Winter Camping Myth: If your feet are cold, cover your head because you can lose up to 75% of your body heat through your head alone.

balaclava-oneThe problem is that the head is only about 10% of the body surface area. Thus, the head would have to lose about 40 times as much heat per square inch or centimeter compared to the rest of the body.

Gordon Giesbrecht, PhD working at the  Laboratory of Exercise and Environmental Medicine at the University of Manitoba, had heard this statement one too many times and finally decided to see if this was indeed true. So he took several volunteer test subjects,  wired them to monitor their core temperatures, and discovered that we do indeed lose heat through any exposed part of the body and the amount of heat we lose depends on the amount of exposed surface area.

The rate of heat loss is relatively the same for any exposed part of the body, not simply the head. You do not lose heat significantly faster through the scalp than any other portion of the body with the same surface area.

It is still a good idea to put on a hat (a hood really – what insulation does a baseball hat have?) if your feet are cold. But what is BUSTED is that there is nothing peculiar or unique about the head. The idea that we lose heat faster through out scalp, because of the constant blood supply to the brain, is simply a myth.

From the Wilderness Medicine Newsletter.   Follow our occasional Tweets @WinterCampers and visit us on Facebook.

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1 comment to Winter Camping Myth: If your feet are cold, cover your head because you can lose up to 75% of your body heat through your head alone.

  • While I respect “Dr. Popsicle” (The name Dr. Giesbrecht gave himself) I respectfully disagree, based on evidence. When I was a novice SAR dog handler in the Adirondacks about 40 years ago, the late William Syrotuck, dean of SAR dogs in the USA and founder of the American Rescue Dog Association, published the landmark study, “Scent and the Scenting Dog” ((c)1973 Arner Publications, Rome, NY, reprinted by Barkleigh Publications in 2000) which contained infrared photos of how body heat carries scent particles (raft) up the body, creating an almost geyser-like pattern off of the head. My personal experience based on 50 years in the outdoors as a SAR volunteer and as a park ranger, is that I stay warmer with an insulating layer (NOT a ball cap!) on my head.