There are a number of reasons why people didn’t move around much in the winter in olden times. First of all, there was the problem of trying to keep warm. Horses and open wagons don’t come with heaters that you can use to keep warm. About the best they could do was to heat up a soapstone, put in on the floor of the wagon, under their seat, and put a blanket over their legs. That would help for an hour or so but after that, they’d be out of heat.
Another problem was finding feed and water for their livestock. People gathered hay to feed their animals in the wintertime, but that hay was back at their homestead. You couldn’t very easily load up hay and take it with you for a prolonged period of time. So, while you might make a trip into town, you’d have to be back that night or at the latest the next night.
Then there was the whole problem of just managing to move through the snow. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of horse-drawn sleighs running down some country lane. But in reality, the only places where those horse-drawn sleighs could be used effectively was where there was packed snow on the roads. Trying to make your horse pull a sleigh through deep, unpacked snow, was a good way to kill the horse.
We don’t really think of it much today, but if we were ever deprived of our automobiles, we’d have as much trouble making it through the snow as our ancestors did. Unfortunately, when that time comes, it may be because we are on a bug out. Bugging out through the snow would be extremely difficult, as well as dangerous.
Picking a Route through the Snow
It can be possible to move through light snow or windswept snow, without a lot of difficulty. More than anything, that requires picking your course carefully. The one thing you don’t want to be doing is pushing your way through deep snow. That’s hard enough to do, that you are likely to end up sweating. Sweat and cold weather are a bad combination, as the sweat can freeze, drawing off your body’s heat.
To move through the snow, without sweating, you need to plan out your route, looking for areas which are either free of snow or have only a light covering. Be careful of these areas though, as they can be icy. It won’t help you to avoid deep snow, if the price is falling and breaking a leg.
Generally speaking, windswept snow will clear in a patter, leaving long lines of areas where the snow is shallow, because the snow has drifted. The shallowest spots are often just on either side of a drift. Look to see where the drifts are, and then look for bare spots before and after them.
Using Snowshoes to Move
If you don’t find bare areas to move through the snow, then you need something to keep you on top of the snow. This either means using skis or snowshoes. Cross-country skiing is a great way of moving through the snow, especially if you are in an area where there is packed snow. Like downhill skiing, most cross-country skis are designed and manufactured for use on packed snow. Wider skis are needed for cross-country skiing over fresh powder.
The other option is to use snowshoes. There are three main advantages of snowshoes over any other means of moving through the snow. First of all, you don’t need to be trained in their use. It’s just like walking, with the exception that you have to keep your legs farther apart. Secondly, snow shoes are ideal for walking on fresh powder; they don’t need packed snow. Finally, although you can buy commercial snowshoes, you can also make your own, especially in a survival situation.
The idea of the snowshoe is to spread your weight over a larger area, so that your weight doesn’t cause your feet to press down into the snow. An average sized man won’t sink more than two inches into the snow, if their snowshoes are large enough. That means, you eliminate all the extra work of fighting through the snow.
Making Survival Snowshoes
Commercially available snowshoes are mostly made of plastics and composites today. Before, they were made of wood and rawhide. You can literally make yours out of whatever material you can find to use; but you want to make sure that they are lightweight enough that you can walk in them without wearing yourself out.
Making the Frames
To make your own, in a survival situation, start by finding two saplings or long straight, thin branches. You’ll need them to be about eight feet long. These will become the frame for your snowshoes. Warm them over the fire, to make them more pliable before shaping them. There are two basic shapes you can use, the oval or the teardrop. It is easier to make oval snowshoes, but it is easier to make teardrop ones consistently.
All you need to do to make the frame is to form the warmed branches and tie the ends together. If you are making oval snowshoes, the ends of the branches will have to overlap about a foot where you tie them. This then becomes the inner side of your snowshoes, so that the two tied locations are opposite each other. For teardrop shaped snowshoes, bring the last eight inches of the ends together, parallel to each other, and tie them together.
In either case, you’ll need to adjust the shape of the snowshoes as you tie the web across the frames. Ideally, you want the snowshoes to end up 12″ to 15″ wide. The narrower they are, the easier it is to become used to walking in them; but, the wider they are, the more stable they are.
Webbing the Shoes
You’ll need to tie a web across the frames, with cords being about 1 1/2″ apart. This will take a lot of cord, so if there’s any possibility that you will end up making snowshoes sometime in the wild, I’d recommend adding a couple hundred feet of extra paracord to your bug out bag.
Another way to make the web across the frames, without having to use as much paracord, is to use tree branches, specifically evergreen tree branches. Cut of the end of the branch, a couple of feet back from the tip. This will still be thin enough, that it will be lightweight. Tie the branches to both sides of the frame, allowing the natural splitting of the branch to fill the space in the middle. Cut off any twigs sticking up or down from the plane of the shoe, as they don’t help with anything.
Using the Snowshoes
The finished snowshoes can be tied to your boots. Commercial ones have bindings and buckles, but you probably don’t carry those around with you. Tying will work out just about as well.
When getting started using snowshoes. It can be helpful to have poles to help with your balance, much like ski poles. You can’t find those growing in the woods, but you can make your own. All you need is a straight section of branch, about 3 1/2 feet long. To make a “basket” and keep the pole from sinking too far into the snow, tie a couple of pine cones onto the pole, six inches from the end. Tie a loop of paracord onto the other end of the pole, to go around your wrist and keep you from losing your pole.