5 Essential Items for your Winter Survival Kit


Winter is coming.

Hopefully you got that Game of Thrones reference but even if you didn’t those words might be applicable. If you live in a northern climate winter will be here in a couple of months – are you ready?

I often get the question “what should I pack in a winter survival kit?” Today I’m going to address that question and give you some recommendations I would consider adding to my bug out bag for the winter months.

Now I’m not going to lie to you – bugging out in winter is an incredibly difficult task that requires specialized gear. Not only does some of this gear add extra weight to your back but it also can take a nice sized chunk out of your wallet. If anyone has alternative or DIY methods for creating the items below please share them in the comments!

1) Cold Weather Sleeping Bag

In order to get the painful part over first let’s talk about your sleep system. This is probably more essential than any other piece of kit in your bag. Now I’m no expert on sleeping bags but I do know the biggest difference in price between most bags is weight.You’ll probably be able to find a bag rated to below freezing for around $100.

What you’ll have a hard time finding is one that weighs below 5lbs.

When it comes to sleeping bags down filling is king as it provides great warmth while also being incredibly light. Other types of synthetic bags (the kinds for around $100) can match the warmth but don’t hold a candle to weight. In fact most down bags rated for freezing or below weigh on or under 2lbs. The issue however is that many of these bags go for $300 or more.

With that in mind I wanted to look at some alternative options for sleep systems that are a little more wallet friendly:

4 Piece MSS Sleep System

Military Modular Sleep System 4 Piece with Goretex Bivy Cover and Carry Sack
Military Modular Sleep System 4 Piece with Goretex Bivy Cover and Carry Sack

Suggested by a reader on another post of mine the military Modular Sleep System is an awesome way to cover all of your sleeping needs from summer to the middle of winter. The great part about these units is it’s modular capabilities. They come with a summer bag rated to +30, a winter bag rated to -10 and a bivy cover designed to keep you dry.¬† This means you can use them individually for warm weather or combine them together to stay warm down to a rated -40.

What’s even better is that you can find brand new units through Amazon for around $100 – and if you’re will to buy something used you can get it for significantly cheaper. The one thing I will say however is that this approach is not for the ultra-lightweight backpacker as the system in its entirety weighs close to 13lbs. If you’re not worried about weight, this system will keep you plenty warm!

Fleece Liner

Coleman Stratus Fleece Sleeping Bag Liner
Coleman Stratus Fleece Sleeping Bag Liner

The next item I wanted to cover here is something that I admittedly have not experimented with. I have however heard of others using it successfully so I wanted to bring it up as an option. The item in question is a Fleece Sleeping Bag Liner which can be found for under $20 and weighs next to nothing.

The idea behind these liners is that you use them inside your existing bag to add around 10 degrees to your bag’s temperature rating. I think it’s a brilliant idea for those that already have a reasonable bag and just need a couple extra degrees to feel comfortable during cold weather. If anyone has some first hand experience using this sort of thing please chime in on the comments with how it worked!

DIY Down Bag

I came across this video the other day on one of my favorite Youtube channels and had to share it here for the DIY folks. It might not be the prettiest thing around but if you can add enough down you’re going to have a lightweight bag for an incredible price!

Ok so we started out with a post on 5 winter bug out items which quickly turned into a tutorial on sleep systems. I don’t regret it, but let’s get back on track!

2) Snow Shoes

ALPS Adult All Terrian Snowshoes
ALPS Adult All Terrian Snowshoes

Depending on where you’re traveling and how deep the snow is a second handy item to have is a pair of snow shoes.

Growing up in Canada I definitely know a thing about snow and moving through stuff that is over a foot deep for any sort of distance is both an exhausting and frustrating experience.

If you’re planning on covering more than a few miles in any sort of wilderness area pick yourself up a pair.

3) Tinder Ultimate Survival Technologies Wetfire Tinder

Ultimate Survival Technologies Wetfire Tinder
Ultimate Survival Technologies Wetfire Tinder

In the winter fire is pretty much king, but starting one without the proper resources can be a difficult process. Unlike summer when plenty of natural tinder is available, winter has a way of blanketing everything making it impossible to find something that will catch a spark. For that reason I strongly suggest that you carry additional pre-made tinder that will help get the fire going.

Whether that is simply cotton balls and Vaseline or something like Wet Fire it really doesn’t matter – just pick something that is going to burn long and hot enough for you to build a sustainable fire.

4) Shovel

US GI Military Original Issue E-Tool Entrenching Shovel
US GI Military Original Issue E-Tool Entrenching Shovel

A collapsible shovel is going to be essential to the winter bug out bag as it allows you to clear areas for shelter and dig out pits for fire. Collapsible ShovelIn fact, digging and clearing snow is going to be a constant¬† task during the winter months – and while it might be possible with a stick or your hands it’s going to save both time and calories having a shovel handy.

5) Sled

Viking Utility Sled
Viking Utility Sled

The last item on our list might leave some a little baffled, but the truth is it comes in incredibly handy for hauling large amounts of gear, firewood or whatever else you pick up along the way. Now by sled Winter SledI’m not talking about the giant wooden thing children use at Christmas time. What I’m referring to is something of a smaller, plastic variety like this.

Though you aren’t going to be able to fit this IN a bug out bag you can easily store it in the same place as your BOB so you have easy access to both. A sled this size is easy to fit in the trunk of your car where it will keep snow covered items off your trunk floor. You can even just pop your BOB inside it!

One Final Note…

While I believe this list of 5 items gives you a solid base to go on for a winter survival scenario, I recognize that it doesn’t cover everything. One extra item that I’d like to point out here is food.

An essential item in any bug out bag, food becomes all the more important in winter weather. Wild edibles become almost non-existent and animals become scarcer and harder to catch. So make sure you have a solid pack of rations before bugging out in cold weather.

So there you have it, my 5 essential items for a winter bug out bag.

If you have any other suggestions for “must have” winter bug out items please leave them in the comments below or shoot me an email at mybugoutbaglist [at] gmail [dot] com and I’ll be happy to add them in here.

Happy prepping!



  1. Great list! Along the lines of your last educational post, I recommend reading Endurance. It’s the story of Shackelton’s journey to the south pole and back again after his ship was crushed. His guys lasted a year or more with precious little, it’s testament to the value of knowledge. Shackelton spent time in Alaska learning how to live in the snow and cold. His competition didn’t, and every single one of them died down there. By Alfred Lansing, about $10 on amazon, great read!

    • Hey Adrienne,

      Haven’t read that one yet although I have heard a little about the story in passing. Will have to add it to my “must read” list!

      Thanks for stopping by, always love hearing suggestions for expanding my knowledge!

  2. Nice Jake,

    This is pretty solid my friend … I would only say one thing in regards to your “wet fire” … As you may know … I love a swear by “birch bark”, and “old man’s beard” (the loose mossy stuff that hangs from most spruce related tree’s) These items, along with “resin” that is pre-collected, is always in my bag, and not to mention 5 or 6 sheets of birch bark in my survival tin. I have never gone wrong with these items, ever.

    “Endurance” is a must read for sure … Good choice Adrienne !

    Thanks Jake.

  3. I’ve been through your lists multiple times, and one of the biggest things I’ve found missing is sunscreen. You have insect repellent but the last thing you need in winter or summer is to treat a sunburn on top of everything else. Injuries drain your energy reserves so an ounce of prevention goes a long way

  4. The sled reminded me of a heavy rain fall some years back. My sister was living in a mobil home and the park she was at flooded due to some blocked drainage pipes. She grabbed a couple of large garbage bags for waders then put on her shoes, used duct tape to cinch the bags to her legs. Then she took a plastic boat that’s made for swimming pools, loaded some items and her rod into the boat and towed the boat to her Blazer, loaded the Blazer and stayed with me for a few days until the owner of the Mobil home park got the drains cleared. Not bad for a $10 plastic kids boat, that might work as a sled too.