It’s that time of year with the nights drawing in and temperatures falling, that makes life a little difficult. Anyone who is exposed to the cold without adequate clothing or protection is going to suffer. Out of all the regions of the world the hardest places to survive are the extremes, like the Arctic and Antarctic and any high ground, and the hardest season to survive is winter. Man is a tropical animal and can only survive how we are born in the tropics. The moment we leave this area we have to provide a tropical environment by wearing clothes, living in shelters and making fire. There is no heat in clothing. The body produces the heat that is trapped in the layers of clothing that help keep us warm. The more air I can trap between these layers and the skin, determines how warm I will be. The secret of keeping warm is wearing many layers of thin clothing rather a couple of thick ones. If the air trapped is replaced by water, heat is lost rapidly so we must wear a water proof outer layer to prevent this. Waterproofs are notorious for causing condensation, so try to limit wearing them. Put them on when you stop or during a heavy shower, but take them off as soon as is practical for the conditions.
The wind will replace any trapped air cooling the body rapidly. Heat is lost by a billowing affect when walking. If the neck, waist, wrist or trouser bottoms are not snug fitting, warm air trapped between the layers is driven out being replaced by cold air. Wearing too much clothing when doing any physical activity will cause sweating. This will soak the inner layers and cool rapidly defeating the object of trying to keep warm. Wear the least amount of clothing when working that is comfortable and add or take off as required. It is as bad to wear too much as not enough in some situations. When you stop put on extra clothing, take it off before resuming your activity. Good outdoor garments are well ventilated allowing excess heat to escape. Consider this when buying your clothing. If cold do up all the closures and if too warm open them to cool down. Adjust accordingly don’t just plod on regardless. Be aware of the conditions and monitor the affect it is having on your body. A good thing to remember is ‘if you’re cold put your hat on’. Thirty percent of heat is lost through the head. Anywhere major blood vessels are close to the surface heat loss is high. The neck, groin, head and kidneys are areas that must be well covered. If caught out in bad weather seek shelter immediately. If you try to fight nature there is only one winner. Get out of the wind this is a killer. Get on the lee side of a rock, lay in a gully or depression. Next get out of the rain. Construct a shelter with anything at hand. A poncho should always be carried if walking in the hills. A thermal blanket rolls up very small and can easily be carried in a pocket. A large polythene bag takes up very little room and can be a godsend in an emergency.
Before embarking on any outdoor activity, take a weather forecast. If you know what to expect you can act accordingly. When planning a route pay attention to the wind direction as this can greatly aid or retard your progress. Have a contingency plan so you can cut short the venture if need be. Pick a route that is crossed by tracks or parallels a road so in an emergency this can be used as an escape route. Don’t be too ambitious. Build up slowly increasing the distance each time. The cold saps energy which in turn clouds our judgement. We start making silly mistakes and the simplest of tasks like lighting a stove becomes difficult. Don’t underestimate the effect of the cold. A combination of exhaustion and cold, drains our body of heat leaving us vulnerable to a potentially life threatening ailment called hypothermia. This is a condition where the body looses heat faster than it can generate. This causes our core temperature to drop often with fatal consequences. Our normal core temperature is 98.6F /37 C. This must remain constant to enable us to work at peak efficiency. If it rises this leads to HYPERTHERMIA (heat stroke) if it falls we become HYPOTHERMIC. The peripheral or shell temperature can be many degrees lower than the core, Just a one degree drop can lead to confusion, fatigue, and clumsiness. This core is shaped like a skittle ball containing our vital organs, like brain, heart, liver, and kidneys. These can only operate efficiently in a constant temperature; any variation can cause major problems. It’s important to understand this as it determines the sequence of treatment. Typical early signs and symptoms are shivering and goose bumps. The muscles go into spasm to create heat. The skin is pale and the pulse becomes slow and irregular. This is the time to take action. Stop, put something warm on, and seek shelter. Food generates heat so carry food with a high calorific value like chocolate and anything containing glucose and sugar. A hot mug of sweet tea is priceless in such situations. If no action is taken the shivering increases and the skin becomes numb. Simple tasks like folding a map become difficult. As the core temperature drops so does the chance of survival. The signs get more pronounced. Violent shivering persists, stumbles and falls become more frequent, you must act now. If you are experiencing difficulties so are the other members of your group. If one person is in trouble it’s only a matter of time before everyone in the group are affected. If you have to carry a victim or distribute his load between the group the added burden can speed up the onset of hypothermia, so quick recognition is essential. Stop, make shelter, eat, and get into sleeping bag. When the shivering stops, people misinterpret this as a good sign. Whereas in fact it means the victim is in a critical condition. Don’t let it get this far as the lower the core temperature gets the harder it is to rewarm.
A combination of the wind, rain, and low temperatures are the main causes. Exhaustion and injury will speed up the onset of hypothermia. The young and the old are particularly vulnerable. Exhaustion, poor clothing or shelter, or inadequate intake of food are all contributing factors to hypothermia. Anxiety and stress also increase the risks of this life threatening condition.
If in a group monitor each other and at the first signs of lethargy, unusual behaviour, or loss of coordination, take immediate action. The aim is to prevent further heat loss. Lay the victim down and shelter him from the elements. A tent is ideal but just holding up a poncho and forming a human wind break will help. Make sure he is insulated from the ground. Start at the head and cover with a dry hat. Remove the top half of clothing first, working down towards the feet. Don’t strip off completely but replace clothing as you go after drying the skin. Remember the skittle ball shaped core, this is what we must rewarm first. Don’t massage the hands and feet as this will encourage warm blood from the core to the extremes where it will cool down causing a further temperature drop When in dry clothing place them in a sleeping bag. Place any heat source around the neck, arm pits, stomach and crotch. Boiling water to make hot water bottles, or rocks heated in the fire and wrapped in clothing are good for this. Heat pads can be purchased from most outdoor shops which are designed specifically for such an emergency. Mouth to mouth resuscitation has proved to be beneficial even though the casualty is still breathing. The warm air provided adds much needed warmth to the victim. Never give alcohol as this will dilate blood vessels taking blood from the core to cool on the surface. Remember preventing further heat loss is the aim.
Keep Warm, Keep Safe