Fire in Cold Weather Survival Situations

Andrew’s Note:  Today we present another lesson from our Military Pedagogy series.  This discussion, from FM 21-76, the U.S. Army Survival Manual [Approved For Public Release; Distribution is Unlimited] is on the importance of fire in cold weather survival situations.


Fire is especially important in cold weather. It not only provides a means to prepare food, but also to get warm and to melt snow or ice for water. It also provides you with a significant psychological boost by making you feel a little more secure in your situation.  Use the techniques described in Chapter 7 to build and light your fire.  If you are in enemy territory, remember that the smoke, smell, and light from your fire may reveal your location.  Light reflects from surrounding trees or rocks, making even indirect light a source of danger.  Smoke tends to go straight up in cold, calm weather, making it a beacon during the day, but helping to conceal the smell at night. In warmer weather, especially in a wooded area, smoke tends to hug the ground, making it less visible in the day, but making its odor spread.  If you are in enemy territory, cut low tree boughs rather than the entire tree for firewood.  Fallen trees are easily seen from the air.

All wood will burn, but some types of wood create more smoke than others. For instance, coniferous trees that contain resin and tar create more and darker smoke than deciduous trees.

There are few materials to use for fuel in the high mountainous regions of the arctic.  You may find some grasses and moss, but very little. The lower the elevation, the more fuel available.  You may find some scrub willow and small, stunted spruce trees above the tree line.  On sea ice, fuels are seemingly nonexistent.  Driftwood or fats may be the only fuels available to a survivor on the barren coastlines in the arctic and subarctic regions.

Abundant fuels within the tree line are–

  • Spruce trees are common in the interior regions.  As a conifer, spruce makes a lot of smoke when burned in the spring and summer months.  However, it burns almost smoke-free in late fall and winter.
  • The tamarack tree is also a conifer. It is the only tree of the pine family that loses its needles in the fall.  Without its needles, it looks like a dead spruce, but it has many knobby buds and cones on its bare branches.  When burning, tamarack wood makes a lot of smoke and is excellent for signaling purposes.
  • Birch trees are deciduous and the wood burns hot and fast, as if soaked with oil or kerosene. Most birches grow near streams and lakes, but occasionally you will find a few on higher ground and away from water.
  • Willow and alder grow in arctic regions, normally in marsh areas or near lakes and streams.  These woods burn hot and fast without much smoke.

Dried moss, grass, and scrub willow are other materials you can use for fuel.  These are usually plentiful near streams in tundras (open, treeless plains).  By bundling or twisting grasses or other scrub vegetation to form a large, solid mass, you will have a slower burning, more productive fuel.

If fuel or oil is available from a wrecked vehicle or downed aircraft, use it for fuel.  Leave the fuel in the tank for storage, drawing on the supply only as you need it.  Oil congeals in extremely cold temperatures, therefore, drain it from the vehicle or aircraft while still warm if there is no danger of explosion or fire.  If you have no container, let the oil drain onto the snow or ice.  Scoop up the fuel as you need it.

CAUTION:  Do not expose flesh to petroleum, oil, and lubricants in extremely cold temperatures.  The liquid state of these products is deceptive in that it can cause frostbite.

Some plastic products, such as MRE spoons, helmet visors, visor housings, and foam rubber will ignite quickly from a burning match.  They will also burn long enough to help start a fire.  For example, a plastic spoon will burn for about 10 minutes.  In cold weather regions, there are some hazards in using fires, whether to keep warm or to cook.  For example–

  • Fires have been known to burn underground, resurfacing nearby.  Therefore, do not build a fire too close to a shelter.
  • In snow shelters, excessive heat will melt the insulating layer of snow that may also be your camouflage.
  • A fire inside a shelter lacking adequate ventilation can result in carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • A person trying to get warm or to dry clothes may become careless and burn or scorch his clothing and equipment.
  • Melting overhead snow may get you wet, bury you and your equipment, and possibly extinguish your fire.

Cooking Fire and Stove, Figure 15-7

In general, a small fire and some type of stove is the best combination for cooking purposes.  A hobo stove (Figure 15-7) is particularly suitable to the arctic.  It is easy to make out of a tin can, and it conserves fuel.  A bed of hot coals provides the best cooking heat.  Coals from a crisscross fire will settle uniformly.  Make this type of fire by crisscrossing the firewood. A simple crane propped on a forked stick will hold a cooking container over a fire.

For heating purposes, a single candle provides enough heat to warm an enclosed shelter.  A small fire about the size of a man’s hand is ideal for use in enemy territory.  It requires very little fuel, yet it generates considerable warmth and is hot enough to warm liquids.

Smallpox – A Biological Agent

Biological agents are pathogens and toxins derived from nature that target living organisms (humans, animals or vegetation) to kill or incapacitate.  Some biological perils are also suitable for weaponization and use in biological warfare, biological terrorism or economic attacks in the case of pathogens targeting agricultural industries.  Today’s hyper-connected world is particularly vulnerable to the spread of natural or man-made (or assisted) biological risks.  Knowing a pathogen or toxin’s capabilities, symptoms and possible treatments can give you the edge in preventing or knowing when there’s been exposure and should help you seek early treatment from a trained medical professional.  Today we look a little more in depth at smallpox.

What is Smallpox: (more…)

Cold Weather Survival Shelters

Andrew’s Note:  Today we present another lesson from our Military Pedagogy series.  This discussion, from FM 21-76, the U.S. Army Survival Manual [Approved For Public Release; Distribution is Unlimited] is on Cold Weather Survival Shelters. 


Your environment and the equipment you carry with you will determine the type of shelter you can build.  You can build shelters in wooded areas, open country, and barren areas.  Wooded areas usually provide the best location, while barren areas have only snow as building material.  Wooded areas provide timber for shelter construction, wood for fire, concealment from observation, and protection from the wind.

Note: In extreme cold, do not use metal, such as an aircraft fuselage, for shelter.  The metal will conduct away from the shelter what little heat you can generate. (more…)

Medical Aspects of Cold Weather Survival

Andrew’s Note:  Today we present another lesson from our Military Pedagogy series.  This discussion, from FM 21-76, the U.S. Army Survival Manual [Approved For Public Release; Distribution is Unlimited] is on the Medical Aspects of Cold Weather Survival.

When you are healthy, your inner core temperature (torso temperature) remains almost constant at 37 degrees C (98.6 degrees F).  Since your limbs and head have less protective body tissue than your torso, their temperatures vary and may not reach core temperature.  Your body has a control system that lets it react to temperature extremes to maintain a temperature balance.  There are three main factors that affect this temperature balance– heat production, heat loss, and evaporation.  The difference between the body’s core temperature and the environment’s temperature governs the heat production rate. Your body can get rid of heat better than it can produce it.  Sweating helps to control the heat balance.  Maximum sweating will get rid of heat about as fast as maximum exertion produces it.

Shivering causes the body to produce heat. It also causes fatigue that, in turn, leads to a drop in body temperature.  Air movement around your body affects heat loss.  It has been calculated that a naked man exposed to still air at or about 0 degrees C can maintain a heat balance if he shivers as hard as he can.  However, he can’t shiver forever.

It has also been calculated that a man at rest wearing the maximum arctic clothing in a cold environment can keep his internal heat balance during temperatures well below freezing.  To withstand really cold conditions for any length of time, however, he will have to become active or shiver.


The best way to deal with injuries and sicknesses is to take measures to prevent them from happening in the first place.  Treat any injury or sickness that occurs as soon as possible to prevent it from worsening.

The knowledge of signs and symptoms and the use of the buddy system are critical in maintaining health.  Following are cold injuries that can occur. (more…)

Hurricane and Flood Safety Tips

Flooded Tunnel

The Hugh L. Carey Tunnel (formerly the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel) during Superstorm Sandy. Photo courtesy of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Andrew’s Note:  Today Prepography is offering a repost of an article that originally ran on September 2nd, 2012 called Top 10 After the Hurricane or Flood Safety Tips.  This article includes hurricane and flood safety tips for the aftermath of a devastating event like Superstorm Sandy.

Hurricanes and floods are dangerous natural disasters.  Once the storm has blown over and the floodwaters have receded dangers still persists.  Here are the Top 10 Hurricane and Flood Safety Tips adapted from the Centers For Disease Control suggestions.

1. Don’t poison yourself or anyone else

Apparently after a disaster a lot of folks use equipment they aren’t familiar with to provide electricity, heat or clean up and give themselves carbon monoxide poisoning.  Carbon monoxide is an ordorless and colorless gas put off by many types of combustion engines as well as cooking and heating appliances.  To keep yourself safe read the instruction manual for all your appliances and don’t use equipment like generators, pressure washers, grills, camp stoves, or other gasoline or charcoal burning equipment inside of buildings or within 20 feet of a door, window or vent.  Additionally, don’t leave any vehicles running inside buildings or garages.  Use a carbon monoxide detector with a battery backup (in case the power is out) and leave the house immediately if is sounds or if you feel dizzy, light-headed or nauseated.  Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect poisoning.  See Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After a Disaster  for additional information.

2. Stay out of the floodwaters

Don’t reenter the area until floodwaters have receded and there is no rainfall forecast for your area or upstream.  Don’t drive vehicles or equipment through floodwaters and avoid bodily contact with floodwaters due to injury (tripping, lacerations, etc.), drowning, disease and pollution dangers.  Wear a life jacket if there are still floodwaters in the area.  See Flood Waters or Standing Waters  for more information.

3. Watch out for critters, big and small

With the multitude of tick and mosquito borne diseases (including a spike in West Nile infections this year) make sure to wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and insect repellent containing DEET or Picaridin (Information Regarding Insect Repellents).  Watch out for larger critters as well.  Wild animals and strays may act aggressively and/or carry diseases including rabies (Rabies Exposure: What You Need to Know ).

Read the rest of the hurricane and flood safety tips at Top 10 After the Hurricane or Flood Safety Tips.

Hurricane Sandy Updates

Keep up to date on Hurricane Sandy with these government and media Hurricane Sandy feeds:

BBC Hurricane Sandy Update Page

Google Crisismap for Sandy:  You can depict active shelter locations, storm surge forecasting, storm track forecasting, webcams, public alerts, hurricane evacuation routes and traffic conditions

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration StormCentral 2012:  Sandy

The Weather Channel Hurricane Tracker:  Sandy


Cooper on Hurricanes – Today’s Quote

Anyone who says they’re not afraid at the time of a hurricane is either a fool or a liar, or a little bit of both.

Anderson Cooper

It’s Time for That Once a Year Health Prep

It’s time for that once a year health prep again…I mean the seasonal flu shot.  The Army Reserve orders me to ‘take my medicine’ (yes, it’s a lawful order) every year…but I’d get one anyway. In fact, I believe that the flu shot is so important that I pay for all my employees to get their flu shots as well.  Many health insurance programs pay for the entire vaccine…but even if you have to pay for it yourself…it’s a cheap prep at about $25.  You don’t even have to go to the doctor’s office to get it anymore…you can find a vaccination site near you by searching at

The shot (or nasal spray) includes the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) three best guesses of the strains that your body will need help fighting off this year.  Here are some additional flu facts from the CDC: (more…)

News to Know

Situational awareness is a key element of survival and today, situational awareness must be global.  Today we present news to know from the past week with a dab of commentary:

Security Threat News:

DHS Admits It Is Unprepared for EMP Threat:  The Department of Homeland Security says that our electrical grid is even more vulnerable to an Electromagnetic Pulse attack than we were a few years ago.

Al-Qaeda blamed for Europe-wide forest fires:  If true, Al-Qaeda has found an extremely efficient and low risk way damage Western society.

‘Killing Is The Solution,’ Gang Member Tells Walter Jacobson:  A disturbing look inside the thought process of a street gang member.  Give some thought to what’s between your family and people like this…then take appropriate steps.

Communication News:

Britain in talks on cybersecurity hotline with China and Russia:  In all the old movies the nuclear hotline phones are red…what color will the cyberhotline phone be…hope it’s not an IP phone.

Financial News: (more…)

Top 10 Names for Winter Storms, Suggestions for the Weather Channel

You may have read earlier this week that the Weather Channel has decided to begin naming winter storms.  As you may be aware, the National Hurricane Center names tropical storms and hurricanes but this is the first time a private media company in the U.S. will name weather events.  Their thinking is that “a storm with a name is easier to follow, which means fewer surprises and more preparation.”  We thought we’d get a jump on the competition and suggest our Top 10 Names for Winter Storms (really 19 but who’s counting):

  1. The Big Chill:  Good name for either a Nor’Easter or Hillary Clinton’s next layover at the home she shares with Bill
  2. Frosty:  For obvious reasons
  3. S.H.O.E.:  An acronym for Stay Home Or Else.  This would be a good name for any storm that drops snow South of the Mason Dixon line.
  4. Vanilla Ice:  Sure to be a quick storm that unexpectedly shows up for another 15 minutes (of fame) every few years
  5. Ice-T:  Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time that Ice-T has graced the pages on Prepography.  Check out what Ice (as I presume his friends call him) said in an interview a few months back about not wanting to be the only one without a gun. (more…)

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