How Familiar Are You REALLY with Your Survival Equipment?

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Co-Author of SHTF Survival Bootcamp

Recently, a 48-hour severe weather warning in the region I live was issued. We were warned of strong winds and exceptionally heavy snowfall. Weather warnings happen often, and it’s not anything to stress over.

One bit of advice always comes with it. And that is, of course: don’t travel unless absolutely necessary.

Would you know what to do in severe weather conditions?

With these known weather events come known risks and known issues. Surviving a blizzard or winter storm is something that people in northern climates do quite often.

What came into my mind as I was hearing this warning was that owning all the gear and equipment is worthless without the knowledge and the ability to utilize it properly. A classic thing that happens in these events is cars getting stuck, either just in general due to the conditions or going off the road’s side into the large drainage ditches. 

The most important thing to understand in this type of weather is: dig the snow out from around the car first. Many people overlook doing this. The snow is a friction coefficient. The grabbing effects of the snow will keep the vehicle from moving. 

80% of the time, with the help of another vehicle, you can get that vehicle unstuck. There is a degree of technique to it. Most of the time, people will try this and then try that, and none of those work. So, you will try these measures again more aggressively. Finally, what people end up doing is getting a solid tow rope, leaving slack in it, connecting the two vehicles, then driving hard to bounce the car out. (At least, that’s what you are hoping for.) Knowing the proper technique of using a tow rope and a car is important. 

If that doesn’t work, you call for a tractor or a tow truck. Doing either of those takes time and costs money. So, it is advantageous to know how to get a vehicle unstuck without those services. However, this isn’t a lesson on how to unstick your car

It’s the principle of those who know, know. And those who don’t, don’t.

We had another severe weather warning not long ago. One of the guys who lives next door to me, here from abroad to work, got his vehicle stuck. He had no clue what to do. He didn’t even have essential protective gear in his car. He had no hat, no gloves, nothing. He had always relied on the vehicle getting him to wherever he wanted to go. 

Rather than seeing them wandering down the road, very poorly dressed for the conditions, getting blown by the snow, and then pulling over and asking what was up, I quickly realized what the problem was and saw the issues in advance. 

A key takeaway whenever traveling: local knowledge is phenomenal. Whenever I’m traveling, I always get the local knowledge. Sure, you can read what the guidebooks say. I do that exact thing. But, a 10-minute cup of tea chat with a local will often tell you about hazards and issues that you wouldn’t discover any other way, along with fixes and solutions.

If you don’t familiarize yourself with equipment and techniques you are likely to fail.

You must have an understanding of specialized equipment and be confident in its use.

Here’s the thing, I could do a very nice video on how to unstick a vehicle. But there are several safety aspects that really unless you “live-fire it,” it just wouldn’t resonate with you. I could highlight the essential aspects in the video, but it’s not going to stick with you until you are in that situation. 

A situation like this is a perfect chance to utilize the walk-through-talk-through concept. Familiarization is highly desirable. You can’t just think. “Okay, yeah, I’ve got this.” You must have confidence in your ability to utilize “x” correctly, or you will fail. 

Another consistent failure of utilizing “x” efficiently or confidently is around firearms or self-defense weapons. It is this talisman effect for many people. They put a few rounds down at the range on a static target and feel like, “Yep, okay, that’s me.” And it’s not even about utilizing the weapon. It’s about being able to strip away, clean, maintain, and troubleshoot the weapon. Many folks are not getting it, and it is a big problem. It is also a danger to yourself and other people.

Back to the basics reminders are necessary sometimes

Some of this may seem very basic, but even knowledgeable people tend to forget the basics at times. Ensure you are familiar and comfortable with your essential equipment, especially the everyday items you carry on you at all times. Familiarize yourself with your gear and equipment in layers. With each layer, ask yourself if something is working for you. Also, think about alternatives and replacements or modifications. All those things are available. 

It’s only when you start to use these things and use them with confidence that you really begin to understand if these things are fulfilling the function you need. 

Are you familiar and confident with your skills, gear, and equipment?

Are there things you need to work on? Have you already done so? If you have, tell us what that was and how you did it. Or, if you are unsure about something, ask us in the comments below. 

About Toby

Toby has an extensive background in the military, emergency services, risk management, and business continuity, combined with applied wilderness and urban survival skills. He discusses personal safety, security, and the crossover of military skills to the average civilian. He is the co-author of SHTF Survival Boot Camp.

Picture of Toby Cowern

Toby Cowern

Toby Cowern has an extensive background in the military, emergency services, risk management, and business continuity, combined with applied wilderness and urban survival skills. He discusses personal safety, security, and the crossover of military skills to the average civilian.

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  • Although I agree in general;:The case in point, seems more about non preppers or the ” you can’t fix, stupid”, types of people.
    Training with your gear is great. But not getting into a mess, like getting stuck in snow is priceless.
    Not needing your gear,( but having it just in case), is better than needing it.

    So I would recommend not only training with your gear, but also on how not to need it, if that is at all possible. There are things you just can’t do without, but some things you might not need to use, if you revise how you do things.
    I watched a video where they were talking about a minimalist bug out bag. Yet he was suggesting using a fire starters to start fires. Since you have a limited numbers of fire starters, it is better to be able to make a fire without them, saving them for when conditions are truly bad. Such as when having extremely wet fuel, or when you are so cold that you might not be able to easily and quickly make a fire without them.
    Know how to use them when truly needed is great, not wasting them when you don’t need them, is priceless!

  • This article is about learning how to use the gear that you already have — which I strongly believe in. What it does not emphasize is doing your homework PRIOR to acquiring your gear so that you don’t get rudely surprised by product failures you didn’t anticipate. And that due diligence applies wherever you live, and not just in snow or blizzard regions.

    An example:

    One of the more highly advertised solar gadgets is a “sun kettle.” One version of it is even video promoted by a former Navy Seal on YouTube. One of the product claims is that it can heat up water sufficiently to kill most of the biological pathogens to keep you from getting sick — a worthy goal. The advertising does not emphasize that the retailer (unlike some competitors) has gone cheap by not including a built-in thermometer — and no easy way to jerry-rig one. This is despite the instructions (not discussed in the advertising) that come with the device which mention that even when the sun is mildly blurry or intermittently overcast .. if you can get the water temperature to at least 150°F for at least 20 minutes, that can still accomplish the sanitizing. Those instructions include a citation of one state’s health department as support for that claim.

    With boiling it will be obvious with the sound of the bubbling, but down in the lower temperature ranges (with no thermometer) you can’t know if the water temperature came up to 150°F or higher for that minimum required time. If you’re in a situation where you are depending on such a device to purify your water, the LAST thing you want is to get deadly sick because you couldn’t tell in a marginal sunlight situation if you were able to get the water temperature hot enough for long enough so you don’t get sick.

    The point is that you need to do your research about such equipment — what works, what fails, what reviewers (if available) say about not only the gear you’re interested in but also about its competitors, what the competitor products accomplish, and what features you need, and which ones to avoid at all costs.

    If you leave out this due diligence stage PRIOR to your acquisition decision, your later actual practicing with a badly chosen product could be anywhere from disappointing to deadly.


  • Good article.

    Does not just have to be about survival gear.
    How about jumper cables and how to use them? Even changing a tire? Had an ex- who did not know how to do either. Even more confused when I pointed out wheel locks.

    Clothing and proper layering, and even consider the possibility of over-heating due to too many layers.
    We were on a long hump with full pack, flack, brain bucket, canteens, service rifle, in NC in the winter. The lows were still in the 30s but we got snow the night before. Some of the Marines put on long johns/underware. We hump for 10 minutes, stop and do a gear check/adjustment, check for the beginnings of blisters. Even by then the Marines with the long johns were already hot. They could become heat cases, even in the winter. Hydrate! If you have water, keep it close to your body to keep it warm.

    Even around here, where single digit and teens for the highs are not uncommon, I am aware of what clothing to wear/layers.
    BEWARE of the wind! Windchill can be a killer!

  • What are the winter-time risks? (1) get stuck on ice or in a snowbank off the road. (2) car won’t start. 3, you can’t dig out, you can’t get it started, you have to sit tight or walk. What do you do? If 1, you need the right clothes and shoes to be outside digging your car out, you need a shovel, you might need a tow strap, you might have a flat and need to change the tire. A phone, some water, and a snack wouldn’t hurt. On a nice sunny day, go somewhere with a slick road, some snow, and a friend who wants to play. Go outside, use your shovel and dig some snow. It is a good shovel? Did you overheat? Hook your tow strap to your friends car and see if they can pull you 10 or 20 feet. Swap sides, you laugh while they dig with their shovel. If 2, you need jumper cables and you need to know how to use them. And they need to be long enough to be useful – 5 feet is not long enough. If 3, put on your winter clothes and wrap yourself in a blanket. You have a blanket, right? Or put on your winter clothes and walk for 20 minutes. Did you overheat? Fall down and break something? Remember to bring your water? Or just skip all of that and call AAA. Now turn off you phone and try calling AAA. This is all highly educational. Do you have a window scraper and snow brush? Growing up in Michigan, living in Alaska for 15 years, and Colorado for another 15 years provides some confidence but you still have to put the shovel and the tow strap and jumper cables in the car along with windshield washer fluid (forgot that on Sunday).

  • Always carry these things in a vehicle if in rural areas. Tp yeah have it on hand in a plastic zip lock bag. A lighter (check each year) a PLASTIC whistle… in cold you will freeze your lips to a metal one. Gloves flash light.

    Saftey tip ****Tie a piece of cloth half way on your tow rope or chain… should it disconnect or break it will fold at the cloth part saving you from a metal or heavy tow line coming through window or smashing the vehicle.

    Carry kitty litter the cheapest crap you can find take half the gallon and fill into old socks with no holes and tie ends shit then put under seats..

    The litter expands when wet and is better than sand for giving a tire traction. The socks with kitty little wick up excess water vapor from being in vehicle slowing icing up inside the vehicle as it cools outside.

    Do proper winterization. Check radiator fluid for proper temperature check batteries for life.

    Carry a piece of cardboard you can lay on because sure as crap it will be wet where you have to lay down.

    Have a hand spray bottle of a lubricant…. the pressurized ones tend not to work when super cold when lug nuts are seized or have caked ice on it.

    Carry chains. Not the cheap local auto shop ones go to the chain and rigging store for forestry and buy 2 with spiders keep all year round. They work just as good in mid as snow. When you get them make sure to trim them down to 2 spare links of chain to go for your wheels as loose and ling chain ends will destroy your car’s panels and under carriage.

    Carry food… nothing worse than cold and hungry if it going to be a long night walk

    Have a note pad if you leave vehicle note direction and time of departure.

    Have high visibility gear… if you have to walk out its snowing and dark last thing you want is to be run over.

    Have more than one flash light that uses same batteries. A head lamp and a magnetic hand held preferably with a slide so you can have are illumination as well as a spot and can stick it to car if you have to work under it.

    If you f up and do not have gloves use your socks first for hands as they will get coldest before feet as you will be touching cold metal.

    Tow rope buy atleast 2 inch thick braided line… we use tug mooring lines and add chain hooks. That can latch to it’s own chain.

    Know where your tie points on a vehicle are front and back will save you digging out more than you have to.

    Dont have a cheap plastic snow shovel have a metal bladed one if you are stuck 90 percent you are in embankment which is a rock hard ice pack snow bank with sand and rocks a plastic drive way shovel is useless.

    We live very rural… animals if stranded can be a big problem carry a big solution.

    For god sakes tell someone where you are going and how you getting there (route) use the phone to text as you reach check points an hour apart.

    I just pulled out a lady who went off the road down an embankment in snow storm.. he car was covered and she could not get out…. if not for an alert plow driver she would have died …. she was off road for two days with compound fractures of one leg collar bone and left arm against the door. We have large no cell zones. She was lucky only -10c at night and insulated by snow…

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