Hypothermia can set in very quickly, even if you’re wearing warm clothing, and can easily prove fatal. In order to have the best chance of coming out alive, here’s a few pieces of advice on surviving it.
Know the Signs
Hypothermia isn’t always immediately obvious, but key signs to look out for include:
- Unusual hunger
- Slight confusion
- Slurred speech
- Fast, shallow breathing
- Increased heart rate
The elderly and the very young are most at risk, although hypothermia can affect anyone, of any age or physical condition.
Make sure that elderly persons and young children are dressed warmly, and, ideally, are moved indoors as soon as the weather begins to turn for the worse.
Since sweat exacerbates hypothermia, it is important to ensure that you, and everyone in your party, is wearing a layer of moisture-wicking clothing next to the skin. Also, wear waterproof socks and boots, to avoid the risk of having sweat-soaked socks next to the skin of your feet.
If you suspect you have hypothermia, get help immediately, as your awareness and decision-making ability will be impaired, even if you feel mostly okay.
When treating hypothermia, gently wrap the person in as many blankets as possible, and ensure their head, hands, and feet are covered, as these are areas from which body heat is rapidly lost. If you are dealing with someone suffering from severe hypothermia, be aware that they may try and remove blankets or clothing, owing to the cognitive impact of severe hypothermia, which causes misfiring of the body’s temperature recognition systems, and leads the individual to believe they are actually feeling hot, when the reverse is the case.
If you can, gently move the person inside – however, be aware that rough or sudden movements can trigger heart complaints. If the person resists attempts to move them, simply stay with them and keep them as warm as possible. If there is a dog with the party, try and encourage the animal to lie down close to the individual with hypothermia, as the transfer of body heat will help, while the presence of the dog can soothe someone who is in a state of distress owing to the impact of hypothermia.
Ice to See You
Before heading out on ice, check the thickness. For new, clear ice, minimum thickness guidelines are:
- 4-5” for walking/ice-fishing
- 5” for snowmobiling
- 8-12” for driving a light car or small pickup
- 12-15” for larger trucks
These figures should be doubled for snow/white ice (ice that has been laid a while, or is not transparent.) If you are not confident in your ability to measure the thickness of ice yourself, ask someone who is skilled at working on ice, or check in with lifeguards or a local weather service.
You should always avoid spring ice, which can be different thicknesses at different points, and, where possible, you should keep to the edges of frozen bodies of water, where the ice is likely to be thicker.
If you are not 100% confident about getting onto ice – don’t do it. If you’re driving a vehicle across ice, ensure you have appropriate chains and tires fitted to keep a firm grip.