How to Survive the Freezing Cold


A good tepee fire will provide excellent air flow.
A good tepee fire will provide excellent air flow.
Photographer: Peiling | Agency: Dreamstime

Once you have your shelter and water, get a fire going. In addition to keeping you warm, fire can be used to melt snow for water, cook food, dry out clothing and create smoke for rescue. You can read about emergency fire starting techniques in How to Start a Fire Without a Match, but for now let's assume you have the necessary equipment -- either matches or a lighter. Dig a fire pit near your shelter's entrance with a good wind break piled around it. The fire should be in the center, with room for your wood and a place to sit.

After you dig your pit, start collecting your fuel. You'll need a tinder starter, small to medium kindling and larger branches and logs -- make sure you have a wide range of sizes. If it's dry, you can use any brown leaf, pine straw or bark for the starter. If it's wet, peel bark away from trees and use your knife to get fine shavings from the trunk. Dry wood can be found under thick trees. As for how much, a good rule of thumb is to collect as much wood as you think you'll need, and then double that amount.

Once you've dug the pit and collected enough wood, you're ready to build your fire. There are two basic versions that work well -- the tepee and the log cabin. For a tepee fire:

  • Stack medium-sized branches in the pit side by side for your base.
  • Place your tinder on the center of the base.­
  • Get a medium-sized forked branch and a straight branch of like size.
  • Rest the straight piece in the fork and add additional pieces around it, meeting at the center to form a solid tepee frame.
  • Add smaller kindling until it's fairly dense, while allowing air to pass through.
  • Light your tinder and gently blow until it's well lit.
  • The smaller kindling around your tepee will ignite, while the heavier frame pieces stay in place.

Once the fire is burning strong, the tepee frame will light and fall. At this point, start adding your larger pieces of fuel.

For a log cabin-style fire:

  • Place two medium-sized branches parallel to each other, about 18 inches apart.
  • Stack two more like-sized branches on top to form a square.
  • Keep doing this until you have a "log cabin" about a foot high.
  • Place some branches inside the cabin on the bottom for your base.
  • Put your tinder on top of the base and light it.
  • Add small kindling to the tinder until it's well-lit.

Your cabin frame will get hotter and hotter until it ignites, leaving you a hot base of coals to add your larger branches and logs. Once your fire is going strong, build another outer frame to dry wet logs.

Some other fire tips:

  • Add chapstick, petroleum jelly or insect repellent to make your tinder burn hotter and longer.
  • Break apart dry animal dung to use as tinder or kindling.
  • Place large rocks around the fire to contain flames.
  • Push hot rocks into your shelter for additional warmth.
  • Use your fire as your entrance blockade -- just make sure the smoke stays out.
  • Keep your fire going after it's lit.
  • Feed your fire slowly.

In the next section, we'll look at some tips for surviving freezing weather in your home during power outages.