While they often center around adolescence, they do extend into Old Man Winter’s realm, too, as you’re about to see. So, if you’ve ever wondered whether some of the old wives’ tales about winter survival are true, you’ve come to the right place, as you’re better off knowing the answer before you’re faced with an actual survival situation.
WIVES’ TALE: A spoonful of whiskey will make the frostbite go down
THE TRUTH: One of the most common beliefs about staying warm in the cold is that drinking alcohol will keep you from getting hypothermia or frostbite.
Unfortunately, however, this old wives’ tale is just that a myth. “Alcohol makes you feel warmer, but it doesn’t change the temperature of your body,” says Tim Smith of Jack Mountain Bushcraft School in Masardis, Maine.
If there’s any risk that you may be getting frostbite or hypothermia, Smith says, light a fire rather than opening a bottle of liquor.
Not only will this ensure that you stay warm, but it will also allow you to keep your judgment intact should you face other issues that require quick thinking.
The symptoms of frostbiteKeep these signs in mind if you think you might have frost-bite. If you do have the symptoms, report to a medical facility immediately:
- White or gray-ish-yellow skin
- Skin that feels strangely firmor waxy
WIVES’ TALE: Pouring hot water over your hands will keep them warm
THE TRUTH: Many cold winter adventurers have reported that they will pour warm water over their hands or even urinate on them to warm them up if they fear that frost-bite might be approaching.
However Smith advises, this is not always the smartest idea. “If you’re ice fishing on a frozen lake and you have a thermos of warm water with you, it’s a bad idea to just pour that over your hands,” he says.
You’re wasting your warm water supply and you now have wet hands that won’t stay warm for more than a few minutes unless you have warm, dry gloves to put on them.
If, however, you have a fire where you can continually reheat the water, you can soak your hands in the water as long as it stays warm, because a warm soak can help your hands thaw, as long as you keep your clothes dry during the process.
In addition, Smith says, if you already have frostbite, do not try and warm your skin by rubbing or massaging it without professional help. “The first nip you get initially in your fingers when it’s cold outside is usually not a big deal that’s just a warning that you need to get warm,” he says. “But if you get third-degree frostbite where tissue is actually frozen, then the last thing you want to do is reheat it.
Not only will the heat increase the danger of sepsis and gangrene, but it will be incredibly painful.” Instead, people with frostbite should go to the hospital immediately.
WIVES’ TALE: A hill is warmer than a valley
THE TRUTH: When you’re setting up your winter campsite, it can be tempting to pitch your tent on top of a hill, using the argument that the sun’s warmth can reach you faster.
However, that may not always be the smartest decision. Besides, the earth heats from the ground up. “The answer to this depends on the landscape where you are,” Smith says. “Many factors come into play, such as the potential for an avalanche on the mountain, which location has the most resources for making a fire and other issues.
But in open country, I’d make my campsite at the bottom of the hill. It will pool the coolest air, but it won’t be a difference of 50 degrees the gradations will be small.” The bottom of the hill will be more protected from the wind chill, which could not only make you colder, but could make it harder to keep your fire going.
WIVES’ TALE: Never expose bare skin to the elements
THE TRUTH: One of the most important ways to stay warm while venturing out in the cold is to dress in layers and wear well-insulated clothing.
So it goes without saying that you should never expose bare skin to the cold weather, right? Not necessarily. If you need to pick up something wet, you’re better off using your bare hands to do it, then immediately drying them and putting your gloves back on your hands. It’s faster and easier to dry your skin than to dry a pair of gloves.
In addition, if your gloves, socks, or other items get wet, you should take them off immediately and replace them with dry gear. The brief bare skin exposure is better for you than walking around in wet apparel.
WIVES’ TALE: A smaller fire is smarter
THE TRUTH: Many adventurers have heard the phrase, “Make a small fire and sit close,” but that may not always be possible. “This is an old saying that doesn’t come from places that get bitter cold,” Smith says. When it’s really cold and snowy out, you could be stuck making a fire out of soggy materials, which may lead to a huge fire, he says.
And if making a small fire is impossible, you should settle for a big one because warmth is the most important factor.