Hypothermia is one of the predominant causes of death out in the wilderness. It is a quiet killer – mainly because it impairs your judgment when you need it most. Simply put, hypothermia is your body failing to maintain its temperature due to outside influences. It slows your metabolism, and untreated, eventually shuts down your body organs and kills you.
Preventing hypothermia is a matter of common sense. Stay dry, stay hydrated and dress according to the weather conditions.
Extreme cold can bring it on, but a cool, wet climate is just as effective. If you are caught in the rain, or manage to get yourself or your outdoor clothing wet by accident, you should immediately check yourself for signs of hypothermia, even if the outside temperature is mild.
Here are the hypothermia signs and symptoms:
• Slurred speech
• Abnormally slow breathing
• Cold, pale skin
• Loss of coordination
• Fatigue, lethargy or apathy
• Confusion or memory loss
As you can see, it is prudent to check yourself at the first sign. If you wait, you may not be able to later. Shivering is nature’s way of generating heat
The single best way to check is to take your temperature. Keep a thermometer in your first aid kit and always keep your first aid kid easily accessible. Your temperature should be around 37 degrees Celsius or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. If it measures slightly below that, don’t panic. You will need to preserve the energy you have.
The two things you need most are water and shelter. If you have to drink from a river or stream, do it. Any clear water is good enough to drink in a pinch. Preserve the water in your body by breathing through your nose and don’t over-exert yourself to prevent sweating.
Find shelter and get something between you and the ground. Always carry a lightweight foil blanket in your first aid kit, they are meant for situations like this and work well. If your sleeping bag is handy, get in it.
Remember, it doesn’t take a catastrophic event to trigger hypothermia. Any prolonged exposure to temperatures below your body temperature can bring it on. Most deaths from prolonged exposure to water are due to hypothermia, not drowning. People have died from hypothermia in water with a temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you are treating a member of your party for hypothermia, don’t rub their extremities, and follow the same general guidelines as for treating yourself, if a warm drink is available then get some inside you. Try to avoid coffee, tea, and alcohol. Body heat can be transferred so huddling together can save your friend’s life.