If Super Storm Sandy taught anyone on the east coast anything, it's that huge winter storms can happen and cause incredible destruction and inconvenience. Power outages are commonplace and can take weeks to restore, which leaves people without heat, hot water and electricity. You may not be able to drive due to snow, ice, and downed trees. That means limited access to food. Water pipes can freeze and explode without heat causing your home to become uninhabitable. Get prepared now! Let's look into it...
Prepare your emergency kit
Having to evacuate your home during or after a winter storm can be exceptionally difficult and even fatal, so if it's something you have to deal with in your area then you should plan ahead and plan carefully. Cold and wet are the two most obvious things to avoid. So focus on those items first when putting your bug out bag together. Remember, if it's not in your bag you might not be able to grab it - so if you are planning on using the coat you wear everyday then try to keep your it near your BOB.
Your first line of defense against the elements is clothing and shelter. Let's start with clothing since this is a topic that has many facets and it's an issue which some people are confused about. You've probably heard that the best way to stay warm is by using a layering system - but that doesn't mean just piling clothes on top of each other, there is a method to it and certain types of materials which should be used to be effective.
You start with a Base Layer. This is your underwear basically. You want this layer to stay dry, and help evaporate the moisture from your body while sweating. Base Layers can be bras or underpants, t-shirts or long-johns. There is the old expression you may have heard, "Cotton Kills." Why? Because when cotton gets wet it loses any thermal retention properties it has, and in fact does the opposite - it makes your body lose heat faster than if you weren't wearing it. So what options are there? Well for one, Wool. Wool has been around since the dawn of time, and it is a fantastic material for us survivalists. It retains heat even when wet. Merino Wool base layers are a great start, they are comfortable and perform. They repel odors, dry quickly and stay warm.
If it's particularly cold where you live then you can have two base layers, one light or mid-weight and a heavier-weight layer. Wool can be a little expensive but it is worth every penny. Since it doesn't retain odors you can usually wear and re-wear it just by airing it out at night, you don't have to wash it all the time. Some brands to look at: Ibex and Smartwool. If you find wool that you like, get 2. Thats all you'll need in emergency, for a week or more, one to wear and one to air. There are Synthetic options too. I like synthetics because they are light and often very comfortable, but only if I have access to changing and washing them often because they tend to collect body odors. If you prefer polyester though, check out the Patagonia Capilene products.
The Middle Layer is there to keep you insulated, meaning it keeps the warm air your body produces close to you. Merino Wool sweaters or vests work here, as well as Goose down feather. Down works best overall but only when kept dry. Patagonia makes the Nano Puff jacket which is synthetic and a great option, it's made from recycled plastic bottles, it maintains its 98% of its insulating ability when wet. It fits a little slim by design, so that it fits underneath your outer layer. The North Face makes the Thermoball series of 3-in-1 insulating jackets that have a removable inner layer and a waterproof breathable shell. Designed for snowboarders and skiers so it's designed to vent excess body heat out when necessary. That gives you a Middle and Shell layer in one, although you might need a heavier shell.
Your outer layer, called the Shell Layer's job is to repel the elements such as wind, rain, and snow. Most are treated with some type of moisture repellant. It should be breathable so that condensation doesn't build up inside of it. It should be roomy and big enough to house all the other layers underneath. They can be laminated or polyurethane-coated. Laminates to look out for are Gore-Tex, eVent or REI Elements. Rothco makes a good shell that isn't too expensive called Rothco Special Ops Soft Shell Jacket that runs about a $100. The outer shell is water-resistant polyester with a fleece lining. You can go with a lighter option that is mainly for water resistance and typically labeled as "rainwear." They are typically a nylon shell with PVC on the outside. They aren't meant for strenuous work, just repelling water. You have a few different options when it comes to pants. You can get wool pants which will get wet and dirty but will keep you warm. My favorites are 5.11 Taclite Pants, they are made from a mix of polyester and cotton. Yes, there is the dreaded cotton but it's only 35%. The pants themselves are pretty water resistant, and dry super fast. They aren't exceptionally warm on their own but are rugged and serve as a good outer layer if you aren't knee-deep in snow. 5.11 also makes Patrol Rain Pants which are waterproof and meant to be worn over an other pair of pants.
They are 100% polyester twill and have reinforced kick panels, and cinches at the leg bottoms. If non-stop snow is in your Bug Out future then you probably need something designed specifically for that purpose. Black Diamond makes the Dawn Patrol Softshell pants which don't need an inner layer. Made from 63% nylon, 26% polyester, 11% elastane, with a treatment DWR finish for water resistance. These are soft pants keep in mind, not meant for overly ruggedized activities. Carhartt makes coveralls that are 1000-denier cordura fabric which is tough and hard to destroy. They are water-repellent and designed for very cold conditions.It features a zipper front and leg zippers that zip to the hip and are covered with snap close wind flaps. It also has double knees with cleanout bottoms to accommodate knee pads and zippered hand pockets. These are all just examples to give you an idea. Find what works best for you. Check local thrift shops to see if you can find some of these items - it can get a little pricey if you are starting from scratch. Do what you can, but do something, because winter storms can be dangerous and fatal.
I suppose it bears repeating that your head releases a significant amount of heat, so a hat is a must have item to keep you warm. What might be less obvious is keeping your ears and neck warm as well. The key is to keep cold air from coming into the hat or onto your neck - so wear a hood over your hat to keep the drafts to a minimum. There are other options if you don't want to wear a hood because of the decreased visibility - ski-masks and baklavas. Ergodyne makes a baklava that can compliment a warm hat by blocking out wind. By itself it's good enough for moderate temperatures but once it gets very cold this is just part of a system. A good pair of earmuffs goes a long way. Mraw makes a ton of different types, some waterproof, that sit behind the neck. If you have an old canvas hat that you would like to waterproof, check out OtterWax.
What you need to do depends on what kind of gloves you need. Mittens are going to keep you warm sure, but you aren't doing mechanical work with them. You probably already have a pair of snow gloves, so if you have an extra pair throw them in your BOB. If you are in the market for a new pair of gloves you might want to look at a pair of tactical work gloves. Seiberton makes the S.O.L.A.G. Special Ops Full Finger Tactical Gloves which run about $18 and have top marks from their purchasers on Amazon. These give you extra padding on the knuckles and the back of the hand which can protect you in a fist-fight, but don't get into one ok? We've been waiting for the weather to get a bit colder over here to get a pair and give them a full test drive.
Our family has spent the last few years trying to nail down the best possible types of footwear for a bug out bag or emergency kit. There are a ton of factors to consider, and each persons needs will be different. The one thing we do know for certain, that quality and resilience are the most important factors for us so we look for premium materials and craftsmanship in the boots and shoes we wear. This often means we pay more upfront, but will be able to wear them for quite possibly the rest of our lives. So when you factor in replacement costs, it is actually cheaper in the long run to buy a $300 pair of boots once than a $99 pair every few years. We try to buy US made products, which remain vastly superior to foreign imports. Some US companies have product series they make that are made in China, like the Red Wing Irish Setter series so check with the manufacturer first if this is a concern.
Now thats not to say there aren't good inexpensive boots out there, there are but they almost always have glued on soles made from molded polyurethane. Molded poly is only designed to last for 5 to 10 years or so, then they degrade quickly thereafter due to hydrolysis. This will happen despite the shoes or boots in question having been worn or not. Vibram soles are one answer to this problem. They are made from vulcanized rubber in a process developed in the 1930's. Some boots and shoes have replaceable Vibram soles, others have glued on soles, either way rubber is a better choice than polyurethane. So look for footwear that are using the same materials and processes that were in use prior to the 1970's if you want them to last a good long time. This often also means that they will be repairable by a local cobbler. Since we are talking about winter we should look at boots that can stand up to snow and ice. One brand that we've trusted for a long time is Vasque. The Vasque Ultradry line is designed with winter hiking in mind, and several of the styles they offer should serve you well.
Prepare Your Home
There are lots of ways you can and should prepare your home from winter storms. The first thing you should consider is loss of electricity: which can mean the loss of heat, hot water, and lights. Having a home that is below freezing can cause people to suffer and perhaps even freeze to death.
Winterize Your House
You want to keep the cold air out and the warm air in your home during the winter. Simple and inexpensive things can make a big impact on keeping drafts out. Improving the insulation in your homes walls and attics is the best way to do it, but could be a little expensive. I remember in my grandparents house they had these long knitted animal things that they put under all the doors to keep the cold drafts from moving around. Nowadays they are called Draft Stoppers and you can get them pre-made, unless your grandma is willing to make you some.
Run weather stripping along all windows and doors to keep cold air out. You can also cut clear plastic bags into squares bigger than the window and tack or tape it around the window to block drafts on those particularly bad ones. Duck Brand makes shrink wrap for windows and doors that also insulate against the cold. Check around air ducts, and any other entrance points for pipes and things in your home for drafts, and seal with caulk if appropriate. Remove any window AC units that could be leaking cold air. And if you have a fireplace, make sure to keep the flue closed until you are using the fireplace.
Heating During And After the Storm
If you live in an older home or a country home that has a wood or coal burning stove then you are used to dealing with those types of systems and know what they can and cant do. But since most modern homes use electricity, gas, or oil to heat forced air around, and since a power outage can take those offline then you will need to have a backup system.
Believe it or not, your fireplace is likely not going to warm your house, in fact the opposite may be true. There is radiant heat from the fire itself (while it's burning) but warm air is shooting out of the top of the chimney. That air needs to be replaced with air from somewhere else, and that somewhere else is typically cold air drafts from outside coming outside. If you have a fireplace, you can install a metal insert which will direct warm air into the house but keep the smoke and soot in the chimney. This reduces the draft problem as well by circulating warm air instead of pulling in cold. It isn't a highly efficient system but it works as long as you have dried wood available.
If you want to power up your oil or gas system, then you can use a generator to do so - assuming that the temperature and conditions outside aren't so low as to effect it's operation. A transfer switch can be installed by an electrician near the furnace that allows you to isolate it electrically from the rest of the house and prevent someone from being electrocuted outside. Talk to them about the size of generator they suggest, typically one 2500 watts or more can handle it.
Beware of Ice
Ice can cause a multitude of problems, from damage to the home, to causing slip and fall accidents. Get a bag of salt for your walkways to remove ice and avoid nasty falls. Be very careful around icicles! Many people have been seriously injured and even killed by falling icicles, which can be extremely heavy and sharp. Make sure before the winter season really gets going that all the gutters are free from fallen leaves, so that water wont collect in them. If it's a particularly rough winter, then protect entry areas and doorways with a product like the Easy Heat Roof & Gutter De-Icing Kit, which heats up the roof to keep icicles from forming. They come in different lengths so you can find one that works for your home.