The crash through the ice was surprising. The chest constricting cold hit you immediately as the water flowed over your Gore-Tex soaking your insulating layers. With extreme perseverance and strength, you manage to pull yourself onto the bank of the stream, you lay on the bank for a moment as the water begins to freeze to your face and body. You are no longer shivering. This could be the story of your ultimate demise in a survival setting unless you are properly prepared mentally, physically and equipment-wise.
You need to have the right equipment. Pictured above I have some of my emergency survival equipment that I always have with me when traveling, or instructing survival in the woods. Pictured above I have a sleeping bag, MSR Reactor, Ferrocerium rod, Storm-proof matches, lighter, Pitch wood/fatwood, and finally cotton balls saturated in Vaseline. After you crawl from the water you need to act quickly. Time is against you. Your wet clothing is sapping the heat from your body at an exhausting rate. Get naked, once you’ve done that you need to pull out your sleeping bag, MSR Reactor / Jet-Boil, lighter and poncho. Get your naked freezing self into that sleeping bag, ignite your MSR Reactor / Jet-Boil and cover yourself and the MSR Reactor with the poncho. The heat from the MSR Reactor will be trapped inside the poncho heating you up even faster. Once you can begin to feel your extremities you should get your cup on the MSR Reactor and begin to warm some fluids. I typically have powdered chicken broth that I use when students need to be warmed up.
Get yourself a fire going in order to fully dry off. The fire here was created using stumps filled with pitch and Cedar. The temperature that day was hovering around 34 degrees F with constant rainfall. A very dangerous combination if you are not careful.
Once you’re fully warmed up you need to either put on the extra pair of clothes and socks you should always have with your or use the freeze-drying method on your soaked clothing to get something on while you get a fire going. To use the freeze-drying method simply hang your wet clothes up in the cold. The moisture will freeze, once the moisture has frozen hit your jacket against an object and brush the frozen ice from it. This will damage certain fabrics such as Gore-Tex. It won’t remove all of the moisture but it does work surprisingly well. Once you have something on to protect you from the elements you should get a fire going in order to fully dry your clothes and to warm yourself up. This is where the ferro rod, matches, lighter, pitch wood and cotton balls become invaluable. In reality, the ferro rod alone would likely suffice but I carry multiple methods to ensure redundancy in case something befalls one of these items. The pitch wood or cotton balls with Vaseline serve as a very effective tinder. Pitch wood aka fatwood is wood that is saturated in tree-sap otherwise known as pitch. This pitch allows the wood to burn under very adverse conditions as it does not allow moisture into the wood as easily. Further, the pitch itself is flammable. Cotton balls soaked in Vaseline work in much the same way. Before you can light them ensure that the cotton ball has been pulled apart so that it is wispy and frayed looking. This allows it to breathe and burn better.
The old boy scout motto of “Be Prepared” has never been truer. A life-threatening plunge into icy waters whilst alone can be made non-life threatening by being properly outfitted. No matter the equipment, you must have the training, mental fortitude and physical prowess to get yourself through these types of scenarios. Study, train with your equipment and hit the gym / be active. You may never use these skills. There may however be one moment in your life, where a couple of hours of preparation can mean the difference between going home or freezing to death. Stay vigilant.