coming back alive
Avoiding Hypothermia

Simply put, hypothermia means the body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Hypothermia happens when a person is exposed to moisture (rain, sweat), wind and cold without adequate clothing and shelter. Your most important task if you are lost is to guard against the effects of hypothermia.

Hypothermia may strike during any season, but is the most obvious threat during the winter.

When planning an outdoor excursion such as camping or cross country skiing, there are several ways to prepare yourself in order to avoid hypothermia:

Wear lots of layers of clothing and keep extra clothing in a backpack. If your clothing gets wet, you can take out your extra clothing from your pack and replace the wet clothing. Do not wear jeans, as they get wet (from snow and rain) easily. Wear insulating materials such as wool, a wind-proof jacket, and rain gear.

Bring high energy food with you and keep snacking.

Warmth begins at your STOMACH! Food provides heat and replaces energy that you've lost while walking or skiing in cold temperatures. Dieting has no place in winter camping or cross country skiing. You need the extra calories to keep your energy up and keep warm.

Drink lots of warm fluids such as soup to avoid dehydration.

Do not drink alcohol! It clouds the mind and actually speeds heat loss.

Insulate yourself from the snow. Do not sit on the snow when resting, instead, place a pack between you and the snow to insulate yourself so you do not become wet. Sitting on the snow will quickly rob your body of heat and contribute to hypothermia
When the Risk is Too High

Extreme cold, wet clothes — especially in the presence of wind — and being in cold water all play a part in increasing your chances of hypothermia. People who are elderly, very young or have certain health issues are especially vulnerable.

Risks to older adults:

People age 65 and older are especially vulnerable because they may have other illnesses or take medications that can interfere with the body's ability to regulate temperature.

Risks to the very young:

Children are extremely vulnerable to hypothermia during any season.

If you love your children, bundle them up! Children can lose heat faster than adults do. Children have a larger head-to-body ratio than adults do, making them more prone to heat loss through their heads.

Children may also ignore the cold because they are having too much fun to think about it. And they may not have the judgment to dress properly in cold weather or to get out of the cold when they feel cold. Infants may have a special problem with the cold because they have less efficient mechanisms for generating heat.

Dress your children warmly and check on them often to ensure they are not too cold.

Other factors that may place you at risk:

Psychiatric disorders:

Individuals who have Alzheimer's disease or another illness that causes mental impairment may not be aware of the risks of being out in the cold. Wandering away from home is not uncommon among people with Alzheimer's, and many are unable to find their way back on their own, leaving them stranded and vulnerable to the weather.

Alcohol consumption:

Alcohol greatly increases the chance of hypothermia.
Alcohol may make your body feel warm inside, but it lowers your body's ability to retain heat. Do not drink alcohol and operate a boat or other watercraft. Alcohol can impair your ability to navigate the waters, increasing your risk of an accident and of falling into cold water.

Medical conditions:

Some health disorders affect the body's ability to respond to cold or to produce heat. Examples include untreated underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), stroke, severe arthritis, Parkinson's disease, trauma, spinal cord injuries, burns, blood vessel or nerve disorders that affect sensation in your extremities (for example, peripheral neuropathy in people with diabetes), dehydration and any condition that limits activity or restrains the normal flow of blood. Older adults are more likely to have one or more of these risk factors.

Water temperature. Another factor contributing to your risk of hypothermia is the length of time you're in cold water. Rescue time is crucial when a person accidentally falls into cold water. Chances of survival are affected by how cold the water is. The colder the water, the less the chance of survival.
Hypothermia prevention begins in your stomach. A healthy meal before going out in the cold will provide you with heat- from the inside, out!
An Ounce of Prevention

The importance of FOOD:

Cold weather injuries, especially hypothermia, are 100 % preventable.

Prevention begins with your STOMACH.

During the winter it is important to be adequately fed and hydrated. In fact your body can demand more water in the winter than the summer. The average person needs about 1.5 to 2.5 L of water per day.

You also have to eat more. Most people need 1,500 to 2,000 calories per day. A low fat diet of 65 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent protein, and 15 percent fat is best.

A Hike Turns Deadly

Russell and Brenda Cox set out one Sunday in March 2004, for a hike up Mount Lafayette. They had planned to return to their Andover, Massachusetts, home that night.

But their initial day hike stretched into two bone-chilling nights spent at the summit. Despite the best efforts of the rescue teams, the couple was found a couple days later, and Brenda Cox was pronounced dead at Littleton Regional Hospital minutes after she was airlifted from the 5,249-foot peak above Franconia Notch.

The U.S. Army National Guard helicopter beginning its second day of searching for the couple, was signaled just before 10 a.m. by Russel Cox in a bright yellow parka.

Cox was evacuated first, while his wife, unconscious and in the advanced stages of hypothermia was taken off the mountain about 45 minutes later, after the helicopter refueled.

Russell was able to tell authorities that he and his wife had reached the Franconia Ridge trail in the afternoon, but whiteout conditions kept them from following the trail. The couple built a snow cave that night, but when they tried to move around the next day, high winds and frigid temperatures foiled their efforts. They hunkered down among rocks just north of the summit.

The Coxes were experienced hikers and had hiked the mountain before in winter.

They had planned to go to the summit and come down. But due to weather, they became disoriented and could not find their way.

The U.S. Army National Guard helicopter spotted the Coxes north of the summit, near the Garfield Ridge trail. They were beyond where they had planned to go.

Russell Cox, who was suffering from hypothermia, was taken to Littleton Regional Hospital. He was transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was in good condition.

The brutal weather hampered rescue efforts , shortly after a family member reported them overdue. Winds blew across the Franconia Range at 75 mph; the wind chill at one point was estimated at minus 50 C. Crews also had to contend with deep, blowing snow.

The area where the couple was found was not searched immediately because of weather conditions.

The couple did not leave an itinerary for their day hike, but after their Subaru Outback was found at the Falling Waters trailhead in Franconia Notch, the search set out from there with about 15 people.

Learning from Those Who Do It Best

The Inuit and Native people of Canada's arctic have been protecting themselves from the harshness of winter for centuries. Perfecting the art of making clothing that keeps them warm through the most adverse conditions, it is sometimes useful to turn to them for advice!

Caribou-skin or polar bear-skin clothing can provide warmth for a hunter who lies on the ice for hours waiting for his target to appear.

The caribou fur, for example, provides very effective insulation especially in the early autumn when the caribou are growing new winter coats. The density of the new hair is amazing: each follicle of hair is hollow, providing a "cushion of air."

Skilled at preparing hides and sewing seams, the women design very well-insulated clothing. Dressed in two layers of caribou hide with the inner fur against the skin and the outer toward the air, a hunter can stay warm even in the most extreme conditions.

In winter, robes of fur, usually woven of strips of rabbit skin, added extra warmth. Caps and mittens were made from the pelts of muskrat, beaver and other furbearing animals.

A beautiful landscape may quickly turn deadly if you are unprepared for the cold that you face.
Layers and Layers!

The First Layer.

Two fundamental principles underlie winter warmth. The first is to maintain a layer of warm air between your skin and the environment. When you're adequately fed, your body generates heat. When you're adequately dressed, this heat is trapped by your clothes.

The second principle of winter warmth is to keep moisture off your skin. Moisture robs heat from your body. Clothing should be chosen not only for insulating capacity but also for the ability to resist wind and moisture.

Cotton is a great insulator and can be safely worn if you're close to shelter and there's absolutely no chance of getting wet. But wet cotton robs your body of heat, and many hypothermic deaths occur when people get caught in a storm while wearing cotton.

If you're far from shelter or intend to sweat, or there's a chance you'll get wet, wear fleece (Capilene) undergarments. This fabric is a magnificent insulator that keeps moisture away from your skin and dries fast.

The Second Layer.

Wool is king; it not only is fashionable but also repels moisture and insulates when wet.

Again, cotton's OK

if you're close to home, but potentially deadly when wet. Wool or synthetic pile is mandatory for foul weather or wilderness jaunts. Shirts are superior to pullovers, as button-up shirts allow you to control how much you cover up.

Pullovers are an all-or-nothing phenomenon; after rolling up the sleeves, there's

Spotting the Problem

A drop in your body's normal core temperature to 35C or below is the key sign of hypothermia. The condition usually comes on gradually. Often, people aren't aware that they need medical attention.

Common signs to look for are shivering, which is your body's attempt to generate heat through muscle activity, and the "umbles" — stumbles, mumbles, fumbles and grumbles. These behaviors may be a result of changes in motor coordination and levels of consciousness caused by hypothermia.

Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Slurred speech

  • Abnormally slow rate of breathing

  • Cold, pale skin

  • Fatigue, lethargy or apathy

The severity of hypothermia can vary, depending on how low your core body temperature goes. Severe hypothermia will eventually lead to cardiac and respiratory failure, then death.


Myths and Misconceptions

MYTH 1: Leather hiking boots will keep your feet warm. - FALSE

The snug fit of most leather hiking boots can limit the circulation of blood in the foot, especially with thick socks on.

Overboots cut generously enough to hold your foot and shoe are much more effective. The cloth stitching in leather boots can also wick moisture into the shoe.

Nothing is worse than wet feet in winter

MYTH 2: Waterproof clothing is ideal for cold weather camping. - FALSE

To keep warm, in the cold, your clothing must allow body moisture to escape. Moisture that is trapped too close to the body can wick heat away through evaporation.

It is better to layer your clothing in cold weather. Wool, Gortex Tex, and polypropylene garments work nice in the cold. Always wear insulated underwear.

MYTH 3: Winter camping does not require much preparation. - FALSE

Arctic conditions exist when the wind is blowing and the temperature drops to -7 C . It is very important to prepare and even over prepare.

MYTH 4: Mental attitude has little to do with winter camping. - FALSE

A positive mental attitude is the most important ingredient in the success of cold weather camping trips. The demands of winter will drain your energy and you will have to rely on yourself to keep your spirits high.

MYTH 5: In cold weather, tasks can be done just as quickly as in warm weather. - FALSE

Every effort in cold weather takes longer to complete. Be sure to bring some winter patience with you when you camp in the cold.

A beautiful landscape may quickly turn deadly if you are unprepared for the cold that you face.
A Deadly Mix

Cold climate and drinking do not mix. There is a grave danger when drinking excessively is mixed with a cold climate. "In the last couple of years, there have been one or two deaths by drinking and hypothermia per winter." says Chief Coroner Kent Stewart from the Yukon.

This statement was made after he released a report into the death of 15-year-old Native, Justin Jim whose body was found April 16, 1996 in a wooded area near Whitehorse International Airport. Jim's blood-alcohol level was .09 only slightly above the legal limit of .08 for driving in the Yukon.

The report concluded that Jim died of hypothermia.

Jim was playing hockey in the annual Indian Hockey Tournament the weekend he went missing. On March 23, 1996 he finished a hockey game about 11 p.m. and was driven to a friend's home where he planned to spend the night, the report said. After being dropped off, Jim and his friend were taken to a party at a downtown house. They had a 40-ounce bottle of whisky.

Sometime later Jim and several others left the party and went to the local convenience store, all of them had been drinking and were at varying levels of intoxication. Jim soon after left the group and was last seen walking towards the Yukon Inn.

The following morning, Jim's family contacted friends when he didn't show up. Concern grew when he didn't appear at the arena for the final hockey game and medal presentation.

His disappearance was reported to RCMP at about 8:30 p.m. March 24. A search began March 25. A ball cap reportedly worn by Jim was found on a trail near the White Pass tank farm near the Granger subdivision, the report said.

The search continued using RCMP members, an RCMP dog, a helicopter, Search and Rescue personnel, family members and friends.The official search continued until March 30 but friends and family continued their efforts beyond that date, the report said.There was no further explanation concerning the location of the ball cap and it "remains a source of speculation."

On April 16, a pilot and passenger reported spotting a body lying in the snow. Jim's body was found in the middle of a wooded gully just north of the airport runway. No evidence of foul play was found at the scene."All findings were consistent with death resulting from hypothermia" the official report states.

Jim's age, size and inexperience with alcohol led to "acute alcohol intoxication," the report added."One of the factors is his age, and he was a smaller person and an inexperienced drinker," said Coroner Stewart in an interview

"All of those factors put together leads to this. It's not a terribly high reading in light of the legal impairment limit but you have to look at it in a broader context.

"Teenagers in Jim's age-group must be made aware of the dangers of drinking and learn to look out for each other, said Stewart."What can you say about anybody who is 15 years old? I mean, gosh, in many incidences, 15-year-old kids just aren't aware of the potential dangers involved and they haven't really reached that gang situation where everyone sticks together."

At the time of Jim's death it was only minus 15 degrees celsius. This temperature in combination with the alcohol level in Jim Justin's body left him extremely vulnerable to the effects of hypothermia.

Shivers and Overheating:
The Balance
When you get too hot, you sweat and your clothing absorbs the moisture. This affects your warmth in two ways: dampness decreases the insulation quality of clothing, and as sweat evaporates, your body cools.

Adjust your clothing so that you do not sweat. Do this by partially opening your parka or jacket, by removing an inner layer of clothing, by removing heavy outer mittens, or by throwing back your parka hood or changing to lighter headgear. The head and hands act as efficient heat dissipaters when overheated.

Lightweight, multiple layers of clothing trap more body heat than one bulky layer. Various items of clothing also allow you to add or subtract layers according to your comfort.

Avoid getting wet. Wear waterproof outer layers.

Wear insulated and waterproof boots.

Take spare gloves, socks and hat in case the ones you are wearing get wet.

Wear adequate headgear since a lot of body heat is lost through the scalp.

Listen regularly to weather reports. Avoid weather extremes - for example, a predicted snowstorm.

Snowshoeing is a great winter sport, but the combination of overheating and chilly temperatures can greatly contribute to your chance of suffering from hypothermia.
Cross country skiers enjoy the beauty of winter, while wearing breathable layers of clothing to keep themselves warm.
Tips for Dressing Warm

In a four season climate it is nice to know how to dress warmly enough to stay comfortable outdoors.

1) Dress in layers.

The more layers the better. Layers trap air better, and help hold warm air in

2) Favour Natural Material.

There is little warmer than a Down parka. Down is a great insulator when camping because it compresses easily, can be packed into backpacks and is lightweight to carry.

The only problem with down is when it becomes wet. The material loses much of its insulting ability when wet because of the loss of the tiny air pockets that form between the fibres.

It is important to be sure that any winter parka has a waterproof outer shell to protect the inner insulation.

3) Synthetic Materials are not always better.

Wool will keep you warm even when wet. No synthetic will do that. Natural materials also tend to breathe better. This can be critical when you work up a bit of sweat and need to evaporate this sweat so you are not colder.

4) Be aware that you lose more heat through your head than any other part of your body.

This can be deceptive, because often your head does not feel cold. Your body sends more heat to your head than any other body part to protect it. Keeping your brain warm is so critical that your body will sacrifice any other body part before it will let your brain get cold.

The reason your hands and feet are cold is because you are losing heat through your head. Your body is sacrificing your extremities to ensure your head is not cold.

5) Absurd looking head gear is probably the warmest to wear.

Hats that radically alter your appearance are the thickest, most insulating- start your own trend!

6) Keep your feet warm.

When your feet are in contact with the cold ground, well-insulated boots are important to wear. Favour natural materials, wool socks and sheep skin boots are especially warm.

7) Keep your neck warm.

A scarf around the neck or a jacket that zips up to the neck will do. Leave as little skin exposed as possible. Protecting your neck also ensures that your body is not losing heat through spaces between your jacket and body.

8) Prioritize! Decide in advance which body parts you wish to keep warmest. Some body parts are more important to keep warm than others.

First, keep your torso warm.

Second, keep your head warm.

Third, keep your feet warm.

Fourth, keep your neck warm.

Fifth, keep your hands warm.

Sixth, keep your legs warm.

By focusing on what is important first, you are likely to stay warmer.

9) Make sure you don't sweat.

If you get too warm, you sweat. Sweat results in wet clothing which cools your body very quickly. Peel off layers if you begin to get too warm. Anything that helps you to radiate heat will help you cool down and stop sweating.

10) Keep your face warm by keeping the rest of your body warm.

The key to keeping your face warm is to keep other parts of your body bundled.

Looking for the Fix..

Seek immediate medical attention for anyone who appears to be suffering from hypothermia. Until medical help is available, follow these guidelines for caring for someone with hypothermia.

What to do

Move the person out of the cold. Preventing additional heat loss is crucial. If you're unable to move the person out of the cold, shield the person from the cold and wind as best as you can.

Remove wet clothing. If the person is wearing wet clothing, remove it and replace it with a dry covering. Cover the person's head. Try not to move the person too much. Cut away clothing if you need to.

Insulate the person's body from the cold ground. Lay the person face up on a blanket or other warm surface.

Monitor breathing. A person with severe hypothermia may appear unconscious, with no apparent signs of a pulse or breathing. If the person's breathing has stopped or appears dangerously low or shallow, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately if you're trained.

Share body heat. To warm the person's body, remove your clothing and lie next to the person skin-to-skin. Then cover both bodies with a blanket.

Provide warm beverages. If the affected person is alert and is able to swallow, have the person drink a warm, nonalcoholic beverage to help warm the body.

What not to do

Don't apply direct heat. Don't use hot water, a heating pad or a heating lamp to warm the victim. Instead, apply warm compresses to the neck, chest wall and groin.

Don't attempt to warm the arms and legs. Heat applied to the arms and legs forces cold blood back toward the heart, lungs and brain causing the core body temperature to drop. This can be fatal.

Don't massage or rub the person. Handle people with hypothermia gently because they're at risk of cardiac arrest.

Don't provide alcohol beverages. Alcohol lowers the body's ability to retain heat.