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Shelter, Clothing & Fire

The Point

You can only last three to four hours in extreme conditions without adequate shelter. Maintaining your body temperature in hot or cold temperatures is vital for survival. This can be hard to do if you are out of your normal environment or the power to your home is out.

Knowledge of how to maintain your optimal body temperature can help you "Be Ready" to save your life or the life of someone you care about.

Do This

  • Learn the science of sheltering and layering so you can create life saving shelters in any situation, then practice
  • Gather sheltering supplies like blankets, tents, sleeping bags, Mylar, cold weather clothing, and clear plastic sheeting. Include sheltering items as needed in disaster supply kits
  • Learn how to keep you home warm or cool as needed if the power goes out
  • Learn how to safely build, start, and put out a fire using a variety of different starting and extinguishing methods, then practice

Purpose of Shelter

Without shelter, a person can die from exposure in three to four hours.  The purpose of sheltering is to help our bodies maintain a normal body temperature of about 98.6°.  The human body uses the hypothalamus to internally regulate temperatures by controlling the constriction and dilation of blood vessels, sweating, and shivering – but it can only do so much to counter the extremes in our environments.

What external, environmental influences can affect our body temperature?  Obviously, temperature extremes of hot and cold can affect us as well as our exposure to the elements like wind and rain.  If our bodies are wet from rain, being in water, or sweating we will lose heat faster than if we are dry.

Our circulatory system uses water to transport heat throughout our bodies, so our level of hydration is a factor as well.  Just as a tuned-up car works best, our health and the quality of our diet can determine how well our bodies can maintain temperature.  If we are physically exerting ourselves, we will be generating internal heat.

Our internal regulatory systems will be affected as well if we are taking medications or intoxicants like alcohol, nicotine, or drugs.  These DO NOT warm the body, they cause the body to relax, giving the sensation of warming, but in reality the body is losing heat at a much faster rate.

If the body gets too cold and the temperature drops below 98.6 degrees, it is known as hypothermia.  Symptoms include shivering.  If you are shivering, you are in the first stages of hypothermia.  Other symptoms are slurred speech, apathy, confusion, loss of fine motor skills, difficulty walking or maintaining balance.  As severity increases, skin may turn pale or gray.  Eventually shivering will stop and the internal organs start to shut down.

If the body gets too hot and the temperature rises above 98.6 degrees, it is known as hyperthermia.  Symptoms include thirst, sweating, slurred speech, apathy, confusion, loss of fine motor skills, difficulty walking or maintaining balance, headache, dizziness, and nausea.  As severity increases, there could be vomiting, cramps, rapid pulse and breathing.  Eventually the body stops sweating and the internal organs start to shut down.

Hypothermia and hyperthermia both have different levels of severity and they can both be deadly.  Watch yourself and others for the symptoms and treat as necessary.

Disaster Supply Kit Shelter, Clothing, and Fire

Red Be Ready Utah Backpack representing a disaster supply kitA big part of maintaining normal body temperature is staying dry. A waterproof poncho is small enough to easily fit in a pocket in your disaster supply kit, but be quickly accessed if the weather turns bad. There isn't any insulation, but it keeps the moisture out of your clothing. In a pinch, an upside down garbage bag can be turned into poncho. just cut a hole big enough for your head and two more for your arms.

Woman in reflective blanket

An emergency reflective blanket, commonly called a Mylar blanket can also help maintain your body temperature. Like a poncho, these plastic sheets can protect you from outside moisture, but they are also sprayed with an aluminum coating that, when used properly, can reflect 90% of your body's heat back to you. To use, make sure there is a layer of clothing or an insulative blanket between your skin and the reflective blanket. If the reflective blanket is in direct contact with your skin, it will actually conduct heat away from your body. For this reason, we suggest also including a wool or fleece blanket or sleeping bag in your disaster supply kit. Use it as insulation to hold your body heat in, but also to insulate yourself from the reflective blanket. Take note: reflective blankets ARE NOT FIRE BLANKETS! They are not designed to nor will they protect you from fire.

A backpacking tent or a tarp can protect you and your family from wind, rain, snow, and even too much direct sunlight. A tent is nice, but even a small tent can take up a lot of room in your disaster supply kit. share the different pieces of the tent in different family members' kits, the largest and heaviest pieces in the strongest members. To save room, instead of using a tent, learn how to make a shelter from a tarp. Survival books can also teach you haw to create life-saving shelters out of the resources around you.

Clothing needs to be checked every six months to be sure it still fits and is season appropriate. In spring time, change to lighter summer clothing. In fall, change to heavier and warmer winter clothing. Know how to dress in layers to maintain your body temperature no matter what conditions you may be in. Even if you have clothing that will work for year round, it is a good idea to check it yearly. All to often, children and adults have outgrown the clothing in their emergency kits and have nothing to wear in an emergency situation. Be sure to add an extra pair of wool or synthetic fiber socks and underclothing. It is recommended not to use cotton since cotton material holds moisture next to your skin, causing your body temperature to drop.

Girl in a wide brim boonie hatHave a hat with a brim and/or a bandana to protect your face from wind and the sun. This is important in hot and cold temperatures. Sunburnt and wind chapped skin cannot regulate your body temperature very well, plus it's just uncomfortable. Protect your face by keeping it covered.

Hand WarmersHand and body warmers are small and easy to stick in an emergency kit pocket. They can provide heat for around eight hours. Chemical hand warmers work by rapid oxidization when the contents of the packets are exposed to oxygen in the air. That's why you need to leave them in the plastic packaging until you are ready to use them. Hand warmers do have an average shelf-life of about one year, so check the printed expiration dates and rotate as often as is needed.

Having a means of starting a fire is an important part of your disaster supply kit. Learn and practice how to safely build and put out a small fire. Include windproof/waterproof matches and know that often times, waterproof matches must be struck on the box they came in. Keep the box dry because even though the matches are waterproof, the box with the striker is not. These are NOT strike anywhere matches. If you want to include strike anywhere matches in your kit, first dip the matchhead in melted candle wax and let it cool. This will waterproof the match. Then to use it, scrape off some of the wax to expose the matchhead, then strike it ... anywhere. Store all matches, waterproof or not, in a waterproof container. 
Beyond matches, include other alternative fire starters in your emergency kit. This could include things like a lighter, magnesium rod and striker, a magnifying or Fresnel lens, or a number of other things. Make sure you know how to use the item and have good practice with it in creating a fire before adding it to your disaster supply kit. Be sure to add a small amount of dry tinder or other fire starting material as well.

The Science of Effective Emergency Sheltering

The purpose of a shelter is to help your body maintain its normal temperature.  If you understand these concepts, you can use your available supplies and resources to make effective, life saving shelters for the given circumstances. In cold temperature situations, you usually want to retain and gain heat; whereas in warm temperatures, you want to promote heat loss or at least not increase your temperature. Remember that heat always travels from warmer areas to colder areas.

Conduction: Heat transfer through direct contact, such as bare feet on a cold floor.  Ice packs use conduction to pull heat away from burns or sore muscles.  Prevent conduction from your body in cold temperatures by wearing socks or when camping by making an insulation barrier between your sleeping area and the ground.

Convection:  Heat transfer through air and liquid currents.  Wind chill is a good example of convection.  When the wind blows, it feels colder than the ambient temperature because the moving air is pulling heat away from your body.  You use convection in warmer temperatures to cool down when you use a fan.  Prevent convection in colder temperatures by wearing clothing or using shelters that block wind.

Radiation:  Heat transfer through emission.  A car’s radiator radiates heat to keep the engine from overheating.  You experience radiation from the sun every day.  In the same way you feel warmth from a campfire without having to touch the flame.  You can even feel your own body radiating heat if you put your hand just above an area of skin.  Prevent radiation heat loss in cold temperatures by using insulated clothing and shelters, and by using shelters that reflect your heat back to you.

Metabolism:  Converting food into energy and heat.  Food is your body’s source of fuel.  Help your body regulate your temperature in cold weather by eating high calorie foods like energy bars, trail mix and fruit snacks.  Water is an important part in the metabolism process, be sure to stay properly hydrated in warm and cold situations.

Evaporation:  Heat transfer through converting liquid to gas.  When your body sweats, the sweat evaporates, or changes from a liquid into a gas, which requires heat energy.  This helps keep you cool.  When you get out of a pool, even on a hot day, you feel cold until you dry off because of evaporation.  Promote evaporation in hot temperatures by staying hydrated.  In extreme situations you can even wear wet clothing.  Prevent heat loss in the cold by staying dry, minimizing sweating, and by wearing artificial fiber clothing, which wicks moisture away from your skin.  In humid climates, regulating temperature through evaporation is not effective.

Respiration:  Heat loss through breathing.  You breathe out warm, moist air.  You can’t stop breathing, so in cold temperature situations, wear a mask or scarf that covers your mouth and nose.  Breathe through your nose to warm and moisten the air before it gets to your lungs, and to retain as much heat and moisture when you breathe out.

You could also say friction generates heat, like when you rub your hands together, but heat generation is very small and can be damaging to skin tissues in extreme situations like frost bite.

Preventing and Promoting Heat Transfer

After learning how your body gains or losses heat, it is important to learn how to prevent or promote those heat losses and gains.

Insulation:  Trapping air to stop or slow the transfer of heat.  Air is not a good heat conductor, so it works well as a barrier.  Multiple small layers of clothing trap air for insulation and allow you to regulate to a comfortable temperature by adding or removing layers as needed.  Insulation prevents conduction and radiation.

Reflection:  Bouncing heat back to or away from your body.  Heat, also known as infrared light, can be deflected and directed just like a flashlight beam and a mirror.  Reflect your radiated body heat back to you in cold or reflect solar heat away from you in hot weather by using Mylar blankets, sleeping bags, or tents. If used properly, Mylar blankets can reflect 90% of your body's heat back to you, but there is no insulation. Be sure to have an insulating layer of clothing or cloth between your skin and the Mylar, otherwise it turns from reflecting your heat back, to conducting your heat away.

Protection:  Keeping out the heat transferring elements like sun, water, wind, and physical dangers.  Maintain your body temperature by protecting yourself from the elements. Stay dry and warm by wearing an outer layer that sheds water.  Shelters that block wind and/or provide shade from the hot sun are also vital to survival in extreme temperatures.

Moisture Wicking:  Pulling water away from the body.  Artificial fiber clothing or shelters like polyester, fleece, and nylon or a non-plant fiber like wool can actually wick, or pull moisture, away from your skin.  This is essential in cold weather.  You do not want evaporation happening or ice forming next to your skin when you are cold.  DO NOT wear cotton in cold weather situations since cotton holds moisture and causes evaporation next to your skin.

Cold Weather Clothing Layers

We've always been told to wear multiple layers instead of one bulky layer when going out in the cold, but how can we do it most effectively?

Learn about the BASE layer, the INSULATION layers, and the OUTSIDE PROTECTIVE layer.


Clothing Layers
Base Insulation Protective Layers

Sheltering at Home in the Cold

HEADLINE!  Cold Snap Freezes All City Utilities!
So…whaddya DO?


Shelter in Cold
Sheltering at Home in the Cold

Sheltering at Home in the Heat

HEADLINE! Heat Wave Knocks Out All City Utilities!
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Shelter in Heat
Sheltering at Home in the Heat

Safely Build a Fire

Fire provides heat, light, a means of cooking and boiling, safety, and signaling. "Be ready" to safely make a fire before your life depends on it. Always practice fire safety.

Build a Fire
Fire Provides Many Things

Shelter-in-Place (S.I.P.)

Prepare your family to shelter-in-place at home for a toxic gas plume caused by haz-mat spills, industrial accidents, or terrorism. This can be done with plastic sheeting, duct tape, emergency kits, and a little practice. Learn more here.

Shelter-In-Place
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