Hypothermia is subnormal body temperature that occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it. It is most often caused by exposure to cold weather. Other factors that may contribute to the onset of hypothermia include over-exertion, inadequate food and fluid intake, immobility and lack of shelter. While usually associated with below freezing temps, it is worth noting that hypothermia can occur any time that cool (not necessarily cold), wet and windy conditions are prevalent.
Cold-related maladies such as hypothermia and frostbite are far easier to prevent than they are to cure. Here are eight proactive measures that hikers can take in order to avoid hypothermia:
1. Forecast: Always check the forecast before setting out. Adapting is a lot easier if you know what’s coming.
2. Awareness: Watch the weather (forecasts can sometimes by wrong) and know your limitations. If conditions are deteriorating and you’re feeling exhausted, don’t hesitate to set up your shelter and call it a day.
3. Layering: By dressing in multiple lighter layers, as opposed to a single thick or bulky layer, the hiker is able to better adapt to a wider range of conditions. Layers can be removed or added according to the weather and/or exertion level at any given time.
Ideally your clothing selections should compliment one another, so that each layer works together as part of a flexible overall system, designed to maximize efficiency and minimize duplicity.
4. Monitor the Extremities: Pay particular attention to the extremities. Your head, hands and feet constitute the body’s initial warning system when hiking in cold, wet and windy conditions.
5. Minimize sweating: Over-dressing and over-exerting can lead to excessive perspiration, which in turn can result in a lowering of body temperature. Make sweating as little as possible a priority in cold conditions (see Layering above). Think tortoise rather than hare, and do your best to maintain a steady pace throughout the hiking day. If the environment in which you are venturing isn’t too exposed or prone to high winds, consider bringing along an umbrella. They can’t be beat when it comes to ventilation.
6. Short breaks: The longer you stop the colder you become. When the weather turns nasty, keep breaks short and to a minimum. If you are taking a longer break, put on an extra layer or two.
7. Food: During the day eat high energy snacks at regular intervals. Before going to bed, your evening meal should emphasize fats and proteins, which are processed slower by your digestive system, thereby keeping you warmer during the night.
8. Hydration: When conditions are cold and the sun is no where to be seen, hikers often forget to drink enough water. This is a mistake. If you are dehydrated you are more susceptible to hypothermia