The arctic is a uniquely dangerous place. With temperatures that fall to 60 degrees below zero, vehicles grow ornery, robust materials become brittle and death from exposure can find you alarmingly fast. Circumstances that might be merely inconvenient in more temperate climes can be lethal in this otherworldly environment.
I once called the Alaskan interior home and recall a darkly fascinating story. A woman made her way home from work on a routine but frigid winter day. She wore a light dress with matching shoes and drove a sedan. Like most Alaskans, she kept a survival kit in her trunk. Her route home followed a well-traveled highway.
The entire state is encased in ice during the winter and she hit a rough spot, momentarily losing control of her vehicle. The car darted off the road and down an embankment to lodge inextricably in a thick stand of alder trees before anyone took notice. The trees were so thick that they pinned the doors shut on the car. The woman could run her windows down but the thick alders occluded the resulting space as effectively as bars on a jailhouse window. The temperature was south of -40 Fahrenheit and, though unhurt, the woman was effectively imprisoned.
When the fuel tank eventually ran dry, the engine died and with it the vehicle’s heater. These were the days before cell phones. Despite her best efforts, the woman was unable to break the windshield. Her survival gear and sleeping bag were 2 feet away in the trunk but might has well have been on the moon for all the good they did her. The car was cold soaked minutes after the engine died.
The following morning, a passing truck driver noticed dimly flashing lights and had the grace to investigate. Suffering frostbite and near death, the woman pumped on her brake pedal in an effort at keeping her feet from freezing solid. The flashing brake lights had captured the attention of the astute trucker and saved the woman’s life. In such an unfortunate situation a handy and accessible go-anywhere heat source can mean the difference between living and dying.
Even in the Deep South where I now live, winter temperatures drop to dangerous levels. Access to a portable and practical source of heat can prepare food and preserve life. Where once this meant some form of combustion with the commensurate risks of fire and poisonous gases, nowadays there are better, safer options.
Flameless ration heaters have been staples in military Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) since the ‘90s. For the first time in human history, these remarkable devices allowed soldiers to enjoy hot meals any place in the world, in any conditions, without betraying their positions or risking a fire. While this was a revolutionary stride forward in support of soldiers in the field, a company called MealSpec has taken this concept to the next level.
MealSpec’s Flameless Ration Heat- ers are like the original MRE heaters on steroids. MealSpec heaters reach maximum temperatures in a mere 12 seconds, and are hot enough to boil water and do a little cooking. MealSpec heaters are utterly reliable, lightweight, portable and versatile. MealSpec heaters will heat up most anything edible. However, in an emergency, they can also do a lot more than just heat your food if needed.
MealSpec heaters require water for activation. When the environment is too cold to provide water in liquid form, snow can be secured in a pouch and stored in- side clothing to melt. Once activated, the MealSpec heaters can then heat stones or metal objects so that they retain heat for an extended period.
MealSpec heaters can be used to heat food, sterilize water or utensils and provide life-saving warmth in a frigid crisis. They operate at a median temperature of 180 degrees, reach a maximum 220 degrees and run for 12 minutes. They have a five-year shelf life. And if you’re cooking for a group, MealSpec’s Gen2 Cooking Bag increases the unit’s hear duration time to 60 minutes and features larger dimensions.
After testing, I can attest that MealSpec makes great flameless ration heaters. MealSpec heaters can prepare food, thaw frozen mechanisms and provide lifesaving warmth to a survivor who is wet, cold, hungry or all of the above. They take up little room and even less weight. The Gen1 will run you $2.50, while the Gen2 is $3.99. A handful tucked into a bug-out bag provides portable heat in any crisis. For more information, visit store.endexo.com or call 844-632-5773.
This article was originally published in the NEW PIONEER ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.