Hypothermia and How to Avoid It

Paul Kirtley is a professional Bushcraft instructor who studied under the guidance of Ray Mears, the world-renowned Bushcraft and Survival expert, for 10 years. Paul now divides his  time between bushcraft instruction, writing a bushcraft blog, and having his own adventures.

He recently published a posting on Hypothermia where Paul defines hypothermia and describes how exposure or immersion hypothermia occurs outdoors.

Exposure Hypothermia. Exposure hypothermia is characterised by chronic exposure to the contributing environmental factors of wind, wet and cold.   The time between the first signs of hypothermia and physical collapse has been recorded as little as 1-2 hours and death has come as quickly as within 2-6 hours.  Factors that increase the risk of exposure hypothermia include: inadequate clothing, exertion leading to physical exhaustion, insufficient food, amount of subcutaneous fat, dehydration, injury and illness, sleep deprivation, age and drugs.

Immersion Hypothermia. Immersion hypothermia is characterised by rapid cooling due to falling into cold water. Conductive heat loss to water is 25 times faster than if you are in contact with air.  If you fall into cold water the thing that will most likely kill you, however, is the gasp reflex. If you get past this, then hypothermia is the primary danger.

The article describes the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and the various stages of hypothermia as well as treating hypothermia by preventing further heat loss and providing a warm, sweet drink to help a victim recover.

Paul concludes with tips on how to avoid hypothermia:

  • Reduce heat loss via radiation, convection, conduction, evaporation and respiration.
  • Stay dry. Avoid getting your clothing wet-through.
  • Invest in good quality clothing.
  • Use your clothing properly as the performance of your clothing depends on you using it properly.
  • Take appropriate shelter with you. Day hikers often forget this. Even a polythene survival bag can make the difference between life and death.
  • Eat plenty and often, or reduce your work rate. Hiking trips sometimes mean long, hard days and the energy requirement is high. Cold temperatures increase your energy requirements.
  • Drink plenty. Avoid dehydration.
  • Don’t take excessive gear. You do not want to become exhausted because you are carrying a house on your back.
  • Be fit for the activity you are undertaking. You will be less likely to become exhausted.
  • Work within the capabilities of the group. Go at a pace that suits the slowest in your group. Any faster will over-exert them, introducing excessive perspiration into their clothing, and making them more prone to exhaustion. If you are the leader, choose a route that is appropriate for the fitness level of the group.
  • Good leadership and decision making. Good route planning and execution, factoring in potential escape routes and being decisive yet flexible regarding route and weather conditions all contribute to the safety of the group.
  • Look out for each other. Check on your buddies. The early signs of hypothermia are often easier to notice in others than in yourself.
  • Spot signs and symptoms early. Do something about it!

Read the entire article here.

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