Feeling cold is a matter of perspective. Hot summer days can make the nights feel unbearably cool by comparison. This scenario is precluded by the fact that when 90 degrees F turns to 60, your health and wellbeing is usually not in immediate danger. Contrast this with a region which has harsh, or longer than average, winter seasons and this temperature change dynamic creates a new series of risks. For example, when temperatures dip into the negatives, even mild sustained winds can cause exposed skin to freeze solid in minutes. In the U.S., approximately 1,300 deaths occur each year due to cold-weather injures, about twice the number of fatalities incurred by heat.
Preparing for extreme winter conditions means preparing for the worst. As an avid outdoorsman in a region with extreme amounts of snowfall, I needed a survival pack that could accommodate spending a weekend snowshoeing, and just as easily be converted to a roadside emergency kit. In remote areas, if your vehicle gets stuck in a snowbank or you become disoriented in a forest, you could be facing several days’ worth of hiking to the nearest civilized outpost. Meeting my maker via cryogenesis never appealed to me, and the Saddle Peak backpack from Mystery Ranch is perfectly suited to prevent this, not only in weight and size, but also its functionality. It was designed for extended backcountry winter excursions and has versatility in droves, including gear-specific pockets and straps, a ridged yet comfortable synthetic frame, and zippers protected from snow and ice buildup.
Above: Saddle Peak’s lightweight design and cold-weather durability make this the ideal bag when faced with formidable winter conditions.
One of the most important aspects for me was a balance of gear durability and loadout adaptability. When it comes to staying warm and thriving in a blizzard, I lean heavily on Varusteleka’s Särmä products. Their thermal cloak is waterproof and lined with merino wool, a material that will stay warm even when wet and absorb odor. Another important aspect of Varusteleka’s gear is that it was created as a higher-quality alternative to standard-issue Finnish military gear, which means it needs to withstand wear and tear in arctic conditions. Combine that with the fact that the Mystery Ranch Saddle Peak backpack has a front pocket specifically for this type of emergency gear, making it easily accessible when every second counts, and you have recipe for cold weather survival success.
I always have core gear available for first aid and fire-starting. The trauma kit has compression bandages, several Combat Application Tourniquets and an EMS blizzard blanket to treat hypothermia. It should also be noted that this is a modified version of the Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) I carried on multiple deployments overseas. For rapid-snow-accumulation scenarios, Black Diamond has an avalanche kit which includes a metal alloy collapsible shovel, avalanche probe, and GPS locator. The tools in this kit can be put to use in a variety of situations. The probe can be used as an impromptu shelter support and the shovel for digging a wind-blocking burrow or digging out a stuck vehicle. For fire, I pack some lighters and matches, a few emergency candles, and a heavy-duty puukko-style knife from Varusteleka, which can be used for cutting and chopping firewood, in addition to traditional knife uses. Being seen can be a matter of life or death, whether you’re on the roadside or trying to get the attention of a rescuer. For this reason, I pack a Fenix HM65R SuperRaptor headlamp, also sourced through Varusteleka, which is rechargeable and has an output range between eight and 1,400 lumens.
Being active in the cold means more calories are being burned, so it’s also important to have a high-calorie food source on hand. Food is even more important if you have to hunker down for a while. I prefer using a canteen and metal canteen cup over other water systems simply because I don’t have to worry as much about damaging the vessel, freezing tubes, or puncturing a bag. Having a canteen cup makes heating food or melting snow for water much easier.
Lastly, one of the most important things to do to prepare for a cold weather emergency is something that won’t fit in any bag — letting someone know your plan. Telling a trusted friend or relative exactly where you’re going and how long you intend to be gone, could be the most important thing you can do to preserve your health and your life. If you think you’re headed into inclement weather on the road, or if you only plan on spending an hour or two in the backcountry, tell someone, even if you’re only sending a quick text message.
What gets packed in the bag is easily adapted to the situation I expect to find myself. How I pack when I have to be on the road during a snowstorm is slightly different than when I’m using it for recreation. Most people who live in cold regions are already wearing things like insulated jackets, boots, gloves, etc. But imagine driving to visit someone, only to find yourself in the middle of an ice storm or a blizzard with whiteout conditions. The vehicle you’re in loses control or is struck by another vehicle. Now you’re stranded on the side of the road; it’s too dangerous to keep the engine running because of leaking fuel and help could be a long way off. The roadside emergency loadout is intended to be able to respond to trauma and stay warm until help arrives. Or picture being on a remote trek when an unexpected whiteout occurs, and now you must hunker down until the storm passes. Having the right equipment on hand can make all the difference in the world.
Make and Model
Make: Mystery Ranch
Model: Saddle Peak
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