cold climate. It tends to have problems with its gas impingement system and the arctic climate and dense air causes the small .223 round to lose stability much much quicker. Also a bolt action with iron sights is much more likely to function even after being jammed full of ice and snow and moisture. M1As, AKs and VZ58s will all work very well in the extreme cold, provided that you keep your actions clear [and de-lubricated]. Winter is a completely different beast. Everyone can see your footprints in the snow, and tell how long ago you were there. You need a whole new set of winter camo’s and gear such as no-fog goggles and proper gloves, boots, and balaclavas. What will you do if someone blocks the road off in front of you? Your vehicle cant go through the snow in the ditches. If your vehicle is disabled you are put into an immediate heat-shelter survival situation on the side of the road, and you could be wounded as well. If someone comes into your house in the middle of the night, and you decide to run… will you make it till morning at -40 degrees? A huge truck full of cut firewood would be a target in a winter TEOTWAWKI situation. Snow banks need at least a few feet of width to stop most rifle rounds. The snow will reflect moon light making night time bright as day (almost!) and if you put snow in your mouth it will stop people from seeing your breath. Batteries for night vision devices and red dot sights will die quicker. If you bury a weapon cache in the ground during summer months, that same ground will be hard as a rock and full of ice during the winter. That is… after you find it and shovel all the snow off it first! When the spring comes and all that snow melts guess where that water will go? Yup. Right down into the hole you dug for your end-of-the-world rifle.
Study the Eastern Front of the Second World War and the hardships many soldiers went through during those winters.
Think outside the box. Last winter I stayed in a trappers tent with a wood stove. To handle the weight of the snow on the tent, I drove fence posts in beside the tent and tied all of the supports to the fencing post, and after that I threw a double layer tarp over the entire tent. The result was an outer layer of tarp with a approximately a foot of space between it and the inner tent. This space acted as an insulator for inside. The outer tarp, which was always frozen, would dehumidify the air by building up frost on the inside. I stayed comfortable and warm in a 12′ x 20′ tent during a deep Canadian North winter. It was dry, so I was able to safely use my laptop and some lights inside. I would not recommend storing electronics in a winter tent such as this because it will collect frost, and when that frost melts and electricity is applied… you may has well have thrown it in a lake. I had to run my stove constantly. Cutting firewood and hauling it on a shoveled drive way with my quad was a huge calorie burn. That’s on a day when my quad would start easy. I will be purchasing a good working skidoo this fall, as well as storing several containers of stabilized gasoline.