Optimizing Cold Weather/Winter Training


Let's say you and your circle of friends decide to conduct some winter survival and/or tactical training.  Not a bad idea on the first day of February with average (in the 20's) temps during the day, and depending on the wind currents, not much different at night.

If you haven't done this a few times, and it's your circle's first attempt, you may want to consider doing some pre-requisite training prior to grabbing your sleeping bag and other accouterments and hitting your chosen site.  

There's a simple reason:  Training time can turn into a life and death survival situation in a nano-second in winter weather.  

To get the most out of your training, and also ensuring that no one suffers cold weather injuries, it's going to take more than a 'YouTube' session or two to get the material.

Here's some things to consider:
  • Everyone should go through a 'Cold Weather Survival' academic class that ensures all the principles of being out in the cold for days at a time entail.  Everything from hypothermia symptoms and how to treat them to fire and shelter building.  This is so important that if someone, 'can't make it,' they should not be included in the outing as they can become a real liability to the rest of the folks.
  • Everyone should understand that sleeping out of doors in the winter does not mean having a tent.  Try to test yourself because if you ever do end up having to live in a winter environment, chances are you're not going to have a large tent or a camper on a vehicle to use.  Realistic winter training is a whole different animal.  A tarp shelter over a snow trench is optimum, presuming the individual has a properly rated/insulated sleeping bag (large enough to allow trapped air to become warm and have  room for your water carrier - water will stay liquid in your bag - just make sure the lid's on tight), a vapor barrier for the snow trench,  and a Balaclava to cover the face when sleeping (never EVER sleep with your face inside the bag.
  • Everyone should carry a half dozen (minimum) 'hand warmers' for cold weather injuries.  One under each armpit and one in the crotch will go a long, long way in warming up a hypothermia victim.  Personally, I prefer the Grabber large 18+ hour model.  
  • Everyone should also have a half dozen fire starting devices.  That means lighters and tinder.  Drier lint, cotton balls infused with vaseline, whatever makes fire fast.  Also, everyone should be well versed in finding dry toothpicks, pencils, and other sized kindling along with fuel, and starting a fire with minimum effort. 
  • Everyone should have a FRS/GMRS radio with fresh batteries and another set kept close to their bodies to keep them warm.  In the event someone gets separated from the main group and/or disoriented on their own, these can be life savers.  These little line of sight radios are great, but keep in mind they truly are, 'line of sight.'  They won't transmit over hills and out of draws very well.
  • Everyone should have already 'winterized' their rifle/pistol prior to going out.  Only the barest coat of any lubricant on the bolt, slide, and other internal working part.  Additionally, everyone should have performed fundamental marksmanship drills with their winter clothing on (and adjusted their kit to comfortably fit over the winter clothing).
  • Everyone should be wearing loose clothing that's layered for the activity.  Lots of activity means few layers; static tasks mean a bit more.
  • If the training is going to be held in deep snow (more than a foot), everyone should have, and learn to use snow shoes.
  • Consider using sleds or a toboggan to haul heavier equipment in if walking to the training site.  If you're dragging a sled, it will quickly turn into a very cardio based activity, which means only one or two light layers that will get wet.  This means you need to have dry layers to change out when you are done hauling.  It also means that you need to be in decent shape.  No fun if someone keels over dead from a heart attack.....just sayin'.
  • Bottom line is that everything you're going to do should be rehearsed in a safe environment by all participants prior to hitting the training field in nature's most dangerous season.
Leave nothing to chance, and then go out and have some really great winter training.


  1. Snow shoes are cheap and easy to use, but not so good for speed or distance. Back country skiis are the best, and you can haul a pulka sled behind you to bring bulky gear. People new at winter camping might want to try it near a place of safety, like outside your home or near your car. Once you get used to it, though, it is blast. Even my 5,6 and 7 year olds enjoyed dog sled camping in the mountains in the winter. If they can do it you can do it.

  2. Remember that the calorie loads required for proper performance go WAY UP as the thermometer goes down. The average moderately active person USUALLY burns slightly more than 2000 calories a 24 hour day.
    When winter camping the same person SHOULD PLAN on a 4,000 calorie per 24 hr day. And may be mildly hungry.
    Plan ahead with nuts and other fats (Pemican is usually pretty fatty but handles the issue nicely).
    Seriously close out the day on the way to the sack with a hand full of peanuts (if not allergic).

    Meals should be balanced between proteins and fats with SOME starches to kindle the metabolism. PLEASE limit the sugars!! They burn VERY fast and don't do a lot for keeping warm and functional.

    When I did some winter camping a few years ago my calorie intake jumped to 4500 to 5500 per day and I gained -2 pounds. Yep lost weight.

    Your afternoon/evening meal wants to be something hot and meaty.

    Oh right...HYDRATE LIKE A MFer!! Think a liter an hour or more. Stay under 2 liters an hour because you push your kidneys etc above 1500 ml/hr.

    At 10,500 ft we ran at 2 liters an hour and had guys drying out...Just be aware that cold weather is DRY even if snowing.

    Night Driver.


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