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Out in the cold

TV survival expert's advice for stranded motorists and travellers
7 January 2010

As hundreds of people in Scotland and Northern England have been forced to spend nights in their cars this week, former royal marine commando Dave Pearce, author of Haynes' forthcoming Outdoor Survival Manual, is giving his top tips for surviving in extreme cold conditions.

** To interview Dave Pearce contact Spirit Public Relations **

Dave Pearce is an outdoor survival specialist and safety adviser to the TV and film industry. He works with Bear Grylls on Born Survivor for the Discovery Channel and took part in the BBC's Blizzard: Race to the North Pole alongside TV adventurer Bruce Parry.

Dave has climbed Mount Everest's most challenging North Face, crossed Greenland in the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton, wearing and using only the original gear and equipment of the time, and spent more than three months at a time on expeditions with no communication to the outside world.

Here the expert mountaineer, who spent 23 years in the Royal Marines, outlines some of the basics relevant to survival for motorists and travellers either stranded or preparing for journeys in the UK's current sub-zero temperatures:

Basic clothing and equipment

  • Keep a good hat in the car, one that covers the ears. A great deal of body heat is lost through the head.
  • Wear mittens rather than gloves, which allow heat to circulate around the fingers
  • Protect nose and face with a scarf
  • Wear lots of thinner layers rather than two thick layers. Wear baggy clothing that allows warm air to be trapped between layers.
  • Wear thermal insoles in boots and two pairs of socks. The cold ground sucks heat down through the soles
  • Carry 2 litres of water in the car, insulated in a flask. Pre-heat flasks before filling so the contents stay hot longer and if necessary wrap the flask to insulate further
  • Pack cereal / muesli bars that won't freeze. Mars bars etc will freeze solid and take almost as much energy to eat as they provide

Stranded motorists are advised not to leave their vehicles. But should that become necessary, Dave Pearce has the following advice for moving through difficult conditions:

Moving on foot in deep snow

  • When moving up hill kick in with the toe and keep your heel slightly higher than your toes
  • When moving downhill adopt an almost sitting position with your backside over the back of your heels. Use your body weight to drive the heel into the snow, keeping the toes slightly higher than the heel
  • If you're near trees consider making an improvised pair of snow shoes. Evergreen saplings are strong yet flexible. Cord, shoe laces etc can be used to lash the branches into a shoe shape around 1 metre long and strap to the feet

Hard ice

  • Throwing grit, gravel or dirt onto large patches of ice can give you purchase
  • Putting socks over your shoes can increase your grip

Build an 'emergency snow hole'

  • If weather closes in, take - or create - shelter. Don't try to struggle on as blizzard conditions can make the simplest tasks impossible
  • Dig into snow on a slope, so the snow you dig out naturally falls away from the opening of the shelter and therefore takes less effort
  • Work hard and fast but try not to sweat. Sweat will cool the body quickly once you stop working
  • Keep the entrance as small as possible. This makes it easier to close up once you are inside
  • Cover the entrance but ensure you leave a hole for ventilation
  • Try to keep the entrance lower than the hole. Cold air will sink away from the main shelter
  • Curl up in a ball and keep wriggling your fingers and toes

Signalling and rescue

  • Bright colours and linear shapes are easily spotted from the air
  • Even a square of dark fabric laid out in the snow will be highly visible to rescue aircraft
  • Burn anything will create smoke, such as evergreen branches, in an open space and away from any vehicles

The Outdoor Survival Manual gives practical advice for all conditions and scenarios, from a weekend in the woods to the most extreme environments on earth.

The information on this page is supplied courtesy of Haynes Publishing, please credit accordingly if you intend to use it. For more information or to request a review copy please contact Spirit PR on 0117 944 1415 or email Haynes PR

Haynes Manuals is the world's leading publisher of illustrated workshop car and motorcycle manuals, as well as producing manuals on a wide range of DIY, leisure and lifestyle subjects. These will continue to include motoring and motorsport related subjects. Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset BA22 7JJ. Telephone: 01963 440635 Fax: 01963 440001 E-mail: