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January- Time to Think About Cold Weather Survival

With the coming of the new year we are also facing what is generally the coldest weeks of the year. Although the days are starting to get longer, the cold has been settling in and this is also a time that the winds can be strong. Winter camping brings on different conditions and different conditions increase the potential for problems.

Many of us establish habit patterns for camping. Our pack is always in the same place, our flash light is in a certain pocket, fist aid gear is in the same place, etc. Habits help insure that we have everything when we leave on a camping trip. When we get into a different environment, those habits can cause us problems.

In the Navy, I flew in F-4’s (gives you an idea of how old I am). We were based in Oceana, VA. but had been training for a week in Key West. The Tower frequency was Channel 3 in Oceana. The frequency was changed so that Channel 3 was the Tower frequency in Key West. (See where this is going?) Coming back from Key West we were in good weather (VFR) and at 10 miles contacted the Tower (Channel 3) for landing. We were told they didn’t have us visually, but to continue. The F-4 usually has a long, black smoke trail behind it and the Tower not seeing us at 10 miles raised some concern. We got similar transmissions at 7 miles, 5 miles and 3 miles. I finally dialed in the frequency manually and got clearance from the Tower to land as we were approaching the numbers at the threshold of the runway. Because we had gotten into a habit, we were talking to Navy Norfolk and landing at Navy Oceana. Everything turned out OK, but the chance for a major problem existed because we were lulled into a false sense of security by our repetitive, habitual actions. Just because you have gone camping every month since May, doesn’t mean you are prepared for cold weather camping. Be vigilant.

As you review survival guides and lists of things to do for outdoor survival, there are two important factors to consider as you get ready for your camping trip:
1. Prepare for the unexpected
2. Maintain a positive attitude

While “cold” is relative, January, February and March are months where there can be large changes in weather conditions between morning and night or from one day to the next. The important thing to remember at this time is that weather patterns and temperatures often change rapidly. Be aware of coming weather patterns and the timing of the patterns. A cold front with sharply dropping temperatures may be forecast to come through the area Sunday afternoon, but might actually arrive Saturday night. As the Scout Motto points out, “Be Prepared.”

Good preparation also means reviewing safety procedures; letting other people know your route; have pre-arranged check-in points so people know your progress; let other people know any changes of plans, routes or times; and do your best to prepare for the unexpected.

If you are well prepared it will be easier to keep a positive attitude. You will be confident of your skills; you will know situations to avoid; you will have plans for the unknown; and you will believe you can survive. Military survival training. Lost hikers and climbers. Air crash survivors. All of these instances have proven that the human body can endure hardships we would not have believed possible. One of the most important keys to survival is believing that you will survive. Your brain is the best survival tool you carry. Having a positive attitude will let you make the best use of that tool.

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