Do You Recognise The 10 Early Warning Signs Of Hypothermia?

Ideas by Chris, words by Anne

I’m happy to say that in all the years I have been playing and working outdoors, I have never had hypothermia. I have been to some extremely cold places, including Antarctica and the highest mountains in the European Alps. I have also spent a lot of time in extremely wet places, Scotland and the Lake District included. I love being warm and comfortable in the mountains in wild weather. So how have I avoided becoming dangerously cold?

There are two essential elements when dealing with hypothermia: avoidance and awareness. But first, some definitions.

Normal body temperature for an adult human is 36.5ºC to 37.5ºC

Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature below 35ºC.

Avoidance of Hypothermia

Preparation is the key to avoiding hypothermia, and prevention is much better than cure.

1. Check the weather forecast

Remember: wind and wet together will result in a much lower temperature than the air temperature given in a weather forecast.

2. Take the right food and drinks

Keeping yourself hydrated is important, and many people underestimate how much they need to drink on a cold day. You lose moisture through sweating and through breathing dry cold air, and your body uses water to convert food to energy. Hot drinks are a great morale booster as well as warming you up, but cold water is good too. Take plenty of high-energy food - choose a combination of quick energy and slow-burn calories.

3. Think carefully about your clothing

When you exercise and become too hot, your body produces sweat to cool you down. On a cold day you cool down very quickly when you stop moving, and whatever you are wearing next to your skin will become damp. Choose a base layer that is man-made or wool rather than cotton. To avoid excessive sweating, have lots of outer layers to put on and take off so you can adjust your temperature.

Take spare gloves and change them regularly if they become wet. Have a warm hat to keep your head warm, and a buff for your neck. Windproof breathable layers are good in dry weather, and waterproof breathable outer layers are essential in wet weather.

4. Take regular short breaks

As well as resting your muscles, stopping for a few minutes every ninety minutes will give you time to eat and drink little and often to maintain your energy levels.

5. Put extra thought into wild camping

If you're planning to stay out overnight, make sure you have a good sleeping bag. You’ll be much warmer with two or more people in a tent compared to being on your own. Take more food than you think you will need, in case you are out longer than you expect. 

6. Have a plan B...

...and be prepared to use it if you need to. Not having viable alternative plan can lead to avoidable accidents.

Awareness of Hypothermia

Some people are always going to be more vulnerable to hypothermia than others: the old, the young, and the injured. The most common causes of hypothermia are exposure to cold weather conditions or cold water, and trauma or injury. Other factors include over-exertion, not drinking or eating enough, immobility, and lack of shelter.

So what does hypothermia look like? The following table gives an idea of the symptoms in the three stages of hypothermia. In reality there is cross-over between the stages, so it is not as cut-and-dried as this.

Do you have a hypothermia story? Leave a comment below and tell us about it.