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8 Tips to Avoid Hypothermia

8 Tips to Avoid Hypothermia
Now that winter has hit, we face some of the real and basic dangers that winter poses.  Excessive cold is one of those dangers.  If we are too cold for too long, it can cause our bodies to shut down and die.  This process comes from hypothermia.

Photograph of a cold and shivering man photograph in Pocatello, Bannock, Idaho created by Cramer Imaging
Hypothermia is the lowering of the core body temperature.  Usually this means below 95° Fahrenheit (or 35° C).  The easiest way to avoid this problem is to stay inside or only go out for short periods but, for people like us, closing ourselves up indoors all the time just isn't what we want to do.

Now we're not exactly winter outdoor enthusiasts.  We don't ski or snowmobile, but we do go out after all how many awesome winter photographic opportunities we would miss if we only went out when it was warm.

Some things you can only see if you go to them and some things look totally awesome in the winter with snow.  For this reason, we must venture out into the snow and the cold from time to time with our trusty camera in tow to try for some beautiful photography opportunities.

Of course, going out means that we are placing ourselves at risk for hypothermia.  What exactly places us at risk?  A number of factors can increase your risks such as getting wet or sweaty (yes, paradoxically you can cause hypothermia by overheating yourself).  Exertion is the prime cause of sweating in the cold.  It can't always be avoided but there are things that can be done to avoid hypothermia.

How do we avoid this serious problem?  Here are eight tips to make sure you don't suffer from too much cold this winter.

1. Dress Warm

Cramer Imaging's photograph of a winter jacket or coat, a knitted scarf, and a matching knitted hat
Dressing warm is the best option, obviously.  Dressing in too little clothing for the season and activity is an engraved invitation to getting cold.

This means making sure that you have proper winter gear such as a hat, scarf, coat or parka, boots, etc.  These will help insulate you from the cold.

Of course most people from areas where there is any degree of cold weather know this.  Dressing warm however isn't the entire answer.

2. Dress in Layers

While dressing warm is important, just getting a big heavy coat won't help.  You can stay warm with a thick enough coat, but dressing warm negates your body's best methods of regulating its temperature, namely sweating.

Photograph of cold weather foot gear namely black sock liners, green heavy duty socks, and khaki and black snow boots by Cramer Imaging
Layers aren't just for the torso.  Layer on your head, legs and feet as well.
If you get too warm, you can't take off your big coat or you're left with nothing.  Instead, dress in layers.  Long underwear, a long sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt or sweater, a hoodie, then maybe a decent coat.  That way you can add and remove layers as needed to maintain a decent temperature.

3. Avoid Cotton

Cotton or cotton blends are about the most comfortable clothing you can get next to your skin.  They're also some of the worst for cold weather.

Photograph of white cotton balls and a don't use sign in red on black background by Cramer Imaging

Not only doesn't cotton have as good of insulative qualities as wool (one of the reasons that cotton is so much nicer for summer), but when wet it looses vastly more than does wool or some synthetics.  While cotton is wonderful for the summer, it can be deadly in the winter.

4. Be Careful About Exertion

While exerting yourself can keep you warm and actually hold off hypothermia, it can also make you sweat.  We sweat so that the sweat can evaporate and cool our bodies.  Sweating in cold weather will still cool our bodies, but warm clothing will slow this so we will then have wet clothing.

The water will do two things.  It will evaporate, cooling you down, and in the winter it will conduct the heat from your body to the far cooler outside.  Water is a rather poor conductor of heat, but it's far better at it than dry wool and non-moving air.

5. Have a Way to Get Warm Nearby

Have a way to warm yourself up easily.  It could be as simple as having a car and its heater available or even just being close to a house or cabin.  A campfire or fire barrel is a good way to get warm.

Photograph of a sedan style grey car parked on snow in Pocatello, Bannock, Idaho by Cramer Imaging
Cars are a great way to help get warm if you have one close to you.
Personally, I never leave the house without at least one way to make fire.  Of course, ways for making fire is another post.  Anything you can think of to help you get warm will help.

6. Avoid Alcohol

Photograph of a green bottle with label on a white background created by Cramer Imaging
It isn't something we use, but using alcohol in the cold is a good way to get hypothermia rapidly.  It can make you feel warmer for a short time, this is because it dilates the blood vessels to your extremities allowing more blood to them.

This very action, however, is exactly why alcohol is so dangerous in the cold.  Those blood vessels close off to keep the blood and therefore the heat in the body's core.  When you body heat leaves your core for your extremities, then you will start to freeze and your organs can shut down.

Dilating your blood vessels may momentarily make you feel warmer, but it actually makes you get colder far faster.  This can and will kill you.

7. Have Someone With You When You Go Out

Cramer Imaging's professional portrait photograph of family sisters in a tree in Jensen's Grove, Blackfoot, Bingham, Idaho
This is good advice whenever you go out in the back-country, but particularly when conditions are adverse.  You have someone to help you when things go wrong, and you can help them.  You can keep an eye on each other for signs of hypothermia and help one another if something bad happens.

It really helps if your chosen partner is old enough to be useful in a crisis and to take instructions.  If your partner has also been briefed on how to treat hypothermia as well, this is even better.

8. Be Vigilant

Finally, you should be paying close attention to your body and your reaction.  Keep an eye both on yourself and on those in your party and be prepared to treat hypothermia as early as possible.  Be prepared to step in and treat the victim even if he or she is refusing treatment.  It could save a life.


So, here we have a few tips for avoiding hypothermia.  In the next installment in this series, we'll examine tips for detecting and treating mild hypothermia in the field.