In much of this country, we’ve hit the time of year in which it can get cold enough to kill you. Honestly, I’ve seen everything line up just wrong enough for people to go hypothermic on the Fourth of July up here in Wisconsin. But once the temperature settles below freezing, ensuring that you’re properly prepared for a winter emergency is more important than ever. As a lifelong resident of the frozen north, I’ve assembled a few tips for anyone who might be new to this whole “it’s so cold that my pants are making weird noises when I walk outside” thing.

Train for Real Winter Life

There’s no way around it: You simply must practice your draws while wearing the clothes you’ll be wearing while out and about. If you’ve only trained on draws while wearing your regular street clothes with no cover garment, you’ll be behind the curve if you’re forced to defend yourself while wearing a jacket or coat. Though it isn’t the most comfortable or pleasant experience in the world of concealed carry, triple-clear your sidearm, ensure there’s no ammunition in the room and then practice drawing from your holster while wearing your cold-weather gear, including gloves. Speaking of which…

Keep Your Hands Free

This is an easy concept when gloves aren’t necessary, but as soon as it gets cold, you’ll have to take them into account. Most cops, troopers and deputies prefer not to wear gloves unless it’s absolutely necessary, and for good reason: Gloves often make using your radio and squad laptop more difficult, and they can complicate your draw. If you haven’t already, it might be time to look into a pair of gloves tuned for law enforcement use. There are too many models to list here, but decent specimens are thin, durable, warmer than they look and will only minimally complicate your being able to get your gun out and up as quickly as possible.

Take It Easy

If, as the old adage goes, “80 percent of success is showing up,” then 99 percent of staying safe is managing to stay upright. As a man who took more than one ice-induced fall onto his duty gear, trust me: You DO NOT want to fall onto your gun. If you just relocated to somewhere it gets icy, ease your way into this. Poking along until you get your sea legs is a better plan than trying to operate the way you do off of the ice rink some of us call home.

Get Your Vehicle Winter-Ready

Up here, we have signs warning drivers that bridges freeze faster than the road does. This is because the wind is allowed to go over and under a bridge, and the same can be said for you in your vehicle. If you’re forced to spend a freezing night in your car or truck, you’re going to need at least a sleeping bag and, preferably, a sleeping bag and then an actual wool blanket in which to wrap it. If you only have the resources or space for one, go with the blanket. We humans have used wool to keep ourselves and our animals warm for millennia because it works … even when wet. Synthetics can’t make that claim. A word of warning though: “Military-style” and “emergency” blankets probably aren’t 100 percent wool, and you’ll want the real thing when emergency strikes.

Safely Secure That Sidearm

A cursory Google search will reveal that one of the leading causes of negligent discharges that send bullets into human bodies are the little toggles attached to drawstrings on jackets and fleece pullovers. The Glock-style trigger on your striker-fired pistol can’t tell the difference between a little piece of plastic and your finger. And if a drawstring toggle finds its way into your trigger guard as you reholster, disaster may strike. I cut these out of all of my garments, and though your property is your property, I would encourage you to do the same.

Dress the Part for Winter

Frostbite and hypothermia are deadly concerns, and it just doesn’t pay to leave your residence unprepared when there’s even a chance that the weather could turn on you. Even if it’s just the proverbial “run to the store,” betting it all on your coat is a bad plan. Always have a hat and gloves in case something happens that keeps you out-of-doors for longer than expected, and my year-round EDC is never without a Bic lighter and a fire-starter or two. Bic-brand lighters are available at literally every grocery store and gas station in the United States of America, and it would be difficult to tally the number of lives they’ve saved over the decades they’ve been with us.

Ahoy There

If I had to pick one all-star winter EDC item, it would be the American wool watch cap. These are ubiquitous and can usually be had for about $12, but they’re literal lifesavers. I always have one in my inner jacket pocket, and my travel backpack (the one I have to constantly triple-check for ammunition and weapons before heading to the airport) is never without one. As mentioned above, wool is a borderline-magical substance, and I encourage you to avail yourself of it.

Stay Warm, Stay Safe

It’s not that we’re crazy for living where it gets cold enough to close schools and freeze animals to the ground. To be honest, we take the same measure of pride in living here that is taken by those who live in deserts, jungles and other inhospitable climes: We not only survive but also thrive in an environment that literally drives some humans away in tears. It’s a different kind of life, and it isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy it like we do, there’s no reason you can’t stay as safe and as ready to defend yourself as anyone else.