This page presents some basic information on hypothermia related to hiking and backpacking in canyon country.
Caution: Medical and other health related information found on this page is intended as basic information and should be viewed as a starting point for further investigation by the visitor. Please do further research and speak to a licensed physician prior to using any of this medical advice.
In cooler weather, hypothermia (a decrease in the body's core temperature) can be a life threatening problem Wool or polypropylene clothing and good rain gear are recommended.
Hypothermia is caused by exposure to cold, and is aggravated by wetness, wind, and exhaustion. The moment you begin to lose heat faster than your body produces it, you're suffering from exposure. Your body starts involuntary exercise, such as shivering, to stay warm and makes involuntary adjustment to preserve normal temperature in vital organs, restricting blood flow to the extremities. Both responses drain your energy reserves. The only way to stop the drain is to reduce the degree of exposure.
With full-blown hypothermia, as energy reserves are exhausted, cold reaches the brain, depriving you of good judgment and reasoning power. You won't be aware that this is happening. You lose control of your hands. Your internal temperature slides downward. Without treatment, this leads to stupor, collapse, and death.
Surprisingly, you can even experience hypothermia if you are tired and wet on a chilly summer day. If you find yourself shivering and feeling disoriented, seek shelter and drink warm liquids. This serious condition may require medical assistance.
To defend against hypothermia, stay dry. When clothes get wet, they lose about 90 percent of their insulating value. Most hypothermia cases develop in air temperatures between 30 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but hypothermia can develop in warmer temperatures.
Watch yourself and others for these symptoms:
- Uncontrollable fits of shivering.
- Vague, slow, slurred speech.
- Memory lapses.
- Immobile, fumbling hands.
- Frequent stumbling or a lurching gait.
- Drowsiness (to sleep is to die).
- Apparent exhaustion.
- Inability to get up after a rest.
A person with hypothermia may deny any problem. Believe the symptoms, not the victim. Even mild symptoms demand treatment, as follows:
- Get the victim out of the wind and rain.
- Strip off all wet clothing.
- If the victim is only mildly impaired, give him or her warm drinks. Then get the victim in warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag. Place well-wrapped water bottles filled with heated water close to the victim.
- If the victim is badly impaired, attempt to keep him or her awake. Put the victim in a sleeping bag with another person-both naked. If you have a double bag, put two warm people in with the victim.
- American Red Cross Standard First Aid and Personal Safety
- Camping and Wilderness Survival: The Ultimate Outdoors Book
- Forgey's Wilderness Medicine
- Scout Handbook
- The New Complete Walker
Also called cold-related illness.
Hypothermia Prevention, Recognition and Treatment
The recommended treatment of hypothermia in the field is core rewarming to prevent post-rescue collapse.
Outdoor Action Guide to Hypothermia and Cold Weather Injuries
How we lose heat to the environment.
More Outside Links