Winter survival: 50 hours away from civilization

I startle. It is pitch dark. An icy breeze has blown snow crystals into my face. Is that what woke me up? Then I hear it again – very close to my sleeping bag. A soft crunching in the snow – but I can’t see anything. It is deep winter, the thermometer shows -8 degrees. What am I doing here again? Ah yes, I’m spending 50 hours in the snowy forest – without a tent. It’s the last module of my winter training.


A heavy start

Two days ago we started from a parking lot in the Bernese Jura. Loaded with 20kg on the back, with firewood, winter equipment and food for 3 days. And snowshoes, because our path leads partly through open terrain, in which we sink with our heavy backpacks. Our route leads past snow-covered trees and bushes full of frozen snow drifts – the sun will not show up for the whole three days, but I don’t suspect anything of it yet. Fog clouds waft again and again through the trees and let our environment appear almost surreal. We could also be in Lapland right now.

Arrived: Of dream catchers and animal visits

On a slope our group finally comes to a halt after 5km – here we will set up our camp. In the fog, the temperature rises during the day only minimally to -6 degrees, so that our thoughts mainly revolve around warmth. After a quick lunch we collect wood and start a fire before we start to choose and build our individual bivouac sites. Weather protection from the wind is just as important as a level position – not so easy in the sloping hillside.

My home for two nights.

Here the snow helps, a ramp is quickly built. My tarp is completely open, I literally lie in the open air. At the ends I poke sticks into the ground and lean my snowshoes against them, a small attempt to calm my head – because here, in addition to deer, wolves and lynx have already been spotted. Later, my little barriers are called dreamcatchers by a teammate – it makes me smile, I like the name. I admit: The idea of seeing an animal standing next to my sleeping bag at night fascinates me as much as it worries me. Here I am literally at eye level with the animal world, just a small part of the whole forest cosmos, and at the same time somehow an intruder.

Frozen landscapes and warm thoughts

The first morning I open my eyes and see my breath steaming in front of my face. The thermometer shows -7 degrees. A diffuse light bathes the world around me in a blue-gray that gets brighter by the second. Everything around me glitters & sparkles in the light of my headlamp, reflected by 1001 ice crystals.

Deeply immersed in winter garb, the trees around me bend under the weight of the snow as I snuggle into my warm sleeping bag. No tent wall blocks my view, and so I let the silence of the morning take effect on me. Suddenly, a soft crackling sound reaches my ears and I turn my head – and see the first flames flaring up, a teammate just rekindling the fire. The peace that fills me at that moment is hard to describe.

An unexpected surprise

Only a little later, the day takes over completely – the brightness and the activism around me increase abruptly and I also peel myself out of my many layers to join the team at the fire. Today a winter hike is on the plan, but first snow is melted and processed into porridge – in the oatmeal you fortunately no longer see the bark and moss pieces that floated in the thawed water a few minutes earlier… But then a surprise: The smell has not only lured us to the fire. Suddenly a dog comes out of the forest towards us – alone and with a big GPS transmitter and a long antenna on his neck. What is he doing here? After we first pet him, we eventually have to drive him away from our supplies. While he moves on, I have a thought: Before our hiking tour, I should probably pull up my food, which remains in the camp, into a tree…

Hiking through a surreal snowy landscape to stay warm.

Animal tracks and icy winds

Finally we set off, the wind has freshened and bites us in the face ice cold. Movement is the only way to stay permanently warm in this landscape. After a few hours we have climbed the Spitzberg, which does not live up to its name. It is neither pointed (but flat) nor really a mountain (only 1382 meters high). On the way we meet various animal tracks, we can make out a fox, a deer and hares. Patiently Mike from Oase Survival explains us about running directions and track characteristics, while we marvel alternately at the tracks and the frozen landscape. Meanwhile we are already 28h outside and the “normal” world feels very far away.

An emotional farewell

Finally, the last evening has arrived – really the very last, because with this module the one-year training at Oase Survival ends. All the participants gather around the fire again, and stories and experiences are exchanged over dinner. Otherwise, only the crackling of the fire and the rustling of the wind can be heard. The moment has something very archaic, primal. The world shrinks down to the ring of the fire, the warmth, the group of people that provides joy as well as shelter.


That evening I go to bed with a very nice feeling in my stomach. Then, when I suddenly wake up in the night from noises and the ice on my face, I decide that I choose to be happy about the animal visit – whatever it is. I briefly glance at the night, then turn around, close my eyes – and smile. I feel very connected to nature.

About Oase Survival Training

The winter module is part of a year-long training at Oase Survival, consisting of a total of five blocks and led by Mike. After an intensive weekend in April 22, we learned in May for 5 days 4 nights in the forest module (shelter construction with tarp, orientation, tool knowledge..), before we spent 6 days 5 nights on the water in August, getting among other things the fishing brevet after completing the test.

Paddle training was also part of it, because 3 days we were on the water in canoes. In the penultimate module in October, it was finally in 4 days 3 nights to the nitty-gritty – survival in the forest (shelter construction from natural materials, sleeping bag and Mätteli from leaves, water treatment, fire techniques …). I plan to publish a separate blog post about this. In the last module in January 23 now stand the winter on the program – 3 days 2 nights in the forest at temperatures constantly below zero.

Mike - our survival trainer

I can recommend the training to anyone who wants to expand their own comfort zone and wants to intensify their connection to nature. More information is available at Oase Survival on the website for the annual training and in the free online workshop.

Disclaimer: This post is independently written and has not been financially supported by Oase Survival in any way. However, the pictures were taken as part of an assignment for Oase Survival.

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