Staying Warm? – Disaster Preparedness Priorities

hiking in snow

With autumn upon us and the crisp cold air, we are reminded of one of the basic necessities of life and in survival; staying warm. I could spend a few hundred words writing about various types of garment materials and which have the best thermal properties, etc… but there are larger more important considerations which are seldom discussed, when compared to ‘which jacket or camp stove is best’.

When it comes to long-term survival tactics, issues related to ‘staying warm’ are often under-considered by many survival experts who have training that is based on ‘short-term’ survival paradigms. Long-term off-grid survival in colder locations is far more challenging than in temperate climates. Back in the 70’s, my wife and I lived in a cabin in the mountains near Blue River, Oregon. Even though fishing and hunting were fabulous, I definitely don’t miss falling trees and chopping wood every day using an axe and crosscut-saw to fuel our stove, all year long; your hands end up with calluses on top of calluses (old school method, no chain saw). If we are engulfed by a crises, chainsaws and the fuel needed for saws may not be available, and few people are talking about what it really takes to cut wood all year long using hand tools; it’s an exhausting process and you have to be in great physical shape from the start. This poses a serious problem for most people who don’t have an understanding of the endurance required in surviving a long-term large-scale disaster, which extends well beyond a few days or weeks. In other words, for Preppers who are serious about surviving a long-term large-scale disaster, the issues that must be considered extend well beyond simply having warm clothes and equipment.

free samples

If you have your choice of survival locations as a part of initial planning, why not start by choosing a survival location where ‘minimal effort’ is required to survive (hospitable year-round climate and resources), coupled with the least amount of risk from the environment and marauders?

First of all, let’s review the most basic rules of survival… Most of us understand we can’t live very long without the basics for life:

*Air: Most people can live for about 3 minutes without air; after that it’s game over.

*Water: Most people can survival about 3 days without water; after that you’re a goner.

*Food: Most people can survive for about 3 weeks without food, after that life ceases.

*Shelter: This one can have more variability depending upon the individual, the geographic location and the climate. In polar-regions, you might last only minutes or hours without shelter, and at equatorial regions, you might last days, weeks or longer without shelter.

So how does all this relate to ‘staying warm’? As we see the most immediate needs have to do with our metabolism and the use of oxygen, water and food to create the energy we need to function, which includes maintaining our body temperature. If we get too cold and shiver, we start burning lots of calories, and if we get too hot, we start using more calories and water to stay cool. In survival, especially long-term survival over many months and possibly years, the availability of key assets such as food and water and fuel may be very limited in some locations. In some situations, restocking supplies such as food and water may not be practical, so daily usage may be a function of a budget or ‘rationing’. In other situations the availability of food and water may be related to the seasonality of game (fish, deer, etc.) and plants, which limits the amount of food that can be used and/or stored for future use.

hibernating bear

In any case, your metabolic activity is what determines how much food and water you will require over time. Through an evolutionary process, Bears have solved the problem of limited resources during winter through ‘hibernation’, which allows them to significantly reduce their metabolic rates and need for food during times when food sources are scarce. Unfortunately, humans are not able to duplicate this exact process. However, with the right survival strategy and the use of certain tactics, we can minimize our metabolic rate in order to conserve energy, and thus make available sources of food and water last longer. In long-term survival situations, this is a critical skill.

So how is this accomplished?

First of all, let’s examine the value of maintaining a consistent body (core) temperature in terms of making our supplies of food and water last over a longer period of time. The key is to keep your body from getting too hot, or too cold.

If your survival strategy has you located off the grid in a remote location in the northern hemisphere, you will have to contend with the colder seasons of fall, winter and spring.

This means that in addition to having the proper clothing (long underwear, coat, hat, rain-gear, etc.) you will have to constantly collect enough fuel for your stove or fire to cook and for heat; this uses a considerable amount of energy (calories) and is physically challenging. And the more work you have to do collecting (or cutting) fuel, the more calories you’ll burn, which requires more food and water. Proper clothing for cold weather is critical; if you have to shiver to keep warm, you will be burning more calories than is optimal (about 400 calories per hour), and when you use more calories, you’ll need more food and water. By having proper clothing, you can more easily maintain your core temperature and thus minimize shivering, which conserves calories (food). Preparedness and survival strategies that utilize locations in colder geographical regions require a lot of labor related to sheltering and the ongoing collection of fuel, which are independent from any other labors related to survival needs, such as sourcing and storing food. These combined operations require a significant amount of caloric intake on a daily basis; an average adult may require up to 2,500-4,500 calories a day depending on the work load, outside air temperature (if you shiver) and the thermal effectiveness of clothing. Another serious issue at higher geographic latitudes where there is less annual sunlight is ‘seasonal affective disorder’ (SAD), which results from inadequate amounts sunlight to the optic nerve, which in turn leads to low blood levels of serotonin, resulting in mental depression. During any crises, the last thing you need is to be affected by SAD.

family in bunker

Long-term survival in many underground bunkers poses some significant challenges related to staying warm as well as the potential for occupants to develop SAD related mental depression. Many inexpensive bunkers (under $100K total cost) don’t have any heating systems that can be used in a long-term situation (it’s cold in a basic bunker). And few people realize that the annualized temperature of the ground where most bunkers are buried in the continental United States can be considerably colder than the air mass above the ground, even in summer. It’s not uncommon to have an ambient annualized ground temperature of about 55 degrees Fahrenheit at many underground bunker locations throughout North America. Being consistently exposed to that temperature night and day for weeks or months at a time can drain the heat (energy) from your body possibly leading to shivering, which requires more calories (food).

military in snowSince we are on the subject of maintaining body heat; the last thing you want to do when you are cold is to consume any alcohol (common misconception; ‘alcohol will warm you up’). The consumption of alcohol causes the dilation of the capillaries (tiny blood vessels) in your skin and increases the volume of blood in the area of the skin, which allows your body heat to radiate (escape) more readily. If anything, you would want to constrict the capillary vessels in your skin, thus minimizing the heat exchange across your skin. My father (82nd Airborne – World War 2 – Europe) told me that when they were really cold they would smoke cigarettes; this was effective since the nicotine in cigarettes causes some capillary constriction, which minimizes the heat exchange from capillary vessels in the skin, which helps your body to conserve heat.

beachConsidering the additional work requirements of cold weather survival and related challenges (seasonal scarcity of food resources), I much prefer survival in equatorial regions (coastal areas and islands), where the annual ambient temperature is much closer to normal body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Generally speaking, the average annualized temperature in coastal equatorial areas and islands is about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Areas where the ocean meets the land are rich in food resources and in equatorial areas there is no seasonality to the availability of most food sources.


On our most recent 3-year sailing expedition into the Sea of Cortez, I would spend mid-days (warmest time of day) in the water sourcing fish, mollusks and seaweed. In the water, you are essentially ‘weightless’ and by gently gliding through the water slowly, you can sneak up on game fish while conserving energy. In the process, you also cool your body core, since the water temperature is about 82-85 degrees, which through the efficiency of the thermal transfer of water against your skin, does in fact reduce your core temperature so that when you exit the water, even if it’s still warm outside you remain comfortable. In fact, even at equatorial latitudes, you can get hypothermia by being in the water too long without a wetsuit. By using this ‘trick’ you can regulate your body temperature and maintain your comfort level, even on days that may be a little warmer than usual while handing your food needs.

plastic greenhouse

Another very significant advantage to equatorial survival strategies over the higher latitudes is that solar panels are far more effective at these latitudes, providing greater power output from a given solar panel. Added to this, solar water stills operating at equatorial latitudes are also very effective at producing large quantities of pure drinking water from questionable fresh water sources as well as from seawater. The by-product of desalination of sea water is sea salt, which is quite useful for preserving fish and for its mineral content for dietary needs; SEA Desalination, Corp. is an example of a company that makes a very cost effective solar still / desalination unit).

By eliminating all of challenges related to staying warm and difficulties with sourcing fuel and food in colder climates, energy is conserved and thus, that saved energy (calories) can be focused and used on other survival needs, including ‘resting’ and crafting during the warmest times of the day (conserves water and energy), which increases the endurance of existing food and water supplies.

As this exercise demonstrates, the survival strategy you choose initially, especially your survival location, is very important when it comes to the success of any long-term survival situation and maximizing your stocks of food, water and other supplies. Of course the ‘right location’ can also provide isolation from the risks associated with violent masses of people in post-disaster scenarios who will be competing for any and all resources. The implication is that a serious survival strategy may include a change in lifestyle, which might also require a change in the geographical location of your home. In the case of ‘Nautical Preppers’ who live on their boats, this change in survival location can be readily accomplished by simply sailing to more hospitable location as needed.

Cheers! Capt. Bill

Capt. William E. Simpson – USMM
Twitter:  @NauticalPrepper

About the Author:


Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, having logged more than 150,000 miles at sea. Capt. Simpson has successfully survived long-term ‘off the grid’ at sea and at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family ...


Emergency Preparedness, Prepping, Recent Articles, Survival Skills


staying warm, prepping, long term survival tactics

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