During the winter many people become like bears, they hibernate. Venturing outdoors way less often than they do during the warmer months. Personally I think those people are missing out on a great part of life by not enjoying the cool crisp air, or a quick hike along a favorite trail.
It’s quite invigorating. One of the biggest things people miss out on during the winter months is the chance to brush up on some bushcraft, and survival skills. We wanted to share with you 10 of those skills you can bush up on this winter.
Listed below are the bushcraft, and survival skills to brush up on this winter. Take some time to enjoy the colder winter months. If it’s not something you’ve done in awhile you might find that you actually enjoy it.
1. Fire Lighting
Whatever your level of competency in lighting fires, or whatever method you are contemplating – from hand drill to matches – it’s harder in the cold, damp conditions of winter than it is in warm, dry conditions of summer.
Winter conditions are also when a fire makes more of a difference to your wellbeing. You benefit more from having a fire in the winter. A good fire warms you through and removes moisture from your clothes. It gives you light to work by on those long, dark evenings.
Get out and apply fire skills you already know from summertime trips to the woods. Then look to extend what you can do – perfect it in the winter and by the time summer comes around, it’ll be a doddle.
In particular, reduce your reliance on man-made materials. Force yourself not to use cotton wool, Vaseline, BBQ fire-starters, hexamine blocks or the like. Concentrate on using only natural materials for every component of the fire lay, including tinder.
On cold, dark nights fire is important for warmth and illumination. Make sure you have the skills to always achieve one. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Even if you are used to using only natural tinder in the summer, they will be in a different condition in winter and your favourites may not be available at all. Focus on sourcing dry kindling and dead, dry standing wood (harder in winter when there are no leaves).
Going out in winter and applying what works in summer, forces you to refocus and refine your skills so they work without fail year-round. Winter is the time to push your fire lighting skills on to the next level.
2. Animal Tracking
While some bushcraft skills such as establishing a fire are harder in the winter, if there is snow on the ground, animal tracking is easier. Snow shows up so much more detail than is available across grass or leaf litter for example. Even the seasoned tracker can’t help but be enthralled by the range of animal activity writ large in the woods and fields.
Winter conditions are a great time to start animal tracking. On snow you will see many more clear prints than on any other surface with the exception of sand. The animal that left the tracks is easier to identify and you can become familiar with whole footprints whereas at other times of the year, you may only see a partial print. Being able to identify the clear print will help you at other times.
When looking at animal tracks on snow, it’s also much easier to piece together the whole track. While in summer you may come across some nice clear prints of a fox or a badger on the soft mud of a woodland track, when they then diverge from the track and head off across leaf litter it’s harder for the beginner to form a track picture. On snow the whole track is captured and you can build the track picture much more easily.
Because the track picture is clearer, you can observe the evidence of certain activities and behaviours which would be much harder to decipher or which you would miss altogether when there was no snow on the ground. Even an experienced tracker will be able to glean much more information in snowy circumstances. Don’t forget, either, some animals will also display certain behaviours only on the snow, not at other times of the year.
Winter a great time of year to become more involved in animal tracking.
3. Building A Snow Shelter
You don’t have to be in the arctic or in the mountains to have enough snow to build a shelter from it.
I have fond memories of building snow shelters when I was a teenager in the north east of England. We had several winters when there were large dumps of snow and we took advantage of it, getting out into the fields and digging into the snow where it had drifted up against walls.
Since then I’ve made many trips to snowy parts of the world and have built and used snow shelters from the Scottish Highlands to the Norwegian mountains to the arctic northern forest. You basically have two types of snow shelter you can build.
The first is where you cut blocks of compacted, transformed snow and use them for construction. The classic form, which everyone knows is the igloo but there are other forms too, such as digging a trench into the snow then using cut blocks to create an angled roof over the trench in an inverted V-shape.
The type of snow you need for blocks tends to occur where the snow is blown around by the wind, smashing the delicate arms from the snow crystals and transforming the snowpack into a solid, more compact mass. It’s sometimes referred to as wind slab. These days you can also buy a device that compacts fluffy snow to create blocks but the efficiency of the device is very dependent on temperature.
The second main type of snow shelter is where you dig into an existing pile of snow. This snow can have accumulated naturally through drifting into a hollow or consolidating on a slope. Alternatively, you can create your own pile of snow by digging it up into a mound, compacting and transforming it by trampling it, followed by digging out the centre once the mound has frozen
Snow shelters shouldn’t be seen only as an emergency survival shelter, although they are very good for this. You can plan to use a snow shelter as part of your camping strategy on a journey. They are much more weather-proof than a mountain tent for example. They are quieter and more robust in windy conditions. They are also surprisingly warm. Air trapped in the snow means these shelters are well insulated from perilously low temperatures and wind chill outside. You can easily achieve an indoor temperature of just below freezing from only body warmth and a candle, while it is thirty below outside.
In a winter environment, a knowledge of snow shelters is useful and an essential survival skill for dangerously cold winter environments. They can also be a fun adventure, even in your back garden. If you get the chance this winter, I’d heartily recommend you try sleeping out in the snow.
4. Go For A Night Hike and Improve Your Navigation
In winter the days are short and the nights are dark and long. Compared to the long days of summer, it can be hard to fit much in the way of outdoor activities into the few hours of winter daylight. It is, however, a fantastic time of year to practise skills which benefit from the cover of darkness. One good piece of advice I received before I did my Mountain Leader Award several years ago was to avoid doing the assessment in the middle of summer. The reasoning was straightforward – it gets dark late and you end up undertaking the night navigation exercises at 2am, which makes you very tired the next day.
Even if you have no intention of moving around at night, night navigation exercises are very valuable. I use night navigation on courses as a great training aid. With a half-decent head-torch at night, your range of visibility is still very low compared to in full daylight. This means you have to take more notice of small features and concentrate more of the time on keeping track of exactly where you are. This is similar to navigating in dense woodland even during the day as well as in the hills when weather conditions deteriorate. Night navigation sharpens up your map and compass skills no end and these can be applied in more challenging situations which may occur even during daylight hours. Night navigation is also a lot of fun. It’s exhilarating to be out in the dark, finding your way.
Many animals are crepuscular or nocturnal. Staying out as it gets dark you’ll see things those who head home at dusk never see. Plus sounds travel further in cold damp, air and you’ll pick up on faint sounds of nature you wouldn’t at warmer times of the year. The flip side is when snow is on the ground; it’s easier to see where you are going because of the reflected light but snow dampens all the sounds dramatically.
5. Learn New Constellations
Bushcraft centres on the study of nature. The stars in the heavens are part of nature, even if they are less tangible than the ground beneath our feet or the trees, plants and animals that surround us in the great outdoors.
Studying the sky is interesting in its own right. It’s a source of great beauty. Learning the constellations, asterisms and stars is also useful.
Polynesian islanders in the South Pacific were famed for their ability to navigate large distances at sea and accurately sail from island to island, using their knowledge of the stars.
Improving your own knowledge of the heavens, the relative positions of stars and how they move over the course a night, as well as the seasons, will significantly improve your natural navigation abilities.
While the winter sky is somewhat different to the summer sky, it is dark for many more hours in winter than it is in summer – a great opportunity to get out and study the stars in more detail.
To see the next 5 skills to brush up on this winter please go to the full article at: PaulKirtley.co.uk
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