Cold weather is here

Winter is here again in New Zealand, and it is a good time to remember some critical survival skills that you need in cold weather. All those lovely summer images of foraging for food, swimming in rivers and sleeping under the stars are far less relevant in a cold and wet wintry wilderness. Cold weather can catch the unawares and quickly lead to hypothermia. The wind is one of the most dangerous elements in cold weather. Getting out of the wind, and cold, is a real priority.

Your clothes are an important part of your protection. Read more about clothing in cold weather survival here.

Obviously a fire will greatly assist in keeping you warm, but don’t be deceived building a good fire in the winter is more challenging than it appears. Here are some good tips on building fires: basics and tinder and kindling.

Don’t forget to eat and drink, keeping the energy up and spirit resilient!

Survival stressors: Depression, fatigue and boredom

You are lost, cold, miserable and totally alone in the bush. Night is setting in and you have built a simple shelter that will keep you reasonably comfortable, you are okay for water and hunger has not yet set in.

If you have managed to keep a lid on fear and succeeded in obtaining some shelter and are in not immediately in any life threatening danger, your next battle will most likely be with depression, fatigue or boredom. These three stressors are intertwined. Boredom can lead to depression, depression can lead to fatigue, and fatigue can increase feelings of depression and so on. In a survival situation feelings of loneliness and sadness can be stronger than most of us imagine.


Lost! Teach your kids what to do if they get lost

There are many, many things that you can teach your children about safety and survival in the wilderness. But the most important thing to teach your children if they ever get lost is to stay put. Most of like to think our children would never find themselves in a situation where they are lost and alone. We (as brilliant parents) simply won’t allow that to happen! But then again anyone who is a parent also realizes how quickly things can happen with children. A moment of inattention and everything can change.

Hopefully you are well prepared when taking children outdoors and if anything goes wrong, you will be there to deal with it. However, good preparation takes account of planning for the worst case scenario and this includes the possibility that your child may get lost and be alone. Ideally your child will have some survival equipment attached to their body (back pack or belt bag) and know how to use the contents. Failing that at the very least your child should have adequate clothing, a whistle and water on them when you go in the great outdoors.


Regardless of age all children should be taught to stay where they are when they realize they are lost. Teach your children to STOP & STAY.


Fear in a survival situation

Imagine being lost, alone, possibly injured or in pain and having to face a cold night in an unfamiliar or hostile environment. How will you react? What emotions will you experience? Fear is a very common reaction to such a situation. Being in an environment where you have extremely limited control and only partial information can be terrifying. In a survival situation fear easily makes an appearance. Fear of the unknown, fear of discomfort, fear of one’s own limitations, fear of death and interestingly fear of embarrassment.

Survival resilience

Being psychologically resilient is a very important, but often overlooked, aspect of survival. At its very basic core having resilience refers to the ability to effectively cope with stress and challenging situations. It is often defined as having the ability to bounce back. In our view this means bounce back to your day to day life, but not necessarily the same one as you had before. Experiencing, and surviving, an adverse or extremely challenging situation changes you. This in itself can be a great resilience builder.

One of the most important requirements for survival is the ability to accept the reality of the situation and react appropriately. In a survival situation you need to be able to call on your coping strategies and, perhaps most importantly, you need to have the skills of adaptive coping.

Surviving the cold

Winter has well and truly arrived. Although most days are sunny, the nights sure are cold. If you are going into the outdoors, don’t be deceived by a lovely sunny day. As soon as that warm sun goes down the temperatures drop significantly. Never go out into the bush unless you are well prepared for surviving the cold. And that includes being prepared for the possibility to unexpectedly spending the night. Thermal and layers are the secret to ensuring a comfortable survival in a cold bush overnight! Remember to start preparing for the evening about an hour before the sun sets. If you leave it too late you will probably find yourself stumbling around with a torch trying to gather wood to get that fire going, just to have a little bit of  heat. Most temperatures in the bush at this time of year are close to freezing. Especially high up and in exposed places (where you have amazing views) it can get cold quickly.

Tinder and kindling for a fire

Following on from my last fire blog, you should now have the basics right: the right amount of fuel ready and a good area cleared. Getting these basics right will get you a long way to having a successful fire. But there are a few more tricks that will help ensure you have a fire for survival and possibly cooking.

Using wood and shrub that is dead and preferably has had air circulating through it is better than wet, waterlogged or living branches. I don’t have a particular type of wood I favour, as it depends on where you are and what is available to you. But generally there is always something that is dry enough, even if it is something as simple as shredded bark.

Fire lighting basics

The secret to surviving in comfort is to be prepared.  While it is important to know how to make a fire from scratch and in all conditions, being prepared is the smartest thing you can do. In my case being prepared is always having some fire starters in my survival belt. Sure I know how to make a fire with almost nothing, but let me tell you that day in Te Urewera National Park with very little but tree bark to start my fire, the fire starters were great!

Real survival skills are not about being Rambo, they are about being smart, practical and well prepared. It is vital that you take a moment to gather your thoughts and use your resources that you have available to you for the greatest good. Because once they are gone or have been used frivolously you can wind up in big trouble. Always remember if what you are using doesn’t work, stop and think about why it’s not working and then adjust what you are doing.

Fire lighting

Fire is an essential part of being able to comfortably survive in most terrains. In some situations it can be the difference between life and death. While this sounds dramatic, the value of fire should not be underestimated. Over the next few weeks we will offer many tips on fires, how to build, light and use them.

But before that, let me share an experience I had during a hunting trip in Te Urewera National Park late last year. I like going to this magnificent part of the country for a hunt on a regular basis. I drove through Rotorua, it was a balmy 23 degrees. Arriving at my favourite spot near Lake Waikaremoana just after lunch, I set off into the bush. The weather was fine but a South Westerly wind was picking up and sinister clouds were gathering on the horizon. After three hours walking, the temperature had dropped considerably and it was spitting. Soon it was raining and within a short space of time it became a torrential down pour with a fierce South Westerly chucked in for good measure. I had to make some quick decisions.

Clothing in a cold weather survival situation

New Zealand is advertised worldwide for its lovely climate, but the truth is it can get wet, cold and windy very quickly. Four seasons in one day is not unusual for this beautiful country. This kind of weather means you need to know about protection against exposure. Exposure (excessive heat loss or hypothermia) can rapidly become very dangerous. Protection against exposure includes shelters and fires but also a less often discussed method of clothing.