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The Elements

Even before food and water you must have adequate shelter and winter gear against harsh elements, if winters are cold where you live.  It is easy to take our comforts for granted, like central heating and electric heaters.  But what if your fuel source runs out, and no refills are forthcoming?  What if there is no electricity to run a space heater?  These are things that preppers think of, because you simply never know.  Rolling electric blackouts happen all the time in the US.  Deadly cold snaps seize many states.  Sometimes help is on the way, and churches or the government provide relief.  But what if the emergency is prolonged?  To be cold, hungry, and frightened all at once is the most miserable existence.  Eventually you get sick and die, or die of hypothermia.  In bitter cold, the human organism requires shelter, warm clothing, calories to generate body heat, and proper nutrition to guard against immune system decline.

The first order of business is shelter.  If you are in a house or apartment, that means a small "survival space" where you will sleep, and stay sheltered from extreme cold...READ MORE...

Even if you hate camping, the best solution to the heat going out in your home, if you live where there are cold winters, is simple: put a tent up in your living room or bedroom and heat just this space to toasty warm when you sleep.  Rather than figure out how to heat a large space, in which there is much waste toward the ceiling, make the space you are heating smaller.  This tent is rated as three-season but reviewers have praised it for staying warm into the single digits.  If you live in one of the coldest US climates such as Michigan or northern Maine, you'll want  a true four-season tent such this one.  This is exactly what many South Koreans are doing after taking 23 nuclear power plants off-line, and watching energy costs skyrocket. 

Burning most biomass fuels indoors, unless you have a fireplace or a woodstove, can asphyxiate you or burn the only shelter you have to the ground.  Kerosene heaters can be dangerous if one does not follow instructions or is careless, and kerosene is an expensive way to heat a house.  The best strategy for staying warm in a prolonged emergency is to know how to conserve body heat, and to make the space you need to heat smaller.  That means the right clothing, and in bitter cold, a four season tent.   Winter campers stay warm in these, because they trap body heat while allowing the tent to "breath."  Pitch it right in the middle of your living room, crawl in, and be warm.  With a winter-rated sleeping bag, you can be warm even in the single digits and below.  There is no greater misery than shivering in bitter cold, and trying to sleep.

With thick gauge plastic sheeting and duct tape you can seal off part of a room to conserve heat.  Build a space tent!  

When the heat goes out, the kind of insulated coveralls that construction and road workers wear outside in the winter are another way to stay warm.  With long-johns, wool socks, winter gloves, and headgear you can be warm in the frigid cold.  The kind of snowsuits that skiers wear are also warm.

Head gear is a critical component of cold weather prep.  Heat leaves your head at a high rate, and the warmer your head is, the warmer you are.  City slickers who don't have one of these because they are never outside for long will miss it when there is no heat in the house.

An alcohol stove is one relatively safe way to cook or make hot drinks indoors or out, if you are careful and have ventilation.  This is basically what sterno is, which caterers use to keep food warm. Clear out a space and place this on a cookie sheet, baking pan, or stone surface.  Always have an open box of baking soda nearby.  Sometimes an alcohol flame is hard to see, so never refill an alcohol device until you have verified it is out cold.  This well-known brand is made in Sweden.  One fill will burn for about 1/2 hour and boil a small pot of water in 5 or 10 minutes, for your oatmeal, ramen noodles, powdered eggs, coffee or tea.  Do not run an alcohol stove inside a closed tent. 

The type of alcohol you burn in your alcohol stove or hurricane lamp makes a difference.  Denatured alcohol like this is usually recommended, since other kinds are either too expensive or burn dirtier.  Check prices at your local home depot for a better deal.  Stock a couple of gallons at least. 

These versatile old-fashioned lanterns burn alcohol, almost any kind of oil, or kerosene.  They put out good light and a little heat.  Do not run a hurricane lantern inside a closed tent. 

When the heat goes out, good sleeping bags may be a life saver.  For a bag that will do the job in the single digits, few have been tried and tested like these Coleman brand stalwarts.   It can be difficult to figure out if a temperature rating is a true rating, or what is known as a "survival" rating, so beware of bags claiming zero degrees which cost much less.  What that really means is you might survive, just barely, give or take a few frostbitten toes.  When Coleman says zero degrees that means you'll be fairly warm.  Combined with a four season tent you'll be okay even in a freezing cold house or apartment.

A fire heat source you can use indoors, in a tent, or in a winter car break-down which will not asphyxiate you or burn you to death.  Ingenious and designed with safety in mind, this little device burns UCO candles and it would be hard to set your tent on fire if you tipped it or dropped it, yet puts out 1900 BTUs of heat, which is significant.  This is far safer than placing a candle in a coffee can.  In prepping, as in anything, always think of safety first.  Trying to stay warm is senseless if all you manage to do is burn your shelter down or pass out from CO poisoning, maybe never to wake up.  Candles do put out heat.  The trick is making the space you are trying to warm as small as possible, as the heat will dissipate widely in a large room and be lost.  (Replacement candles.)

In survival situations it is critical to stay dry.  Wet clothes in cold weather will draw body heat rapidly and make you dangerously hypothermic within an hour.  As rain gear, military surplus ponchos have rarely been improved upon, as they easily throw over a backpack and whatever else you are carrying.  These never-worn Swiss Army ponchos are highly rated for ruggedness and reliability.  A good rain poncho for every member of the family is a good investment, and children can grow into a over-size over many years. 

These ethanol fireplaces are meant to be decorative but they also put out enough heat to warm a small room.  This model generates nearly 4,000 BTU.  You can learn to make your own ethanol fuel cheaply and easily with throwaway fruit.  Just make sure you understand this is not for drinking.  Remember, with ethanol fireplaces you still need some ventilation, as the burning of any hydrocarbon uses oxygen which must be replaced in a room.

A reflective car windshield shade can be made into a solar oven.  Placing one behind your ethanol fireplace to reflect heat toward the inside of your tent, with the flap open, would be a good way to warm up the tent.  Then close the flap to trap the heat inside, and snuggle down in your 0 - 20 degree sleeping bag.