How to Survive in Extreme Cold and Live to Tell about it.

How to Survive in Extreme Cold

Two adults and 4 small children are alive today because once they found themselves in a survival situation, they did everything right. This past week, Two adults, two of their own children and a niece and nephew were out for a day of playing in the snow. What they didn’t know was that they’d be spending the night in sub-zero temps, down to 20 below, two nights actually. They are alive today because of the calm thinking and quick action taken to stay warm enough to survive the frigid temps.

Their 4 wheel drive vehicle took an embankment just a bit too steeply or found a patch of ice, gravity took over and they found themselves upside down hanging from their seat belts. After checking for injuries, Dad recognized that the immediate threat to their lives was the cold.

Right thing #1

After making sure everyone was ok from the Jeep rolling over, I’m sure he got right to work building a fire to keep warm. A vehicle with no power is still a great wind protection but temps inside quickly drop to match the outside air temp. (in this case, way below 0) Now building a fire out in the snow is not the easiest of tasks and finding fuel to keep it going can be tough too. The genius in this “Right thing” was burning the spare tire. Have you ever seen a tire fire? They smolder FOR. EVER….and they produce lots of thick smoke, think signal fire. It’s unfortunate that the smoke in this case was not very visible against all that snow.

Right thing #2

The next thing they did right, was to heat rocks by the fire so they could then be moved into the jeep and give back the heat they’d absorbed from the fire to keep the kids warm while they slept. Brilliant. The only caution here is to choose dry rocks. Any moisture in rocks will turn to steam as they heat up and cause the rocks to ‘pop’. Not a problem unless a shard happens to pop violently at you or your eye and cause injuries you really don’t need at this point. Nevada has very dry air so finding dry rocks didn’t seem to be much of an issue in this case.

Right Thing #3

Letting someone know where you are going and when they should expect you back was another Right thing. The search was able to start immediately because they could be reported missing by those who were expecting them home at a certain time. Had they just taken off and not told anyone anything, the search might still be going on…or might not have even started yet.

Right Thing #4

Using a cell phone when we take a trip a good idea. Even though they couldn’t call for help because of the remote location, they were still able to be tracked by the towers that the phone had used. Making a couple of calls or texts as we travel will plot a virtual path of general location and direction of travel to give a search party a way to narrow down the search area. In the cold, batteries drain quickly. Having some way to charge those batteries in our emergency car kits is a wise idea. Then keeping the device very close to your core, not in a pants pocket, so it can stay warm with body heat, is a smart idea.

Right Thing #5

They were dressed for the harsh survival conditions that they found themselves in.  Since they were planning on playing in the snow, they had worn heavy winter clothing with them.  What if they were just going to a Christmas party…from one warm place to another?  They probably wouldn’t have been so ready.  Having coats and blankets in the car (even emergency mylar ones ) would have been a smart idea.

Right Thing #6

They stayed together and with the vehicle.  So often people will think it better to set off on foot to find help.  They aren’t typically well equipped enough to make the trek.  They get disoriented and lost.  Typically after the vehicle is found by searchers, the one who went for help is found soon after frozen and dead from exposure.  Vehicles are MUCH easier to spot from the air than people are.

Right Thing #7

From the accounts that I read, the parents made this crisis into an adventure, ‘like a camping trip’ the kids reported.  Staying positive is especially important when there are children involved.  They didn’t panic.  People do stupid things when they panic, mistakes are made and lives are lost.  Keeping calm allows for rational thinking and decision-making.  It takes conscious effort to not panic, but it’s so vital to staying alive.

I’m sure that this family didn’t set out to get stranded in the remote mountains, none of us do but there are some simple things we can do to be ready in case we find ourselves in this type of situation.  Several of them are listed above.  They didn’t have a lot of equipment but they made do. Being able to ‘make do’ or improvise, McGyver style, is a mind-set and skill-set that can keep us alive.  Having a car kit is a great idea too.

Take a mental, or better yet, a real inventory of the vehicles you drive. Would you be able to survive 2 nights (with no heater to use) in frigid temps? Do you have a unique item in your car that would help? I’d love to hear about it. Comment below.




  1. Pam Johnson says:

    Have simple alcohol “stoves” in your car kit. A new quart paint can, take the cardboard roll out of a roll of TP and cram it in the can. Fill up with 90% alcohol. It will burn with very little ventilation needed and keep a small space warm.

  2. Karin Terry says:

    That was a GREAT post. Thank you for all the valuable information!

  3. Gini says:

    How would you light the spare tire on fire?

    • Andrea says:

      That is a very good question. I don’t know how this family did it, the stories I’ve heard don’t specify…but it it was me I would probably use some fuel or other flammable liquid to get it started. I might even make a ‘tinder stick’ by making small cuts into the tire like you do when you make a tinder stick to make more surface area to light. How would you do it?

What do you think?