Bugging Out in Winter

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Watching “To the Lake” has made me think about the conditions that could affect my family’s journey if we were bugging out in winter. Winter weather conditions require a little different planning than our regular summer trips might necessitate. Without the proper thought, resources and strategy, your bug out trip could end in disaster instead of delivering you to a safer location.

Navigating the roads in the winter is a simple fact of life for millions and yet it still can end badly, especially if you aren’t used to or prepared for this situation. Thinking of a few lessons the show presented, I wanted to go over some basic tips for staying warm and getting to your destination alive if you find yourself bugging out in winter.

Bugging Out In Winter – Plan first

If you haven’t heard of it, To the Lake is a Netflix show that is set in Russia. The plot is that a type of virus breaks out and a small group of people leaves Moscow in the hopes of reaching a secluded cabin on a lake owned by the main actor’s father. I still have two episodes to go so don’t spoil it for me.

So far, the show has been entertaining and shows several situations that preppers could find themselves in. As I’ve said before, I use entertainment like this to help me think about how I would react in a similar situation. Some of the examples are better than others and I have scratched my head over a few choices depicted in both this show and other movies, but it’s still entertaining to me. AND, it prompted this article because there are a few things the people bugging out did that I think we could learn from.

There is an adage that says failing to plan is planning to fail. One of the main reasons that having a bug out plan is so important is that there are a million things to consider and possibly forget if time or stress are working against you.

One other thing is that you won’t always have time to prepare and thoughtfully load your bug out vehicles. You may be forced to flee with the clothes on your back. Hopefully not, but some of the items below could be used to ensure your vehicle is already prepared for bugging out in winter.

Making sure all the basics have been covered, before you leave your home, could mean the difference between a successful trip and a disaster. What do we need to think about before you leave? It is important to do this now before you are faced with leaving in the middle of the night in bad weather.

Bugging Out in Winter - The Prepper Journal

Know where are you going

Before you can start planning for your bug out trip, it helps to consider where you are going when you are packing your supplies. Are you going to be remote or near civilization? Is where you are bugging out expected to have snow or ice on the ground? It should go without saying that you will have completely different needs if you are going to be near many other people than if you are taking the Moab Road hundreds of miles away from anything.

Will you be able to harvest material to make a fire?

Forest or desert? What shelter do you have? Will you be camping or in a home with working utilities? Has it been raining or snowing for two weeks and everything you are going to find will be soaking wet or buried? Will you need to haul in a weeks’ worth of firewood or at a minimum a hand saw or chainsaw?

Once you have a plan for firewood fuel do you have multiple redundant methods to start a fire? I went camping last January and it got down to 17 degrees so needless to say, everyone spent most of the night very close to the fire.

Bugging Out in Winter - The Prepper Journal

Do you have an accurate weather forecast?

With as many weather apps as we have nowadays, I can’t imagine anyone not having the ability to get a reasonable forecast for the weather where you are going. Plan for the weather at your destination and not at home. Even in the space of a few dozen miles, the weather can be completely different.

Also, it is important to dress for walking and not riding in a vehicle. If you are forced to travel on foot, you don’t want your kids in pajamas and slippers if possible. My daughters have heard me get on to them for years about leaving the house not dressed for the weather.

Have alternate navigational routes mapped

If you are bugging out in winter, it helps to have alternate navigation options.

Remote trips require a little more than basic driving directions. Getting to your location is one thing, but what if one route is blocked? Roads can become impassable due to weather, accidents, or in the case of one episode in the show, roadblocks created to block entry to a town. What if a tree has fallen across the road?

You may not be able to take the same route out because the roads are frozen over and you don’t want to slide off the side of a mountain. In some cases, forest service roads can be a safe alternative to get you to your location. Motor Vehicle Use Maps can be downloaded as PDF’s and mapped to a program called Avenza. I will probably write a complete post on how to do this later.

Paper maps and a good GPS enabled backup like Gaia Maps are strongly recommended. If you are going to use Gaia, make sure you have downloaded the maps to your device before leaving the pavement. I have my entire state downloaded with multiple layers showing public land and MVUM.

Are you bugging out with anyone who you may not know very well? – Depending on the trip, you might be traveling with other people. Unless you have traveled with them before, you will probably want to ensure they are prepared for the trip just as well as you are.

Vehicle Considerations

Bugging Out in Winter - The Prepper Journal
Bugging out in winter should always have you thinking about how to get unstuck.

Your vehicle should already be prepared with basic survival gear in the winter and we have written an entire article about your winter emergency vehicle kit. In addition to that, for bugging out, there are other important considerations.

Recovery Gear – In one scene, the group is trying to pull one vehicle out of the snow and they don’t have a proper tow rope. Bad things happen that could have ended much worse. Make sure your vehicle has a good recovery kit so that you aren’t stuck. A simple tow rope would have saved them.

ARB RK12 ARB Weekender Recovery Kit
Recovery Kit Includes: 1 x ARB 8,000kg / 17,500 lbs Vehicle recovery strap (ARB705LB) , 2 x 4.75t Type “S” galvanized shackles 19mm (3⁄4”), 1 x Pair of leather gloves. 1 x PU Coated cotton canvas recovery bag

Fuel – Before you leave civilization, do you have plenty of fuel? I like to ensure I never have less than half a tank of fuel. Now if your bug out location is hundreds of miles away, you need a plan for refueling along the way. You aren’t going to be able to count on gas stations being open.

It could be that climbing into the cab of your rig and running the engine to stay warm is the only thing keeping you alive. If this happens, you want to make sure you have as much fuel as you can.

Maintenance/Fluids – In older vehicles, this is more of an issue I think. If you have your vehicle regularly serviced, this should be s simple quick check in the driveway. If you are planning on a more extreme trip though where something could be broken, backup fluids are recommended. One thing people forget is windshield washing fluid. In colder climates, you want to get the kind with antifreeze in it.

Tires – Are your tires up to the challenge of the terrain or weather you could be expecting. All-season tires, snow tires, or possibly tire chains might need to be added to your packing list.

Clothing Considerations

Layers appropriate for all activities – A benefit of Bugging out by vehicle, is unlike being on foot, we usually have much more ability to pack additional items. One of the characters had to leave in a hurry and didn’t have a winter coat. That could have been deadly.

I went camping as I said and I had plenty of warm clothing or at least I thought. I was wearing 4 layers and still wasn’t warm enough, so I went back to the truck and grabbed another/different set that finally did the trick.

Many times, I have been doing some outdoor activity with my children and they go to leave the house in a t-shirt and jacket. I must force them to layer up because they don’t even consider how cold they will be when we get there. Make sure you are planning for appropriate clothing layers for your whole party depending on your location.

Additional clothing for layering up or replacing wet clothing – It’s also a great idea to have spares especially in winter. Socks and shirts become sweaty and if you don’t have dry replacements, getting warm is going to be much harder. Make sure layers of cotton are avoided in winter. Wool is a much better insulator and even retains heat when it’s wet.

Gloves Hats Sunglasses – Often forgotten, but cold hands are hard to work with. Good gloves and hats retain a lot of heat and make camp chores so much easier. Sunglasses can come in handy in snow as well as the sun.

Boots/Socks – Warm, sturdy footwear designed to be outside in the elements. Wool socks are better than cotton socks.

Staying Warm when you are bugging out in winter

Sleeping bags – A sleeping bag is probably your last line of defense in a survival situation so a bag that is rated well below your forecasted weather is a good idea. I used a military sleep system which is essentially a sleeping bag inside another sleeping bag inside a waterproof shell. That kept me warm all night in 17-degree temps but I’m glad I had that and not my backpacking bag. Sleeping bags vary greatly in cost so be sure to look around and read reviews. You don’t have to purchase a $400 bag to sleep comfortably in winter.

ALPS Mountaineering Blaze -20 Degree
Designed to keep you warm during extreme weather, this -20 degree bag is filled with our 7 denier TechLoft Silver insulation

Buddy Heaters – For bugging out in winter, or vehicle dependant travel, a Buddy Heater is a popular accessory. It’s a propane heater you can bring into your tent to make sleeping much more enjoyable. The heater has some safety features like shutting off automatically if it tips over or registers low oxygen levels. I haven’t tried one myself and I guess if I was in a cabin it would be ok. I’m still a little concerned that could mess up a tent quickly if it tipped.

Survival Blankets – Simple Mylar survival bags are a cheap but highly effective piece of gear you should consider. If someone is freezing, you can stuff them in one of these bags and their body heat won’t be able to escape. It is a low-cost option you can add to your other supplies. A better option is a Bivvy sack.

High Calorie Foods – Most overlanders I know eat very well, but you should ensure you have plenty of caloric dense foods to create warmth and provide energy. In a winter situation we are talking hot stews not salads. Besides, who wants to pass up a chance to use your Skottle?


Communications – Most of us take our cell phones for granted. Do you know if you will have service where you are going? The traditional prepper communication options are CB, FRS or GMRS radio, and lastly Ham radio. In the show, they have a couple of ham radios but apparently don’t understand the communications aren’t private. One time, a guy listens in on their plans and in another scene, the military is overheard on the same channel. Flaws in the plot…

BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio
High / Med / Low Power Settings (8W, 4W, 1W); Frequency Range: VHF: 136-174 MHz(Rx/Tx). UHF: 400-520 MHz(Rx/Tx); Broad (Wide) / Narrowband (Narrow) Selectable

Ham radio is the only long-distance option that there is and you will want something this capable if you are bugging out. The other radios have a limited distance but still having something could allow you to reach out and contact someone else in an emergency. For this, you would be more concerned about communicating with people outside of your group.

Safety

Multiple ways to start a fire – You could just roll with a flint and striker but a lighter is always easier. I have both as well as back-ups of each. You never know when one may be lost or too wet to be used.

First Aid – First aid kits are always needed, and cold weather injuries could include burns so make sure you prepare for that.

Recognize Frost bite – Frostbite is caused when your skin freezes so it’s important to understand what this looks like and what the symptoms for frostbite are.

Colder temps have to be part of your prepping plans because we don’t get to choose the conditions where we have to make decisions to save our families. What other items have you prepared for bugging out in winter?

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Freedom-loving American doing what I can to help prepare and inform others. Editor and creator of The Prepper Journal 2013-2017, 2020 -

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