Expect the Best and Plan for the Worst: Winter Survival Skills

I spent Saturday afternoon at Spruce Woods Provincial Park with Backcountry Women where we learned winter survival skills with Jen, a Manitoba Parks Interpreter. Provincial Parks around Manitoba offer a variety of programs and workshops to the public.

Assiniboine River

My main goal with the workshop was to learn more about making and maintaining fires. I admit that my fire making skills are weak. I know what is involved but I lack patience and practice.

My asthma tends to act up if I sit around a fire too long, especially if my seasonal allergies are acting up as well. I generally don’t plan to cook food on a fire aside from roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. Overall, I could take or leave a fire while camping. It’s not something I need for enjoyment. From a survival standpoint, I understand the importance of needing to know how to make and keep a fire going.

I remember feeling discouraged a few years ago when someone took over making a fire after I had tried a couple of times. They didn’t ask if I wanted help or let me be to figure it out on my own, they just took over and I slunk away.

I’m looking forward to putting my fire making skills to use later this month when I lead a hike with a bonfire to follow. I’ll be with Backcountry Women and my hope is that there will be a few of us who need to work on fire making skills.

There is the old saying: see one, do one, teach one. One of the things that I love about Backcountry Women is the women are a joy to be around and I won’t feel judged if it takes me a few tries to get the fire going. We will all learn together. Women empowering women!

We practiced on cotton balls with a flint striker before going outside to make fires.

I’ve commonly carried a lighter and waterproof matches in my backpack and I may add a flint striker into my survival kit. What good are broken matches or a drenched lighter? I had a lot of fun using the flint striker and I plan to ask Santa for one in my stocking.

In addition to building fires, we learned basic compass skills. Kiche Manitou campground has a permanent set up for orienteering skills through Manitoba Orienteering Association in cooperation with the Province of Manitoba Department of Conservation. We made our way to a few of the points on on the map as part of the workshop. I might be getting a little a head of myself for summer 2020 family camping plans but I’d like to plan a weekend of camping at Spruce Woods and spend part of a day navigating to all of the spots on the map.

We also learned about shelters, environmental hazards like frostbite and hypothermia, and edibles like rose hip berries, pine and spruce needles, and balsam poplar buds. Balsam poplar tasted bitter and was sticky and we were told that the hair-like seeds inside rose hip will give you an itchy bum. It’s best to make tea with those two.

Rose hip berries

Like all skills, if you don’t use them, you will lose them. Fifteen to twenty years later, this winter survival workshop was a great refresher for me. Many moons ago when I was a teenager and in Sea Cadets, I spent a weekend every winter learning winter survival skills. I looked through my cadet photo album this morning and reminisced on the opportunities I had. It was a fantastic program for me.

We built a lean-to!
Shelter 101

With this blog being about the outdoors and mental health, I want to touch on mental health winter survival skills. The days are getting shorter and the air is getting colder. With winter can come Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD.

Last year was the first time that I utilized light therapy and took vitiman D daily during the winter. Combined with my daily mental health medication and spending time outdoors, I had a fantastic winter. I wrote a post last year about preparing to manage my mental health over the winter.

My department at work moved to a darker part of the office a few months ago and I know this will pose challenges for me during the winter because I find it too dark to begin with. I used my light therapy lamp last week and purchased a plant for my desk. I tend to murder plants by not watering them so I’m going to try really hard to keep this plant alive. Maybe I will even get it a friend! I also need to stock up on vitiman D and start taking it.

I’m looking forward to seeing what outdoor winter adventures I will get up to. I’m hoping to ice climb again, try fat-tire biking on snow, and go hiking. Staying active and getting outside as often as I can in the winter will definitely help. I will be prepared and knowledgeable if I find myself in a winter survival situation while having fun outdoors.

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